Rated ‘R’ for smoking

Top US medical practitioner calls on Hollywood to drop smoking from films

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Columnist

Formerly published in The Other Press. September 15, 2014

I would like to first strongly emphasize that, while I made a choice to start smoking 10 years ago, I completely acknowledge that it’s indeed a bad habit which could lead to serious negative health effects for me later in life. I’m not an advocate for the pro-smoking lobby (if that even exists anymore) nor do I condone tobacco companies for their efforts to make smoking cigarettes appealing to a younger generation.

That being said, the choice to smoke is much like any other decision an individual makes: a personal one, the consequences of which the individual must bear. Society, through the values instilled in each of us through our parents, schools, and community, is responsible for equipping us with the tools to make proper decisions in our own lives, not to filter out what we may or may not be exposed to.

It’s this belief that makes me so fundamentally opposed to the call from the US surgeon-general to have Hollywood rate any films containing smoking within them as restricted.

Dr. Boris Lushniak, the acting US surgeon-general, believes that there is a “direct causal link” between adolescent-smoking and tobacco-use in film.

“Anything that can be done to help reduce that imagery, to reduce that sense that smoking is a norm, is helpful,” he said at a White House briefing.

This attitude comes from the same school of thought that believes violent video games make teenagers more violent, a long-held belief which has been debunked in study after study.

Hollywood’s job is to entertain us, not to coddle our kids. If parents want to ensure their children stay away from cigarettes, it’s up to them to lead by example and to educate their offspring on the dangers and high costs of a cigarette habit. There are groups, predominantly in the United States, who make it their business to blame everyone for producing items or content with violence, sex, or drugs. And while they are out protesting, they forget to raise their own kids or discipline them for their questionable behaviour. Teaching children right from wrong begins at home.

It’s also worth noting that kids tend to think something is cooler when it is restricted from them. I went to my first R-rated movie when I was nine years old. I could have waited for the movie to come out on VHS (yes, I’m that old) and watch it at home, but there was, for me, a greater sense of autonomy and adulthood when I asked my mother to take me to the cinema. After all, watching Friday the 13th on the big screen was far better than watching it on the 30-inch television we had at home. And guess what? Watching that film didn’t make me go on a masked, knife-wielding killing spree.

To give films an automatic R-rating simply because of smoking will make the habit more forbidden, and thus more appealing to youth. Sheltering children from something isn’t the answer to eliminating something so detrimental to society.

I actually want to go to school

Opinions of a five-year-old aspiring kindergartener

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Columnist

Formerly published in The Other Press. September 15, 2014

Mommy has been staying home from work these days. She needed to take time off working at the restaurant because she says I can’t go to school. She said the teachers are fighting with the government people. That can’t be good; mommy says fighting is bad.

Daddy says that all of the teachers want more money. I get a $2 allowance every week, and I’m usually pretty happy with it. I go to the store to buy candy, and sometimes daddy gives me his change when he sends me to go buy milk or bread. I have to go to the store for him sometimes when he has a little too much of his “wobbly pop.”

Daddy says the teachers want $5,000 to sign some kind of contract thingy. I didn’t know you could make money just signing something—I thought only really famous people got paid for autographs.

And that’s for every teacher! I don’t know how many teachers there are in BC, but if they all want $5,000 to sign a paper, that’s really huge money. That’s like a gazillion-bazillion dollars. Ugh, I’m going to be paying taxes forever if they want that much money.

Wow, a whole $5,000—imagine the things I could do with that! I would be super rich. I could take over the world with that kind of money. But I’m a simple kid, so I’d probably just buy a cool bicycle and get all the candy in the store. I really like those cinnamon hot lips—they are spicy, but really good.

I thought my summer vacation would be over by now. Usually, when mommy takes me shopping for back-to-school, I expect to go to class soon after. At least that’s how it was last year when I started junior kindergarten. This year I’m going to senior kindergarten, which is really good because they don’t make us do that stupid nap time anymore.

It’s funny though—I actually want to go to school, but it’s the teachers that don’t want to go back. I like summer vacation, but now I have to stay home with mommy and all she does is watch boring TV shows. This one show she watches is really weird: there is a mommy who doesn’t know who the daddy is, and this old man comes out and tells her who the daddy is. Sometimes there could be five daddies on the stage, all thinking they are the daddy. I think the people on that show need to go to school like me because they do not seem very smart—everyone knows it’s one mommy and one daddy—except for my school friend James, who has two daddies—lucky for James.

Our economy could be driving humankind to extinction

Study suggests some human ethnicities could die out in as little as 700 years

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Contributor

Feature article published in The Other Press. September 8, 2014

There is no more fundamental a decision one could ever face than the question of whether or not to have a child. Children can bring couples and families closer together, bring joy and meaning into one’s life, and allow parents to leave an earthly legacy long after they are gone. Bringing a child into the world is one way parents secure a type of immortality.

