Friday, December 17, 2010

How Much is that Polar Bear in the Window?

This morning CBC is featuring a news item about a Canadian federal government contract to put a dollar figure on the worth of polar bears.The precipitant is the consideration of polar bears for designation under our Species at Risk Act (SARA). I find it odd that this has come up for so emblematic and, as the lingo goes, charismatic a species as the big whites given that the list of endangered species currently includes a multiplicity of hitherto unheard of creatures which even the most eco-sympathetic and creative economist would have trouble ascribing money value to. For in addition to such zoological shoo-ins as the Grizzly and the Grey Whale, presently, Canada has listed the Pygmy Short-Horned Lizard, the Dwarf Wedge Mussel and the Pacific Water Shrew on the top priority ledger - Schedule I qualifiers. It would be superficially entertaining to see the economic rationale for these or for plants like the Illinois Tick-trefoil or the Incurved Grizzled Moss, both also on the list of priority designation.

I say "superficially" because superficial is exactly what this preposterous economic study is now underway by a Quebec firm, ÉcoRessources. CBC's commentators are reporting the analysis as if this is some vanguard hitherto unseen creative methodology when, in fact, it is nothing of the sort. During one of the last century's several pulses of environmentalism, in the late 1960s and 1970s, economic busy-minds, anxious to be part of the vogue for environmental impact assessment, clunky calculators at the ready, started turning up all over the place with data-rich evaluations that put dollar values not only on species but entire valued ecosystems. A new sub-discipline replete with own journals and internecine methodological controversies emerged - "ecological economics". yet this was itself, only a johnny-come-lately to work such as the venerable Resources for the Future and the less venerated US Army Corps of Engineers had been doing for years, busily tallying up the worth of nature, often merely as part of the due diligence for planning and implementing ecocidal mega-projects.

Which brings me to why anyone truly concerned about polar bears or obscure rare mosses should speak out against this hyper-mundane attempt to reduce our caring to the almighty loonie. On the surface, these exercises frequently come up with equally news-catching headlines trumpeting that such and such a species is worth some bigger number of dollars than you and I will ever have to whatever jurisdiction it lives in. For example in an interview on CBC's Daybreak North program today, one of ÉcoRessources' staff gave the example of a Wisconsin assessment that valued the state's bald eagles at a whopping $28 million dollars. Our local CBC interviewer seemed impressed: but pause and think about just how small a destructive project which may threaten those eagles would have to be to score higher. A mid-sized port dredging project or the extension of the Green Bay airport runway could easily boast discounted future benefits that kicked eagle ass. My point is that it is exceptionally dangerous to concede to the economic frame of mind the methodology by which evaluation of real value is to occur.

Thirty-five years ago, the traditional indigenous peoples of the Mackenzie Valley, in dialogue with Justice Thomas Berger, demonstrated a very different way of taking measure of nature's services. They turned up at countless small community workshops and told Justice Berger why bears and everything else that interacts with them are precious beyond the transitory benefits derivable by pumping hydrocarbons south. Their "metrics' were of the heart and, with Berger's excellent rapporteur-ship, those evaluations provided a durable protective cover for lands and creatures we need and we value way beyond dollars. It would seem from yesterday's news that most though not all of the Native people along the planned pipeline corridor have been won - or should I say "bought"? - over to a more "realistic," contemporary mind set, i.e. take the money today and damn the consequences to that once-vaunted seventh generation in the future. Or as an academic paper by a very wise and now late economic historian, Robert Heilbroner wryly asked "What has posterity ever done for me?"

Well before even Berger or Heilbroner, one of the founding fathers of environmentalism took on early ecological number crunchers with his beautiful and brilliant plea for a land ethic. Back in 1948 he confronted the trend even then to quantify the value of species and environments in these words, well worth reflecting on as our philistine government and its analytical handmaidens pore through the dollar figures on our magnificent and declining polar bears:

When the logic of history hungers for bread and we hand out a stone, we are at pains to explain how much the stone resembles bread. I now describe some of the stones which serve in lieu of a land ethic.

One basic weakness in a conservation system based wholly on economic motives is that most members of the land community have no economic value. Wildflowers and songbird are examples. Of the 22,000 higher plants and animals native to Wisconsin, it is doubtful whether more than 5 per cent can be sold, fed, eaten, or otherwise put to economic use Yet these creatures are members of the biotic community, and if (as I believe) its stability depends on its integrity they are entitled to continuance.

When one of these non-economic categories is threatened and if we happen to love it, we invent subterfuges to give it economic importance. At the beginning of the century song birds were supposed to be disappearing. Ornithologists jumped to the rescue with some distinctly shaky evidence the effect that insects would eat us up if birds failed to control them. The evidence had to be economic in order to be valid.

It is painful to read these circumlocutions today. We have no land ethic yet, but we have at least drawn nearer the point of admitting that birds should continue as a matter of biotic right, regardless of the presence or absence of economic advantage to us.

This profound insight and the ethic upheld by Leopold are what ought to underlie the stewardship Canadians and others get behind including the belated and so obviously needed designation of the polar bears - lest otherwise they exist in animatronic Coke commercials or in the windows of museums.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Full Circle in Afghanistan

Today the unwitting heir of Bush's Afghan adventure releases his long-awaited assessment of the war over there. There will be sufficient commentary and dissection by people who know something about this, that more virtual ink from my peepings can add little. But I do have to flag an irony of the forest which the better informed may miss for all their insights on the trees. Despite all the different rationalized objectives that have piled up since the invasion nine years ago, the espoused single-most purpose in romping into Taliban country was to root out the Al-Qaeda militants from their training bases, the locales where the World Trade Centre's demise was planned. The add-on purposes that we in Canada and the USA know hear widely touted - establishing un-corrupt democratic governments, liberating women, (re)building the infrastructure of a nation so long at war etc. - were entirely subsidiary to and derivative of getting rid of terrorist incubators.

The seemingly deliberate ignorance of the history of longer term foreign intervention in Afghanistan is stunning as is incomprehension of basic precepts of insurgency, laid down long ago by the likes of T.E. Lawrence and Che Guevera. You don't raze villages and "collaterally damage" thousands of innocents and then expect love, gratitude and support or emulation.

So here we are back on December 16, 2010 and the key insight emerging from Obama's year-long situation review is that the enemy has extensive sanctuaries in Pakistan, about which, it appears nothing can be done, not without further alienating the world's second most dangerous and unstable nuclear power. The net result is that the terrorist training camps of the early 2000s in Afghanistan are dead; long live the terrorist training refugiae across the border today. The persistence of these bases means that all the other high-sounding purposes of freeing women and building bridges and schools for a future Afghan democracy have no more staying power than does the Karzai regime, of which it has been said: if the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force leaves at 4 p.m., it'll be toast by 6.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Flanagan's Fatwah (and Other Wiki-Crap)

It seems an increasingly common thing for me to wish a pox on both sides of public controversies. Call it maturity. I had watched the continuing massive and unselective dumping of WikiLeaks with a feeling of disdain, especially irked when commentators would equate this to whistle-blowing. The latter practice refers to the courageous, often career-destroying and never self-aggrandizing practice whereby knowledgeable insiders within organizations, publicize the failings and misdeeds of their employers. Part and parcel of real whistle blowing is finding that something is seriously wrong within one's organization, usually trying to have head honchos mend their ways, and, failing that, going public. Famous examples include Karen Silkwood, who exposed the dangerous ambient levels of plutonium in nuclear facilities and Jeffery Wigand, the cigarette company exec who went public about nicotine-doctoring aimed at increasing the addictiveness of smokes. Both of these heroes were immortalized on the big-screen and, no doubt, it won't be all that long before WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is likewise "honoured".

