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Hi everyone:

Like some of my other recent postings – I originally put this one up on Facebook yesterday, which as noted below was the anniversary of the federal election. Seems a number of people liked it, so I thought it might be fun to offer it here as well. I hope you enjoy it, and as always, feel free to share this blog posting with anyone you wish. Ready? Here we go!!

October 19 was the one year anniversary of the federal election which saw a new government under the leadership of Justin Trudeau come to Ottawa. I’m not going to offer a commentary on things like whether Canada is better off under his leadership than we were with the old Harper government, whether the Liberals have lived up to their election promises and so on. There’s already enough people doing that. You certainly don’t need that from me as well, right?

Instead, I want to say thank you to all the people I worked with at Elections Canada Hamilton Centre, not only on Election Day, but also in the period from Labour Day right through to October 19 itself, when I worked behind the scenes in several areas, most especially as a Revision Assistant and then as a Central Poll Supervisor. Special thanks to our Returning Officer Ryan Thomas Scally Leverton, as well as people like Brad Mailman, Jordan Callander, Charlene Manning, and so many others. It was my pleasure to call each of you not only my colleagues, but also my friends. Those few weeks last year were very stressful and fast-paced, but I would not change that for anything. Yes, even the fact that my duties as the Central Poll Supervisor at Queen Victoria School did not finish until something like 3:30 the next morning. Our work was worth it because we got to serve not only the people of Hamilton Centre, but also our fellow Canadians right across the country. And of course I can’t do this without remembering my friend and colleague Eduardo Cordero, who sadly passed away back in August. Eduardo was an important member of our Hamilton Centre team and he will be missed by many people, especially all of us who had the pleasure of working with him and getting to know him day after day. A wonderful man, a class act in every way, and a true friend. I’m glad that I was able to attend his memorial service at First Unitarian Church here in Hamilton. May he rest in peace, and may God bless his family and friends.

The next election, of course, will not be until the fall of 2019. A lot can happen between now and then, but if I am available to do so, I would be delighted to work with Elections Canada once again, and likely do all the same things I did a year ago. Let’s see what that time brings. Best wishes to all.

Hi everyone:

As I write this blog entry it is early October 2016. And if you are a baseball fan then it is the best time of the year. That’s because the regular season is now over and the first round of the playoffs is now underway. Well, maybe I ought to revisit that statement because the “Wild Card” round of games took place earlier this week. The first game was last Tuesday night (October 4) when the favourite team in these parts, the Toronto Blue Jays, emerged victorious with a thrilling extra-innings win over the Baltimore Orioles. The next night, the defending National League champion New York Mets exited when they were defeated by the San Francisco Giants. Perhaps it’s appropriate that I mentioned the Giants because it leads very well into my subject for this article.

If you are a longtime baseball fan, chances are you have heard of Vin Scully. Vin has just retired from the Los Angeles Dodgers after an incredible 67 year run as the team’s lead broadcaster. Yes, you read that correctly. Vin started in 1950 when the team was still based in Brooklyn and has continued for all these years. What a remarkable run, and I seriously doubt that anyone will ever achieve that feat again. Just think about it. 67 years with the same organization. In a world where today people are lucky to spend 67 months or even 67 weeks in the same job, Vin Scully has been going strong since 1950.

Last month (September 2016) the Dodgers organization made a wonderful gesture. In tribute to Vin Scully and his incredible career, the team invited fans worldwide to send greetings to Vin and to offer thanks for his career. As a lifelong Dodgers fan, of course, I jumped at the opportunity. I have followed the team all my life, for reasons too numerous to mention here. Gee – I think I just came up with another blog idea. I did write a blog entry a while back about the New York Yankees, maybe I should do one about the Dodgers and why I have loved the team since I was a wee lad back in St. Lambert. In keeping with the Dodgers offer, I sat at this computer a while back and offered the following:

Greetings from Hamilton, Ontario Canada. I am a lifelong Dodgers fan, and to say thank you for your countless contributions to my team, to Los Angeles, to Brooklyn and to the world, not just in broadcasting but in every other part of society seems somehow inadequate. You have been the soundtrack of our lives. You treat everyone with class, dignity and the highest respect. If someone asked me to select a role model that people could emulate and take encouragement from, you are my choice. I will be listening to your final broadcast from Dodger Stadium today (Sept. 25) and also continuing through this week until the season concludes next weekend. How appropriate that the season will end by calling the Dodgers and the Giants in San Francisco. You know better than anyone about our rivalry with the Giants, so I think it is most fitting that your time will close with that rivalry. As you so aptly described it during the final time the teams played at the Polo Grounds in September 1957 “Sparta and Athens are at it again.” God bless you Vin. Rest assured that millions of people worldwide love you and will miss you. In closing, to use your trademark line “It’s time for Dodger baseball”. But somehow, it won’t seem the same not having you calling the action. Thank you to the Dodgers for allowing me and so many others worldwide to offer our best wishes. We will miss you, Vin, and we will never forget you.

