Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Getting ready to move. Downsizing time. Condo living is going to be a big, big adjustment for us. The perks? No more need for snow shovels, lawnmower, garden tools and such. The downside? I'll get back to you on that--some time this fall.

I'm reminded how much technologies have changed since I became interested in photography, for instance, back in the '70s. I've gone through about 10,000 slides, paring down from three or four big boxes to about 500 slides. I'm not sure what drove me to take all those pictures of trees and churches and waterfalls; my criterion for keeping/discarding has become this: if it doesn't have a recognizable face on it, is over or underexposed, is poorly composed, I must have had landfill in mind when I took it. 

Anyone want to buy a 35mm slide projector or a mint condition Super 8 movie projector, cheap?

George Carlin's routine called “Stuff” is not only one of his funniest sketches, but really brings home what we're going through as we begin to sell, box, discard, destroy most of our “stuff.” If you've never seen it, click here and then consider that if you haven't yet gone through the agony of down-stuffing, trust me, you will. 

Take the library we've accumulated over the years. What motivated us to buy books, read them, and then put them on a shelf. A dictionary maybe, but a novel? Who reads novels twice? 

In Saskatchewan these days, every public library is one library. Any book you want can be ordered on line in a few minutes and picked up at your local library toot sweet. Oh we say things like, “Well I just love the look and the feel of a book; I can't read from a screen!” But if feeling and looking at a book is where it's at, you really need only one book, one that looks and feels (maybe even smells) really, really good. 

Unfortunately we have book shelves our brother made for us. They're really quite lovely with their glass doors. We're giving away or recycling most of our books but we've decided to pick out some that have really attractive spines, place them tastefully on the shelves, set them off with whatever brick-a-brac stuff we haven't thrown away and . . . and postpone one bit of down-stuffing for yet another time.

Dealing with disposal of stuff is a real headache. Fortunately, we have a spunky local gal who maintains a buy/sell Facebook page and this has really worked for us. The local nursing home came by today to pick up the electric fireplace we may have used five times since we got it five years ago. (That averages out to once per year.) My snow blower has found a home with an RCMP corporal in Saskatoon.

But then the temptation to put on a garage sale rears its ugly head. So here's a packet of 7- #8, 1½ inch screws. Put them on the for-sale table? Chuck them in the garbage? So many decisions; so little motivation!

But having stuff, I mean, really good stuff has always been so comforting. Windowsills full of plant pots, shelves and shelves of books and knickknacks, ten comfortable places to sit for two people, techy stuff that makes short work of any problem, outfits of clothes for every occasion, garden gnomes and ornaments, cars and vans and pickup trucks and on and on.

Here's a rule of thumb made clearer while down-stuffing: whatever you paid for a given piece of stuff will lose 75% of its monetary value when you take it out of the bag, drive it off the lot, see the Purolater truck stopping at your door.

Tempted back to the shopping channel or Amazon? Do watch Carlin before you buy any more stuff.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

An appeal to be generous to the people of Nepal

Photo taken from World Vision website

The pictures from Nepal are horrifying; if you haven't seen them, watch the news tonight. CBC has a photo crew in Kathmandu, a place that's become extremely difficult to get in and out of. After you've seen them, imagine what it would be like to be in that vulnerable city, those vulnerable villages along the line where the European tectonic plate meets the Asian. 

We're told the movement beneath people's feet measured a full meter, so imagine yourself on one of those moving sidewalks in an airport, where someone turns on, then reverses the direction every second for a full minute. Buildings made of stone and un-reinforced concrete can't survive such motion and all around you are the excruciating rumble of stone and concrete collapsing and the screaming of parents and the wailing of children pouring into the streets.

As the worst shaking subsides for a moment, your attention is drawn to the homes of family members and friends and you begin frantically searching for them and you find some but others are nowhere to be found; you know they didn't make it out.

And every few minutes, the aftershocks remind you that this is not going to be over for a very long time. When you've done all you can to find friends and family and the rescue crews are beginning their work of searching for the dead and the living, you make your way to a place where no building can fall on you, gather your children around you and try to calm them. It's not easy because you yourself are on the edge of hysteria.

The buildings that were your refuge have become savages, you dare not shelter in the ones still standing.

The crowds begin to gather in the open space you've found, a kind of common in the heart of Kathmandu. Eventually, relief will come in the form of emergency tents but for two nights, you sleep under the stars, huddling with your children under a thin blanket, shivering in the drizzle that's just begun to add to your misery. Your son is coughing and you know there's nothing to give him except to keep him as warm as possible with your body.

The tents when they come are a great relief, at least you can be dry. The blankets feel like an angel's touch after the cold and damp. By now the aftershocks are beginning to feel normal although the rumble of stones and concrete falling somewhere fills with despair: will there be a life left for you when this is over? Or would it have been better if you had all died and were lying at peace under the rubble?

And then there are food and sanitation to figure out. Earthquakes crack roads and runways and food relief can sit at airports in India or on parking lots far away, unable to proceed to the afflicted area. Stores can be raided from some buildings lucky not to have fallen, but this will suffice for a few days at best. Hidden spaces between rubble piles become open toilets that hold the promise of cholera. Despair is everywhere.

