Thursday, January 21, 2010

Margaret Roberta Howatt Dale - 1922-1990

She was my mother. She was born in the village of Cape Traverse, Prince Edward Island, terminus for the mail "ice-boats" that plied the Northumberland Strait before ferry service and long before the fixed link bridge crossing. She grew up mainly in Summerside, became a teacher in a one-room school and then went to work in the post office. During World War II, a young Czech trainee, Bernard Dale, from the nearby air force base, kept buying stamps from her and eventually, they married. Thence my brother, Peter, my sister, Ari and lastly, me.

As my father was an military officer, we moved about, first to Ottawa in 1949 and then to the Montreal area, where my mother resumed teaching at the Preville School in 1959. I was among the pupils in her first incoming Grade 6, an intriguing experience for both of us. She continued her school career until a UN job took my father to Nigeria in the midst of that nation's civil war in the mid sixties. With my father she returned to Prince Edward Island in 1968 and lived there until 1987 when they both moved to Victoria.

Her passion was always animals with an enormous Newfoundland named Angus her deep love until his passing from which, I think, she never fully recovered. Among her things I would later find a little poem scrawled on a note pad:

To Angus

"My Friend is dead.
At peace? Gone to rest?
He is dead.
God is there a place
where good dogs go?
I don't know many things
He sleeps in my heart, I loved him so

I know that he was alone when he died
The lilacs had just been born
Did they mourn my dead friend?
I loved him so."

In late 1989 she was diagnosed with lung cancer and died this date (January 21) in 1990. Countless gifts she left us not least of which, a quite brief journal she began to keep December 16, 1989. In it she dutifully recorded the coming and going of pains and medications but also wrote of the things and people she loved, the dreams she had, whether realized or not, and of what, in what turned out to be her final days brought comfort - old pictures, the sound of rain on the roof, and...

Dec. 24, Sunday:

"Had some rather special experience this A.M. during my slumber (6-7:30) I needed this inspiration badly because I was starting the day with the same concerns as yesterday. The message was, 'live today to its best, don't worry about tomorrow... According to the speaker the message is one of Jesus. I had never heard that one before..."

Later she would muse, without, it seemed, huge regret, that she once wanted to write a "great, look at this!" So her journal,more valued on my shelf than any other book, the picture here of her with me as a baby, and a vaster collage of memories she gifted me with, today define my horizons. I listen to some favourite music of hers, Strauss waltzes, and reflect: whatever is best in me, Ma, you've put there.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Adopting Haiti ~ An Immodest Proposal

Amidst innumerable stories of efforts to do something for Haitians in the aftermath of their latest enormous catastrophe, there have been many themed about adoption. Completing an adoption from the country is notoriously difficult, as perhaps it should be when prospective parents consider transplanting a child into a culturally and, often, racially distinct setting, one that may permanently estrange the kid from her origins. The spate of celebrities toting their little subalterns about as tokens of their generosity and global consciousness only sharpens the doubts within and outside of third world countries regarding such permanent transplants. Add to this, the severe governance defects that Haiti has suffered almost since its inception, and one is sure to have questionable responsiveness on adoption. Thus one readily finds laments about multi-year processing difficulties with Haiti's Institut du Bien-Etre Social et de Recherches, or IBESR. Woeful tales abounded before last week's quake, from would-be parents and harsh frontline workers who cared for Haitian orphans.

The earthquake can be variously seen as likely to exacerbate delays, or just possibly, awaken Haitian social service bureaucracies now ever-more inundated by needful millions, to the necessity of fast-tracking adoption, getting the suddenly tenfold newly orphaned and those already queued for departure, out of horrific conditions that will no doubt persist for a long time. But the latter is far from a strong bet. To repeat, critics will say, with some legitimacy, that even in (perhaps especially in) the aftermath of a disaster that has unquestionably killed tens of thousands of biological parents, rushing little kids out of Haiti risks a host of abuses including fraudulent trafficking and the accidental destruction of already aggrieved Haitian families.

Well, as you might expect, the Grouse has his own immodest proposal that would circumvent the difficulties and much more, take direct aim at the massive human tragedy that has and continues to be Haiti. By way of entree, let me remind you of an attempt back in 1974 initiated by the late NDP MP, Max Saltsman, for Canada to annex the Turks and Caicos islands. The reasoning was far from altruistic: it would, Saltsman argued, give snowbirds a place to spend away without draining the Canadian economy. the idea simmered away for many years: in 1988 the islands made overtures to the Canadian government to consider growing a relationship that just might culminate in confederation. Nothing came of that nor of the efforts of Canadian Alliance MP Peter Goldring in 2004 on much the same idea. Nonetheless, the thought of flying back and forth unrestricted to such an ostensible island paradise was, Goldring argued supported by 100% of Canadians.