In addition to the above letter, let me offer some other tributes to Vin that I located online. For openers, here is a video presentation shared at Dodger Stadium as part of a special ceremony honouring him on Friday September 23: A Tribute to Vin Scully in celebration of 67 years of excellence with the Dodgers

If that little taste whets your appetite – here’s the entire ceremony from that evening. A very classy and wonderful tribute from the Dodgers, the City of Los Angeles, the entertainment community and fans worldwide. Let me caution you, get a box of Kleenex before you watch this thing. I was in tears watching it live that night, and I have experienced that again watching it a few times since then. I hope you enjoy it. Thank you Vin! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz-B8QK5qtE

The following afternoon (September 24) Vin led a nearly one hour press conference for the media at Dodger Stadium reflecting on his many years as a broadcaster. As always he handled every question with class, charm and elegance. Early in the proceedings (around the 7 minute mark) Vin even took a question from a Montreal journalist in which he reflected on the Expos and his experiences calling games both at Jarry Park and the Olympic Stadium. And while he didn’t actually say it, you get the feeling that he would be happy to see baseball return to Montreal some day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaZOdbrWJIc

September 25 was a typically beautiful Southern California Sunday afternoon. And high above the field at Dodger Stadium, in the press box that will always bear his name, Vin Scully was winding down his remarkable career. Here’s the call of his final batter. A home run by Charlie Culberson that clinched the 2016 NL West Division crown. It doesn’t get much better than that. If you want to relive that magical moment, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HayOXW09kl8

Here’s a behind the scenes look at that final home game at Dodger Stadium, a wonderful video production put on the Dodgers Web site that beautifully captures Vin Scully at work in his final home broadcast: http://m.mlb.com/lad/video/topic/8911656/v1202416683/?c_id=la

Now of course, no tribute to Vin Scully would be complete without giving you what many consider his most memorable call. That’s right. October 15, 1988. It’s game one of the 1988 World Series. Bottom of the ninth. Two outs. Kirk Gibson at the plate. I think you know the rest, but let’s watch it together, shall we? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4nwMDZYXTI

Dusty Baker was a star player for the Dodgers for many years. I really enjoyed his short but heartfelt tribute to Vin Scully, I think he says it all for the hundreds of men who have worn Dodger blue for those 67 years, first in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles. Here he is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3iFZRcADUw

KLAC was the flagship station for the Dodgers radio network during the 2016 season. In tribute to Vin’s amazing career, the station produced a special 90 minute broadcast. Yes, I did indeed listen to the whole thing. Sure, it will take you a while, but take my word for it – you will enjoy it. Why not settle back, relax and have a go at it. Here’s the broadcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEiSM-oLXAc

One week later after that emotional farewell at Dodger Stadium (October 2), Vin called his very last game – against the Dodgers most bitter rivals at San Francisco. As I wrote in that letter to him, how appropriate that his final game would be against the Giants. So let me close with some video content from that final game. First, in a very classy move by the Giants, they pay tribute to Vin and his career. My apologies if the sound quality isn’t the best, if I find a better video of this tribute I will replace it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzpGZIFf1-0

Second, a video tribute to Vin, played on the scoreboard at AT & T Park. Again, such a wonderful and very classy move by the Giants. As with the above, I apologize if some of you have issues with the quality of this video, but I felt it was worth sharing. I suspect this was taped by a fan from their actual seat in the stadium. Whoever that fan was, if he or she reads this one day, thank you for sharing this with the world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnUTZL_qmlQ

Third, a video of the final inning in San Francisco, taken from the Sportsnet LA broadcast. As in the case of some other videos, the quality here may not be the best. I suspect that someone taped that last inning and then transferred this over to YouTube. But for now it will have to do. If I find a better copy of that 9th inning in San Francisco, I will replace it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2zjxHO0hkE

And after the game, he recorded a touching and very emotional send-off. I want to share that with all of you. Please note that because this video originated on Facebook, you may need to log into your FB account before you can watch it. My apologies if that causes a problem for you, but I think you will agree with me that it’s worth the effort. Why don’t you watch it now and then decide for yourself? https://www.facebook.com/Dodgers/videos/10155349077078508/

Just as Vin Scully ended his incredible broadcasting career with the video I just shared, perhaps that is a fitting way for me to end my tribute to him. Thank you and God bless you, Vin. We will never see his like again. As he said as part of that final broadcast in San Francisco (you will hear it on that 9th inning video above) “Don’t be sad because it’s over, smile because it happened”. Truer words were never spoken. I can’t think of better words to end this tribute. As always thanks for reading this article and for watching any or all of the videos that I offered. Have a super day, watch for my next blog entry – coming soon to a computer near you. So long for now!

As I have done with some of my recent blog entries (such as one I published in July 2016 about my struggles with depression), I have adapted this one slightly from a Facebook posting. This one was done on September 23, in keeping with the final week of the 2016 season. Don’t be surprised if I revise this once the season ends, but this is where we are at the moment. Here we go!

