78. Canada Revenue Agency Scam (866-625-0004)(800-931-1026)

Haven’t blogged for awhile.  Pretty busy.

Anyhow, I keep receiving phone calls from supposedly the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).  So far, I have received over ten calls in the past two weeks.

When they call, they ask that you return a call to their office as soon as possible.

Now, because all of us are scared of the CRA, the first reaction is to call back.  They also reference your business and corporate number.  That is a convincing touch.  They also sound incredibly bored.  That also adds a patina of reality.

But, I tend to be suspicious and a few things suggest that whomever is calling might not be the Canada Revenue Agency.  First, they ask you to call back 866-625-0004.  But the actual number from where the call originates is 800-931-1026.  That is a little odd.

A quick search on the Government of Canada website fails to match either of those numbers.

The other give-away is that they indicate that you can call back anytime Monday to Friday between the hours of 7AM to 11PM.

I have been in contact with various departments of the Canadian government throughout the years.  None of those departments in my experience are ever open much later than 5PM and there is no way any of them will be open at 7AM.

Verdict:  Scam.

69. Angry Man

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77. Plucking the Chickens

I am writing this in Barbados.  It is a beautiful island with wonderful people. I am staying on a resort that is relatively far removed from Bridgetown — the main residential and commercial center. Traffic, therefore, is light and so are the street and beach hustlers.

Most islands in the Caribbean have a sharp divide between the rich and poor. The rich, primarily, are tourists and, the poor, are residents.

Some islands do have affluence, such as Barbados, the Caymans, and the Netherlands and French Antilles.  But, even on those islands, the hustlers congregate.

All tourists know that they are marked to be hustled. Most don’t mind a little hustling. (It’s not like we don’t get hustled back home.) You are rich and over-paying for some trinket is akin to a tax on sun and warm weather.

But it is the cruise passengers that are the true target of island hustlers. There is a big difference between staying for a week on an island versus a visit of a couple of hours. If you are staying longer — and you are seriously hustled — you just might complain to the police or other security personnel.  On a cruise ship, however, your home and sense of security is always moving from port to port and it leaves with you or without you.

Cruise passengers are also more susceptible to hustling because cruisers know that they are human cattle.  Everything about cruising reminds you that you are not unique and that you are essentially a prisoner in a luxury floating jail.  You are lucky to get the small privacy allowed to you in your tiny cabin and most days you have to dodge catching a norovirus when trying to get something to eat.

But a hustler, who is good at his craft (it is always a he), tries to make you feel very special. And that hustler knows he only a few moments to make a connection and deliver the pitch. Cruise passengers also know that they are susceptible. They yearn to be treated special. They, like all of us, ache for it.

You can witness this quasi-mutual predator-prey relationship as cruise passengers are vomited from their ship and dropped on to whatever foul and smelly port their ship has chosen to deposit them.  These passengers wander the port terminal somewhat dazed and confused and try desperately to get their bearings. While doing so, they are being bombarded by someone (seemingly everyone) trying to sell them something.

And like chickens, the passengers look dead-ahead and try to ignore the pitches that surround them, casting furtive sideways looks with their eyes at the wall-to-wall predators, while seeking some point to exit safely.  But you know you are lost and you have no idea which direction to turn. You will break down eventually.  And you will have to talk to someone and you pray, whomever that is, that they will not hustle you too badly.

The pitch is always the same. The hustler is friendly and will guess which country you come from.  He will ask you if you are having a good holiday and will try to shake your hand and ask your name. This is an awkward moment if you are a typical well-mannered middle-class person.  You know this friendliness is superficial but you do not wish to be rude. Friendliness, even the faux kind, can quickly turn to anger and this is neither your country or your customs.

So you offer up your name and country-of-origin. The hustler, you will note, rarely offers his name or, if he does, it will clearly be a noms-de-guerre.  Then comes the pitch — always something just for you and for no one else. Something special, something unique, and always time-limited.

Sometimes you bite, sometimes you do not. If you do not bite, the hustler moves rapidly from you to the next chicken. It is a moment of relief but also a moment of deflation. You cannot help but notice that the next chicken gets the exact same pitch.  So, perhaps, you are not so special. Your money is.  You, on the other hand, not so much.

I speak from experience. This is not my first time in Barbados. My first time I was one of those cruise ship chickens and I bit on a taxi hustle that, for $25 USD, he would take us to the beach we wished to go (Crane Beach) or for $50 USD he would take us for a tour of the island and then drop us off at our destination. We decided on the tour. Our driver, who was very nice, did take us for a wonderful tour of the island and even stopped to get us a drink at a small store. He stopped at a small plantation and we had lunch.  It was about a two hour tour.

