A quick addendum: I didn’t realize how popular the idea of doing away with the olde, outdated vice-regal positions in Canada was. Just learned that more than half the population in our country favours getting rid of the very expensive trappings of the Governor -General, Lieutenant-Governors, etc. al, and doing away with our allegiance to the “Royal Family” after the demise of Queen Elizabeth to boot. Hoooooray!!! There’s hope for us yet.
Oh, and the other fact I learned is that, where I’d listed our liability to Julie The Knife as a lifetime pension of $149,484 per year, that’s only half of it! She’ll get $350,000 per year when you tack on her annuity and benefits. Pul-leeeese!!!
I’m completing interviews for my newest book, “Icons. Growing Up In The Shadow Of Greatness”, and I’m meeting some fascinating people. One of them is Ken Ross who I’ve discovered I have much in common with. Not in background, but in attitude.
Ken is a world-traveling photographer and the son of the late psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross whose book “On Death and Dying” famously revealed her theory of the five stages of grief.
We’re meeting via Zoom, me in my home office in Midland Ontario where it’s minus 20 degrees Celsius, Ken in his studio in Scottsdale Arizona. It’s much warmer where Ken hangs out.
As part of our discussion, I’m intrigued to know what Ken’s late mom might have had to say about the Covid-19 pandemic which is causing so many deaths. That leads us to his confession.
“You know Peter,” Ken tells me, “I certainly have no death wish. But I suppose one of the qualities I inherited from my mother is the acceptance of death as a part of life. So if I were to learn I’m going to be a victim of this awful virus, I have to accept that. Not much I can do about it. And you know what: I’ve had a great life. I’d sure like to have more time on this earth, but if the cards are lined up differently, so be it.”
Well, isn’t that almost word-for-word what I told a friend recently! In fact, what I said was, “What’s the worst that can happen? You get the virus and you die. If that’s the way the cards are dealt, so be it” This elicited a gasp. But it's true: this is very much my attitude, a characteristic Ken Ross and I have discovered we share.
My mom passed a few months ago at age 100, insisting to the end that I have her genes. (So, my goal is to hang in to age 110, assuming the synapses are still firing and I’m physically OK). But if you were to tell me right here and now that my time to kick the bucket is at hand, well, I’ll accept that. There’s not much I can do about it, so let's get on with things. But let me also appreciate what I’ve experienced to date: it’s been a hell of a ride. I’ve done things, met people and had experiences that blow me away when I stop to think about them. Asking for more can be greedy.
There have been lots of negative reactions to my point of view about death, so it was comforting to meet Ken and hear his agreement. We’ve going to meet in the post-Covid world (there will be a post-Covid world, right?!?) because we have much in common to discuss.
If you agree, swell. And if you don’t, that’s OK, I respect your view.
And isn’t that just what keeps the world going round.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. And most of all, stay happy.
Omigosh, just what kind of a witch is Julie Payette?
In her previous gig, at the Montreal Science Centre, former employees said she was a “harsh boss”. This, at a museum! And at the Canadian Olympic Committee, she faced other workplace complaints. And now, she’s called out for verbal harassment and public humiliation in the office of the Governor-General. Clearly, this is a crone who does not work well with others.
Oh, and you have to love this: in tendering her resignation as GG, Julie writes that she resigned “for the good of the country” (gosh, thanks sunshine). But she adds that none of her alleged behaviour was tested in official workplace complaints.
Oh yeah? Say Julie, what is it you don’t get about the CBC’s report that several staffers left Rideau Hall over what they called “verbal harassment and public humiliation” by you? And are you really not getting the fact that you clashed with the Mounties over your security detail? And that you said you weren’t entirely ready for the job’s public scrutiny? And that Rideau Hall spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on renovations which you demanded personally for privacy and accessibility reasons?
Guess it never occurred to you that there are some qualifications beyond entitlement required for the post of Governor-General, huh. You know, like a willingness to live at Rideau Hall (poor you!). And that a modicum of grace in dealing with underlings is needed. And understanding that you can’t just pick up and go AWOL from the RCMP on a morning jog. (The National Police Federation took the unusual step Thursday of saying it hopes that now, RCMP members will be able to experience a more positive work environment.)