No doubt like many of you reading this, I am a baseball fan. And late September is the best time of year. Or as the famous “September Song” notes “the days dwindle down to a precious few”. The 2016 regular season is winding down and the playoffs, culminating in the World Series, are around the corner. As of now, the Cubs are the only team to have clinched a playoff berth, but with only a week left other teams will join the Cubs soon. As a lifelong Los Angeles Dodgers fan I am cheering for my guys to win the NL West and hopefully take it all the way. Especially when you consider that the greatest broadcaster of them all, the immortal Vin Scully, is retiring. He will call his final games next weekend when we play the Giants in San Francisco. How appropriate that given the incredible rivalry between my Dodgers and the Giants, which first began in Brooklyn and New York so many decades ago, and then continued when the teams moved to California in 1958, that Vin will conclude his career with these two rivals. Would be so wonderful if the Dodgers can win the World Series, our first since 1988. Or as many folks are saying in Los Angeles, “Win It For Vin”

In celebration of all this, let me offer all of you a video containing what I think is the finest comedy routine ever. Perhaps I am showing my age, but to me a lot of what passes for comedy today is rude, vulgar and disgusting as to be almost repulsive. If you want some “real” comedy, and also with a baseball theme, I offer for all of you the classic “Who’s On First” routine from Abbott and Costello. I hope you enjoy this one, as well as the rest of the baseball season to come. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTcRRaXV-fg I trust that you will agree with me that this is a wonderful comedy skit, and a wonderful tribute to baseball.

Hi everyone:

I am basing today’s article on something that I wrote on my Facebook page earlier today (July 15, 2016) and was pleasantly surprised by the many heartfelt and positive comments I received. So let me now take the next step and share this here on my blog as well. You noticed that I said I “based” this on the Facebook posting. After giving the matter some consideration, I felt that what I wrote over there could serve as a point of departure and that I could expand on some things here. I have indeed done that and I hope you enjoy this article. As always, feel free to share this with anyone you wish. Now that I have established the preliminaries, on with the show:

Back on Facebook today after what has been a very difficult past few days. As many of you know I sometimes struggle with depression, social anxiety and related mental health issues. And over the past week to ten days (and maybe longer!), I really got hit hard and just felt awful. I think this whole thing was triggered by this hot and very humid summer weather that has struck the Toronto region for much of July. Having said this, when you consider news stories like the terrible Bastille Day attack that took place last night (July 14) in Nice, the tragic and heart-breaking death of that 5 year old girl in Calgary (Taliyah Marsman), or the escalating racial tensions in the USA highlighted by the horrific shootings of some police officers in Dallas (as well as other shootings earlier this month in places like Baton Rouge, Michigan and Minnesota), that could be enough to send anyone tumbling into these conditions.

As I have stated from time to time in the past, I’m really not much of a “summer” person, even when I was a young lad I never cared for the summer. I always found this time of year to be when I would feel very irritable, confrontational, moody, cold and distant – in summation not the greatest people person. When things got really bad I just wanted the world to go away and leave me alone. I had hoped that as I grew older that all this would pass, but it didn’t and still hasn’t today. Roughly 20 years ago, in the early to mid 1990’s, I began to confront my past and as part of an overall self-improvement program, I wanted to find ways to battle personal demons such as those listed above. And as part of this program, I learned about a condition called “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or S.A.D. What an appropriate abbreviation, because I think people who do suffer from S.A.D. do indeed feel sad much of the time. I discovered that although the vast majority get it in the winter (which is why S.A.D. is sometimes called the “Winter Blues”), some folks get it in the summer. When I looked at the symptoms, I saw myself written all over it. So I guess I have summer S.A.D. But to say that’s the whole thing is too simplistic and there’s much more than that to my story I also know that I really have had battles over the years with the aforementioned mental health issues – that has to be considered too.

I know that some of you will read this and tell me things like: “Greg, you really shouldn’t talk about this stuff so candidly. Especially because you are a freelancer and always need to find new people to work with. Telling people that you have mental health and related issues doesn’t help your professional reputation and just might make people scared to work with you. Not a very wise move and you really shouldn’t publish stuff like this.” Or similar comments. And that is a good point. In fact, some people have actually told me these things – and I will wager that some folks will tell me that same thing now. While I do understand these sentiments, let me answer with the following statement. I believe it’s much better to take the risk regarding how people see me, especially my personal and professional reputation, and be honest, transparent, and have the courage and strength to share my mental health issues out in the open. As I have said before, I think mental health is very much like homosexuality. Just as I applaud our LGBT friends for “coming out” and sharing their sexuality with others, people like me who have mental health issues need to do that too. That’s why I wanted people to know that most of July 2016 (and in particular these past few days) have not been pleasant for me.

One of the things that keeps me going is that when I really suffer from depression, I also know that it’s just temporary and that like everything else in life: “This too shall pass”. And that is the case today, on a warm Friday morning here in Hamilton. Yes, I am feeling much better today and resolved to move forward once again. I need to confront these issues and battle what Sir Winston Churchill (a man I have admired all of my life, and whom I consider as one of my role models) called “The Black Dog” (no, it’s not the name of my local pub!). If Sir Winston acknowledged that he battled depression all his life, and that it didn’t stop him from living such an incredible life that touched countless millions worldwide (and still does today, over 50 years after his death), I can do that too. Oh – and if I may be permitted a brief aside, I did write an article here on this blog a while back about Sir Winston Churchill which in part talks about his life struggles. You can read it here: Sir Winston Churchill’s 5 Lesssons For Life

Let me close with this final observation. I know that my depression and other mental health struggles will last me forever. No, I am not a defeatist. I am simply a realist. Just as I mentioned a moment ago that in some respects mental health is like homosexuality, I think it’s like alcoholism too. Hmm? Come again? Yes, you did read that right. Most alcoholics will tell you that they know their affliction will always be there. It’s something that they will battle for the rest of their lives. It might be summed up best in one of the slogans associated with Alcoholics Anonymous: “One drink is too many and a thousand is not enough”. Perhaps that’s why many people in their situation turn to AA and other support groups. They are realistic enough to know that they battle alcoholism daily and need to find support and encouragement through others.