However, when it was time to go to our beach, he said he had talked to another driver and he said that driver indicated that the seas where a bit rough at Crane Beach and we might be better off going to a more calm beach closer to the cruise terminal. We reluctantly agreed. The beach — on Carlisle Bay — we ended up at was fine but a little crowded and it seemed to be full of our fellow passenger cruise ship passengers. We also knew that we could have taken a $10 shuttle directly from our ship to get to this same beach.

We figured we might have been hustled.

Right now, I am at the Crane Resort, and the Crane Beach is scant meters or feet away from me and my hotel room. The beach is rough.  But it is always rough — and fun if you like three foot/one meter waves.  I certainly do.  I have also learned that everything is expensive on the island and the cost of a taxi from the cruise terminal to the Crane Beach is about $25-30 USD one-way.  It is also pretty far from the cruise terminal and the one road into Bridgetown can be slow and crowded. I realize now that when we were on our cruise ship holiday, and if we would have stayed with our original plan, we may have missed our ship’s departure.

So, all-in-all, we were hustled a little by our taxi driver but it was probably in our best interests.

A friendly hustle I can live with.  It makes you feel a little special.

77. Crane Beach

76. Don’t Be the Dick

It is a miserable day out there while I write this.  Overcast and a slight drizzle of rain.  No color just yet in the gardens.  Even the people walking outside seem gray.

I have two offices.  My main office is very busy.  Every few weeks or so I travel to a rural community and borrow a small office from a surgeon I know.  Right now, I am in that rural community and normally I have a very full day of clients. But every now and then, like today, people either fail to show for their appointments or cancel at the last minute.

This leaves me with a somewhat patchy day.  I am caught up on my paperwork and I have no internet access.  I have time on my hands and I don’t know what to do with myself.  So I am writing this blog post.

The past two weeks I seem to be engaged in one conflict after another.  Perhaps the universe is  conspiring against me.  However, I know its just me and I seem to be in a somewhat confrontational or hostile state.

I have been arguing with the bank.  I have been arguing with a company that installed a gas fireplace in our home.  I had a disagreement with the service department at my car dealership.  In my work I have to deal with insurance companies frequently and I have had several arguments with adjusters this week.

There seems to be a lot of hostility oozing from me and I don’t know why.

I know that conflict is unavoidable and there will never be a day of no conflict.  But we do seem to seek that elusive day.  I am no different than anyone else and, I too, pursue that illusion.  That perhaps one day, all will be smooth.

But it is a fantasy.  As I write this I can feel my mood lifting and I am chuckling at what a complete asshole I have probably been to the various service people who I have interacted with recently.  I probably ruined some of their days and that does not make me feel very good.

I normally tell my clients (mostly my male clients) that at every party at the end of the night there will always be one dick.  The rule is: Don’t be the dick.

This week I have broken my own rule.  I have been the dick.

And the sun has just come out.

Maybe today is not so bad after all.

69. Angry Man

75. Sick Versus Slick: 9. Why Did the Psychologist Cross the Road?

For the better part of my early adult life I attended university. In my case, I studied clinical psychology. From start to finish, that path required 10 post-secondary years of school, one year residency, and roughly two years of post-residency registration including professional examinations and licensing. During that time, you spend the majority of your days reading about, writing about, and practicing your profession.

Typically, the audience for your work consists of two people — yourself and your professor, or your supervisor, or your client.  That is a lot of effort for a very small audience. Not don’t get me wrong, the ultimate outcome is wonderful and you are allowed to do what you love and your efforts benefit others and yourself.

Most clinical psychologists (and health care providers) stop learning with the same intensity once they are past all of these academic and professional hurdles. This is natural. One cannot keep that pace indefinitely and the demands of clinical practice soon become all-consuming. As well, for many of us, life goals such as marriage, children, and mortgages had been deferred during our education and we now choose to place our energies and time focused there.

Training in clinical psychology is somewhat odd. It is requires a high level of knowledge of research design and statistics and, in PhD programs, demands that you complete original research to graduate. At the same time, you must also learn the practical art and craft of therapy.  This is why training to become a clinical psychologist is often said to follow a scientist-practitioner model.