Paradise, Haiti is not. But after more than 200 years of corrupt kleptocracy, something more than a marginal adjustment to its governance seems in order. Wait, wait! Before I stand accused of being a patronizing, neo-colonialistic, great white father, I must hasten to say that while I have not - yet - worked out the precise means by which the two sovereign nations of Canada and Haiti would establish an adoptive bond, for sure it would have based on unprecedented bilateral negotiation with ample opt-out clauses. Recalling that in the unrequited relationship with the Turks and Caicos, the operative and unacceptable verb was "annex". I think "adopt" is more a-propos. For a host of reasons, now ever so much worsened by natural disaster, Haiti has just not been able to muster stable, democratic statehood. An extended period - say 25 years - of membership in our Canadian condominium, would allow for sufficient incubation and restoration that the great dreams of Haiti's heroic founders, can be resurrected.

Far-fetched? Undoubtedly, but it is not the first time that we've confederated with a geographically and culturally distant island, and at least the Haitians, unlike the Newfoundlanders of 1949, speak one of our official languages! Indeed, adopting Haiti would give our ever-reluctant confederated marriage partners in Quebec greater demographic comfort in terms of parity between native speaking Francophones and Anglophones. It would remove travel barriers between the home island and the largest diaspora of Haitians, Montreal. Our vice-regal leader and military Commander-in-Chief just happens to Haitian, a fact that would surely facilitate the arrangement and ease the transition.

Canada could give back to Haiti gifts that her people have conferred on the world, not least of which was the since shaky counter-example that a people in chains can achieve and enjoy freedom. Over that quarter century -- and possibly longer if Haiti wanted, Canada could take a leadership role in the real job of peace-keeping that we have foregone in what will, I believe, be the predictably miserable failure of ours, the USA's and NATO's intervention in Afghanistan. In and with Haiti we'd be taken on a rebuilding job that is valiantly challenging but not fated to be deconstructed by popular Muslim extremists. Maybe we'd even restore some of the esteem with which our nation was held BH (before Harper)!

Let us end the talk and prepare for reflection on my proposal with a sonnet that I came across written by no less than William Wordsworth about the founding father of Haiti who was deceitfully abducted by Napoleon's minions, then to die in a Paris prison.

To Toussaint L'Ouverture

By William Wordsworth


Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men
Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon’s earless den;
O Miserable Chieftain! Where and when
Wilt thou find Patience? Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,

Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There’s not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Georgia Strait's Big Dicks

For those avid readers flung further afield, I must briefly disambiguate that the Georgia Strait is not the Strait of Georgia, itself a busy waterway, subsumed now within the Salish Sea, and environmentally degraded by the otherwise progressive Winter Olympic City -- you know: the one that doesn't get any winter. Nay the Georgia Strait is a venerable and illustrious Vancouver weekly, once, though no longer, fashionably radical, but still always politically correctly tinged.

Recently, queuing up for all the meaningless but endlessly fascinating end of decade listmania, the Strait, distinguished itself from other compilers with the -oooh- sexist epithet for its targets: "the biggest dicks of the decade." Crude even for the inheritors of the once radical 60s rag, the article was penned by one Mike Cowie, apparently a frequent proselytizer for this journal. Exactly why Mikey's list should be of interest to the world, given his still formative stage of journalistic achievement, one pauses to wonder. But I am a sucker for lists and so perused his litany of decadal villains. Really, not much new or surprising. George Bush and Dick Cheney win, with Bin Ladin in second and other notable malefactors including - hooray from me - "the Dictators of China."

Predictably, given the paper's politics and the world's knee-jerk pick on the Middle East's sole democracy, "the Israeli Government" makes the "biggest dicks of the decade" grade. In the tried and true recitation of that country's wrongdoing, Mikey cites the invasion of Lebanon and Gaza and blithely goes on to rant about creating the world's largest prison camp (i.e. Gaza), failing to acknowledge that Egypt seems no less interested than Israel in hemming in the fiefdom of Hamas.