It is the same thing with mental health. I have sometimes heard about people who claim that they have conquered conditions such as social anxiety. Now while I don’t wish to “trash” these people or minimize what they feel they have accomplished, I would like to challenge that assertion. I said what I did above based on my own life experiences, and I suspect the overwhelming majority of people who share my struggles will say the same thing. That you never really do conquer these things. Instead, you face and confront depression, social anxiety, suicidal thoughts, lack of self-confidence, panic attacks and countless other conditions that can be grouped together as part of the wider picture that we call mental health, mental illness or similar conditions. And that you will do that every day for the rest of your life. You will have your good days and your bad days – which in my opinion is something all of us face as part of the human condition. You learn and use coping strategies and other support systems which help you manage these issues and you tell yourself that when depression and other conditions attack that these things are just temporary. Again, just like everything else in life. As many have observed, you can never control what life sends you every day. But you can control how you deal with these things and how you react to it. Or as the famous entertainer Kenny Rogers once observed: “Life is not about being dealt a good hand. It’s about knowing how to play a bad hand well”.

As Gloria Gaynor, one of the musical stars of the 1970’s disco era, sang: “I Will Survive”. While she may not have written the song with this in mind, I think this could be an anthem for mental health awareness. Let me say more. I will be strong and will prevail! I will slay the “Black Dog” of depression that my hero Sir Winston Churchill battled too. I won’t let social anxiety win! And I will NEVER let anyone tell me that I can’t achieve the highest goals and make my life the best it can be. Everyone talks these days about justice and human rights. Among that, I believe, is the right for every man and woman to live a happy, meaningful and productive life. I’ve never been a passionate advocate for social justice and human rights. But mental health is the exception to this rule. I will always be passionate about championing mental health issues and helping ensure that society confronts these issues and creates a better world for all. I hope all of you reading this feel the same.

May God give me the strength to win the battles I have talked about all through not just that original Facebook posting, but on this posting too. Not just to win the battle over depression, but also social anxiety and other mental illness issues that have plagued me and countless millions if not billions worldwide. Just as I did with that Facebook posting, let me close by apologizing for such a long post. I guess that happens when you feel passionately about a subject (as I do this one). Finally, if you are one of those folks I noted earlier who thinks I have just damaged some of my professional reputation, you won’t be seeing an apology from me. I stand by what I wrote before, and I’m not going back. Telling my story is liberating and many folks out there have told me that they stand with me and applaud that I have done this. But if you’re not one of those people, I close by urging you to read this article again (especially the sections where I do share my story) and try to see it from my viewpoint.

Best wishes to all, thanks for your understanding and support. And since I am writing this on a Friday afternoon, let me wish you all a great weekend!!

Hi everyone:

It’s June 26, 2016 as I type this blog article – a typical hot and steamy Sunday morning here in Hamilton. I wrote the following posting earlier this weekend after the stunning results of the June 23 referendum in the UK (aka England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) in which a slight majority voted that the country should leave the European Union. This led to countless discussions on social media and led me to write the following on my Facebook page. But I also felt it might be nice to share this with a broader audience – hence the idea of publishing it here. Hope you enjoy this, and be sure to share all my blog articles with anyone you wish. My comments go something like this. Enjoy!

Although I have always felt that the UK should stay within the EU and was disappointed with the result, I can understand why they voted as they did. The UK has always had a “love-hate” relationship with Europe, and one would have to write a 5000 page book to fully explain why. I remember when I visited London with my family back in the early 1970’s there was heated debate in those days about whether Britain should join what was then known as the “Common Market” (which over time evolved into today’s EU). And for decades if not centuries before that, our British friends have struggled over what to do regarding Europe. So what we are seeing now is only the latest manifestation of something that has gone on throughout the entire British Isles (yes, including Ireland too) for hundreds if not thousands of years. I think much of the “Brexit” vote (as an aside, this appears to be the name most often associated with this EU referendum, and a clever play on words, combining “Britain” with “Exit”) was driven by a frustration with the ridiculous and cumbersome bureaucracy that exists within the EU headquarters in Brussels and which all member nations are subjected to. During her time as Prime Minister, the great Margaret Thatcher  once said something like this: “We didn’t remove trade barriers, reduce the size of government and bureaucracy in Britain only to have those same things re-imposed on us from Europe”. I don’t blame them for feeling this frustration.

