Saturday, June 29, 2013

Smell the Coffee

Morning sun in the garden

As I worked on a review of Thomas King's, The Inconvenient Indian, it occurred to me that my oft-expressed opinion (that the State of Israel's right to exist shouldn't be considered a given) might be somewhat hypocritical. Or maybe a lot hypocritical. Sandy Tolan's The Lemon Tree talks about one Palestinian family's expulsion from their home near Ramallah to make way for Jewish settlement. Thomas King's The Inconvenient Indian talks about the settlement of North America on lands that had first to be cleared of Aboriginal people. The comparison is simplistic, I know, but it seems to me that at the core of both stories is conquest and subjugation along with property theft and persecution of the weaker by the stronger. Manifest Destiny; the inevitability of progress as justification for both the means and the end.

            It comes as no surprise that our current government is unapologetically pro-Israel, and maybe that wouldn't be so bad if they were at the same time sympathetic to the people of Gaza and the West Bank who did not create the circumstances in which they find themselves. Maybe they've figured out that if Israel doesn't have a legitimate right to exist as a state, then Canada might not have that right either. Morally, ethically I mean.

            But I doubt it. Our government believes that civilization rests on economic growth to the point that hindrances to its expansionist goals are anathema. If this seems like an exaggeration, pick up Yves Engler's The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper's Foreign Policy and give it a read. The ferocity with which our government lobbies for corporate oil is embarrassing. In this light, it makes sense that Israel would be our pal; Gaza has nothing to offer us—economically. It seems that TV commercials extolling the oil sands of Alberta are broadcast every fifteen minutes by now. Climate change must be good for us; we can make lots and lots of money if only those tree huggers in the USA and the First Nations of BC will get the hell out of our way!

            I worry about the complacency of the middle classes in this country who should have figured out by now that the goal of our current government is to rewrite the values on which this country has heretofore based both its foreign and domestic policies.

Think past the next pay check, people. The oil sands may pay our bills for a time, but at what cost? Siding with Israel exclusively may work today, but how will the Palestines of the world relate to us in the future? I could go on and on in this vein, might even throw in the irony of the freak flooding that will cost billions to repair happening in the same province that stakes its future on the production and sale of as much ‘dirty’ oil as possible
 . . . as if the two were unrelated.

            Its time for principled Canadians to wake up and smell the coffee. 
Breakfast at Academy B & B
P.S. Perhaps the waking up is actually happening. A Nanos Survey published by CBC this morning indicates that dissatisfaction with the Tories is growing and that 51% of Canadians no longer see Harper’s team as an option they might choose in future. Mind you, that can all change before 2015.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Irises, Indians, Erdogan and Harper

Whatd'ya know . . . I DO like purple!

I’m three-quarters through The Inconvenient Indian: a curious account of native people in North America, by Thomas King. Look for a review on Readwit soon. For now, just a few pithy quotations:
       “. . . colonists . . . could always console themselves with the knowledge that Whites, who had found their way to North America, were part of God’s master plan. And Indians, who had been here all along, were not (24).”
        “North America decided that Native education had to be narrowly focused on White values, decided that Native values, ceremonies and languages were inferior and had no value of place in a contemporary curriculum. This was the first abuse of the residential school system (119).”


                 How would you like to be Recep Tayyip Erdogan these days? Prime Minister of Turkey, he’s faced (apparently) with the dilemma of ardent support by half (give or take) of the population while the rest despise him and are as ardently determined to undermine his leadership and get him ousted if possible. Should he be reviewing recent history in Libya, Egypt or Syria to help him decide on a course of action? It’s probably hard to resist applying lethal military might, ready and waiting to do battle. “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable” said John F. Kennedy. Franz Kafka is reported to have written, “Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.”
             I doubt that Erdogan reads Kafka, or would take council from any American President right now . . . not even a dead one. 


           You’re right; it’s Jim Flaherty and Prime Minister Harper in Dublin on their way to the G8 summit. They’re holding a Canadian Rugby team jersey and grinning into the camera like typical tourists do when overwhelmed with the enormity of where they are and what they’re doing. “Look mommy, Here I am in Ireland and I went in a pub but didn’t drink any beer! Honest!” 
         Whether posing under the Guinness is Good for You sign was deliberate or not, I’d be surprised if the brewing company didn’t use it somewhere in their advertising, or if the Liberals and the NDP hadn’t already earmarked it for the next election campaign!