But his plundering and publicizing of communications shows neither the specificity of rationale nor the necessary step of trying to effect change before going public. Assange seemed little more than one of those irksome parasites known as computer hackers whose motivation has nothing to with societal betterment or anything so tangible but instead lies in simply being able to screw things up for someone else. He's just done that, thanks to an equally unselective and unreflective low-ranking informant,Bradley Manning, on a vaster scale than any of the pimple-faced vandals who break into other people's files for the pure fun of it. This is not to say, that all Wiki-leak leaks have always been thus. When the targets were specific and could potentially induce needed change, great! This seemed to be the modus operandi before the current deluge, if one scans the pre-2009 history of the organization and its activities. Now, the targets are innumerable and there are good reasons to expect that far from creating more openness and candour in the conduct of international relations, the result will be a global clamming up, heightened security that will affect efforts to shed needed and well-focused light on wrongdoings in high places.

So Julian was and is no hero of Wigandian stature to my mind, but instead, at least in his and his organization's most recent activity, a thrill-seeking cyber-thug, who doesn't care whose windows get smashed when he hurls his rocks helter-skelter.

But then, just when I'm thinking what a self-aggrandizing vandal he is, along comes Tom Flanagan, a man whom I have despised for decades most especially after his neo-colonial disquisition on indigenous people, a diatribe titled First Nations, Second Thoughts - a strange choice of title for a "scholar" who does not appear to have had a second thought about anything over the course of his decades in Calgary. Yes, the same Flanagan who greased Stephen Harper's trail to the head of the Reform Party and thence to Parliament's East Block (a contribution for which, by itself, he deserves a few days in the stocks). Yes, medieval punishment comes readily to mind for Ayatollah Flanagan who very publicly opined that Assange should be assassinated suggesting that Obama dispatch a drone to do the job -- apparently not reflecting much in this outburst of what he called "feeling very manly" on how that might work for a fugitive hiding out in central London, England.

Well anyone this wing-nut hates can't be entirely worthless and I was later to discover that Fox TV loony Bill O'Reilly likewise is advocating the death penalty for such traitors too. This and the suspiciously timed rape charges that Sweden began to push are enough to sway me a bit towards sympathy for Assange. It may well be true that he is a sex offender but we also can rightly suspect - in no small part thanks to the threads of gold amidst all the WikiLeak dross - that the shadowy figures who linger in the crevices of international relations frequently come up with vicious schemes, far less stupid but of a similar mind-set to motor-mouths like Flanagan and O'Reilly.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Low Class Leaving

I would like to pretend that the dearth of Grouses since my last post in mid October wherein I demanded BC NDP Leader Carol James' departure, was some kind of journalistic fast that I stalwartly maintained pending her compliance. In that version, I can e-speak again because yesterday (Dec. 6), she finally got the message and vamoosed. I wish I could report that she did so with some grace, a tinge of the kind of classiness that had eluded her at least in the last year of her reign. Alas, Ms. James left with the same conspicuous defects as she presided over the should-be replacement for Gord-O's Liberals.

Puffed up like a hen defending long dead and infertile eggs, she clucked on about her ever-growing legion of detractors as - get this from a leader who fired a guy for saying she gave an unimpressive speech! - "bullies." She unlike them, she sermonized, had the interests of the people of British Columbia at heart. While these ducks pecked at her, we were told, she had been trying to lead effective opposition in the province. It's not clear when she thinks she started doing that nor does she seem to take one micro-gram of credit for the unprecedented opposition that had built in her own caucus - I say "unprecedented" because though BC generally eats its presiding premiers alive, opposition leaders, especially ones who haven't held highest office, have never, before James, excited such hostility.

The tragedy is that she still was unwilling to acknowledge why all this was happening, to look deep (or as deep as she goes) into her own soul and performance, her inability to defeat a repulsive, hated Gordon Campbell who, lacking a worthy opponent had to shoot himself repeatedly in the foot to finally get the boot. Carol and her supporters are happy to take credit for the NDP's phoenix-like return from 2 to 35 seats in the legislature when, in fact, the kudos belong to the Liberals who should have been trounced two years ago. What Ms. James wears forever is all the added neo-con strife and stress Gordon Campbell and his successor will have foisted on society's most needy, thanks to her dismal and failed electioneering in 2008.

Especially with the announcement today of the photogenic and relatively untainted candidacy of broadcaster Christy Clark for Liberal leader, it is imperative that the NDP think and look outside the box for a more progressive and electable antidote. Carol James benefited enormously from Campbell being so easy to despise. The new NDP leader will not have Gord-O to kick around and will have to win, if at all, on merits.

I can only repeat my "dream" replacement for James - Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafonde with her impeccable integrity and determination, excellent counterbalances to the glitz of someone like Clark.
Coda: I see that one name that is being touted elsewhere for the NDP is the youthful and impressive Skeena MP, Nathan Cullen. I'd throw my considerable weight (albeit of the wrong kind) behind this passionate and intelligent lad, if, as is likely Mary-Ellen continues to ignore my calls for her candidacy!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Carol James: You GO, Girl! (Please)

At a time when it should be gearing up to replace the badly faltering Campbell Liberal Government in British Columbia, the NDP seems to be working rather hard to assist its opponents' resurrection. Or at least, the current shenanigans let the Libs catch their breath as news shifts from Gord-o's bald faced lying and the HST imbroglio, to how hapless NDP Leader Carol James has dumped a caucus member for disloyalty.

The skinny, for those who value their time too much for political soap opera, is that the legislative member for North Cariboo, Bob Simpson publicly criticized the lackluster speech James had given at the Union of BC Municipalities convention last month. In rather gently calling attention to the NDP leader's content-free remarks, Simpson had hardly been a dramatic news-maker. He merely pointed out the obvious: Carol's manifest inability to define and advance key public issues, which, in the 2008 election campaign, gave Campbell four more years of neo-con reign. Here are the comments, no more , no less, that got Simpson booted out:

"The Leader of the Opposition likewise had little concrete to offer the delegates other than a commitment to be more consultative than the current government and a promise to explore the possibility of revenue sharing with local governments. This is a timely concept which has the potential to address the resource needs of local governments, but the lack of specifics was a disappointment to delegates."

One wonders if all those years in the legislature in no way thickened Ms. James skin if this is enough to induce so hysterical an over-reaction. Yes, I know: the back story is that Simpson was a pain in the butt, an habitual gadfly for Carol -- but it is such unsympathetic feedback that a healthy organization needs to make sure alternatives are considered and progress as well as regress are well tracked. By implication, Simpson has hitherto kept this talk internal, only recently going public with his differing perspective, and then, as you can see, in wording so mild that any person of reasonably sound self-worth would shrug it off.

But, understandably in light of her ho-hum performance, James is especially on edge. She is not paranoid for the threat is real: much bigger long knives than Simpson's are now gathering. If she had the party's best interests at heart she would not force it to go through what now seems an inevitable and confrontational leadership bloodbath. She would stand aside, stay with the NDP and see if she can redefine herself and her role, putting her indubitably good heart and head to work in a supporting role that matches her abilities and shortcomings.

Contrary to the arrogant crap that Globe and Mail columnist Rod Mickleburgh promulgates, there are plenty of prospective, highly electable potential successors. Once the James lid comes off the pot, there are 33 other elected NDP caucus members and 9 federal ones to think about. Moreover as I advocated several months back in these pages, an ideal leader with a proven ability to bring Gord-O and his neo-con dogs to heel, is Mary-Ellen Turpel Lafond, BC's Representative for Children and Youth.