What does this mean for us where food is plentiful, the ground is flat and never moves, where incomes are high, healthcare is excellent and always nearby, and our homes aren't adequate unless they have at least two bathrooms? Relief organizations and governments have turned their attention to helping; our best help will come in giving them the resources to make help happen. It's not an occasion for twenty bucks; we ought to dig deeper, out of compassion and thankfulness that we are able to be generous.

Let's think $500, $1,000, $2,000 or more, even if we have to borrow it or pay it off in installments on our credit cards. That bit of hardship for us will be easy compared to the tribulations of the Nepalese communities struggling to survive. 

To donate, click on one of the links below (or find your own preferred organization) and follow what is usually a “To Donate” or "Donate Now" button where you can designate your gift to Nepal Earthquake relief. Donated this way, the funds will be available immediately.

Thank you!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Hockey? Me? Really?

The Montreal Canadiens eliminated the Ottawa Senators in NHL first round Stanley Cup playoffs. I rarely watch an entire game, but of this one I missed only five minutes or so at the beginning of the third period. Having seen that first and decisive goal, I could appreciate the sentiment candidly expressed by Carey Price in an after-game interview. He seemed to attribute a large part of winning and losing to “the way the puck bounces for you.”

Luck, in other words.

More astute hockey watchers will protest that you make your luck; you can't score from the penalty box and you can't get lucky at the opponents' end when the play is always at your own end. This may or may not be a metaphor for life.

The arena was full, sold out. Fans were dressed in Senators Jersey's and did the “swinging white towels over their heads thing, chanted “Go Sens Go” in unison, and occasionally did that piece of musical doggerel borrowed from soccer, I think: “Na na, nanana, Hey, hey, hey, Clog bangh flome! (Don't know what these last three words are, never figured it out.) 

I'm not sure what fans paid to get in, but I know that prices for the Eastern Final games range from $220.00 – $445.68

I've heard sports called “metaphors for life,” and although I find it hard to apply any such definition to professional sports, I can see that in the playing of games the striving-to-win, learning-to-lose features could be said to replicate in a nonthreatening way the stuff we're about when we're active in the world.

No doubt, cheering for a team that's winning provides a pleasurable feeling as if you yourself had conquered. Carousing in the streets after a winning game looks a lot like soldiers celebrating a battle victory. Fans seem to “live” or “die” vicariously through the success or failure of their teams.

Of course, the corporate business side of all this can't be ignored. Professional sports is not dissimilar from any other production/consumption model; a corporation produces a product (entertainment) that consumers (fans) will pay good money to consume. Last night, I consumed an entire hockey game—almost—along with copious commercials including our federal government touting it's achievements using my tax money.

Meanwhile, I probably missed a really great documentary on the mating habits of chimpanzees.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Land, justice, treaties and Christ's church.

Mennonite, Lutheran and Young Chippewayan leaders sign a Memo of Understanding on Stoney Knoll
It seems that the newscasts I watch, listen to and check out on line are more than necessarily focused on politics and government. That's why it was refreshing to hear this morning that we don't always have to depend on and wait for government to fix what's broken, to prevent what's bad and encourage what's good.

MC Sask, MCC and Rosthern Junior College were cooperating on a day of student education regarding aboriginal/settler relations, Treaty 6 and specifically on an area of farm land that is occupied by descendants of Mennonite and Lutheran settlers but was in the late 1800s an Indian Reserve which the federal government confiscated for settlement. The Young Chippewayan that were granted this land in a treaty signing in 1876 were apparently desperate for food and had left the reserve temporarily to hunt in the Cypress Hills area; when they came back, their reserve had been obliterated and they were forced to scatter to other reserves as squatters. 

Only much later did their descendants begin to agitate for recompense for the injustice done to them; so far, the federal government has done nothing to right this wrong and it's only through dialogue among Young Chippewayans, the settlers of the area, MCC and Lutheran leadership as well as a handful of individuals passionate about justice for landless aboriginal neighbours that an understanding about the need for a just and honourable settlement is being pursued.

About 40 RJC students in attendance heard Chief George Kingfisher speak about the issue from the perspective of one who lived it. A residential school survivor, Kingfisher recalled how his father had said to him, “Don't bother the people living on that land; it's their home now.” Ray Funk, Leonard Doell and Lutheran pastor, Jason Johnson, filled in the historical details of the Stoney Knoll story.

Presenters seemed to indicate that if a just reclamation/reconciliation solution were ever to be reached, it would not come from government initiatives but from the people involved. If the finding of compensatory land for the Young Chippewayan happens, it will likely be as a result of the actions of local citizens motivated by good will and a desire for justice.