After all, let’s suppose we had the same thing here in the Americas if Canada, the USA, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America were all in an EU-type system. Would we want our laws passed in Ottawa to be vetoed by a centralized Brussels-type bureaucracy based in Chicago, Mexico City, Havana, Brasilla, or Buenos Aires? Would Canadians want their sense of independence, self-determination and national identity denied by a bunch of bureaucrats who feel continental needs take precedence and must be obeyed without question? If the Americas had a “Greece” equivalent would we want billions of Canadian dollars used to bail out that failed country, especially if we are ordered by that above-noted bureaucracy to do this and have no input in the decision or even any hope that “Greece” could one day repay Canada (as has happened in many EU member nations)? I wouldn’t want any of the above things to compromise Canadian independence, and I suspect most Canadians would agree with me. Yet this is what they often face in the UK, many Brits resent that and have felt frustrated, angry and powerless. The Brexit vote was one way of expressing those sentiments. To use a phrase popularized by Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, they wanted to “take their country back” and I can appreciate why they are feeling this way. Hmm  – Trump’s favourite campaign slogan has been “Make America Great Again”. Dare I say that the Brexit folks wanted to “Make Britain Great Again”?

I think they also felt threatened by immigration and other factors which many Brits feel has also compromised their independence and sense of identity. Not to mention working-class regions such as in the NE of England (including places like Sunderland and Newcastle-upon-Tyne) where people seem to feel, rightly or wrongly, that immigrants have taken away their jobs and threatened their way of life. I think some of this is also the “island” mentality that can create a sense of self-determination and independence, but speaking as someone who has a proud English, Irish and Scottish ancestry I can appreciate that this uniqueness from the rest of Europe is an essential part of what it means to be British.

Finally, as many folks in the media and online have noted, I think this is part of a global phenomenon that also includes the aforementioned Donald Trump and other populist movements not just in Europe but in other parts of the world that tend to be, but not exclusively, conservative or right of centre – which features a mistrust of the so-called “establishment” and political elites. According to these folks the establishment and the elite have a sense of entitlement and always know the right thing for society. They are surprised when the public goes against their views (such as this Brexit vote) and can’t understand why people behave this way. To which the disenchanted reply that the establishment and the elite are out of touch with the real world.

I noted just now that while this often tends to manifest itself in conservative or other right-of-centre viewpoints, it can also surface on the left-wing, liberal, progressive side too. As evidence to support this view, I suspect this movement not only created Donald Trump, but that Bernie Sanders springs from the same basic roots. During his run for the Democratic Presidential nomination in the November 2016 American election, Mr. Sanders and his followers have railed against these same “establishment” and “elite” types, but from their left wing viewpoints. And they feel that Hillary Clinton (who at this time of writing appears to have wrapped up the Democratic nomination and will likely face Mr. Trump in that November election) is indeed part of that “establishment” that doesn’t listen to the average American. Indeed, just before I published this article, Sanders noted that he hasn’t endorsed Mrs. Clinton, in part because of the above concerns. Or to paraphrase some of his comments, he seems to feel that the Democratic Party should reflect Main Street and not Wall Street. I think it’s fair to say that Trump and Sanders are the right and left-wing manifestations of this discontent. I would even say that we could rightly argue that while these two men are polarizing opposites that have contributed to major divisions within the USA, Trump and Sanders have much more in common with each other than you might think – in part for the reasons I noted above. I’m not sure I agree with these people and their arguments that seem to blame the so-called “establishment”, but completely understand their viewpoint.

I could say a lot more about this (and likely have written too much here as it is), but will end it there. It’s still early days since Thursday’s vote. Whether we think the UK should stay in the EU or leave it, I hope that we can separate the rhetoric from the facts, and let things work themselves out. Even the Brexit supporters who won the day have said the same thing. Only time will tell.

Hi everyone:

I originally wrote this on my Facebook page on the morning of Monday August 10, 2015 and then decided to also put this here on my blog – but in a slightly revised and updated format. Hope you enjoy it!

A glorious morning here in downtown Hamilton – starting off my week here at the Hamilton Public Library Central branch, located next to Jackson Square. I sometimes think of this place as my home away from home when I need to work on things and want to get away from my apartment. I suppose that’s one drawback to being a freelancer who works from home – you get tired of your own walls after a while and need to get out.

This morning, however, there’s a different spin on this situation – and I thought it might be fun to tell you what’s going on. I woke up a few hours ago, sometime in the middle of the night, to find my apartment in total darkness. At first, I didn’t think much of it – isn’t that what things are supposed to be like at that hour? Until I looked over at my clock radio and saw nothing, instead of the normal glowing red numbers telling me what time it is.Then it slowly dawned on me that I had a power failure. Was it just my place? That thought only lasted a few seconds until I got up, looked out my bedroom window over downtown Hamilton and began to realize that our entire neighbourhood was gone. Reminded me a little of that classic August 2003 blackout when something like half of eastern North America lost electricity. Very strange indeed.

I went back to bed and after what seemed like only a few minutes, I got up again. Of course I had no idea when I woke up that first time or even how long I had slept again. This time I figured there was no point in going back to sleep, so instead I got up, got myself dressed and as I put on my watch and glanced at the time, I discovered it was just coming up on 6:30. I was feeling frustrated with my situation, so I went for a walk through the area. It wasn’t long before I began to confirm what I had seen earlier from my bedroom window, that this was much more than just my building or even my street. Even my local Hasty Market grocery/convenience store located only a block away had closed because they too had no electricity. I finally spotted a couple of Horizon Utilities trucks (our local energy company) just down the way from my building, with a couple of men with those orange vests we so often see utility people wearing, sitting inside one of them. One of the doors was open, so I struck up a chat with them. They explained that a couple of underground power cables servicing the downtown area had snapped, and this is what caused the power failure. They told me that things were being worked on and they expected everything to be back to normal by later this morning or early afternoon. As it turned out the power was restored by 11:00 a.m. If anyone from Horizon is reading this, thanks for restoring our services so quickly. It’s much appreciated.

