Summer of the Gun

According to reports Canada’s crime rate is at its lowest level since the 1970s. A comforting thought if only we were not reminded on a daily basis of gun related violence on the streets of one of our country’s biggest cities.  Toronto has seen in recent days more than a handful of gun related crimes resulting in an unsettling amount of deaths, of both people known to the police and innocent bystanders. From an outsider’s point of view Toronto streets may be considered relatively safe when compared to other highly populated urban spaces – New York and Los Angeles come to mind – however local residences may feel otherwise.  And simply because Toronto is experiencing less than average amounts of gun crime when looking on a global scale does not make it less traumatic and troubling. Reports are making the rounds that suggest Toronto’s Caribana parade, the city’s annual summer Caribbean carnival, will improve security by searching bags and the like, “We are doing it because of the concerns that really are out there about our event, from people that aren’t going to be at our event. It’s not a big thing to search bags but if it would make people feel better, we certainly would do it,” The Globe and Mail quoted Caribana spokesperson Stephen Weir as saying. Check bags all you like, but what will keep those bags free from guns in the future is education and a change in mindset and culture.  Our love affair with violence has to come to an end in order for things to really change. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty met in Oshawa, Ontario this week and discussed the need to tackle the rise in Canada’s gun violence, “‘The fact of the matter is, most of the guns that end up in the hands of young criminals are illegal guns and they’re coming from South of the border,’ McGuinty said, noting that the Prime Minister indicated ‘he’s going to take another look at that,’” the CBC reported. I hope Harper will do more than take a look at it, because with no offense intended towards our American friends, it appears obvious that there are some serious gun issues south of the border as well. Just last week a former med student used an assault rifle to terrorize a multiplex in Aurora, Colorado where he killed 12 individuals and had his rifle not jammed may have slaughtered many more.  And I worry of the ignorance as it spreads, according to reports by the BBC gun sales have risen following that specific shooting. A common argument for the gun-carrying man or women is that they’ll be better able to protect themselves with a gun if someone tries to attack them.  In my view this is reprehensible and juvenile; an argument inline with you started it.  Where is the rational?  Seems obvious that fewer guns would result in fewer gun related deaths.  It has been said that the man who shot dead those 12 people and wounded dozens of others at the in Aurora, Colorado movie theatre got his weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition through the mail. To most Canadian’s the concept of buying an assault rifle through the mail is absurd; to most American’s it’s called their second amendment right.  Remember the West was won with a Colt six shooter.  From Wyatt Earp’s shoot out at the O.K. Corral to Wild Bill Hickok’s Wild West shows the culture is steeped in gun lore. American musician Moby made a great point when he wrote on Twitter just a few days ago, “Last year in the UK there were 39 murders involving guns. Last year in the U.S. there were 9,970. Please don’t say that regulations don’t work”, he continued, “or, per capita: U.S. had 14.2 gun deaths per 100,000 people. Ireland had .95. Scotland had .54. Japan had .005. Gun regulations save lives.” It’s highly apparent that gun laws work. The challenge is that our Southern neighbors have a drastically different gun culture than ours.  It is almost impossible to stop the flow of firearms across the border and the thought that additional gun laws will keep those guns out of the hands of criminals is absurd.  What is needed most is a dialogue that’s focused on the prevention of gun related crime and violence along with effective enforcement of the laws in place. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

Language of Generations

Last week the new CBC radio show Babel, which is dedicated to dissecting language, explored the idea of the gap between formal and informal language, the way we are receiving what is being said to us and even the changes being made by a whole new type of language, that which we have created with our computers and our smart phones.

The show’s host Mariel Borelli explained that we used to speak on average 145 words per minute, but research has shown that that number has jumped to between 160 and 180.  Is this a sign that we’re mimicking our speedy technology and 24 hour culture? We’ve all spoken with someone who speaks just a little too fast or a little too slow, and in both circumstances it leads to a feeling of awkwardness or anxiousness.  Tone, speed and enunciation is just as important as the context of what we’re talking about – especially if you’re trying to win over who you are speaking with. Back in 2008 the BBC reported on a UK study that claimed to have found the formula for the perfect human voice, based on subject’s ratings of 50 different voices.  Linguist Andrew Linn and sound engineer Shannon Harris found that an, “ideal voice should utter no more than 164 words per minute and pause for 0.48 seconds between sentences.”  The article also noted, which interestingly has a few computer-generated ‘perfect’ voices that you can listen to, that the study named English actors Jeremy Irons, Alan Rickman and Judi Dench among the best male and female voices. “Vocal traits associated with positive characteristics, such as confidence and trust, scored highly with listeners,” the report continued. Based on that research, conducted nearly five years ago, we are apparently quite accustom to the 160 words a minute that we have sped up to and if we encounter anyone who speaks slower – or at the supposed customary rate – we might easily get frustrated or bored with them, brushing them off as an old drawling country sort. The gap between the new way of doing things and the old way has always been there.  I did things differently than how my father did them and likewise, he did differently than his.  Incidentally a short animation that was previewed before the Pixar film Brave, a charming coming of age story called La Luna written and directed by Enrico Casarosa, shows this concept perfectly in that sweet and magical way so often adopted by Pixar and Disney.  If you haven’t seen it, it is highly recommended. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

