A Sinking Ship

Instagram has changed for the worse. Let’s talk about the change in algorithm first. Whoever is in charge of Instagram has decided to make it harder for people to get noticed and get followers. I used to think that it was just me, I thought I had reached a plateau, but then I started seeing complaints from others as well. They’re either not gaining followers, or worse, they’re losing them. When I first started posting regularly, it was not unusual to gain around 100 followers in every week or so. These days, my growth is at a snail’s pace. And with Instagram upgrading me to a creator account, I could see that my engagement and growth is incredibly low. But that’s not all I see. I now constantly see Instagram offering to promote my posts for a price.

I’m guessing Instagram is now pressuring people to pay in order to promote their posts and hopefully see their follower numbers grow. Maybe I’m naive, but these makes me very suspicious of every post I see on “top,” especially if I keep seeing the same account over and over again. Instead of a social network service, it’s turned into a paid commercial service. Users are either being asked to become paid advertisers or deal with other users who are now probably paid advertisers themselves. Add to that the regular advertising users see on their feed.

Of course people are trying to fight back against this trend, asking followers to save their posts, comment, or share to other users, instead of just liking them. These actions are supposed to increase their visibility and allow them to grow. But I don’t know if this will work in the long run. The platform seem quite intent in preventing organic growth. Not to toot my own horn, but I like to think of myself as a pretty decent artist. And when I see someone with mediocre skills get several hundred likes from their tens of thousands of followers, it’s like an ant staring at a mountain. This person probably either boosted their account somehow or has been paying for promotions, and Instagram likes it that way.

Instagram has also decided to make shopping a major part of the platform. Looking at it, they’ve given the stores of the accounts I actually follow very small real estate compared to corporate brands and online stores on the platform. Shopping and browsing through the actual accounts I care about also requires more clicks to look through. Sifting through the stores Instagram is promoting, I notice that perhaps Facebook and Instagram doesn’t have enough data about me. It’s like stumbling through some stranger’s Pinterest/Etsy page. If they’re trying to simulate caring and actually knowing their user base, they’re failing me. I don’t think Instagram will be taking over as one of my go-to platforms for shopping anytime soon.

So what does this do to me? Well, aside from not growing, nothing really. I imagine this is more frustrating for people who are intent on growing their accounts for visibility, business, or whatever, but if the end goal is business, Instagram is discouraging the influencer route and forcing people to reconsider paying for promoting their accounts. I think they’re also catering to people who are already selling through Instagram, not to new players. It was good to see my account organically grow within a couple of years. Honestly, I felt I had better feedback and more exposure as an artist compared to having my works in physical galleries in Korea. But seeing this current trend, I’m worried that Instagram will soon become the next Facebook.

It’s a good thing that Instagram is currently just images and short videos. If it becomes more like Facebook and becomes a platform for fake stories that trick my dad, then I will move on to the next thing.

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Back with this Virus

It’s been weeks now since I last wrote about the coronavirus. Well, we’re going through another surge at the moment, much like the rest of the world. For the past couple of days, daily cases have been going up. Since last week, we were getting a hundred cases a day in Korea. Alarmingly, for a couple of days now, it’s been around 300 a day for the country. A few months ago, we were sitting at less than fifty a day, and now we’re this high.

Just yesterday, the alarm level has been raised. Schools and businesses must be kept at a third of their capacity and close early. Masks are mandatory, and people caught not wearing masks must pay $100. People are advised not to gather, but protests are still allowed as long as the number of people gathered is less than a hundred. Frankly, I think people are simply being careless. The virus is being spread locally. People are going out for dinner and living their lives, all wearing masks, but it’s not a 100% preventative solution. The virus is getting through the cracks. It annoys me however, that still, once in a while, I would hear from co-workers that would still scapegoat outsiders as the cause of the current uphill trend, particularly last Tuesday, she blamed the US military not being strict enough with their personnel.

That’s not to say that foreigners have been saints, however. Foreigners and young people crowded bars a week after Halloween to celebrate. The government cracked down and disallowed Halloween celebrations, but many bars and clubs just postponed the celebrations. The clubs and bar areas got busy but just on different days. Trending recently too was this American baseball player who played for one of the local teams. He was going to be awarded an MVP prize for a game but refused to accept the award because he refused to don on a mask. Asked why, he said the mask kept him from breathing properly. Yep, tell that to the rest of the country, buddy. Talk about being an ugly American.

