Archive for March, 2013

How to unfriend everyone on Facebook and still call yourself an optimist, bro

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Mireille Silcoff | 13/03/16 | Last Updated: 13/03/15 5:33 PM ET

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic 

A few months ago my older brother, a genius-IQ chemist, began systematically cutting Facebook friends. My brother, who insists he bears absolutely no resemblance to anybody on the TV show Big Bang Theory, and who also insists that I give him the “media name” Demarcus Robotham in this column, is the only person I have ever known who has thought to do something like this — shear himself of online friends, rather than just ignoring or hiding their posts.

He chose, for some Demarcus Robothamian reason, to do this pretty publicly, stating, in several succinct posts, that he had no interest or use for most of the postings appearing on his home feed, and so he was cutting the people that annoyed him. Demarcus now has 23 friends on Facebook. I am relieved to still be one of them, although after this column, who knows? One of his latest posts is: “One of you is on the bubble and will likely be gone tomorrow.”

Charitably, I would call my brother stoic. Less charitably, I would say he’s a pessimist

My brother says he is a closet optimist. Actually, what he says is, “I assume that things will work out. That being said, I do have a lot of disdain for people who are stupid.” But I think he is a much trendier thing than that. Charitably, I would call him stoic. Less charitably, I would say he’s someone who can be usually counted on to nearly always see the glass as half empty — in other words, a pessimist.

Lots of paragraphs have been spent on this topic lately. The last couple of seasons have seen a thick flurry of articles, books and studies about the uses of negative thinking (or things we generally tend to think of negatively: see Peter Toohey’ s book Boredom, or Kevin Dutton’s The Wisdom of Psychopaths).

Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, in which the author takes a good long look at the practiced unflappability of stoics like Seneca, is worth reading. The subtitle of Wellesley psychologist Julie Norem’s The Positive Power of Negative Thinking gives us something of a through line to this trend: “Using defensive pessimism to harness anxiety and perform at your peak.” In other words, this might be a backlash, but it’s still all about self-improvement.

Still, such a turnaround can only be seen as a sign of difficult times. “Think positive, be positive” is a notion older than Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People, 1936) and Norman Vincent Peale (The Power of Positive Thinking, 1952). It’s nearly as old as America itself, originating as a kind of two-fingered salute in the direction of fire-and-brimstone Calvinism, and coming into its own in the middle of the 19th century with the Christian Science movement, which gave the mind mastery over the body and fashioned the Christian god into an airy, benevolent, healthful deity.

But something seemed to go into overdrive in the first, cash-rich decade of the noughts. There was the smash success of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, a media enterprise which ran on a thinly “scientific” platform of what Byrne said was The Law of Attraction (imagine yourself rich and you will attract money). There was the replacement of so many old-style shrinks with so many newfangled life coaches, people who also tended to imagine that positive thinking can conquer any ill. In universities including Harvard, courses in “Positive Psychology,” and with names like “Happiness,” proliferated.

As Barbara Ehrenreich cheekily wrote in 2009’s Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America (a book she was prompted to write after one too many people told her to “stay positive” in order to conquer breast cancer):

“In the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, positive thoughts were flowing out into the universe in unprecedented volumes, escaping the solar system, rippling through vast bodies of interstellar gas, dodging black holes, messing with the tides of distant planets. If anyone … possessed the means of transforming these emanations into comprehensible form, they would have been overwhelmed by images of slimmer bodies, larger homes, quick promotions, and sudden acquisitions of great wealth.”

Is it any wonder that Facebook emerged in the early aughts? A polyannic online culture with endless space for backpatting and woo-hoo!s and you-go-girls

It makes me think of the character played by George Clooney in the 2009 movie Up in the Air, where he is the man you hire to lay off your employees, a specialist in framing pink slips as “opportunity” rather than disaster.

Is it any wonder that Facebook emerged in this era? A polyannic online culture with endless space for backpatting and woo-hoo!s and you-go-girls, but not much place for anything but the lightest griping? I myself have posted things on that site featuring so many exclamation marks and absurd adolescent spellings (omgawd! She is soooo cuuuute!!!!) that I have wondered just what muse is guiding my hand in such uncharacteristic directions.