So now, Justin Trudeau is left seeking a replacement GG. (Federally, there hasn’t been a viceregal resignation as abrupt as Julie’s; Romeo LeBlanc stepped down early due to health problems, but he stayed long enough for prime minister Jean Chrétien to find a replacement.)
But here’s my question, one that I’ve posed before: why are we looking to replace this harpy anyway? Why do we, as an independent country in the twenty-first century, feel we need a Governor General? Or Lieutenant-Generals in the provinces? You know, puffery roles that are costing us millions of dollars every year that could be much better devoted to education and healthcare. (Don’t get me going on the fact that despite leaving early due to her workplace scandal, Julie-babe still qualifies for a lifetime pension of at least $149,484 per year! Ouch! How do you feel about that fellow tax payer?)
As Campbell Clark writes in the Globe and Mail: “Most Canadians don’t have too clear a picture of what the governor-general does, or should be, but you can be pretty sure they don’t like to think of the Queen’s representative in Canada as someone who uses the viceregal position to harass and berate employees.”
Well, in the hope of being helpful, let me clarify just what the governor-general does for you to ensure you have a better, more rewarding life. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. It’s a pomp and circumstances gig that has no place in today’s world, short and simple. Sure, back in the day when the British Empire was a cause to be reckoned with, and before the Royal Family outsourced it’s responsibility of governance to a Prime Minister, the king or queen needed a rep in each of their fiefdoms to ensure their bidding was being looked after. But, see, those days are gone. And with them, so should this silly Governor-General role. Canada does not need a head of state representing some distant doyenne living in a palace.
Now, please don’t tell me we need these vice-regal folks to open schools and stuff like that. Do you really want to spend millions of dollars in a crumbling economy for that kind of nonsense? I sure don’t. Get a sitting politician to do it.
Julie’s malfeasance and sense of entitlement is right up there with Ontario’s former Minister of Finance who felt he could jet off to St. Barts (not Florida, you understand, but St. Barts, playground of the rich and famous!) when the rest of us had to stay home in lockdown. Good riddance to both of them.
And let’s take this very timely opportunity to cut out the outdated role of a pastime. Grow up Canada: no more Governor-General.
What say, are you with me?
Here’s a poser for you. A friend asked the other day, “If you had to lose either your sight or your hearing, and you got to choose, which would you opt for?”
Hmmmm… There were a few people present in this online conversation and the majority went with losing their hearing in order to protect their eyesight. Me? I wasn’t sure… Yes, I would hate to lose my ability to see. And yet, when I think about all the music I love, and all the interviews I do for my books, I can’t imagine a world without sound.
Fact is, at my age and stage, if I lost my ability to see, I’d still have amazing, incredible memories of all of the wonderful things I’ve witnessed in my life. So the question is, could I rely on that to keep me going, while continuing with all the audio enjoyment I derive from having “good ears”? Would I be penalizing myself because there might be astonishing new sights to see soon? Who knows.
I sincerely hope this hypothetical question never comes anywhere close to being reality. But if it were to, I’ve decided: I’d opt for keeping my hearing and losing the sight element. Man! I’d miss seeing everything so much, no question. But being a visual guy anyway, I’m pretty sure the memories would keep me going.
How ‘bout you?
Being at the outset of a new year, I’m hearing media commentators chat about how to deal with dark moods and sorrowful emotional states as we continue being influenced by Covid-19. Enduring lockdowns… putting up with irregular schooling… having to avoid going to places we used to enjoy… it can all combine to force unpleasant impacts on our lives, no question.
But I’m remined about just how important happiness is at a time like this. You see, I believe happiness is a choice: if you want to be positive, optimistic and hopeful, you can choose happiness to help get you there.