But all this now takes me on a different track – something that I briefly touched on back on my Facebook page.  Events such as this morning, and in particular that we lose our electricity so rarely these days (which I think is a real tribute to the electrical workers employed by Horizon Utilities and similar energy companies around the world – this morning was only the second time since that August 2003 event that I had lost power at home), leads me to discuss the following, which I hope all of you will appreciate and understand – something for thought on a warm August day:

It’s funny how you take something like electricity for granted. Just a part of 21st century society. You turn on your computer at home and it’s there. Think I will have some of last night’s leftover pizza for lunch, all I need is 45 seconds in the microwave. I take a piece or two of pizza from the freezer, put it on a plate, place it in the microwave and set it for 45 seconds. Press the button and voila – it’s there and ready to eat. It’s Saturday morning, maybe I will watch my favourite DVD on TV or catch that big soccer match live from Europe. Press a few buttons on my television set, insert the disc and it’s there. So many other examples of the role energy plays in our modern world. But what happens when it doesn’t? You turn a switch and…nothing! Just like when I woke up this morning and realized I had no electricity. How often do we consider that scenario? Are we prepared for those few minutes (or hours in this case) when we don’t have power to run our appliances, computers and other equipment? Our grandparents and earlier generations lived in a world without electricity – but can you do that? How would you react if you came home tonight and discovered your home had no electricity? Have you assembled an emergency kit for your family to use in the event of a power failure (e.g. flashlight, radio, batteries…)? If not, perhaps you should consider it.

It might seem strange in today’s high-tech world (and in particular for the younger folks who may be reading this), but let’s consider for a moment that electricity is still a fairly new player in our society. Even as recently as 50 to 75 years ago, many areas of North America and Europe not only didn’t have electricity, but also didn’t have indoor plumbing or other modernities that we now take for granted. Indeed, that situation still exists in many areas of our world today, not only in North America and Europe, but especially in parts of Africa, Asia and other parts of the so-called “developing” world. So next time you flick a switch to turn on that lamp in your living room, or punch the desired cooking time into your microwave – knowing that you’re just a couple of minutes away from a nice hot meal – just remember that not everyone on this planet will have that luxury. Yes, I did indeed call it a “luxury”. In our fast-paced North American society, we might take energy for granted and consider it a “necessity”. Instead of doing that, however, let’s remember those who won’t have a hot meal tonight. Or can’t have a luxurious warm shower tomorrow morning because they don’t have the electricity to heat the water. That is, of course, assuming you have access to the water itself. Some areas of our world don’t have that either. For them, it is indeed a “luxury”.

But let’s see if as a society we can do better. Next time you call for electricity to your home by pressing a button or throwing a switch, don’t take all this for granted. Instead, lets remember the less fortunate in our world. And if you are able to do so, I hope you will find a worthy organization out there online that will indeed help provide electricity for a village in Africa. Or clean water to an oasis in the Arab desert. How about a town in the jungles of Thailand, Malaysia or Vietnam? All these people deserve the same necessities of life that we take for granted. If you have enjoyed reading this posting, then let me challenge you to go online, to find an organization that will help raise the standard of living in the poorest parts of the world, and then make a donation as you feel you are able to do. You don’t have to be someone with lots of money – even a few dollars will help. Electricity to heat and light their homes? Clean water for drinking, bathing, laundry and other essentials? We can change our world if we work together. Will you consider that today? I hope so. As always thanks for reading this blog entry – until next time!

Hi everyone:

As I write this blog entry it’s July 2015 and my home region is getting ready to host one of the world’s great sporting events, the 2015 Pan Am Games. Not familiar with this one? No problem. In fact, I dare say that The Pan American Games are one of those events that are not on the radar for most people in these parts. More about that later on in this article. Allow me to come to the rescue and spend a few minutes today offering some information about this unique event. As an aside, I am aiming to publish this in time for the the Opening Ceremonies on July 10, so don’t be surprised if this whole thing is revised and updated over time, especially if you are reading this after the Games conclude on July 26.

The Pan American Games are the third largest multi-sport event in the world, surpassed only by the Summer and Winter Olympics. There seems to be some dispute about how they came to be and when. A couple of Web sites note that it can be traced back to the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, when some Latin American delegates of the International Olympic Committee suggested that a multi-sport competition modelled on the Olympics, but only for the Americas, take place.  Others go back even further. For example, the official Pan American Games Web site notes that in fact the idea first came to light at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, when representatives from Cuba, Guatemala and Mexico suggested that a similar multi-sport event aimed at the countries of Central America take place. This idea became reality when the Central American Games were held in Mexico City in 1926.