‘Facebook: where is the hate button?’

Of course it’s the technology itself. We all know that on Facebook, you can Like and Friend only. As my brother, who has become famous among his handful of remaining friends for his rank Eeyore-ness on the site (“rain again. It figures”) has several times asked: “Facebook: where is the hate button?”

So here is another sign of the times: It might be coming. On a website called Techcrunch, I read that Facebook had been considering such an addition, and also other buttons, including “Meh” and “Who Cares.” When I wrote my brother to ask him what he thought of this, he basically answered both of the above. He also added “You seem to think my wit on Facebook is negative. But I just consider it my wry sense of humour.” Now I just hope he doesn’t cut me out of it.

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Stompin Tom Connors.  A Canadian icon passes into history.  I attended his memorial celebration in Peterborough at the local ice rink.  Over 3,000 people showed up to pay their respects to a man who never compromised his artistic and musical integrity.  Never sold out to the Americans.  In fact, Stompin Tom returned his 10 Juno awards in protest over the lack of support for Canadian musicians/artists and in protest against those who made their mark outside Canada.  His words were simple, his music basic, he was the Johnny Cash of Canada.  “Bud the Spud”, “Hockey Mom”, “Sudbury Saturday Night”.  Who can ever forget such memorable expressions of his love for all things Canadian.  I had the good fortune to see him at Massey Hall many years ago, and that image of his black cowboy boot stomping the plywood is forever etched in my mind.  At his memorial, his casket was draped in a Canadian flag.  RCMP Pallbearers carried the casket out onto the stage.  (You know you have relevance in the national consciousness if RCMP pallbearers bring you in)  His wife placed his storied black cowboy hat on top.  A piece of plywood leaned against the casket next to his well travelled guitar.  And so began a wonderful journey through Stompin Tom’s life.  From his early years in Prince Edward Island to a life of drifting through Canada.  Singing his way into our hearts.  From early gigs in Timmins to the Matador and Horseshoe in Toronto, where he filled the house for 9 weeks straight.   Especially loved the video montage which included a VHS mini movie he made, singing the Lord’s Prayer.  And seeing Stompin Tom and Gordon Lightfoot together reminded me of the truly Canadian talent we take for granted.  51 albums later, hundreds of concert dates and finally to the appropriately named Memorial Centre in Peterborough where musicians young and old sang their praises.  See ya later Stompin Tom.  We will indeed carry the torch “to help keep the Maple Leaf flying high, and be the Patriot Canada needs now and in the future.”

Stompin Tom and Gordon Lightfoot Stompin Tom goodbye stompin tom memorial

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Hello friends,

I want all my fans, past, present, or future, to know that without you, there would have not been any Stompin’ Tom.

It was a long hard bumpy road, but this great country kept me inspired with its beauty, character, and spirit, driving me to keep marching on and devoted to sing about its people and places that make Canada the greatest country in the world.

I must now pass the torch, to all of you, to help keep the Maple Leaf flying high, and be the Patriot Canada needs now and in the future.

I humbly thank you all, one last time, for allowing me in your homes, I hope I continue to bring a little bit of cheer into your lives from the work I have done.


Your Friend always,

Stompin’ Tom Connors

stompin tom

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This “push to cut childhood obesity” by further legislating what stores and restaurants can and cannot display or do is getting out of hand!  Recommendations from the latest panel of so-called experts calls for “stopping stores from building displays of the stuff (junk food) near checkout tills and having restaurants print calorie counts on menus” smacks of a totalitarian communism that should have died with the old Soviet Union.  How about reinstating mandatory phys-ed classes throughout school and teaching kids about food!  And teaching kids how to make some basic meals.  It is not rocket science to learn how to steam fresh veggies and pan fry a chicken breast!  Yet our legislators think the solution to childhood obesity lies in more control and policy instead of some common sense education.  I mean really!  Calorie counts on menus?  As if I go out to a restaurant with calorie counting in mind!  The problem lies in a deficit of good parenting and good education and solid physical activity, things my generation had in abundance.  This is not a question of old school philosophy, but one of sensible school philosophy.  Teach food education in school (and at home parents), and watch childhood obesity disappear.

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