At least, this was how people thought about the question of children decades before we came along.

Nowadays, the discussion a couple has with respect to having children is largely centred around economic issues rather than the traditional notions of family unity and legacy. The reality of our generation is that it’s becoming more costly to live, and children are not very cost-effective.

It used to be that parents wanted to bring their children into a world that would surpass their own lifestyle. As children brought the family closer together, parents poured every financial resource they could into ensuring their children were properly educated—in turn, and although an unspoken social contract, children with means would care for aging parents when the time came for them to do so. Children used to be an investment that paid in dividends for parents, and parents had a stake in making sure that their children were as successful as they could be.

The economic realities of our generation, however, make such attitudes to having children appear old-fashioned. Gone are the higher ideals and the benefits of having children, superseded by the economic burdens of raising them and giving them a reasonable opportunity to be successful in a world that has become more demanding of us mentally. To add to these issues, government welfare and retirement programs, such as pension plans and retirement facilities, have allowed traditional attitudes of caring for the elderly to disappear.

The economic realities of our times are such that there is no real incentive to have children. Statistics gathered by governments all over the world show that this trend is real: people are getting married much later than they used to, and having children later and in reduced numbers. This leads us to the new, more significant problem of population management.

Many countries in the world, including Canada, are at a point where the population is unable to replace itself naturally through the birth of new children. This is what’s known as a nation’s fertility rate—the average number of children born throughout a woman’s lifetime. Canada’s fertility rate has been steady at around 1.6 children per woman, and although that rate is still below the replacement rate (usually about 2.1 for developed countries), Canada’s population continues to grow steadily, thanks largely to our nation’s long-held tradition of open immigration. Immigration accounted for two-thirds of Canada’s population growth from July 2012 to July 2013.

Other countries, however, are facing a real crisis which could have catastrophic economic ramifications in the future. In some cases throughout East Asia, there is even talk of a “doomsday scenario” where entire ethnicities may even go extinct if something is not done to encourage an increase in fertility.

A study recently released by the Korean National Assembly Research Service suggests that some Asian ethnicities could become extinct in as little as 700 years. The study takes a look at the fertility rates of countries across East Asia and singles out South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand as countries that need to take action to prevent a “doomsday scenario.”

Taiwan, for example, with a fertility rate that has dipped below one child per woman in recent years, will see its population begin to decline in 2022—years earlier than expected.

Calculations made in the report reveal that South Korea, with a fertility rate of 1.19, could see its population decline from 50-million to 40-million in the next half-century. Assuming the status quo remains in the next century, Korea could see its population drop to as low as 10-million by 2136—an 80 per cent drop—while ethnic South Koreans could be extinct by 2750.

In Japan, the situation is critical as there have been a number of years since 2005 when the total deaths have exceeded the total number of births. Out of a population of over 127-million, the total number of births in Japan in 2013 was slightly over one-million, while deaths in Japan in 2013 reached a post-war high, at over 1.2-million. The Korean study calculates that, assuming Japan does not take remedial action, the last Japanese person will die around the year 3011.

Hiroshi Yoshida, a professor at Japan’s Tohoku University who specializes in demographics and the economic realities of ageing populations, suggests that women’s equality movements have pushed more women into the workforce in countries that still have traditional beliefs about women and motherhood.

“These societies have reached the same level as Europe and North America in many aspects, but when it comes to balancing careers and raising children, then East Asia is very immature,” said Yoshida in an interview last week with the South China Morning Post.

The answer to reversing the path to extinction is two-fold: make it more financially bearable to bear children, and open the doors to these countries to an influx of immigrants who wish to call these countries home.

In France, for example, there is a certain honour placed on the notion of motherhood. One reluctant French mother, Corinne Maier, wrote a book discouraging people from having children and characterized France as going through a phase of “baby mania.” One Globe and Mail journalist described France as being “a place where people follow the fertility rate in the same way Americans follow the Dow Jones Industrial Average.”

France is among the leading European countries with a fertility rate hovering around the two children per woman range. It does this by offering generous benefits to women: paid maternity leaves, generous tax benefits and subsidies of $1,000 (Euros) per month for every child they have after their second. Though raising children is a terribly costly enterprise, France reduces the burden on families, allowing them to reproduce at rates which will not negatively affect the demographics or population levels of the country.

Immigration, on the other hand, which has been the model in Canada since Confederation, is not viewed in as high regard in other countries. Celebrations behind France’s high fertility rate came with a knowledge that immigration could be restricted there, where there have been racist tensions in recent years. Germany, like Canada, relies on immigration to keep its population growing, and that population growth has powered the German and European economies for decades.