Friday, October 08, 2010

CBC Radio Gripe #2548

Okay, I know, I haven't posted that many nor, really, much in a while of venom spewing from my love-hate relationship with CBC Radio. Sure, I made up the number 2548 but guarantee you that the bones I have to pick with this institution would vastly exceed that in the Drumheller dinosaur collection.

Of course, I keep listening because compared to anything else we receive in smelly Prince George, the CBC comes off like a shining island in the sky. But...

First let me remind you of my published past bitchings here, which in reverse chronological were:

"All Points Tasteless (2009)" - the disgusting spectacle of the mediocre bunch at CBC's Victoria-based afternoon show, All Points West, in hustling on down to the seaplane terminal the day after a fatal crash at nearby Saturna, to push microphones in imminent flyers' faces and ask them if they worried about flying.

"Bless You Cathy Haig (2009)"
- a not very gracious thank you to CBC Overnight for, after many years, purging the wee hour airways of the propaganda from Russia and Poland (Cathy was and is the perky voice that uselessly comes up and announces the transition from one night-time program to another and once, after I wrote about my concerns about the programming haughtily replied that I didn't have to listen, to which I answered with equal disdain, that I did have to pay her salary, nonetheless)

"The Greatest Canadian Hogwash(2006)" - an embittered expose of the bad process and worse outcome of CBC's elaborate process of picking the purported Greatest Canadian. It culminated in the selection of that pompous prairie chicken, Tommy Douglas, whom Canadian voters of the era, with uncharacteristic perspicacity had certainly not seen as all that great,

"CBC - All Quiet on the Klander front(2005)" which pointed out how CBC completely ignored the summary dismissal of a Liberal party hack for drawing a comparison between Sylvia Chow, Jack Layton's wife, and the dog breed of the same name.

and last, not least and most a-propos of why I am crapping on CBC Radio again today:

"On Not Winning a CBC Contest (2005)" occasioned by having used my creative juices to respond to gratingly sunny North By Northwest Hostess, Cheryl McKay's contest to write about homecomings" only to find that the lazy buggers simply drew the winner rather than taking the time to read and judge entries.

Well, they got me again!

You may recall my recent post in which I proudly presented my poem about Anna Mae Aquash by way of nominating her as a Canadian worthy of her own opera. This was entered in the Canadian Opera Challenge with the incentive of winning an all expense inclusive trip to the world premier of what sounded like a most intriguing opera, Lillian Alling.. This came over the air with prodding from Saturday Afternoon at the Opera host, Bill Richardson, to "get creative" with entries. Stupidly, I presumed from this, and from the 250-word limit they put on submission length, that someone was actually going to be read and judge the entries by merit and originality.

Several days after the deadline I went looking for information on whether there was a winner and happened across these chilling words (which, I admit, had always been there in the fine print of the contest information):

"On Friday Oct. 1, 2010, a random draw will be conducted by the host during the taping of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera aired on Saturday Oct. 2, 2010. This draw will be made from among all eligible email and regular postal entries received. The first contestant to correctly answer the mandatory question shall be declared the winner, subject to responding all the conditions described in these rules."

Writing your heart out wasn't enough, mind you: because no merit basis is involved the contest-managers would be asking you what 2 + 2 is or perhaps, the square root of crow pie.

To repeat, no question, the rules were there on the website and so I let myself be suckered by the Bill and the gang into yet another manifestation of utter laziness, CBC Radio expecting, nay encouraging, us to put unpaid time and effort into something but then using dumb luck as a substitute for the effort it would take to critically read and evaluate our heart-felt entries. I might as well have proposed an opera about my dog. Or even more a-propos, one simply titled, "Sluggards" about Bill Richardson, Sheryl McKay, and the handlers behind them who come up with these contests and then are too indolent to bother with the input.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Be Vigilant, Mr. & Mrs. Tourist!

Today, the most urgent lead story is that Canada has aped our southern neighbours (or is that neighbors?) in issuing warnings to those of us who are off to Europe. The admonition is that somewhere in Europe, something bad may happen to you and so you should be vigilant! That's it. No specific kinds of targets, not even a wild guess of most likely cities or countries. And, perhaps vaguest of all, no usable advice on just what the average camera-slinging perambulators are supposed to do to be "vigilant."

One tidbit is that western anti-terrorist intelligence thinks that, just maybe, whatever deed is done may resemble the horrific Bombay* (AKA Mumbai) massacre two years ago. In that multi-pronged and exceptionally well planned assault, numerous sites were rapidly and simultaneously attacked by terrorists lugging grenades and automatic weapons, while concurrent car bombs went off rapid-fire. They came with clear orders to maximize fatalities and property destruction in as short a time span as possible. To those who survived, the suddenness of the events was unfathomable. Here's one anonymous account:

"I was just sitting and reading the paper. ... I started seeing the sound was increasing and bodies started falling and all of the bloodshed. ... People were crying; people were limping. We were frightened; we started to run. I was trying to see if I could see anyone carrying a gun or anything, but I couldn't." (From Source)

So, again, what precisely is it that Canada, the US, and Japan are all suggesting that the hapless tourist do if she or he has the bad luck to be in the path of such determined, tactically proficient, well-trained fanatics? Or is the whole unsettling thing merely that intelligence agencies are covering their collective butts, causing all sorts of useless anxiety so that if and when the worst happens they can definitively say, "We told you so!"

* The belief that the name "Mumbai" is the unequivocal preference of all India and that "Bombay" is only for imperialist throwbacks is a vast oversimplification of how this latest bit of political correct toponymy arose. Many locals still prefer Bombay because at least the oppressor who gave the place that name is history, while radical Hindus are, alas, not. Besides, that most famous, gutsy and literate of all living Bombayians (my usage), Salman Rushdie still calls it by that horrid colonial epithet. And if it's good enough for Sal, it's good enough for me!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Another Poem

Don't worry I haven't entirely crossed over to the brain's right side but whilst looking for a recipe for kosher dill pickles, I came across a badly mis-filed piece of intentional doggerel that I'd churned out during my now fondly-remembered Bella Coola years.

I wrote this poem to recite it at a town hall gathering we had about community survival. Interfor and the Ministry of Forests had quite recently shut down their main offices in the valley leaving a skeleton staff and thereby taking away a very large number of employed positions and the families that went with them. Even a few multi-generational settler clans were having to give some hard thought to looking elsewhere as the local economy slid towards the drain hole.

That was also about the time of the 50th anniversary of finishing the road that linked the hitherto isolated outside world to Bella Coola. The story of that feat was one to inspire local initiative, for in that case it was their parents and grand-parents who'd had the pluck to just do it. The Province did not think the road could be constructed at all or, at least at a cost worthy of the public purse. So locals just got together, surveyed the route, and used their own literally backroad know-how, equipment and dollars to punch the "Freedom Road" up the steep valleys through to Anahim. The BC Government eventually was shamed into partial funding but it remains a major testament to those folks, that beloved place, and the power that can arise anywhere when everyday people put their minds and shoulders to the wheel.

So pardon the cornball but I meant every word of it:

Leaving Bella Coola

The truck is packed, the kids are crying.
The alders down the lane are sighing
To think of nothing's what I'm trying,
Leaving Bella Coola.

I'll smoke another pipe and ponder
What it is forced us to wander
Off into the unknown yonder,
Leaving Bella Coola.