A Life of Looking at Pictures

As a father every once in a while I feel a warm surge of pride when I look at where my daughter’s have gone in life.  The years of worry, late nights, fights over what they shouldn’t wear out, boyfriends, discussions on how to make it through elementary school, high school and then university and college have now culminated in two, if I do say so myself, success stories, albeit successes that still throw me new curve balls and the odd knuckle ball every now and again. Both of my daughter’s career paths intrigue me.  My eldest chose the course of public service demonstrating her skills and empathy every day by giving Ontario inmates the chance to educate and better themselves, which is no easy task given the environment.  While my youngest daughter, who is fervently independent, spends her days and nights reviewing hundreds and hundreds of photos bound for the international market place.  The lure of Hollywood’s bright lights, film festivals like Sundance, Cannes and TIFF are very strong indeed.  You will find her there in the background pouring over countless photos looking for just the right one for us to admire, and possibly pin up if people still do that. All the while working earnestly on a screenplay that she hopes will make it to the big screen and film festivals one day. I’ve talked with my picture editing daughter at some length about her chosen field and apparently she believes it is something she “fell” into but I think not.  From a very young age the movies and fashion were of great interest to her.  I think she enjoys the glamour and the joy of being transported to another place through imagery.  That is what art, music and dance does for us, it transports us if not physically then emotionally from the mundane thus providing those of us that have a hard time expressing ourselves and our feelings with an outlet.  We can look at a picture, whether moving or still, and think that captures how I feel exactly.  A piece of music can create strong emotions or calm the beast.  That’s why I think she loves the work. After all that, a new question arises.  If she looks at so much every day is there still time for more, can she see and appreciate other images?  The answer, thankfully she says, is yes.  Glossy magazine picture editors often do good work with their entertainment and fashion shoots (just pick up a Vanity Fair, Vogue or GQ, and even movie magazine Empire recently had a great series of celebrity portraits to peruse), news outlets like the BBC online have a dedicated editor who curates a wonderful page called In Pictures, which makes an art out of documenting news events. A life looking at images sounds interesting enough, but it comes with a price.  My daughter’s eye has become more discerning, her tastes more refined; it is harder to impress her, which at times becomes frustrating as there aren’t always quality images being put out for view.  But for her that makes the hunt more exciting.  I believe that’s a nice metaphor for life, for what else is life if not a hunger for the hunt? | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS

Changing Views -The War on Drugs

Back in 2011 a group that consisted of Nobel laureates, former US president Jimmy Carter and the ubiquitous list of socially-conscious celebrities wrote a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron requesting that he open up a debate on the subject of the “illicit drug industry, worth £285 billion a year, the third largest industry, all be it non-sanctioned,  in the world after food and oil,” The Telegraph newspaper reported. A seemingly reasonable request but one that brings with it the weight of nearly 100 years of ingrained criminality spawning from the first drug prohibition law laid down by the United States government, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, which placed a tax on the production, importation and distribution of opiates. Since that time millions of dollars have been spent, thousands of lives have been lost and tons of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and chemical concoctions have been stolen, seized, traded, sold or burned in blazing public relations glory.  Drug lords who watch over the production of their figurative gold have not been weeded out but have continued to operate unregulated, pushing their industry to new heights.  Some might even go as far to say that the drug war has perpetuated the violence and criminality of the trade while doing absolutely nothing to curb, let alone stop it. Recently world leaders have begun to debate the usefulness of the ‘war on drugs’ and have started to let the pendulum swing the other way by fighting to decriminalize the use, production and distribution of major drugs, thus taking the power away from violent drug cartels. Guatemala’s president Otto Pérez Molina has made headlines recently with his new drug agenda. “Our institutions have been weakened. And this is happening elsewhere. So now I’m asking myself, are we doing things right? Do we have the right strategy? Or do we have to reflect and sit down to find new alternatives to fight drug trafficking?” Molina was quoted as saying in an Al Jazeera online article. His comments came during April’s Summit of the Americas held in Cartagena, Columbia where he was joined by the rest of the western hemisphere’s leaders to discuss common policies and future goals. Molina’s views may seem radical to some, but he’s only reacting to the policies and view points that have yet to solve any of the problems they first set out to fix. The purchasing, production and use of drugs is as strong as ever. “The decision by Pérez Molina to speak out is seen as highly significant and not without political risk. Polls suggest the vast majority of Guatemalans oppose decriminalization, but Pérez Molina’s comments are seen by many as helping to usher in a new era of debate. They will be studied closely by foreign policy experts who detect that Latin American leaders are shifting their stance on prohibition following decades of drug wars that have left hundreds of thousands dead,” the English news paper The Guardian wrote during the summit.

Nearly 12 years ago Portugal made a big step in changing its national drug policies, with an emphasis on the decriminalized of the use or possession of small quantities of drugs, harm reduction and substitution treatment.  In 2001 the south western European country “became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine,” a Time magazine online article wrote. A report conducted by the Cato Institute, a public policy research organization, found that five years following the initiation of these policies there was a drop in prolonged drug use by teenagers and new HIV infections in drug users.  The country replaced harsh sentencing for petty drug crimes with the option of sitting with a psychologist, social worker and legal adviser to have proper treatment recommended.   And if lowered drug use isn’t enough evidence of the policy’s benefits, the fact that it costs less to send drug users for treatment than to jail should be enough to spark interest in the debate. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  So, when all else fails why not utilize fresh tactics.  The real question is: what does failure mean in regards to the war on drugs?  What are the objectives?  Einstein had it right and it feels like Molina along with many others are finally opening up a dialogue that is badly needed. I am of the belief that war whether hot or cold leaves behind many more victims than victors.  The idea that a war on drugs could be successful seems irrational and the results have proved to be no more successful than Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty.  Open dialogue, creative thinking and a massive amount of education is the answer. We have reduced impaired driving, the wearing of seat belts and the consumption of tobacco through strong educational programs.  Banning drugs and jailing its victims have proved to be unsuccessful and costly.  How about a strategy for reducing drug use, drug related crime and drug violence? | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

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