Despite the news of two promising vaccines on the horizon, I still worry about the state of the pandemic in other countries. I have family in the US and in Canada and infections are going up, particularly in the United States. People are just not worried enough about it. Just the other day, I got in a bit if an argument with my dad who doesn’t seem to be too concerned about the virus despite his elevated risk. He thought I was being silly regarding my concerns with masks and quarantines, especially since he was traveling to the Philippines. “If I’m going to catch it, I’m going to catch it.” Well, we’re all going to die at some point, so why bother wearing seat belts? I told him to quarantine himself for a couple of weeks after arriving, but then he told me that an official in the Philippines told him that there’s no need to quarantine if he passes the COVID test upon arrival. This is all against the regulations set by the World Health Organization, but this lackadaisical backwards approach is exactly why cases in the Philippines is so high.

As for me, due to the pandemic, I’ve been dreading weekends. I don’t want to be stuck at home. I’d rather be at work, doing something, getting busy and tired. Being home is not helping my depression and anxiety. It’s not like my place has felt like home to me anyway. I moved to a new place almost two years now and it still feels alien to me, like I don’t belong there. I’m living in a stranger’s house. In the past couple of months, there’s been a cold, numb feeling in my chest which crawls up to my throat, making it difficult to breathe. I would be worried about it if I didn’t start getting used to it. This mixture of dread, depression, and anxiety is like Clare Quilty quietly shadowing me, never revealing himself fully but always there, always ready to ruin my day. But just like Humbert Humbert, I think I probably deserve it.

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Grandma

My grandmother on my father’s side passed away last night. Due to COVID-19, I won’t be able to make it to the funeral. 2020 really knows how to make an impression.

I never met any of my grandfathers. Both of them passed away before I was born, Less than two years ago, my grandmother on my mother’s side passed away in Hawaii. I officially don’t have any grandparents anymore. And my father, he is technically an orphan. As I’m writing this, he’s trying to catch a flight to the funeral, but with COVID-19, quarantines and all, who knows if he’ll even make it. But yeah, as a son, at the very least, he has to try.

It’s been many years since I last saw my grandmother. At the time, she was proudly showing off the dress she planned to be buried in. Even back then, she had a very comfortable relationship with death, and she planned and paid for everything. It was morbid, pragmatic, and in many ways hopeful. Perhaps death isn’t that scary. Unfortunately, as I have mentioned, I haven’t been the best grandson to her; I barely kept in touch. And though I love her, I was mostly absent from her life.

She was an educator, teaching elementary school students. I have some memories of her teaching me some math when I was younger. I remember starting out being notoriously bad at math, although later, it became one of the more easier subjects for me. Maybe it was thanks to her, or maybe it was thanks to a cosmic triangle I wore on my head to make myself smarter.

My grandmother raised my eldest sister when she was young. She was like a second mother to her. When I and the rest of my siblings were born, we had nannies take care of us, but that doesn’t mean my grandmother wasn’t a part of our lives. I still remember her homemade remedies for minor ills which she administered to us when we were young. I always thought of them as superstitious gypsy magic.

Growing up, she hated me playing video games. She said that it would ruin my eyes. Admittedly, back then, my eyes were a bit dry and itchy, and I did blink quite a bit. But right now, I’m the only one in the family not wearing glasses. So maybe it was the opposite. Maybe it made eyes better. Also back when I was ten years old, she taught me and my sisters how to play mahjong. God bless her.

There are more odd stories about my grandmother, including hypnotists, dancing statues, and dead Japanese soldiers, but I’ll just leave that for another time. For now, I would like to remember her as a selfless woman who cared for everyone, made our lives more colorful, and mourned for my mother as if she was her own daughter.

I love you, Grandma. May your soul rest in peace.

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2020 Elections

It’s occupied everything for the past couple of days, so here are my thoughts on the US elections. I would like to say that I overestimated the supposed blue wave, but now it’s apparent that what I overestimated is the sense of decency of Americans.