Time was when all the settlers' children
Knew this place would be their long-run
Home. Now empty homesteads watch 'em,
Leaving Bella Coola.

For way too long the logging went on
Like the good times could not end on
Somber off-key dying swan songs,
Leaving Bella Coola.

We let the profits from these rich lands
flow to distant sons-of-bitch hands
Just like water running through sands
Leaving Bella Coola.

Now Gordon Campbell tolls the bell
To send this Valley straight to hell
And with no timber left to fell,
I'm leaving Bella Coola.

But wait! remember 'fifty-three?
Did our forefathers build the Free-
-dom Road so now their kids could be
All leaving Bella Coola?

No, it was built for coming back
Right down "the Hill" on their rough track
What did they have that now I lack,
Leaving Bella Coola?

My pipe's gone out, but now there's flame,
Inside my settler soul again
No one can force this Valley man
to leaving Bella Coola.

C'mon, unpack! We're gonna stay
If dad could build that road, that way
It won't be 'til my dying day,
I'm leaving Bella Coola.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Operatic Challenge - Singing Anna Mae

As both an avid opera fan and contest-enterer, I was tickled to hear Bill Richardson on Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, announce a new competition, with the winner getting flown to Lotusland for the premier of Vancouver Opera's Lillian Alling. This is the true story of a homesick Estonian woman in New York who, in 1927 and being too poor for the ocean voyage, traversed North America all the way to Nome, Alaska. It is a production which, I am sure, would more than compensate for the nauseating experience of visiting that narcissistic traffic-swollen metropolis.

It took me only a few seconds to know exactly which "Canadian" I would see immortalized in opera and my choice quite soon altered my mood from contestive exuberance to quieter reverence, sadness, even remorse. I had known about the murdered Native activist Anna Mae Pictou Maloney Aquash for many years, following the travesty of pseudo-attempts to solve the mystery of who killed her and why in South Dakota in late 1975. From the time that her partially decomposed body was found two months later, fingers have pointed in all directions with some trying to exonerate them,selves by saying Anna Mae was a traitor to the American Indian Movement (AIM), an informer. This made zero sense in terms of this woman's lifelong passionate commitment to her people and their full recovery from the battering of colonialism.

I dug out Johanna Brand's biography of Anna Mae and re-read several chapters to re-acquaint myself with this noble, short, and tragic life. I'd commend reading it as well as the several commentaries that can be found online by her daughter, Denise Pictou Maloney (here, here). I should also mention a book that I have ordered and looked at with online previews that honours Anna Mae - Who Would Unbraid Her Hair?

Somewhat ploddingly I prepared a brief rationale for operatically telling Anna Mae's story and submitted it and then heard Bill Richardson elaborate on the instructions to contestants, suggesting that innovative ways of nominating would be especially welcome. Thus did I set out to write the following poem and, as I did, white guilt, or some kind of remorse washed over me: the act of making poetry moved me more deeply than I had ever felt -- but should have -- about Anna Mae. It brought back vague recollections from the 1970s when news of her death made it onto the back pages of Canadian newspapers. The item then seemed so minor, so predictable: another dead activist, just one more murdered Indian. Yes, part of what Stannard aptly called the American Holocaust. Here's what I submitted:


“Died of exposure” said the Coroner.
But the wind, furious, accepts no blame.
so all that winter day
drove clumps of buffalo grass
shrieking “murder!” across the plains

They cannot just hide your story, Anna Mae: it must be sung.

Little Shubenacadie Indian girl who went to Pictou
School - they feared all five feet of you
and fearless facing down white bullies
becomes your recurring libretto.

From sweat-shop blueberry fields of Maine,
picked over by your people for chickenfeed,
up to Boston’s Combat Zone where,
they arrest your friend,
for the crime of being stabbed,
and you, petite avenging angel,
swoop from the cop car-top
and knock ‘em all, ass over kettle

They cannot just tell your story, Anna Mae: it must be sung.

And later you’re a mother, seamstress, teacher,
helper to needle-armed, paper-bag-hiding Indians
strung out along Beantown’s filth-encrusted alleys
Then, leading the charge
against vacant Thanksgiving amnesiac ceremonies,
you board the Mayflower II
and down to DC too, you march the Trail of Broken Treaties
right into the Indian Bureau.
Then westward, ho!

They cannot just cheer your story, Anna Mae: it must be sung.

You steal into Wounded Knee, seen only by the murdered ghosts
from 80 years before;
You marry Aquash there, but soon,
within the bloodied barricade of AIM,
fingers point, rats inform
Who ? Who ? Who?
Does the owl call your name too,
Anna Mae ?
Or is it some lower predator, already in flight?

They cannot just mourn your story, Anna Mae: it must be sung.

February ’76: human remains found on a South Dakota back-road
And the coroner still goes on about “exposure”
no heed to that laughing hole in the skull
you could not take with you
on your final ascension.

The decades and blame will pass;
The FBI exonerates itself and moves on,
pausing indifferently to jail old suspect friends.

Doubt still falls like a February badlands snow
on everything - but your soul’s beauty.

They cannot just praise your story, Anna Mae: it must be sung.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Back from aestivation - and still talkin' sockeye

It's been over two months since the blog-muse gripped me in its talons. I have been aestivating with the toads and freshwater snails, so to speak. So it will take me a few days to shake off the dried mental muds and return to form, such as that be.

In true droning form, I will pick up where I left off back on June 17th, namely the misguided attention(which means misspent money) that the Government of Canada has allocated to having a bunch of lawyers ponder and pontificate on the poor sockeye returns in 2009. My point, distinct, thank God, from that of the old Indian hand, MP John Cummins, was that one bad season for Oncorhynchus nerka, should not call forth the deluge of dubious judicial expertise it has (just as was done in 1994 when a poor run also precipitated great stir and commissioning, that time led by the Honourable John Fraser).

Not that I would ever say "I told you so" but here we are in late August with worries now arising about the management and impact of the largest Fraser River sockeye run since 1913. Because fishermen have an irrepressible (and well-based) pessimism, many are now actually lamenting the effects of the surplus: reduced prices and the very real possibility that having so many horny adults pushing around in the spaning gravels, will actually reduce the reproductive success of the year class. Thus do well known phenomena from market economics -supply effects on price - and reproductive ecology - density dependence - confound what, one might think, should be the joys of bonanza.

Just as worried observers may fret about what to do with all that extra sockeye, so to should we faithful taxpayers be worried about the surplus "talent" that has been assembled and well-financed high atop the towers overlooking West Georgia street. What are we to do with the Cohen Commission now? Their press-releases show that slowing down the mighty money-eating engines of their inquiry, in light of the 2010 record sockeye run has not occurred to them or their political masters. I suppose you could give them all hip waders and send them out on the water to fish - but, alas, the dearth of actual field knowledge among most of the Commission's personnel would probably mean even more public expenditure -- i.e. the costs to the local search and rescue agencies as they try to locate these bumblers out in the wild.

Of course, as said before in these pages, a novel thought might be to re-assign the Commission to look into a real disappearance and fisheries resource tragedy, one that has played out for more than a decade up and down the BC coast, to wit, the loss of the saviour fish, the eulachon. But then, focusing attention on that species would mean that the federal government gave two hoots about a species whose value is not measurable in loonies and the profit margins of major companies. No, it would imply that they actually cared about coastal First Nations who have relied on this special little smelt since proverbial time immemorial.