Now, I’m not just uttering this with no back-up. You see, having written “Being Happy Matters” in which I interviewed 37 people from around the world about happiness, none other than the renowned authority on the subject, Dr. Christine Carter, labelled me a “Happiness Expert”. I’m proud of that designation. But more than that, I’m pleased to be able to share what I learned (beinghappymatters.life)
Did you know that there are some real benefits that accompany being happy? I mean, beyond the contented satisfaction you derive from an uplift to your spirits. Well, it’s true. The 7 international PhD’s I interviewed for the book confirmed to me that people who are happy…
Wow! Who wouldn’t want those characteristics accompanying their day? Happiness really is more than just a feeling. It’s a choice.
So as you confront the challenging realities of 2021, don’t forget to select happiness as your antidote to unacceptable times.
Trust me: you’ll be happy you did.
As we head into a new year, I want to focus for a moment on someone who took adversity and spun it around on its head. Because that’s something we can all learn from as we continue to face Covid-19.
The someone is Ruth Lowe who I profile in my new book “Until I Smile At You”. Her story is a stirring account of tremendous courage as one of the 20th century’s most enduring musical talents. Ruth overcame significant grief by writing a song that launched Frank Sinatra’s career into the stratosphere in 1940, “I’ll Never Smile Again”. (As Nancy Sinatra writes in the Foreword, “There’s a reason why ‘I’ll Never Smile Again’ has endured: it was a perfect song, interpreted by the perfect singer, at the perfect time.”)
And what was the grief that had beset Ruth as she managed to defeat roadblocks that threatened the joy in her life? Consider that her beloved father had died when she was just a teenager. As a result, and to bring money in to the surviving family (her ailing mom and her younger sister), Ruth had to quit school and go to work as a pianist in a music store. This then led to three years of being on the road across North America with the Ina Ray Hutton all-female band “The Melodears” resulting from a chance fill-in for an ailing band member, sending back money to her mother and sister as she went. But the fates were not done with Ruth Lowe; after meeting a handsome song plugger named Harold Cohen, she married and settled down in Chicago, ready to live a blissful life. But Harold died very suddenly in their first year of marriage, leaving Ruth devastated and grief stricken.
For a while, she was unable to re-group and bounce back, life seeming to be so negative. But one night, having moved back to Toronto and living once again with her mother and sister, she sat at a piano and out poured the words and music that became “I’ll Never Smile Again”. Not long after, bandleader Tommy Dorsey heard the tune and picked it up, recording it after hiring his new singer Frank Sinatra.
Suddenly, Ruth Lowe – breaking down barriers as she struggled for self-realization, adopting a fearless attitude by overcoming challenges that might otherwise have broken her soul – was on her way to greatness. Her song charted on Billboard for an unheard of 12 weeks. Dorsey knew a good thing when he saw it and moved her to New York where Ruth went on to write Sinatra’s theme song, “Put Your Dreams Away” (the last song played at his funeral) plus 50 other tunes for Broadway and Hollywood.
And there's this: in today’s era of women claiming their full rights, “Until I Smile At You” reveals Ms. Lowe as one of the earliest liberated females who worked in a man’s world (Tin Pan Alley) and never let her gender, nor her attractive good looks, get in the way of her outstanding talent. That’s why she’s been called, “One of the Architects of the American Ballad”, she is the recipient of a Grammy Award, her songs have been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and she’s about to be added to the Great American Songbook Foundation Hall of Fame.
“Until I Smile At You” features interviews with luminaries who cast a warm glow on Ruth’s talents, such as Bernie Taupin (Elton John’s lyricist for over 50 years), Sir Tim Rice (lyric writer for Andrew Lloyd Webber), Alan Bergman (who’s written award-winning songs for Barbra Streisand, Sinatra, etc.), the late Frank Sinatra Jr., music historian Chuck Granata, Sinatra biographer James Kaplan, singer David Clayton-Thomas (in fact, the book opens in studio as the famed Blood, Sweat & Tears star records his own unique version of ‘I’ll Never Smile Again’), and many others. (BTW, if you are interested in learning more about Ruth, I should add that there are more than 50 never-seen-before photos plus other memorabilia contained in the book. Some of these you can also see at untilismileatyou.com)
Anyway, bottom line: with the world facing increased levels of stress and anxiety these days, I’m pretty convinced a positive, feel-good story of resilience like Ruth Lowe’s is good for the soul and helps us remember that we can push back negativity when we need to.