Voting in 2016, one could be forgiven to not know what kind of president Trump really would be. Aside from the sex scandals and racism against Mexicans, one could still be hopeful that the Donald Trump campaigning would be different once he’s in the Oval Office. But after four years, there’s been a Muslim ban, he’s attacked every minority, alienated his allies, coddled dictators, wrecked the economy, gave over a trillion dollars to the richest people on the planet, allowed Puerto Rico to drown and California to burn, tolerated Nazis, encouraged violence against black people, gassed people for a photo shoot, suggested that Biden would be assassinated five days if elected, asked for the imprisonment of his political opponents, attacked veterans, turned the US military into mercenaries for hire, allowed the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans from a preventable pandemic… I could go on and on. But after all of these, the election is still too close to call. It’s not a landslide. A significant chunk of Americans are fine with the bigotry, ignorance, and incompetence. Trump is not a hiccup. He is the rotten soul of half of the country.

Koreans managed to impeach and imprison their president for corruption while she was in office. They collectively decided they’re not okay with it. Americans saw Trump and half of them asked, “Can I have some more, please?”

When Obama was elected, many people in the country celebrated it like it was a collective good deed. Finally, America was on its way to going beyond the sins of slavery. But really, maybe Obama was the hiccup. Maybe Trump and the people that allow Trump to be as vile as he is as long as they get what they want… maybe they’re the norm. I mean, looking back at my expected landslide, Trump and his cronies were coming in to the election deeply unpopular. They have revealed themselves to be craven, hypocrites, and extremely inept. Fortunately for them, Democrats are also craven and extremely inept. God help Biden, but his policies make him equivalent to a Republican from the 80s. The Democrats are so protective of their own self interests and serving their donors that they went with the most milk toast candidates in the elections. They lost a couple of seats in the House and won’t be able to take the majority in the Senate. This was after Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham were at their most vile! Only the loser Democrats could find a way to lose this much to the most unpopular group of politicians I have ever seen in my lifetime. Pelosi and Schumer should be run out of town.

And speaking of Pelosi. Where are those “arrows in her quiver” that she mentioned regarding preventing Amy Coney Barrett from being confirmed? Horrible.

Many Democrats are just as inept. For as many times Trump had suggested that Biden was hiding in a basement, the person who was hiding in a basement the whole time was Barrack Obama. He didn’t really go out and campaign for his former vice president until less than two weeks before the election. Wasn’t he upset about what’s happening in the country or in the world? Why can’t he attack the man whose making a mockery of his old job and killing Americans in the process. Democrats play this rule about being civil when Republicans spit on their face and call them suckers for unnecessarily crippling themselves. They really love shooting themselves in the foot.

Kamala Harris was nowhere to be found as well. Remeber when John McCain ran for president and Sarah Palin was virtually ubiquitous? She was on TV, she was on Saturday Night Live, she was selling herself just as much as she was selling John McCain. After all, she was going to be a heartbeat away from the highest office in the land. Where was Kamala Harris? Why couldn’t she have been out there just as much as Palin was for McCain? Why are Democrats so bad at politics?

So what do I think will happen? Well, I believe as I believed back in Tuesday, Biden will still win this election. As I’m writing this, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Georgia are trending towards him. But really, if Biden wins, he is really inheriting a consolation prize. Half of the country revealed themselves to be fine with bigotry and chaos, and they don’t want him to be president. And already, Mitch McConnell is pledging to block everything Biden would do, starting with his cabinet picks. Biden will win, but without a Senate, the country will be effectively run by Mitch McConnell. The Democrats won’t be able to get much done in the first two years, they will get blamed for it as well as for not being able to fix the many things that the Trump administration broke, and they will suffer politically for it come the next election. It would be like, “you think George Bush was bad? Wait til you see Trump!” Next time, it would be, “you thin Trump was bad? Wait til you see, I don’t know, President Tucker Carlson.”