Yet, upon completion of our degree and training, very few clinical psychologists will continue to pursue any further original research.  It is not that we are incapable of doing this research.  We simply choose to not do this work.  Excluding dissertation publications, the modal number of publications for clinical psychologists following graduation is exactly zero.

There are number of reasons for this, such as an absence of a post-graduate university affiliation, lack of research funding, and inability to gain ethics clearance. More fundamentally, actively pursuing research is somewhat boring and lacks the level of emotional fulfillment that one achieves through helping clients realize their potential to overcome life obstacles.

Which, ironically, brings me full circle. In my clinical practice, I began to notice that quite a few of my otherwise physically healthy male clients were being prescribed testosterone replacement treatment. Which I found odd and inconsistent with my knowledge of the endocrine system, the mechanics of human sexuality, and the nature of intimate relationships. Very few men I saw were being helped by this medication. Quite the contrary.  Most suffered uncomfortable and negative side effects and did not realize any change in their sexual potency or improvement in their intimate relationships.

So, I thought it would be a good idea to use my research skills and dig through the literature. In part, I wanted to bring that information to my clients and I needed a place to park that information.  However, I also realized that I missed writing as I once did back in my formative years.

And that is why I began to blog.

And the audience is greater than two.

Your Friendly Druggist

74. Saint Valentine is Not the Patron Saint of Men

So Valentine’s Day soon approaches.  The day most feared and hated by all men.

And you know you are screwed.

If you forget, you are screwed.

If you get the wrong thing (because you haven’t been listening – when do you ever listen?), you are screwed.

If you choose to get nothing, you are screwed.

If you get too cheesy of a card, you are screwed

If you buy too much, you are screwed.

If you buy too little, you are screwed.

If you wait until the last minute to make a dinner reservation, you are screwed (and laughed at by the restaurant).

You, my friend, are screwed.

But I am here to help.  Sure, you can get your loved one the most wonderful gift, whisk her away to a fabulous holiday destination, respond to her every whim, and wait on her hand and foot.  But none of that provides you with a get-out-of-jail-free card, if you are a dick the day after Valentine’s day.

So I am going to offer you the best gift of all to give your female partner – how to listen effectively.  That is a gift that keeps giving.

Imagine this. Your wife, girlfriend, female-person-of-interest, or whatever approaches you and says:

“I was thinking about what you said yesterday when I was complaining about my coworker.  You where a bit dismissive about my issue and you seemed bored and it appeared as if you didn’t care.  At first I was a little annoyed with that and then, the more I thought about it, I became very sad.  I thought if you can’t even listen to what I am saying then I am not sure that this relationship can work or at least provide me with the emotional support I need.”

Yikes!  How do you respond to that?

1.    [Anger].  That’s not fair.  I listen to you all the time even when it is the same issue over and over again.  I have tried to give you advice but you never listen.  If you would just take my advice, your problem with her would be over.

2.    [Apology with Misdirection].  I’m sorry.  I thought I was listening really hard.  But if you were feeling that way, you should have told me then not a day later.  You always do that.  It drives me crazy!

3.    [Apology with Defense].   I’m sorry but that’s not fair.  I work hard all day and try to do the best I can but you are never happy.  Well, I’m not happy either.

4.    [Apology with Fear].  I’m sorry.  Please don’t leave me!

5.    [Silence].

Now, most of these are pretty common reactions and none of these really work. That is they do not work if you wish to increase your intimacy with your partner and demonstrate that you are, in fact, trying to listen.

Here is the trick.  Don’t focus on the content.  Focus on the emotion.  That is, her emotion and not your emotion.

Let me break it down for you.  This is what was said to you:

1.    I was complaining about my coworker.
2.    You were dismissive and bored and it looked like you did not care.
3.    First I was annoyed but then I became sad.
4.    I need emotional support from you and I am wondering whether or not you can do that.

Now, you could focus on your emotional state at the time and say that you were not bored or dismissive and that you do care.  That may be true but it misses her emotion.  Her emotion is that she was initially annoyed and then became sad.

That is where you want to focus.

You say:

“That must been difficult to feel that sad and to start worrying about our relationship.”

By saying this, you avoid coming across as defensive, angry, or wimpy, you are not focusing solely on your emotion, and you go directly to how she was (and is) feeling.

Now, if you have time available, you say: “Let me get you a coffee/tea/glass of wine and we can talk.”

If you don’t have time available, you say: “This is important to me and I want to talk further about it tonight (or tomorrow or on the weekend or whenever).”