And why would the Harper government want to start caring about Native people when it has already both apologized for, yet later denied the very history of colonial oppression.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Cohen Commission and Cummins' Misdirected Critique

This week, way more than is deserved news coverage here in BC is going to the predictable raving of the justifiably back-benched MP from Delta, John Cummins. Cummins has long been known for his, shall we say, highly occluded view of fisheries issues, "informed" if that be the word, by time as a commercial fishermen and much longer service among voices against Indian fishing rights.
Years ago an alliance formed among non-Natives to protect downtrodden whites from aggressive aboriginals, the Fishermens Durvival Coalition. Cummins was a founding member and their dogged Ottawa voice-piece. He even got himself arrested and briefly jailed for a protest fishery trying to stem the relentless tide of legal and then regulatory decisions recognizing the historic right of First nations in fisheries. Bear in mind that he was apprehended by the Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) perpetrator of the native fishing agreements Wild John was out to vanquish.

Now, this long-serving Indian fighter (and, by implication DFO fighter) is shifting the always narrow range of his sights to the learned Justice Bruce Cohen and his entourage. When the mighty Fraser sockeye run was largely a no-show last year, Bruce got the nod for an ostensibly far-ranging inquiry as to the causes. This was by a long shot not the first federal effort to find and commission one or more wise men (and, yes m'dears, it's always men) to dispassionately probe the perils afflicting the iconic Pacific salmon. Way back in 1961 agricultural economist, Sol Sinclair, poked about the issue and, like many before and since, muttered about the surplus capacity of the fleet, as the slogan became "too many boats chasing too few fish." Later the peripatetic UBC economist Peter Pearse had a go at fisheries foibles as did a battery of less expert inquirers in the 1990s, especially after Captain Fred Mifflin's draconian cutbacks.

More germane the 1994 sockeye run shortfall brought the Honourable former Fed Fish Minister John Fraser in from the cold for a thorough examination of why pre-season expectations for the run were so far from its reality. The dubious innovation this time was to staff the commission preponderantly with lawyers. All but one of the twelve core staff are law school products. Unsurprisingly without response, I critically drew this imbalance to the attention of Commissioner Cohen via the comments option at their website. The who's who as selected reveals, I let him know, a narrow and off-base formulation of the kind of problem that needs solving here.

To fulfill the Commission's mandate two principal complexities need unraveling or at least intelligent thoughtful reflection: the ultimate mystery of what is really going on in the ocean and then, as well, a grasp of the massively convoluted human system - social, cultural, economic, political and organizational, as well as legal - that envelops salmon management. While legally trained minds no doubt have worthy contributions to make to the latter, theirs is but one small piece of a very big multi-disciplinary puzzle. The Commission staff should reflect the necessary state-of-the-art insights of many more scholarly areas, not to even mention, the traditional knowledge of the salmon's first and far more successful management system, i.e. First Nations.

As to what I have called the ultimate mystery of the ocean, to the best of my knowledge, there is no requirement for shiny-faced would-be lawyers to have any acquaintaince with this, via the curricula of law schools or otherwise.

I suspect that if Commissioner Cohen or his minions were to respond they would rapidly correct my misgivings by referring to the appointment of "six eminent fisheries scientists" as the inquiry's Scientific Advisory Panel. And yet, I would and do remain unimpressed though for reasons unrelated to the dubiously honourable Mr.Cummins. His gripe, which as I began, is getting way too much play given especially his own demonstrably un-objective viewpoint on things salmon-ish, was that the Panel was DFO tainted. Cummins' diligent research turned up that there was not only a former DFO employee in the chicken house (Brian Riddell) but that most of the others at one time or another had worked on projects fro which the Minster of Fisheries Oceans had paid. Thus, if we are to believe Cummins, folks like Drs. Carl Walters and Paul Leblond of UBC are irremediably corrupted by such associations. If Cummins was capable of delving objectively into the records of the likes of Walters not only would he find an impeccable international reputation but a considerable proven willingness to confront DFO when what they do -- and they do lots - is scientifically astray. Indeed, thinking back to Walters' powerful critiques of lax DFO regulation of the commercial fishers. we might indeed find that Cummins does know of the good professor's work, and holds one of his many grudges against him for pointing out inconvenient truths about the effects of commercial seining. The very idea of Cummins raising matters of objectivity about fisheries would be just for laughs if he wasn't getting so much airplay with his nonsense (like here, here, and here).

More broadly it would be difficult indeed to find fisheries scientists who have west coast experience but who have not at any time been involved in a DFO-funded project. That, by the way - full disclosure - includes me - even though I was also flattered once to be called "one of DFOs worst nightmares"by a senior departmental official.

Mr Cummins has blood in his eye for Indian-lovers which in his alternate universe and to the great shock of most First Nations leaders I know - includes DFO and so, guilty by association is Cohen, his staff and his eminent scientists. The problem I have with that panel is not DFO's taint but the narrowness of member backgrounds in terms of both culture and academic discipline. I may have to go on about that later but suffice here to say, there are no First Nations traditional knowers on this panel and, just as bad, no one who has scholarly credentials on the study and practice of leadership or administrative reform. Those are essential "ingredients" but missing from the Cohen Commission mix. To waste any further virtual ink on the likes of Cummins is a distraction inappropriate to the urgency of the sockeye mystery.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Opprobrium from Reprobates (Mavi Marmara II)

Of course, I was being either absurdly wishful or rhetorical in titling my last posting as "Speaks for Itself." The wide availability of the footage showing the Israeli naval soldiers descending onto the decks of and being immediately swarmed has had very modest impact on the "truths" which are promulgated. And none at all on the fulminating from Turkey itself. Its leadership has been putting on quite a show of righteous outrage, one does not know in earnest blindness of cynical popularity-seeking among an electorate emotionally akin, no doubt, to the Young Turks who initiated the attack and thereby paid the mortal consequences.

Indeed, it is fascinating to see just the sorts of nations who have stepped forward with high-minded public recriminations of Israel. Loudest, of course, is Turkey, which still soft-soaps its history of violence against ethnic minorities within its own sphere - whether those be the old genocidal atrocities against the Armenians or the more recent repression of the of Kurds, 40,000 of whom have are estimated to have been slaughtered by the Turks -- not to mention the millions exiled from their homes.

Or what about that stalwart of peace, Vladimir Putin who now stands shoulder to shoulder with the Turkish Prime Minister chastizing Israel. What makes the commandoes action aboard the Mavi Marmara especially egregious, in his view, is that the killings occurred in international waters. Far better, then, to butcher tens of thousands of Chechens in their own homeland whilst razing the capital of Grozny from the air - all this arguably so that this vicious little KGB agent could consolidate his power and perpetrate the steady process of de-democratization in post Yeltsin-Russia.

And China? - I hardly need remind anyone of the oceans of blood that tyrannical regime has spilled from its own citizens nor the 50 year blockade and murderous suppression of Tibet: no, more to the point, this is the same bunch who have obstinately refused to condemn North Korea for its unprovoked and deadly attack on the South Korean naval corvette, Cheonan. That incident was subjected to an international review - much as Turkey, Russia, China and numerous other bastions of international propriety now call for in the case of the Mavi Marmara. But China still waffles on laying blaming North Korea, while espousing "shock"at those awful Israelis. So, if I get this straight, China can readily pass judgment and condemn where there has been no investigation, but then say nothing when there has been as in its Korean backyard.

There is plenty more wrong with the picture. The worst error the Israelis committed was not boarding the vessel firearms pointed and at the ready. But then, unlike their poor Turkish "victims", the soldiers weren't planning for to attack anyone.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Speaks for Itself

Amidst the predictable international opprobrium piling onto Israel over the boarding, violence and subsequent death on the Mavi Marmara, have a look at how these idealistic humanitarians responded to the first commandos who came onto the deck.