So yeah, this week, the lesson is if you’re not a straight white man, America hates you and doesn’t care about you. Forget the movies and television shows. The country is not as progressive as that. Go into any room, and there’s a fifty percent chance that the stranger you just met will have a problem with you. Heck, even when the other person is the same demographic as you, they probably don’t care about you. Just look at all of the white women who don’t care about other white women. Which reminds me of my sister asking me why Cubans overwhelmingly vote conservative despite the fact that the Trump administration has consistently attacked Hispanics. It’s because many Cubans don’t think they’re the same as Mexicans. Many Koreans don’t think they’re the same as Chinese. They don’t realize that to the untrained eye, a brown person is a brown person, an Asian is an Asian. They got theirs, so why bother with others. I mean, I know Filipinos who don’t mind the racism against Mexicans, and I’m like, “Dude, you look Mexican!”

And yeah, to hell with reality TV as well. I’ve hated them for years now, even the ones here in Korea, but now I hate them even more. Trump is the product of Mark Burnett, the man who made Survivor and the Apprentice. He popularized the notion that the fakeness on TV shows is real. He rescued Trump from abject ruin and who now pushes the notion that the news is fake or at least anything that goes against my personal beliefs is fake. Don’t watch reality TV. Heck, don’t support Youtubers or any video influencers as well. With enough clout, celebrities get it into their heads that they should be running things. Look at Kanye West. Look at Sargon of Akkad, and look at Donald Trump. Leave politics to those who actually care about politics, people who have put in the time in their communities and have skin in the game.

There’s still a lot of ballots to be counted. Biden might win this election, but the nightmare is far from over. The only cold comfort would be Trump not running things in the Oval Office anymore. It is highly unlikely that the Democrats would ever go after him or his cronies for any crime when they are no longer in power, so don’t get your hopes up. Trump will never spend a day in prison. If anything, he will probably continue to command his Jim Jones cult when he’s no longer in power. This same cult would be the same group of people voting for the likes of Mitch McConnell, so Trump and his ilk would still have a significant amount of power even when out of office. This is why I was hoping for a landslide coming in to these elections. The nightmare will still continue. If you’re in America, your neighbor is horrible. If you’re in Canada, despite Biden winning, America is horrible. The nightmare is the norm.

Or I could be wrong. And Trump wins the elections.

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Triumph Over Depression, Please

I’m halfway to my collection of ten. This is a re-interpretation of an old idea and a piece I did a couple of years ago, ‘Injektilo.’ It means syringe. It is one of my favorite words in Esperanto. The piece is based on the triumph of reason over superstition.

I can feel it again, this depression, this crippling depression. There is no hope for the future, this weekend is going to be miserable, and there is really no good reason to get up in the morning. I can feel the weight of everyone’s judgmental eyes on me, and I reek of disappointment. I’m constantly hurting and disappointing people. But despite all of this, I wake up early in the morning to start my day. The world is so cruel that it doesn’t even let me sleep long enough to enjoy a longer escape. Instead, the hours and the minutes drag like molasses, each second slowly passes with the threat of some phantom axe about to drop on me. God bless the people around me who try to be cheerful and make the day better, and I try to reciprocate and smile back with a clever quip or two, but God help me, it’s been very difficult lately. Talking to myself hasn’t been good for months now. I can be quite jovial, but I’m very mean-spirited, especially to myself. It’s not good. It’s not good. It’s not good. Things will never be okay again.

Yesterday I tasted a lone cherry seed. It was bittersweet and tasted like almonds and cherries as it lingered and I crushed it in my mouth. I was too much of a coward to try another one. I’m curious but cowardly. I’m not there, yet. Besides, I still have work to finish.

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A World of Kicking

As I mentioned before, I try to impose challenges on myself on these new set of crowded drawings. This time, I challenged myself to fill a page full of kicking… yes, kicking. It’s a dumb and meaningless subject, but the satirical and nonsensical are key essences of the Dada Movement.

I was going to post this on Instagram in a few weeks or so, but after learning that some student is basically implementing a similar strategy as I’ve been doing for Inktober, I decided to do a child-safe version of this piece. Just like Wu-Tang Clan, I’m for the children.

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Art to Go

I’ve been thinking of alternative ways of presenting art and making purchasing art more convenient and affordable for people. Or course making art cheaper is not for everyone, but I also think that sometimes art doesn’t have to be expensive nor an investment that should be hung on a wall. Sometimes, they can just be images to be admired. So I came up with what I would for now call “art to-go.”