In spite of the above, however, it seems that the first push for what we now know as the Pan American Games actually did happen at those 1932 Games in Los Angeles and this is indeed mentioned if you look at the History page on the official Pan American Games Web site. This led to the first such competition to which all IOC member nations from the Americas were invited, which was held in Dallas in 1937. In spite of their good intentions it seems that it generated little interest. Undeterred by this, the first Pan American Sports Congress (the forerunner of today’s Pan American Sports Organization – PASO – the people who run the Games) was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in August 1940 with a view to trying it again in the Argentinian capital in 1942. But World War 2 got in the way and plans had to be abandoned. At the 1948 London Summer Olympics, it was decided to make another attempt and this time it worked. The first Pan American Games were held in Buenos Aires in 1951 and were considered a success. Four years later in 1955, Mexico City served as the host city, and they have continued to be held every four years since that time. Toronto 2015 marks the 17th edition of the Games. The next Games will be held in Lima, Peru in the summer of 2019.

In many ways, the Pan Am Games take their cue from the Olympics – we have already seen this many times here and will continue for the rest of this article. For example, the Pan Ams are held every four years in the summer just before the Olympics. Which is appropriate, because the best way to define the Games is to say that they are the Olympics for the Americas (aka the Western Hemisphere). In total, 41 nations representing all of North, Central and South America, along with the Caribbean islands, take part. More about that later on in this entry. To be more specific, something like 6,000 athletes will compete in 36 sports, covering 40 disciplines and 825 events during the 2015 Games, being contested at 30 different venues in 18 cities and towns, not only in Toronto itself, but all across Southern Ontario.

One of the most popular sports at the Games is beach volleyball, which made its debut in 1999 in Winnipeg, the last time that Canada was the host country. The court, which is located on the grounds of Exhibition Place, not far from downtown Toronto, uses 30,000 metric tons of sand – which is heavier than the combined weight of 20 blue whales.

Golf and women’s baseball are sports making their debut at the 2015 Games. All 28 of the sports offered at the Summer Olympics are part of the regular Pan Am Games program. But you also see some sports (like bowling) that you don’t normally see at the Olympics. The general rule of thumb is that if a non-Olympic sport is well known throughout the Americas, it will be considered by the Games governing body (the Pan American Sports Organization – PASO), usually at their first meeting after the previous Games. To be included in the next Games, a sport requires a two-thirds majority vote. Some sports, surfing being one example, have never been contested at a Games.  Sambo, a martial art, was included in the 1983 Games in Caracas, Venezuela, but has not been included since.

The Games serve as a qualifier for the following year’s Summer Olympics in 19 sports. Although the Pan Am Games are sometimes frowned upon by sports fans as being a pale imitation of the Olympics, the “qualifier” concept helps ensure that many of the world’s top athletes from the Americas will attend. In spite of that, it seems that some sports federations don’t view the Games that way, which not only lessens their appeal but also means that we don’t always see the best athletes in each sport. As we mentioned earlier, this may explain why the Games do not enjoy as high a profile as they probably should, especially in North America. As an example, many media outlets (such as a New York Times article published just prior to the opening of the 2015 Toronto Games), noted that it seems that most Torontonians had little or no interest in the event.

Sad to say, but I tend to agree with this. In my experience leading up to the Games, it seemed that more people in the Toronto region were angry about the HOV special lanes reserved for Games athletes, officials and media which gummed up the highways in and around the city than cared about the events themselves. This is also borne out in a blog entry published a few days before the Games got underway Sad but true. Most people just don’t seem to care. Given that I am writing this section only a few hours before the opening ceremony, I hope that I can revise this some day with better news. We’ll see.

Canadian mining company Barrick Gold supplied the raw material for the medals that will be awarded – gold from their Ontario mines, silver from the Dominican Republic and copper from Chile. Seems that the company is rather proud of supplying the medals for the 2015 Games, they have even devoted a section of their Web site to it You can also learn more about the medals at the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games by clicking on this link.

Although the Games are aimed at all of the nations of the Americas, regardless of their ethnic or cultural backgrounds, they have always had a distinctive Latin American flavour. This was evident right from the very beginning when Canada did not participate in the 1951 Games in Buenos Aires. Of the 17 editions of the Games, it has been held 8 times in North America, with 5 having been held in either Canada or the USA. In addition to the 3 times Canada has done so, the USA has hosted it twice (1959 in Chicago; 1987 in Indianapolis). Those are the only times the Games have taken place outside Latin America.

Toronto 2015 marks the 3rd time for Canada, the other 2 times were when Winnipeg hosted in 1967 and again in 1999, joining Mexico City as the only cities to host the Games twice. They have been hosted 3 times by Caribbean nations (1979 in San Juan, Puerto Rico; 1991 in Havana, Cuba; and 2003 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic).  Mexico is the only other country to have hosted 3 times. In addition to the two Mexico City Games noted above, Guadalajara hosted in 2011.

Two cities have hosted both the Olympics and the Pan Am Games. They are: Mexico City (1955 and 1975 – Pan Ams; 1968 Summer Olympics); and Rio de Janeiro (2007 Pan Ams; 2016 Summer Olympics).

We noted earlier than North America has hosted the Games 8 times, and the Caribbean has done so 3 times. The remaining 6 Games have all been hosted in South America (7 when you include Lima Peru, who will host the next edition in 2019). Argentina and Brazil have each hosted twice (the original Games in Buenos Aires in 1951 followed by Mar del Plata in 1995 for Argentina; 1963 in San Paulo and 2007 in Rio de Janeiro for Brazil); the other South American games were held in Cali, Columbia (1971) and in Caracas, Venezuela (1983).