While many will no doubt be skeptical that a country could ever reach that “doomsday scenario” of extinction, sudden and dramatic reductions in population levels in a country would wreak havoc on a country’s ability to provide services to its people. A growing population means more tax revenues for governments and an ability to keep those taxes low to attract immigrants and business—whereas declining populations mean higher tax burdens placed on fewer and fewer people, often by governments who are forced into cutting services to balance their budgets.

Surely, there can be no greater human interest story than that of backtracking humanity’s path to extinction. Barring a catastrophic cosmic event and assuming global warming doesn’t kill us first, governments will be compelled into looking into the issue of declining populations.


Fertility rate refers to the number of children, on average, that women in a geographical/geopolitical area will have throughout their lifetime.

Replacement rate refers to the number of children, on average, that women in a geographical/geopolitical area would need for the population-level to remain stable (i.e. zero growth).

The replacement rate varies from country to country based on the mortality rate of a country’s population. For example, the replacement rate in Canada is stable at 2.1 children per woman, and that rate is standard throughout much of the developed world. Think of it as a woman having two children, to replace herself and her husband/partner for the next generation.

However, in less-developed countries with high mortality rates (Africa, for example) replacement rates are higher. This is because infant mortality rates among girls tend to be high, so adult women need to produce more children to replace those who could not be born due to mortality rates amongst women of non-child-bearing age. Replacement rates in Africa are higher, ranging from 2.5 to 3.3, according to a 2003 study entitled The Surprising Global Variation in Replacement Fertility.

Standardize the rules of job-seeking

Is it time to reevaluate the resumé as a personal marketing tool?

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Contributor

Formerly published in The Other Press. September 8, 2014

The resumé remains one of the most misunderstood, yet one of the more fundamental documents we create in our lives. This is evident in the notion that the best resumé practices seem to change from one employment counsellor to another.

Do you add an objective, a profile, or a summary of skills to begin your resumé? Do you list “employment experience” or only “relevant experience?” Is it called a resumé or a curriculum vitae?

One of the more contentious issues in your chief job-seeking document lies in how long it should be. Is it one page maximum or two? In what professions would it be acceptable to submit a longer resumé?

With so many questions having varying answers, it isn’t any wonder why job seekers get discouraged. The resumé is a frustrating document to write, and no one seems to be clear on the rules.

The resumé has not evolved much in its 500-year history since Leonardo da Vinci (yes, the greatest artist of all time invented the resumé) presented his ten-point document to the Lord of Milan in his successful bid for employment. Technology has standardized the aesthetic of the resumé, while new fads such as info-graphic resumés seem to be a passing trend.

More troubling for job seekers, however, is that these technological advances have remoulded every facet of our society—from our economy to our personal behaviours. Yet, these changes are not reflected in the ways people seek employment.

The two-page resumé may have worked 20 years ago, when people went through their careers with only a handful of jobs. Today, a new post-secondary graduate can expect to have more than a dozen different jobs and employers throughout their lifetime. Cramming all of these experiences into a two-page resumé simply isn’t practical.

By the same token, there is a popular belief that the attention spans of individuals have also declined with advancing technology. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements and marketing pitches, and the resumé is no different. Donald Belliveau, a software analyst at Exan Group in Coquitlam, believes that the two-page resumé is much too long, given that a person’s “attention span is that of a text.”

Resumé readers—software designed to sift through resumés looking for key words and phrases—further complicate matters for job seekers, who are now told to tailor their resumés for the opportunity they are looking for. While this makes sense to me, it doesn’t seem to be honest. People are led to change their skills summary or omit some of their professional experience to seek their desired position.

In a world made more and more convenient for us through technology, why is it that the resumé is so complicated? Some countries have standardized job-search documents which level the playing field for all job seekers. Perhaps it’s time to get some clarity on the rules of writing a resumé, or to standardize the document altogether.

Adapting social media to my own interests and projects

Instagram can be much more than sharing photos

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Contributor

Formerly published in The Other Press, 2 September, 2014

Anyone who follows me on social media will notice that, for the past month, I have been more active than ever before on the Facebook-owned photo-sharing network known as Instagram. Those who keep tabs on me on Instagram will have no doubt discovered my interest in abandoned places, German soccer, food, and most notably, Korean women at the beach. I am quite surprised that no one has commented on my interests, especially the latter.

Regardless of your interests, Instagram has a little something for everyone. Its Twitter-like tagging abilities allow you to find users who might be interested in your images and, by extension, your account. It also facilitates communication within the app itself, which is great for reaching out to people.