Imagine art books with up to ten pages, or maybe a small collection of art prints, in an over-sized, sturdy envelope. The envelope is windowed, so the content can be seen from the outside, much like bills and other windowed envelopes work. The only difference in this case is that the window doesn’t have an opaque film over it. The edge of the envelope has a black border not so much to simulate a frame but to separate the envelope from the wall behind it should the whole envelope be hung. The back of the envelope would have a plastic attachment that would make hanging it like a picture frame possible.

Now, when someone enters the gallery, they can admire the works and simply purchase them off the wall and take it home the same day. The curator can simply replace them with another copy. Because they are all essentially packaged prints, with no expensive mats or frames, buying art is made cheaper.

As for the originals, that is up to the artist. Personally, I think they are inconsequential at this point because the “art” is the collection itself. They are essentially art books or art prints being sold in a gallery type of setting. Now, the gallery might lose out on commission by not selling framed originals, but they can more than make up for it by selling cheaper art prints.

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I’m so tired.

Long weekends are horrible nightmares. They are catalysts for depression. I had half a mind to just jump off a building and kill myself already, but then I figured, I should at least finish the book I’m making before I totally commit. I realize I won’t be missed at all. I’m an incredibly shitty human being. But I like to think that my work would be missed or at least appreciated after I’m gone. At least there’s that. So maybe leave off failed nighttime parkour accidents for a while until I’ve printed a copy of the book I’m working on.

Speaking of works. This latest one was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and the covers of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys novels. I know, the references are ancient and outdated, but I don’t care. In this piece, I tried to draw things which intimidate me to draw, specifically, wheelchairs or anything with spokes, the mirror on mirror effect, pool reflections, and directly referencing another famous work of art. This one references Juan Luna’s ‘Spoliarium.’ Juan Luna, just like me, is also a shitty human being. He shot his Spanish wife and his mother-in-law. I can’t stand him, and I can’t stand how his boring works are venerated. What a piece of shit! But really, almost all good artists are pieces of shit. Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas, Paul Gaugin… the list is long. Of course, I’m not saying I’m a great artist like the people I listed. I’m pretty certain I will be easily forgotten when I’m gone. But I believe I’m equally a piece of shit like the rest of them.

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Wasted Year

This coming weekend is the long Korean Thanksgiving holiday. It’s a short work week, but outside of seeing relatives, there’s really not much to look forward to outside of just staying indoors. The Korean government is asking people to stay at home and don’t visit their hometowns during the holiday in order to keep the coronavirus infection rate low. Ever since the resurgence of the virus a few weeks ago caused by a right wing religious group, Korea’s been bouncing back and forth between over 100 to lower than 100 infections per day and people are worried that the long holiday will make the infection rate skyrocket. It’s been even more dangerous lately because most of the cases have been untraceable. So yeah, this means more staying at home, more Netflix, and more getting frustrated/bored. A long weekend sound horrible right now. It is literally making me anxious.

And really, what is there to be thankful for? 2020 has been a depressing slog. I can’t think of any way that I have progressed this year outside of getting a small raise at work. I suppose I should be thankful that I’m still employed, and I am, but that’s been a really low bar in this horrible, horrible year. I mean for crying out loud, Burger King and McDonalds just announced that they won’t be able to have tomatoes in their burgers due to floodings and the tremendously high price of vegetables this year. Tomatoes… we don’t even get tomatoes this year. What a joyless, depressing year!

I’ve noticed it recently, and I’ve heard from a couple of my friends about it, but Instagram isn’t really letting people grow in their platform these days. I had a bit of a growth spurt two years ago, but lately I’ve been seeing myself plateau to maybe just a handful of followers a week. I’ll even get bots following me and unfollowing me after a while which really makes my weekly analytics totally unreliable. I think Instagram has been infected by the awful that made Facebook an awful platform. It is now openly discouraging people to grow their followers outside of paying to promote their posts for more visibility. It’s always there, that “promote” button waiting for people to push their content to more people. As for it actually working, a couple of Youtube videos tell me the investment isn’t really worth it. It doesn’t really add up to more views or followers.