Gandhi would have been so proud.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

REDUX IV: Big Pigs and Little Wolves

I see that I have been being lax in pumping out the columns that hoards of you await impatiently each day. Yes, that means you too Fred. So once again I delved into the cobwebby archives, this time inspired by a lovely half hour spent in the class at Prince George's Ron Brent School. I was invited to read to the group of Grade 3 and 4 scholars and in sifting through the leftovers from my daughters' younger days, came across an old fav' - The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. Years ago when Genoa hosted a G-8 summit, I had been moved to think of this inversion of the more familiar nursery tale not because of the role reversal but because of the sanguine moral of the retold version. Making these points again now in the immediate aftermath of the badly miscalculated Red Shirt siege in Bangkok and with another of these economic parlays soon to come to the bucolic Muskokas, I guess that's enough reason to dust this entry off and hope that in its own small way, it can help keep a humane perspective as the inevitable protests unfold with the ever-present threat of violence.


Death in Genoa, or the Pig/Wolf Alternative
(from the Coast Mountain News, circa July 01

Nothing, you think, is as unarguable as death. But differences in the pictures Canadian newspapers chose to run of the young G-8 protester dead on the Genoan pavement say otherwise. One photo showed diminutive Carlo Giuliani stone dead and bloody - and you can’t help but think: My God the Fascist bastards have finally killed somebody in their paranoid defense of globalization! But other photos seem to depict him of one of several aggressive hooligans about to toss a fire hydrant into a police jeep. He got what was coming, right? Or dead wrong?

Would you have shot someone waving this unusual “weapon” as you sat cramped up in a car? Or on the other side, if a carabineri aimed his rifle at your head might you have just tried to shield yourself with whatever was at hand? Misunderstandings abound in the deadly heat of such moments but only foretell far broader and deeper clashes of world-view.

That even the ultimately unambiguous fact of death can so divide and confuse us, symbolizes the widening gap between those who see the various annual gatherings of world leaders and bankers as a ushering in a new era of world prosperity and those who think “globalization” is at the roots of most that is wrong in our world. As one watches the path from the now almost innocent days of UBC bearspray to bloodshed in Seattle and thence to death in Genoa, the questions must be asked, where next? What happens in beautiful Kananaskis when Jean “Let them eat pepper”, “Grab them by the jugular” Chretien, hosts his compatriots at another meeting of the G (for Gluttonous?) 8? Already the limited access roads to this foothills paradise are being touted as a principal reason for this venue.

In seeking a way out of this inevitable escalation of violent means by both sides, political leaders and anti-globalist NGOs could do worse than study comparatively the well-known tale of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf, and Eugene Trivivas far less familiar inversion, “The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig”.

No question that the organizers of these incessant gatherings of lofty politicians, bankers and bureaucrats, have absorbed well the lesson from the original “Three Little Pigs” -- that only way to survive a wolf at the door, is to surround yourself with impenetrable fortifications. “Build it (strong) and they won’t come”, the wisdom seems to go.

You’d think that fifty years of the nuclear arms race might have taught the world that when you surround yourself with increasingly vicious armed guards, the other side will adjust its tactics to a higher and more dangerous level. Any reasonably intelligent national leader, social psychologist or child who has had time on life’s playground can tell you that “aggressive defense” begets a fearfully symmetrical response of escalation. It is a theoretically endless race but in reality has a very untheoretical and foreseeable ending – someone gets killed. And that is what happened on the road from Seattle’s 1999 World Trade Organization riots to young Giuliani on that street in Genoa. If you think you can end it all by lighting the fire and waiting for a wolf stupid enough to go down the chimney, you really do believe in fairy tales!

Here is where the alternative re-telling about the little wolves and the big bad pig may have teaching value for a lesson that Canada better learn before next year at Kananaskis. In this redone version, like the little pigs, the little wolves leave home warned by Mama Wolf to watch out for a roving sadistic swine whose purpose (unlike the Big Bad Wolf) is not to consume but simply to terrorize the cubs for the pure joy of doing harm. (Probably exactly what our esteemed political leaders believe to be the motivation of many anti-globalists)

The Little Wolves start where the three little pigs ended – their first abode is brick. When the Big Bad Pig arrives he goes through the ritual but futile huffing and puffing and gets out a sledgehammer which is predictably more effective. Escaping narrowly, the wolves go for a concrete home the second time around. Again the giant hog huffs and puffs before availing himself of a pneumatic drill and again sends the cubs scurrying for new shelter. House three is nothing short of a fortress one that would impress even the G8. There’s barbed wire, iron bars, armoured metal plates, steel chains and 67 padlocks, not to mention a video surveillance system. Mr. Big Pig breaks through the initial lines of defense but seems stumped for a few minutes. Alas he returns with dynamite.

After their apparently impregnable house is blown sky high, the little wolves do something that M. Chretien would not probably understand. They build a beautiful but utterly flimsy house of flowers. When the Big Bad Pig makes his inevitable appearance and does his huffing and puffing, he is overwhelmed by the wondrous fragrances. Instantly he is transformed into “the Good Big Pig”, and dances a tarantella to the little wolves’ amazement. They all end up playing “piggy-in-the-middle” and living together happily ever after.

Something to think about. Now you may say that the Grouse has spent one too many hours out in the eastern sun (yes I am on P.E.I.) to imagine for even a moment that there is a lesson from this tall tale applicable to the real world of violent protest and more violent defense. Still, bear with me, given the apparent lack of workable alternatives. I really believe a way must be found for these international high level gatherings to open the doors and bring in those who scream from the outside and who are so profoundly troubled by globalization. The press is telling us that the leaders are listening: fine, let the youthful idealists in to smell the flowers and not only affect but be seen to affect, decisions made, for the most part, by old men who, unlike those protesters, will not have to live all that long in the world they are bent on redesigning.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Turpel-Lafond For Premier!

Kash Heed, BC's one-time new wunderkind top cop, has just set the new and unlikely to ever be broken record for the shortest comeback in political history. Having resigned with some dignity a fortnight ago for relatively petty fund-raising irregularities in his riding, he surges back for less than 24 hours only to be toppled by a somewhat more startling revelation: Terrence Robertson, the crown prosecutor assigned to check out the first infractions and who cleared Heed of wrongdoing, turns out to have been from a law firm that had donated to the same campaign that was under Robertson's investigation. CBC calls this "the latest twist in a complicated political story," but I think it's not very complicated at all, much less so than my struggling teenager's Grade 10 math homework. It ain't corruption but, rather, blundering stupidity and that charge sticks right up into the Premier's office, if not orifice.

In turn, this is really so minuscule a failing compared to so much of what Gordon Campbell and his gang's hopefully sunset years (better if it's months) have entailed. Gord began his reign doing his Edward Scissorhands routine and has continued to work hard, when not letting his hair down in Hawaii, to deconstruct the provincial educational and medical systems. He threw all sorts of money at trying to pry open somewhat apocryphal moratoria on offshore oil and gas and no doubt, had he been successful, would have demanded a standard of environmental precaution at least as lax as the Gulf Coast of the USA to where his government dispatched numerous field trips so that we could learn from their impeccable engineering! In a Throne Speech shortly after the IOC's decision to let Lotusland host the Winter Olympics, the Campbell Government was even drivelling about lighting the torch with fuel pumped up from beneath the Queen Charlotte Basin! This monumental ignorance of what offshore exploration and development entails must have made even the most enthusiastic proponents wince.