While many users of Facebook and Twitter are also on Instagram, the photo-sharing app has a starkly different set of values reflected in its users. The Instagram community is a warm and loving one for the most part—it does have its bad apples, but generally speaking, you don’t see those annoying Twitter trolls or Internet tough guys generally associated with Facebook. In addition, whereas the number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers one had used to be a mark of one’s popularity or influence, Instagram stats tend to reflect one’s ability to use the app effectively.

I admit I’d like to get more of a following on Instagram because this network was previously neglected in my portfolio of digital socializing. People who use Instagram want to let others in on the personal, largely private side of their lives—which is why you tend to see so much interest in the Instagram accounts of public figures and celebrities. The natural start for me was to post a few photos and “like” a ton of others, and followers started coming to see what I had posted. I am now proudly over 100 followers-strong, and looking for more. But the real benefit of my Instagram-use wasn’t in seeing photos, but reaching out to people I ordinarily wouldn’t have had the luxury of reaching out to—whether it be due to distance, social status, or a language barrier.

In the next few months I will be making a trip to South Korea. Having lived and worked there before was quite an experience, but it didn’t feel complete given my inability to speak the Korean language fluently. Instagram has allowed me not only to reach out to those Koreans on the beach, but for me to practice my Korean writing proficiency. I have adapted the social network to my own needs: that of learning and practicing a foreign language, and using the same time-tested tactics that work for fitness buffs—motivation.

Granted, some will say that I could have done the same on a network like Facebook. It is true that Facebook facilitates the creation of groups and other things to allow for someone like me to practice a foreign language, but these options typically only become available after one is accepted into a group or as a friend. Instagram profiles (the public ones, that is) can be seen by everyone, allowing for this interaction to take place. Facebook operates on a model of interaction with those with whom you are already familiar.

My goal was to reach out to strangers who would be happy to interact with me in their own language, challenging me to do the same. Some of these interactions have already led to the beginnings of new friendships and interactions through other mediums.

If learning a new language isn’t your thing, maybe exchanging recipes would be more interesting, or beauty tips—Instagram’s features make the app highly adaptable to whatever it is you are trying to enhance in your own life. Some will use it as a means to store and share photos, but if you think about what you’d like to do with your social media presence, it could be so much more fulfilling.

Genuine sadness shouldn’t be a competition

A word on Robin Williams, and those hypocrites who try to cheapen his legacy

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Contributor

Formerly published in The Other Press, 2 September, 2014

The death of actor and comedian Robin Williams last month came as a shock to everyone. The man who made us laugh in so many mediums had committed suicide after long bouts with depression, substance abuse, and the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

His accomplishments and the way he lived his life naturally led to a massive outpouring of grief on social media. However, it also led to a minority opinion from those who pride themselves on being “idealists” and were annoyed with the outpouring of sorrow Williams so rightfully deserved.

In response to the news of Williams’ death, one of my Facebook friends posted: “In other news, 500 children died today of malnutrition.”

The implication of my friend’s post is that there is more going on in the world that we should mourn, and that the death of a well-decorated actor should not be at the top of society’s list. Have we really come to a point in the human condition where even death has become a competitive issue?

It absolutely sickens me to read posts from these so-called idealists in the immediate aftermath of the demise of a public figure. This has been the case for hundreds of celebrities since the dawn of social media, and the trend is not going to end now. But someone should be calling them out on their shenanigans.

Williams was not just a celebrity; he was a philanthropist. He, along with his second wife, founded the Windfall Foundation. His work with the US military, particularly its United Service Organization tours, is well-documented. He is also recorded as a major donor to the Memphis-based St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, a non-profit medical facility. He was so devoted to making others happy, Williams once comforted a grieving gorilla fluent in American Sign Language.

It’s my impression that idealists have a problem with the ways the deaths of public figures are reported—in that they are reported at all. Yet, these very people are pleased to hear of the toppling of repressive governments or the death of ruthless dictators, events which usually involve civilian casualties and a bloody transition of political power. The flip-side is that idealists have a difficult time when someone as generous and as thoughtful as Williams gets praised publicly.

Idealists would likely argue that the point of contention lies with the way media disseminates information to the general public—a notion that has no actual basis in fact. News flash: unless you actually went to a poor country and saw living conditions there, the only way you would ever have known about the conditions there is through media outlets.

The only thing that’s going on here is that there are some people who feel the need to stand up against an overwhelming sentiment of grief to bring attention, not to their cause or belief, but to themselves. They grow tired of reading sad tributes to a man they admit to admiring, opting instead to police people’s emotions on social media. The only cause these people are advocating for is their own—controversy does get you more engagement on social media.

While we may not have known him personally, Robin Williams was welcomed into our homes and lives through his work in television and film. We may have never met him, but we all loved him. That’s what sparks such an outpouring of grief and emotion.