I’ve been reading about Zhang Zhan, the 37-year-old former lawyer and citizen journalist who’s been arrested in China for the crime of reporting the facts about the pandemic virus in Wuhan. Her sentence: four years in jail. Zhang was arrested for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, the charge the government there often uses.
Sadly, I’m, reminded of Dr. Wan Yanhai who I met in New York City and interviewed for my book “Pushing The Boundaries” which will be published in the spring of 2021. He’s a genuine freedom fighter who was prepared to take on the powerful Chinese national regime by working for trivialized groups who have no voice.
For his trouble, he no longer gets to live in his homeland.
Can you imagine?
Wan Yanhai started his career in China at the Ministry of Health. His work with HIV/AIDS began with translating the first announcement of the AIDS epidemic
into Chinese. He went on to set up the first HIV/AIDS telephone hotline so people could obtain comprehensive information. That was followed by advocating for health care and human rights for people with AIDS. He did this, fully aware that there was a cover-up of blood-selling-businesses connected to local government officials which had infected as many as one million men, women, and children with the AIDS virus. Realizing the government was committed to zero sharing of information, Dr. Wan expanded his work to advocate for the health of injection drug users, sex workers and other marginalized groups affected by the AIDS epidemic.
But he didn't stop there: he became co-founder of the first gay community center in China. "Simply put, the issue of blood safety is a very serious problem in China," he told me. "I sought to deal with this by founding the Beijing Aizhixing Institute, China’s premier HIV/AIDS civil society organization." Aizhixing’s mission was to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as ensuring that vulnerable communities have equal access to education, health care, housing, and legal protection. "We sought to fight the disease in two ways," he said. "On the health and science front as well as the rights and social stigma front."
Yanhai’s work at Aizhixing supplemented its initial domestic education and outreach programs by building up institutions within the LGBT community, pressuring the government to act on behalf of the LGBT population. "I got in trouble with the government because I was defending the rights of people who were being marginalized," he told me. "I was advocating for victims. The government didn't like that."
"Dr. Wan, let me ask you: when you first got involved in all of this, did you realize you were walking into a minefield?"
"But you still did it anyway?"
"Yes. You see, Peter, in the beginning I tried to give opinions to the government. To help them do a better job. Publish reports. That kind of thing. But my efforts expanded because we wanted to offer medical support and financial support. Then, when I came to Beijing to help organize a meeting in a hotel around building a gay and lesbian website, it became apparent that by now we had become a threat to the government. The hotel security tried to shut us down."
"Hotel security?" I say. "Were they being directed by the government?"
Dr. Wan Yanhai was eventually "detained" in a state security center, the first of several incarcerations he would experience.
"You are waiting for a jail sentence," he explained. "But you might be released without any charge. There's no certainty one way or the other."
"I can't imagine such a thing," I said. "How did you deal with that?"
"I felt a lot of anxiety. There was no communication with the outside world at all. But you know, in the beginning, I felt pretty confident: I'm innocent, everything will be OK. So I'm pretty relaxed. But as time went on, this changed. By the third week, I couldn't walk. No one came to investigate me. A lot of anxiety."
I expect that for most of us, the writing would now be on the wall: either quit or leave. But for someone like this resilient individual committed to pushing whatever boundaries must give way until he achieves success, quitting simply didn't enter his mind. His actions were the price of entry in achieving a favorable outcome for those being marginalized. Definitely a courageous decision.
"Severe harassment and intimidation from government authorities was always present," he explains. "As our work at Aizhixing developed, I was denied many of my fundamental freedoms and rights. I was blacklisted by the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department. And after we announced the establishment of the Beijing Aizhi Action Project, the Ministry of Public Security banned the media from reporting our work."