Friday, June 07, 2013

Mowing over Grandpa

The Jacob Epps of Eigenheim

The Eigenheim Mennonite Church Cemetery
12 kilometres west of Rosthern lies the Eigenheim Mennonite Church cemetery where the remains of all those who died as members since 1892 “lie in repose.” In summer, the men of the membership tend the cemetery on a rotating basis; yesterday the lot fell to my crew and most of us showed up with mowers to clean the place up. It took us the better part of two hours; it’s not easy working around a variety of headstone styles, many with concrete covers and because the water table has been so high for the past few years, many graves have been sinking, making mowing over them almost impossible.

               In Saskatchewan, 2013 appears to be the year of the mosquito.

               Cemeteries suggest stories. Many of the dead have their final bed marked only with a metal plate with their vital information inscribed, while some have been honoured with tasteful, expensive marble headstones. I spent a few minutes pulling stray grass stalks from the grave of Lena Plett, her eternal marker a homemade concrete cover and crude headstone with only her name scratched in with a stick. It’s not a very big pad so I assume Lena Plett was young, a child of a family without means to honour her as she deserved, doing their best with a few loads of concrete mixed—no doubt—in a wooden wheelbarrow.

               Other graves are visits back to an irretrievable past: Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa Epp, Grandma and Grandpa Ens, Uncle Henry, brother Bob, daughter Geraldine and on and on, a seemingly endless array of uncles and aunts, cousins and neighbours, their faces rising again as we push our mowers back and forth between the rows.

               We don’t much like tedious work among hordes of mosquitoes. Who does? And so we talk about ways of restoring the cemetery to make it easier to tend, pouring concrete curbs and placing the headstones on them, leveling the places between so the whole could be made tidy with a few riding mowers. But there are difficulties with any plan: too much cost, work and commitment, possible protests from families of the dead to name just two.

               I plan not to burden future members with yet another headstone to tidy around. Cremation and a simple urn buried with a post-hole augur on my daughter’s grave is the scenario I’ve chosen.

               We look back when we’re finished mowing and note with satisfaction that we’ve done justice by our deceased relatives; their home is in good order once again.

               If only life could be as orderly, as neat and tidy. (On second thought, scratch that absurd idea.)

Sunday, June 02, 2013

What the Crow Says

Speaker in the Crow Parliament

The message from the NDP nationally—and now beginning to build with Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party in Saskatchewan—is that the senate ought to be abolished. I agree and disagree. In theory, the House of Commons expresses the wishes of the majority of Canadian electors and the senate acts as watchdog to ensure that its decisions are fair and just regionally. Simple. I disagree with the NDP in that this is a necessary function and could actually be made to work if the senate were truly regionally representative and less of a hog trough for partisan has-beens.

            I agree, though, on the basis that the institution now appears to be well beyond redemption.

            But would abolition be an exercise in rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship? Is the current scandal involving false expense claims symptomatic of a deeper malaise?

            History will probably show that a truly functioning democracy eventually slides into corruption unless a few basic conditions are systematically met. The first is active participation—citizens need to be tugging at the reins to get at the ballot box, need to be crowding into arenas to hear debates, need to have learned —through rigorous instruction in school— to understand the system by which they're governed. None of these are currently actual.


            Secondly, the system needs to ensure that politicians are rewarded more for collaboration and compromise and less for partisan competition. I suspect that some ideal democracy of the future will have done away with the party system and will function more like the Rosthern Town Council, where councilors are chosen on merit and blocs are formed around issues rather than around party loyalties. The parliamentary chamber of the future will be round with seating assigned by lot.

            Thirdly, functioning democracies will be transparent and open. All debates, deliberations will be broadcast to the public. Question periods (if they exist) will be about garnering information rather than scoring party points. Skilled auditors will report monthly on government revenue and expenditures and all members' expense accounts will be posted on line.

            Double dipping by senators, kickbacks to Quebec politicians, manipulation by politicians using false or misleading information, the constant and unproductive bickering in parliament and in the media, attack ads, all these are enabled by the system under which our citizenry has organized its governance.

It's not so much time to abolish the senate as it is time to rethink the whole ball of wax.

            P.S. This won't happen unless electors insist on it. In other words, it won't happen. A warning appropriate to Canadians is that age-old one . . . apathy is the meat on which corruption feeds.