Now you are not out of the woods just yet, you still have to do the talk.  Or, more specifically, you have to do the listen.

But by focusing on her emotion and not yours and by acknowledging the presence of her negative and sad emotions within the relationship, you help her feel less alone and more connected to you.

And that was the whole reason why she brought up this issue in the first place.

(You don’t need to understand what less or more connected actually means because no guy understands that.  Just do what I say.)

The important thing here is by listening and focusing on how she is feeling, you cancel the original issue that was brought up – that you are not listening to her and not being supportive.

Everybody wins.

74. Cupid Arrow

73. Male Responsibility Syndrome. It’s Time for a Cure

[For immediate release]

The problem of MRS

Male responsibility syndrome (MRS) is a much under-diagnosed and serious disorder that, if left untreated, can cause significant harm to men, women, and their relationships. MRS — the inability to take responsibility for one’s behavior — normally emerges in childhood but will typically resolve with age and the maturation process.  Yet, for some men, this disorder may continue throughout adulthood and it is currently estimated to affect 10 to 100 percent of the adult male population.

How is MRS detected?

Hallmark symptoms of MRS are the three D’s — defensiveness, deflection, and denial.  Any one of these symptoms, alone or in combination, may suggest that you or someone you love may be suffering from MRS.

Simple screening tests are available for MRS and early detection is critical to arrest the risk for long-term and potentially irreversible MRS.  Current clinical guidelines recommend the MRS challenge test.

For example, if the question: “Did you remember to pick the children up from school?” is answered with “How dare you call me irresponsible! ” you may be seeing incipient signs of defensiveness.  If the response is: “What’s for dinner?”, then it is highly likely that there may be the presence of deflection. Finally, if the answer is: “We have children?” then denial may be indicated.

Is a cure imminent?  Sadly, no.  It will be a long hard journey before we can cure MRS.  But with your help, anything is possible. We can’t do it without you.  Really we can’t. We don’t know how.

Please help us to help ourselves to get help to help ourselves.

73. MRS Foundation

72. Thinking about Christmas: 4. Baby Jesus v. the Constitution of the United States

In the past two years, I have been using Christmas as a way of looking at the space that exists between religion and the rejection of religion.  Christmas is the perfect foil because Christmas is strongly embedded in secular Western liberal society. We know that it has theological themes. But even if we personally reject those beliefs, we do love the idea of Christmas.

It seems that Christmas — as a quasi-religious celebration — represents a form of massive social deception or shared delusion. As a consequence, some have argued that Christmas and its trappings should be discouraged [55].

But, of course, we roll our eyes when someone takes issue with Christmas based on logic or intellect. Because we know whatever Christmas is, it is primarily sentimental.

[The sentimentality of Christmas is further highlighted by fact that most of us will buy gifts for our pets at this time. Of course, it is ridiculous. But we all do it. And I am pretty sure that Christian doctrine is silent on the relationship between the birth of its god-child and buying a Christmas gift for your pet.]

Debate over Christmas has tended to focus on the public and visible meaning of this holiday.  Christmas and any religious meaning associated with it (if displayed upon property owned or maintained by the state or any publicly-funded organization) runs the risk of violating the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

[Of course, if you do not live in the United States, then do whatever you like — well, not if you live in China, or Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan, or Iran, or North Korea.]

The First Amendment reads:

  • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.

At its inception, the United States of America was predominantly a Christian nation and the establishment clause was an attempt to prevent state sponsorship of one Christian religion over another.  The intent was to enshrine reasonable expression of belief, speech, and assembly and to avoid the possibility of sectarian wars that had plagued Europe.

However, monotheism was important to the new country.  It was, after all, one nation under God and in that God it did trust.

The exact meaning of the First Amendment, as it pertains to the celebration of the birth of Christ at Christmas, has generated reams of paper and stemmed many arguments — with some leading to the Supreme Court as the penultimate arbitrator.

An early skirmish between the infant Jesus and the State was heard in Baer v. Kolmorgen (1958). The plaintiffs in this action sought an injunction against a nativity scene placed on the lawn of a public high school in Ossining, New York. Their request was dismissed by the Westchester County Supreme Court of New York with that court finding no violation of the First Amendment. The court highlighted that the nativity display was created by a nondenominational Crèche Committee, that the committee used no public funds in the construction or maintenance of their nativity scene, and that the crèche was displayed when school was not in session. The Court was of the opinion that the nativity scene was consistent with decorations normally displayed at Christmas time and was not convinced that those decorations represented an attempt to establish religion or deny others expression of their religious beliefs.