Naturally, yours truly could not refrain from pointing, in posted comments,how the occludedly learned compiler had missed Hamas itself. That murderous and largely cowardly organization managed to split the already dis-empowered Palestinian "nation" by maintaining a position of annihilating Israel and encouraging its primitive but vicious operatives to provoke their powerful neighbour. When writing his anti-Israel screed, Mikey spoke of how he found it, "fun to listen to Israel's kneejerk defenders explain why all of this oppression and land stealing is not just ok, but is actually the Palestinians own fault." But then - sound of clarion trumpets please! - he shares with us, as only a young Vancouver-based journalist can - THE TRUTH, i.e. "that this (Israel) is one of the last bastions of outright brutal colonialism in the world." Well, of course -- and if he wanted to he could even cite the fact that Israel has by far the highest number of human rights investigations ongoing by that pinnacle of impartial rectitude, the UN Human Rights Council! By way of review, that's the body that has processed more than three times as many resolutions against Israel than it has for North Korea, Sudan, and Burma combined since 2003.

But, for those with such profound consciences, one need not stray quite so far afield to find "bastions of colonialism:" try just driving on down from the Strait's Kitsilano coop, to the pitifully constricted Musqueam homeland in South Vancouver or any of the other 200 or so BC First Nations who, in spite of what Stephen Harper has to say about Canada's imperial history, remain the indentured on-reserve "Indians" of a not-so-post-colonial nation. So much more comfy to point fingers across the sea than to come to terms with the extent to which Cowie like most Lotuslanders, sings praise for living in a "paradise" invaded and then stolen from the original inhabitants.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Villains of the Piece: China at Copenhagen

That the Copenhagen Summit on climate change fell far, far short of the expectations of anyone who takes this threat seriously, is not only beyond dispute but was probably inevitable. As noted here before, major poly-national treaties that close in on worldwide consensus need to develop organically and adaptively and not be fixated on implausible make-it-or-break-it milestones.
This said, there is a storyline emerging consonant with my admittedly chronic perspective that the Peoples Republic of China is now almost an omnipresent villain: wherever something tragic is happening in the world, inevitably a Chinese "interest" is close by whether this be murdering their own or arming and financing the most repressive smaller regimes on earth such as Sudan, Burma and Zimbabwe. The account of how China sabotaged Copenhagen has been published in The Guardian and on a blog by Mark Lynas, a British journalist focused on global warming and author of the alarming and visionary book, Six Degrees.

Lynas scored an inimitable contact and route into the wormy heart of Copenhagen negotiations having been befriended and selected as a climate change advisor by Mohamed Nasheed, President of the tiny and vulnerable nation of the Maldives. Those islands, in case you need a memory jogger, are coral atolls southwest of India and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. The highest point on the islands is 2.3 metres the same height as Chinese basketball great Yao Ling, a factoid that should telegraph why the Maldives have become a leading and desperate voice for serious action on global warming.

So Mark Lynas got on the inside of what was going on amidst all the brouhaha in Copenhagen and has told tales out of class in a way that you'll never get from the genetically secretive faceless diplomats who usually frequent the highest altitude break-outs at international conferences. His verdict is blunt on how and why the gathering amounted to so little: "China’s strategy was simple: block the open negotiations for two weeks, and then ensure that the closed-door deal made it look as if the west had failed the world’s poor once again." Describing China's surreptitious two-faced and oft-times vindictive actions, he calls that nation's behaviour, "profoundly shocking." Because China virtually runs any number of illicit third world regimes now, it was able to front these small stature criminals like Sudan to make blustering indictments of the west, while tirelessly working behind-the-scenes. This would insure that whatever came out of the conference would in no way limit their massive and exponentially growing use of filthy, dangerous coal.

Along the way, it was not enough to do all possible to make Obama look bad and ineffective by undermining his last-ditch heroics of consensus-building; the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, even snubbed the US president and other world leaders by sending a foreign ministry underling to what were supposed to be highest level special deal-making sessions. Making America feel small was a fringe benefit of the worn but still effective negotiating tactic called, "higher authority" - which pays off (for those who wish to stall agreement) by necessitating awkward delegate caucuses and telephone consultations while other world leaders wait on China.

Again, one wonders just how much longer the world, especially the diminishing fraction of it that can pretend to be "free", will tolerate the rude, sneering bullies of Beijing. At this time, limiting their power is still remotely possible. But in the horrific Age of Stupid, time is running out on both the problem of climate change and, what we can now see as the closely linked threat of the People's Republic's hegemonic ascent.