I’m not really trying to grow my followers or anything. I have no grand delusions of making a living out of social networks. I just want people to see my work. But with this new Instagram algorithm making the platform a pay-to-play scheme, it makes it that much harder to get my work out there. And what gets to me is that I’m just an unknown artist who could die unknown and it wouldn’t really make that much of a difference to me. It must really suck for full-time artists who live and die from marketing themselves on social platforms. Seriously, everything Facebook touches turns to absolute shit.

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Things are coming along (the end of the world, that is).

As you can see, work on the ‘I Spy’ book is well on its way. This one is based on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It also recounts the story of “The Twa Sisters,” an early murder ballad, a subgenre of music that fascinates me simply because it exists. Why do we have so many songs about dead women?!

There’s not much I could say that hasn’t already been said about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. God bless her soul. I’m Canadian, but I’m aware of how much of an impact she’s had on women’s rights in the United States. There’s also not much I can that’s hasn’t already been said about Republicans in the US Senate trying to quickly fill her seat in less than six weeks after they delayed for nine months and didn’t even bother having a hearing to consider President Barrack Obama’s nominee back in 2016. They’re going to try to put a lifetime appointed judge to heavily lean the courts into the conservatives’ favor for decades to come. They’ll do it before the election; and even if Trump loses, they can still do it during the lameduck session after the election. It’s hypocrisy of the highest order. But what I find more galling is the weakness that the Democrats are demonstrating at the moment.

There are several ways Democrats can delay the Republican-led US Senate from confirming whichever right wing zealot Trump nominates to replace the iconic titan that was Justice Ginsburg. It is amazing that Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, in an interview with ABC, already gave up on one of the most reasonable things the Democrats can do, withhold budget negotiations and shutdown the government. No one wants to shutdown the government. Millions of people could potentially be hurt by such action, but the last time I checked, the government was already shutdown twice during Trump’s term, once over immigration and another over border wall funding. Essentially stealing the Supreme Court for the Republicans is more than enough reason to shutdown the government. A right wing court could strip the rights of workers, voters, unions, and women. It would be a gift to corporate interests as well as religious zealots.

Democrats could also impeach Trump a second time, not that there’s a lack of reason to do so. There’s campaign finance violations, violating the Hatch Act, conspiracy to corrupt the upcoming 2020 elections, advocating political violence, abuse of power by pardoning his crony Roger Stone, attacking the free press, or deadly incompetence in the face of the coronavirus. Putting up articles of impeachment would force the Republican-led Senate to take it on before any other business.

Other than these, they can also eliminate the filibuster or expand the Supreme Court to include more judges. Heck, appoint Hilary Clinton as a Supreme Court judge. She’s an excellent lawyer outside of her political career. That would drive the conservatives nuts, especially the Q-Anon types who believe she’s part of a pedophile Satan-worshiping cabal.

But so far, the only strong voice I hear from the Democrats comes from AOC who says that the death of Ginsburg should be radicalizing people at the moment. The day Justice Ginsburg died, I read Sen. Chuck Schumer “calls on Sen. Mitch McConnell” to withhold appointing her replacement. “Calls on?” He should be demanding it! Then we have Nancy Pelosi not only giving up one of her cards on a televised interview, she almost skips the problem as well as her active role in the process and just goes to the viewers and urges them to vote. Yes, people will vote. In the meantime, the Democrats don’t do anything about the Republicans stealing another Supreme Court seat. It is absolute weakness. It’s great to see tributes online and on television about the impact Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had on the judiciary and the lives of ordinary women, but tributes are a dime a dozen. That’s Instagram nonsense that doesn’t cost any political capital. What we have right now is abject weakness after the loss of someone so strong and courageous. Shame on the Democrats.

Continuing with politics, this time in Canada, RIP former Prime Minister John Turner. He only served for 80 days but he was still our leader for a time. He served right after the first Trudeau and was followed by Mulroney who famously instituted Canada’s Goods and Services Tax in the 90s. I didn’t know this, but John Turner became Prime Minister despite being born outside of Canada. Yes, us Canadians don’t limit our highest leadership exclusively to native-born Canadians.

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