But this brave, intrepid crusader was not prepared to stand down. After attending an international meeting in Indonesia, he accused Chinese leaders of "falling asleep as the AIDS virus spreads". He was once again detained on his return to China and forced by the government to cancel his upcoming workshop on "Blood Safety, AIDS and Legal Human Rights".
And it continued: in the weeks before he left China, he experienced harassment and intimidation at the hands of government authorities on numerous occasions.
"The police visited my apartment and called my mobile phone dozens of times. Even the fire department and the community administration office visited my apartment without being called, on spurious fire prevention claims.”
The tyranny of absolute power. Hardly ideal conditions in which to live a life, right?
The foreboding was becoming overwhelming. Dr. Wan had to accept a reality: the harassment he was subjected to was overflowing too far into his personal life. There were days when his wife wondered if she would ever see him again. Would he be there as a father to their daughter?
“I realized that my time in China was coming to an end," he told me, even now looking back with sadness. "My wife and I made the decision to leave China. Our plans were contingent on whether or not we would be allowed to actually exit the country. Yet ultimately, it seemed that the government was pushing us to leave."
And so, full of regret and unsure he was even doing the right thing, Wan Yanhai, his wife and daughter fled to the United States because of what he considered government persecution.
He has not returned to China since.
He likely never will.
These days, we hear stories of China's "democratization". But apparently official tolerance has its limits. You learn about police threatening to shut down the country’s first gay pride festival, and you wonder. The authorities had already cancelled a play, a film screening and a social mixer. Gay publications and plays were banned. Gay websites were occasionally blocked and those who tried to advocate for greater legal protection for lesbians and gay men – advocates like Dr. Wan Yanhai – faced harassment from the police. “Sometimes I felt like we were playing a complicated game with the government,” he told me. “No one knew where the line was... but we just kept pushing.” Indeed, pushing up against courage. Pushing the boundaries.
Sidebar. As I prepared to end my discussion with Wan Yanhai, I was compelled to ask one more question. “After seven years of living in the U.S., do you miss China?”
“Of course,” is his immediate response. But then he pauses. He looks off. I detect his eyes moistening. Within seconds, the tears begin to fall. He removes his glasses and struggles to speak but the words will not flow. He looks back at me, embarrassed. It’s clear that my question is the straw breaking the camel’s back, coming as it has after an afternoon of extensive contemplation and remembrances he may well have wished to forget.
“Hey… hey…” I put out my hand and it lands on his shoulder. “Relax my friend. No need to feel badly. I get it. I can’t imagine the life you've experienced. You’re a man with amazing courage and bravery, as well as superb training. You've got such an incredible past, with responsibilities, with accomplishments, with a global reputation... and yet, you’re a prisoner. I get it.”
“Thank you Peter,” he says. “Thank you, and I’m sorry. Sometimes…”
His eyes moisten again and he looks off.
And so, as I read about Zhang Zhan’s jail sentence, I naturally think about meeting the courageous Wan Yanhai. I can only thank my lucky starts that I live in a country that allows me to have opinions and talk and act as I feel.
Clearly, this basic human right that we have all come to expect is not in play elsewhere.
I have a marvelous 96 year old friend who I talk with on the phone whenever I can. Her name is Eva Olsson. You may know of her. I’ve written here about Eva before: she is a survivor of the Holocaust, having been liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp 75 years ago by British and Canadian troops. During her time there, she witnessed the death of her parents and other family members. She also saw Anne Frank die. Her memories are sad, but her spirit is unabashedly positive,
Today, we didn’t talk about the past. We discussed the spirit of Hanukkah and Christmas this year (both of which this ecumenical Jewish lady celebrates with glee). And then we moved to the new year ahead. “Eva, do you make new year’s resolutions?” I asked. “I make the same resolution at New Years that I make every single day,” she replied “Which is…?” I asked. “Do the best that you can. And try to do it even more today than you did yesterday.”
Not bad, eh? And man! If we all did that, what a different world this might be. Thanks you for that Eva.