Since then, offshore oil and gas for BC has crawled back into its cave, but Campbell and company continue to find other ways to devastate the social and physical environment. Most recently, having announced the highly improbable re-entry of the Site C dam on the Peace, they introduced legislation to try to stifle the work of one of BC's and Canada's most passionate public servants, Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the province's Representative for Children and Youth. This was a position created as a result of the 2005-6 Hughes review of British Columbia’s child protection system, following in the literal wake of countless cases where children purportedly under BC's care, were harmed, often mortally.

Turpel-Lafond was such a good choice that it's hard to believe the Campbell government made it. Hailing from the remote indigenous community of Norway House in northern Manitoba, she has been twice cited in Time Magazine as a young leader to watch, nationally and globally. She has a law doctorate from Harvard and a master's from Cambridge. She and the great national Aboriginal leader Ovide Mercredi co-authored a superb book about First Nations struggles, In the Rapids. One could go on but this is enough to say that when, inevitably, Campbell et al. reverted to their nature and blindsided Ms. Turpel-Lafond with legislation restricting her access to information to do her job, she didn't back down. As it stands, she will take the Office of the Premier and the Ministry of Children and Family Development to court over the new legislation. Definitely the wrong person to screw around with, Gord-O!

As this tragicomedy unfolds, the larger picture issue of provincial leadership hoves into view for me. I think of how Carol James, the NDP leader, has not ignited much enthusiasm as a potential alternative and also of how there have been increasing public musings on the need for a third party (again!) in BC - like we didn't get into enough of a mess as a result of Campbell's coup of the fallible but worthy Gordon Wilson's single-handed resurrection of the Liberal Party.

But I don't care who drafts her - a new party, the NDP or the faltering Canucks - we are indeed fortunate to have the likes of Turpel-Lafond at the helm of so crucial a portfolio as she now holds, and I want to be first to say that there is an even bigger ship of state, badly in need of her trusted, capable and knowing hands. Whether as the leader of a new party or - if the NDP has any smarts - of the current opposition, let's start the call now: Mary-Ellen for Premier!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Heirs to the Original Tea Party - Unfitting and Unfit

Back when Bill Clinton booted George Bush sr., out of the White House, the Republicans and their neo-Con henchman launched a concerted effort from day one of the new presidency to do everything possible to get rid of him. Bill helped matters along some years later with the Lewinsky nuttiness, but there had been no doubt from the start that a coup d'etat was being carefully orchestrated. For it is bad enough to have a Democrat in power but absolutely devastating for the American right for the guy to be a better speaker and populist than any of their own good old cracker boys.

Flash forward past the Clinton presidency and the eight year moronic rule of George jr. and history repeats itself with another high camera appeal Democrat at 1600 Pennsylvania. To make matters worse for the bigots, the guy is - omigod - Black. And so the wheels of the great right wing machines once again are grinding and spinning, searching for any way possible to make sure that Obama's tenure is short and unsweet. Although 16 months into this well-planned hysteria, Obama's stimulus package and health care initiatives are cited as the reason why a "new revolution" is needed, in fact the right-wing machinery started up its hate campaign even before the man was taking his presidential vows. On January 19th, the day before the inauguration, a conservative chat-group's moderator posted a call for a "commemorative tea party" as her way of saluting the incipient Obama years. Don't let the guy even warm his new Oval Office chair before trying to stir up evocative imagery of insurrection.

And so it has continued from the earliest stages of Obama inheriting Bush's mess. Well aware that the new Administration might be in a weak and stupefied state on realizing the horrendous financial bequest of the predecessor, the Republicans and their fundamentalist allies struck fast.

By February 10, less than a month into Obama's term, the rallies had started and in March, CBS News would rhetorically headline, "A Growing "Tea Party" Movement?"
Syndicated Fox commentator, Dave Ramsey raved on about the need for a new Tea Party on February 11, 2009. Feeding off the fear and loathing that stemmed from nationwide foreclosures and ban failures, a battery of nasty media-savvy proselytizers strove to create - with at least partial success - the appearance of spontaneous popular uprising. Soon there would even be martyrs to the cause such as lifelong anti-tax nutbar Joe Stack who killed and injured others on his suicide airplane run into the office building housing the Internal Revenue Service in Austin, Texas. Incredibly an elected US congressman from Iowa would then opine empathy for Stack's attack, stating, "if the U.S. had abolished the I.R.S back when I first advocated it, he (Stack) wouldn’t have a target for his airplane.” This while a family was still grieving the death of a father and grandfather whose crime was just having worked for the IRS.

Aside from the gargantuan unpleasantness of these people and their ideas what is most offensive to me as a guy who once lived for several years in Boston and enjoyed boning up on its impressive history, is the utter opposite-ness of what the original Tea party and its participants were all about versus these inarticulate little fascists who have pirated the name for their scurrilous mission. The Boston Tea Party in December 1773 was precipitated by legislation imposing stiff new taxes on tea. The leaders of this insurrection were not, however, principally griping about costs added to their favourite beverage. They were upset at having to continually live with decisions imposed by legislators over whom they had no control. Their key slogan was "no taxation without representation." Boycotts were organized and when ships carrying the now politically-unpalatable tea refused to head back to England, protesters dressed as Mohawks, boarded the vessels and dumped the goods into the harbour. This in turn set off a vigourous intercontinental debate, with leaders in the Thirteen Colonies largely siding with the "party" while outrage and a call for strict and military measures stormed in Britain. The American Revolution followed less than 3 years thereafter.

Now keep it firmly in your mind: the original Tea Party was about asserting the rights of Americans to elect those representatives for making critical public decisions. Flash forward to the demagogues and their redneck followers who are today's "tea parties," and you can see what a travesty and insult taking that name is. This mainly lily-white network of cloned mobs, at its roots, hates the guy and the congressional majority party that fellow Americans democratically elected. In particular, they loath the young president who received 53% of the popular vote in 2008 and perhaps even more so, Nancy Pelosi, who hails from that foreign city on the US west coast polluted with gays, abortionists and that sort. Pelosi it may be necessary to recall was elected repeatedly to the House of Representatives in legitimate congressional elections by legitimate electors. In 2006, she was unanimously endorsed as the House leader by the party which had captured the majority of seats in - I shall be repetitive - a legitimate election open to a free electorate.

These pathetic self-appointed heirs to that noble first Tea Party, vigourously wish to undermine the democracy which those Bostonians demanded 236 years ago. The government and system that arose from 18th century courage is precisely what they want to pull down and replace with the worst of the losing leaders, the ones the majority of Americans so wisely rejected in 2008. This time around unlike in 2000, the republican candidate did not have the Florida ballot boxes overseen by his brother or a Supreme court packed with his dad's and Reagan's cronies to seize power from the Democrat who won. So the "Tea Party-ers" figure they can accomplish a similar illegitimate wresting of power from the electors by proudly and loudly making braying asses of themselves at every opportunity.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

So Screw the Memory of Stan

Every year Canadians get themselves all worked up about what we call the Junos. It's a nice closed little honouring of Canadian musicians. Mind you, our artists are eligible for the biggy of all music awards south of the border, the Grammys. But here they get to play all by themselves in the awards sandbox without fear of sand kicked in the face by innumerable talented Yanks.