In 1970, in Allen v. Hickel, the nativity scene was again challenged. The offending crèche was part of a Christmas display — the Pageant of Peace — that included reindeer and other traditional holiday symbols placed on a national park directly across from the White House.  Whereas Allen v. Hickel was originally dismissed due to procedural matters, that dismissal was later appealed and reversed. Eventually this matter was heard as Allen v. Morton (1973) at a higher appellate Federal Court.  Whereas the judicial panel did not find the presence of a crèche on government property, by itself, unconstitutional, they did express concern that the involvement of government (through financial, technical, or staffing support) might imply formal and exclusive sponsorship of Christianity.  The Court felt that the crèche should not be displayed in future Pageants of Peace.  Failing that, if the crèche was used in the future, there should be clearly visible disclaimers notifying Christmas revelers that the depiction of festive spiritual images or objects does not mean government promotion or sponsorship of the specific religion attached to those symbols.

As in Baer v. Kolmorgen (1958), the constitutional importance of the Allen actions focused less on where the crèche was displayed and more on who, and in what role, sponsored the nativity scene.

In the 1980s, Baby Jesus and his crib returned once again to Federal Court and three actions were subsequently heard at the Supreme Court level: Lynch v. Donnelly (1984), McCreary v. Stone (1984), and Allegheny County v. American Civil Liberties Union (1989).

In Lynch v. Donnelly (1984) the matter under dispute was the inclusion of a nativity scene in an annual Christmas display erected in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on a privately owned park. The display was jointly supported by the city and the city’s downtown retail merchants association.  (As an aside, the head corporate office of Hasbro — one of the world’s largest toy company — is located in Pawtucket.)

Daniel Donnelly (and the American Civil Liberties Union) brought suit against Pawtucket and its mayor, Dennis Lynch, arguing that the crèche included in the holiday display violated the establishment of religion clause in the First Amendment. The federal court at the district level agreed and ruled that the nativity scene promoted and affiliated the city with Christian beliefs.  The ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeals and eventually found itself being heard at the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, in a majority decision, overturned the lower courts and did not find the presence of the nativity scene unconstitutional.  The pivotal opinion was Justice O’Connor.  Whereas, she agreed that the presence of a particular religious theme may run the risk of aligning government to that religious belief (and thereby possibly exclude or make others unwelcome in political participation), she also argued one must consider the entire context in which the religious theme is placed. Because the Pawtucket Christmas display included many other secular Christmas symbols (such as Santa, reindeers, and Christmas trees), the presence of the crèche could be seen as consistent with the history, culture, and traditions of American society.

As argued in a later matter by Justice O’Connor, acknowledgement of religion does not necessarily mean endorsement of religion.

Closely following Lynch v. Donnelly, was McCreary v. Stone (1984). Whereas Lynch focused on the presence of the Christmas crèche, McCreary focused on its absence.

Here, the city of Scarsdale, New York, prohibited the placement of a privately-funded crèche in a public park.  That prohibition was appealed to the Supreme Court but the Court rendered no definitive position and was split evenly.

In the American Civil Liberties Union v. Allegheny County (1988, and, on later appeal, Allegheny County v. American Civil Liberties Union, 1989), the crèche one again came before the Supreme Court. The crèche under dispute was funded by the Holy Name Society of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and was displayed in the first floor staircase of the county courthouse. The display was modest and it was labeled as being donated by the Holy Name Society.

As before, Justice O’Connor provided the deciding opinion.  This time, however, she joined the majority 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that the crèche was unconstitutional.

To O’Connor, where the crèche was placed — the County courthouse — and its isolation from other holiday displays suggested specific government endorsement of Christianity and tacit exclusion of other forms of belief. It’s effect, therefore, was deemed not consistent with the First Amendment.

If we tally all the judicial opinions rendered in the three cases that ended up at the Supreme Court, we have 38 opinions.  That is, typically, for each case, we have one opinion at the initial level, three opinions on appeal, and nine at the Supreme Court.  We are missing one opinion due to the absence of a Supreme Court Justice Powell in McCreary v. Stone (1984).

Here is what those numbers look like:

72. Federal Court Opinions

In the case of Baby Jesus v. the First Amendment, the overall opinion of the Federal judiciary seems to be divided equally.

Can we keep Christ in Christmas?

Well, possibly in Pawtucket.  Probably not in Pittsburgh.