My hope for the new year is that the vaccine retreats to the point where Eva Olsson can once more carry on with her speaking tour. She’s a powerful speaker at schools and connects with the kids hearing about her past by warning them of the evils of bullying.
It’s been a challenging year, but one that brought with it for me personally lots of upsides. My hope for you and all of us is that we have a safer, healthier, happier 2021.
Tom Sandler and I just completed a wonderful interview with Chuck Granata for Nancy Sinatra’s “Nancy For Frank” SIRIUS/XM show. We talked about our new book “Until I Smile At You” (untilismileatyou.com) and about the life of Ruth Lowe. The show will air January 17th, 2021, and Chuck will feature several cuts of music by Ruth.
You know, between Tom and me, we’ve been so well supported by the media. There was Steve Paikin’s awesome interview with yours truly on The Agenda. Tom’s interview with John Karastamatis for the popular Mirvish e-magazine. The wonderful conversations Jaymz Bee has had with each of us on his Vodcasts. Ric Bratton featured me once again on “This Week In America”. The lovely Alex Pangman had me on her show – the only guest she’s ever had on the air – and devoted the whole program to talking about Ruth Lowe and playing Ruth’s music. Ted Woloshyn. Bill King. Brad Wheeler. Sara Waxman. Liz Gruening. Rudy Blair. Frankie Picasso... I could go on and on, but my point here is simply to offer a heartfelt thanks to the media, both locally and away (hey, we just sold a book in Denmark!) for your support. Ruth Lowe is an enduring musical superstar who has not received the acclaim she deserves. The reinforcement by the media of the importance of “Until I Smile At You” is just so awesome and I can’t thank you enough.
Regarding the Covid-19 virus, I’ve said from the beginning – when one of my neighbors was confused and spreading rumors of people in our community dying (they weren’t) – that we have to be careful of misinformation about COVID-19. Same with the vaccines. False info can impede the success of vaccination efforts.
Our friends south of the border seem to lack leadership with this, but I have to tell ya, I’m happy the Canadian government has been enterprising and proactive by implementing strategies to provide us with access to clear, transparent and reliable information about COVID-19 vaccines. Here are some facts...
⁃ Through advance acquisition programs, Canada has acquired enough inoculation serums from 7 suppliers to provide every citizen with the vaccine.
⁃ Widespread immunization provides the best option for ridding our society of Covid-19.
⁃ The goal is to enable as many Canadians as possible to be immunized as quickly as possible against COVID-19, while ensuring that high risk populations are prioritized. High risk populations will receive the vaccination first, followed by roll out to all Canadians.
⁃ Two main priority groups have been identified for the first vaccinations:
⁃ Health vulnerable: Those at high risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.
⁃ Exposure vulnerable: Those most likely to be exposed to the virus.
⁃ Priority will be given to the elderly, residents and staff of long term care facilities, front line healthcare workers and those living in places with elevated risk of infection (such as some indigenous communities).
⁃ 2 injections are required, 3 weeks apart, with the Pfizer model and others; the Janssen version, however, requires only one dose.
⁃ Model clinics are being established across the country to prepare for the first vaccines.
⁃ 14 sites are being set up across the country to begin receiving the serums by Monday (Dec. 14).
⁃ Individual provinces and territories will decide on their own prioritization roll out.
⁃ An estimated 6 million doses will be administered immediately to the highest risk people.
⁃ All Canadians will have access to the vaccination during 2021.
Our government has this to say: “Canada’s COVID-19 immunization plan is the largest and most complex ever developed in Canada. A COVID-19 vaccine presents novel challenges, including requirements for ultra-cold or frozen storage, and delivering rapid vaccination quickly on a large scale. While Canada’s COVID-19 immunization plan has been developed to support the delivery of sufficient numbers of safe and efficacious vaccines to all Canadians, governments across Canada are also committed to anticipating potential challenges and mitigating potential disruptions.”
Let’s send this damn pandemic packing!!
Hi there. I've written 8 books so far and am working on others. Feel free to comment