Harmless enough, I guess, but much less so is the continuing stubborn failure of the parent body which runs the Junos, CARAS, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to do the right ting when it comes to the long late Stan Rogers. Stan, in case you are very young or very isolated was a literally giant folk singer who grew up in Ontario but with the soul of emigre Maritimer. He loomed irreplaceably into Canadian lives and then legend in the mid 1970s with the stunning array of ballads he mainly composed but which sounded more like genuine songs from Nova Scotia's past then many of the real things. From the boisterous if ultimately tragic acapella shanty "Barrett's Privateers" to the oft-covered love song, "Forty-Five Years", to the celebration of outport life in the title track and the several laments for what Atlantic Canada was losing even before the cod collapse (which one of the songs, "Make and Break Harbour" anticipates), the album alone would have qualified Stan for honours far higher than any posthumous parochial Juno.

And Stan was far from done having limned the shades and contours of his ancestors' lost Nova Scotia home. Later, he would add more of his own sea classics like the Mary Ellen Carter, plus insights into the hard life of the rural Canada whether that be of a farmer struggling against unpredictable prairie weather (Field Behind the Plow), a rancher wife musing on growing old ("Lies"), or a ex-rodeo rider turned cattleman driven to violence by poachers ("Night Guard"). Perhaps most famously, he took the measure of the entire country driving across Canada with the historically resonant, "Northwest Passage" which the online Canadian Encyclopedia notes as often being hailed as Canada's unofficial national anthem - certainly it's a lot more melodic and makes a great deal more sense than shallowly repeating that we stand on guard when actually we don't. In 2005 in CBC's Jian Ghomeshi's widely publicized compilation of Canadians'picks for country's all-time top fifty songs, Northwest Passage ran a close fourth, miles - excuse me, kilometres - ahead of many pieces by individual and group musicians now nicely ensconced in CARAS's dubious hall of fame.

Stan, again as most of you will know, perished in 1983 at the age of 34 in a plane fire coming back from a gig in Texas. American folkie John Gorka penned "That's How Legends are Made" in tribute:

There was a man
Who came from north of here
He could raise his voice
And he could raise a beer
And when he left
The music stayed
And that's how legends are made.

Alas, all this legendary and nationally-beloved creativity has never been enough the collective unintelligence of CARAS. One can excuse a bit of oversight initially, of course, but there has been no shortage, indeed a deluge of outraged calls from all quarters to do the right thing and belatedly install Stan in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. It should have happened no later than the year after his death. But now, it seems, CARAS has if anything got obstinate. These petty little faceless pipsqueaks who can hide behind some opaque decision-making process, refuse year after year, ignoring a groundswell of advocacy from the arts community as well as everyday people who, unlike CARAS can see the obvious.

You can still find an online petition long mounted by the excellent literary magazine, Geist, and it's worth a go to add your voice. But I'd also suggest that we need a boycott - I think it's too late this year - and perhaps some closer scrutiny of whether there is taxpayer money behind the Hall of Fame, CARAS and the Junos. It's way past time that we should be tolerating the foolish and it seems willful disregard for an icon who was in every way so much bigger than CARAS and its little gonad-less zombie trophies.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Hillary, Meet the Canadian Chicken Littles


I have been waiting patiently all week for the local journal of record, the Prince George Citizen to carry my spirited rebuttal to an editorial in which they roundly castigated Hillary Clinton for having dared to answer honestly a question posed by CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos. Alas, the good editors have not seen fit to share with other readers the fruits of my insights on the matter. Thus must I resort, as is my wont, to grousing.

A couple of contextual things minor and not. On the minor side, those of you who are disadvantaged by not waking up to this crisp little paragon of journalistic endeavour, the Citizen, should know that one of the most common applications of the readers' privilege of getting their letter published, is this kind of thing (made-up but close to the usual form and literary merit):

I really want to thank whoever stole the little Black Sambo lawn ornaments from my house on Bumtickle Street. My late mother gave Shirley and me them for our silver wedding anniversary. So I hope you enjoy them whoever you are.

This kind of razory riposte comes forth from the readership almost as frequently as creationist and homophobic screed.

The other more important background in case you missed it - and my American fans who have bigger things to occupy them may well have - is that when Hillary replied ever so tactfully to direct questions about the US disposition to Canada's announced 2011 departure from the Afghan NATO mission, there followed loud caterwauling across this fair Nation's op-ed media. The Winnipeg Free Press dubbed her Hurricane Hillary, noting her bluntness on Afghanistan as well as Canada's duplicitous stance on abortion and occluded approach to international diplomacy regarding the Arctic.

The Globe and Mail's Lawrence Martin, apparently never having read the source transcripts on Strombo's question and Hillary's answer, called for Clinton to get a hearing aid; hadn't Canada been clear enough on its impending pull out for some time, he demanded? Of course, Hillary's actual answer showed nothing but crystal clear awareness of the Canadian position and probably more respect than this arbitrarily dated pull-out policy deserved. Perhaps -- a wag might say -- it was Mr. Martin's communicative organs that need upgrading?

Not to be out-shouted by his journalistic betters, the tiny imperfect local Prince George paper lashed out at Mrs. Clinton with such gems of reasoning as this: " hopes Clinton didn't see the death of Cpl. Fitzpatrick, the 141st Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan - and the resurgence of interest in the war it has generated across the country - as a pretext to contradict the Tories." Fitzpatrick was the first Prince George-born Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan and his memorial services the day before the Citizen's editorial naturally riveted local attention. But one has to have some pretty ludicrous visions of grandeur to imagine that as Hillary chose her words in response to Strombo's question, foremost in her mind was the goings on in odoriferous little Prince George, BC, 3000 miles away.

But to repeat, despite my best efforts to set the Citizen straight on this, they seemingly have deep-sixed my anti-flatulent elixir for editorial bloat. Thus here in its bullshit-cutting entirety, the not-to-be-seen letter:

Dear Editor,

Canadians have a very bipolar disposition when it comes to Americans stating their views about us or about matters pertaining to us. We maintain apocryphal notions of how little the USA cares and knows about us but then when a high-ranking official like Hillary Clinton ever so tactfully indicates that our presence as a continuing ally in Afghanistan would be welcome, there pours out the kind of bombast and hyper-defensiveness seen in both the editorial and editorial cartoon in today’s Citizen (Saturday, April 3).

It is hard to grasp how what Mrs. Clinton actually did say could lead to such bloviating. In the wide-ranging interview that has caused such offense CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos naturally got around to Afghanistan and Hillary’s first response only praised Canada as a great ally whose forces “have been superb.” After further kibitzing about Americans and Canadians playing hockey in Kandahar, the interviewer asked straight out, how Hillary felt about Canada’s scheduled pull-out. Given that the American policy which Obama (with Hillary) developed so painstakingly for months is well-known, what else could she say but the extraordinarily temperate statement about Americans regretting the Canadians’ leaving. Her remarks, as Citizen’s editor admits have not worried knowledgeable foreign policy experts a whit.

But still came the howls and teeth-gnashing of Canadian editorialists, displaying the behaviour more of a thin-skinned adolescent who can’t take the mildest criticism than of a supposedly mature neighbour. To go on to imply that Hillary could have even further tempered her remarks in light of Cpl. Fitzpatrick’s death is to push this self-centered hot air to the furthest outpost of overstatement.

Still, I am glad that the Citizen has now raised the connection between that tragic loss and Canada’s position on military withdrawal. For it brings forth the question we should be asking: if Afghanistan was worth dying for in 2010, what will have magically changed that makes such sacrifice utterly unthinkable beyond 2011? I never thought the mission had prospects for success midst the endless turmoil of that sad country, but I fail to see that anything but the calendar will change next year, certainly not whatever underlying rationale took young Fitzpatrick away from here and, then, ended his promising young life. Thank you, Hillary for helping us get real in pondering such literally grave matters.