4283 medals will be awarded in 825 events over the 17 days of the Games. If you want to know more about the medals, use some of the links provided above. This will add to the overall medal counts from the previous 16 Games, which the USA leads by a wide margin. Indeed as noted on the Wikipedia entry for the Pan American Games the USA have won more medals than the next two nations (Cuba and Canada) combined. As of the end of the 2011 Games, the USA total stands at 4172 including 1861 gold medals. Cuba is a distant second at 1932 total medals (839 gold), while Canada is in third place with 1696 medals (377 gold). If past performances are any indication, the 2015 Games may see the Americans have more gold medals than Cuba’s entire medal count.  The host Canadians will remain in third place overall – Brazil has 1066 total medals (287 gold). On the flip side of the ledger, as of the 2011 Games, only two nations (Aruba and the British Virgin Islands) have never won a Pan Am Games medal of any colour.

We have noted in a few places that 41 nations will be competing in Toronto. But if you tell me that this seems like a lot of nations in the Western Hemisphere, this is because the Pan Am Games allow some jurisdictions that would normally be considered part of another country to field their own teams. We just noted the British Virgin Islands as one example. Others include Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and Bermuda.

Just as Greece always marches first in the Olympic Games parade of nations at the Opening Ceremony in tribute to the ancient Olympics, so Argentina holds a similar place at the Pan Am Games opening ceremony. As noted elsewhere in this entry, the first meeting of the Pan American Sports Organization was held in Argentina in 1942 and Buenos Aires held the first Games in 1951. After this, the other nations come into the stadium in alphabetical order according to the Spanish alphabet. The host nation comes in last, following another precedent set by the Olympic Games.

Spanish and English are considered as the official languages of the Pan Am Games – along with any other official language of the host country. This means, for example, that for the Toronto 2015 Games everything is done in French as well as in Spanish in English. The same would apply to Portuguese when the Games were held in Brazil.

Taking another cue from the Olympics, the Pan Am Games also has a flame. For the 2015 Toronto Games, a torch relay was a key element in the weeks and months prior to the event, and allowed people across Canada to see the flame for themselves. As an aside, I was there when it arrived here in Hamilton on the evening of June 21 – the welcoming event held on Hamilton’s waterfront was attended by a small, but enthusiastic crowd. For the first Games in 1951 a ceremony was held at the site of the ancient Olympic Games (Olympia, Greece). Then the flame was flown to Argentina. Ever since then, however, one of the indigenous peoples of the Americas (most often the Aztecs of Mexico) have taken this responsibility. Just as with the Olympic flame, this one is also lit from the sun’s rays at the Pyramid of the Sun at the Teotihuacan Pyramids just outside Mexico City. Following special ceremonies in which an Aztec lights the torch of the first runner, responsibility for the flame is passed to the host country, which arranges transportation from Mexico to their host city. PASO also mandates that the flame must be lit for the entire Games, in the stadium where the athletics (aka track and field)  competitions take place. In situations where the opening and closing ceremonies are held in a different location (such as Toronto 2015, where both ceremonies will be held at the the Rogers Centre, while the athletics will be held at York University), the torch will be moved between the respective locations.

There has been one Pan Am Winter Games, held in Las Lenas, Argentina in 1990. While this may seem disappointing at first glance, this was certainly not for lack of trying. When plans were underway for the first Games in Buenos Aires in 1951, the organizers had intended to hold a Winter Games later that same year. Nothing ever came of it and the plans were scrapped. Another attempt was made a few years later, when Lake Placid, New York (which had hosted the 1932 Winter Olympics and would later do it again in 1980) offered to organize a Winter Games in 1959. But just as in Argentina there was not enough interest to make it happen and the idea was shelved. In 1988, PASO really got adventurous. Not only did they award a Winter Games to Las Lenas, to be held in September 1989, but then decided that in future these Games would be held every four years.

But Las Lenas was something less than a success for a variety of reasons. First, a lack of snow that September forced a one year postponement to 1990. When they tried again, only 97 athletes from 8 countries even bothered to show up. Even more than that, 76 of them came from 3 countries: Canada, the USA and the host country of Argentina. Once again, warm weather made for unfavourable conditions, so that only three alpine skiing events (the slalom, giant slalom and the super-G) were contested. Sadly for the hosts, the Canadians and Americans won all 18 medals. Undaunted, PASO then awarded the 1993 Winter Games to Santiago, Chile. Unfortunately, this one never really got going and was eventually scrapped. A key factor was likely when the the United States Olympic Committee went on record as saying that they would only send a team if a full slate of winter events would be offered. When it became apparent that this would not happen, the Americans served notice that they would not be coming. That sealed the fate of not only the 1993 Games, but indeed the entire concept. Ever since, the Pan Ams have been a “summer-only” thing, and I suspect this won’t be changing any time soon.

As always, thanks for reading this blog entry. If you are able to read this in time for the the Toronto 2015 Games, I hope you enjoy them. And if you are reading this after the Games end on July 26, I hope it will evoke some wonderful memories of July 2015. Wishing everyone reading this the very best, until next time!