Our current government hasn't taken up the challenges of treaty justice. The budget, I'm told, is literally silent on the most pressing issues facing aboriginal Canadians. On the Stoney Knoll matter, the attitude of the government seems to have been, “Don't do anything unless you're forced to.” They've come up with excuses, a major one being, “If we gave land as compensation, to whom would we give it?” The response locally has been to take on a genealogical project to answer this excuse, by finding and documenting the descendants of the Young Chippewayan scattered across the province.

In a way, this news is also about government, but only in a way. The real news is about people of good will doing what needs to be done. The governments, in this case, must surely be dismissed with a dishonourable discharge, unless both their attitudes and their actions change.
After a meal of bannock, bison burgers, three sisters soup and ice cream with Saskatoon Berry sauce, the students were taken out to Stoney Knoll to “walk on sacred ground,” and to sign their names to a letter—if they wished—to the council of the Laird Municipality petitioning that all signs pointing to Stoney Knoll be altered to include the Cree name for this historic site. 
A small start toward a better future
(For more information on the Stoney Knoll story, click here.)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Truth or Truthiness - take your pick.

2 / 35,344,962 Canadians live here . . . for now.
In an article posted on the CBC website today, Don Pittis applies the Stephen Colbert definition of truthiness to the budget and the opening salvos of the 2015 election campaign. Truthiness is defined by Colbert as “something expressed as a truth because it is a feeling from the heart without evidence or logic.” Something like, I guess, repeated statements that “this budget is balanced,” even though no family or business, for instance, would make such a claim if selling off assets and raiding the savings account had to be included as revenue in the calculations.

“There is nothing new in the accusation that politicians are economical with the truth. In fact, in a system like Canada's, where caucus solidarity is so strongly enforced, the ability to lie with a straight face is essential for survival. That's because no matter what your true feelings are on any issue, you must always speak and act as if the party line is actually your own.”

We're going to hear a lot of truthiness in the next six months and many Canadians, I expect, will jump on one or the other truthiness bandwagons simply because they either don't have or can't process the facts. In politics, that includes believing in a party enough to vote for them on the basis of a slogan like “We're better off with Harper.” It's true that certain parts of the population will have more money to spend as a result of recent tax reductions, senior-care concessions and income splitting coming on top of the reduction of the GST earlier on. (Except for the GST reduction to 5%, none of these initiatives benefit me.)
The truthiness in all this is that reducing the size of government services is good for us, never mind that it selectively benefits only parts of the population, allowing them to eat a bit higher on the hog. The truth is that you can't decimate your revenue base without cutting into the services these revenues previously provided.
Fact-seekers will take a close look at where expenditures are being redistributed to make tax reductions possible. They'll note, for example, that funding to CoSA crime-prevention programs is being eliminated while expenditures for incarceration capacity is increasing. Others will simply continue to insist that “we're better off with Harper,” or Trudeau, or Mulcaire.
The truth behind the Conservative Party of Canada rests on an ideology, an ideology that's as old as the Old West in America: call it individualism to oversimplify shamelessly. The NDP platform, similarly, will reflect a worldview, an ideology, that is different from that of the CPC: collectivism, loosely described. One sees individual initiative as the key to a better world, the other sees us struggling together to achieve common goals. Somewhere between their truth and their truthiness, the Liberals tend to cut their policies to fit the occasion. That practice, too, expresses an ideology, or at least a political approach.
And what of us who will cast our ballots? If we don't have or don't comprehend the facts, how do we decide where to put the X? Most Canadians decided years, even generations, ago. Loyalties to a political party are probably as strong as our commitments to our various religious denominations used to be. We easily swallow the truthiness of that with which we have long associated ourselves. 

Voting is not so much an exercise in sober calculation for most Canadians as it is a contribution to a hope that “our team wins.” And “our team” is that brand with which we've come to feel at home.
Elections are decided by that minority of Canadians who happen to have no such long-standing loyalty—swing voters, that is.
A final point: The Mike Duffy trial is demonstrating again that there are flaws in the way our democracy works and doesn't work. Our inability to reform it to make it better is surely a demonstration of the entrenched value the flaws provide to the partisan system we've inherited. As long as the traditional governing parties benefit politically from the whole population being screwed by the system, there's no likelihood for change toward proportional representation, senate reform or the partisan way even parliamentary working committees function.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Mike Duffy, ho-hum.

Constitution making tool
It appears the Mike Duffy trial is going to dominate domestic news on the networks for the next month and more. I've been keeping up with what's being reported, but I'm beginning to suspect that the reporters sitting through the courtroom proceedings are starting to get really bored. Arguments and counter-arguments about what constitutes genuine “residency” and debating where government business separates from party business are predictable, but the fact is that both are muddy waters—or so it seems in the trial proceedings to date.

Let me clear up the confusion: place of residency is where you call home, where people go when you say, “Come on over for a coffee and a chat.” And when it comes to party vs. government business, assume that all business done by a politician is party business: wars have always been and always will be fought in order to promote a party's fortunes, for example. Budgets will be set to enhance party chances in the next election. Very seldom is there an utterance heard in question period whose first objective is not partisan.

Now I know that there is such a thing as “primary” and “secondary” residence—for the very few who can afford it—and that politicians have to have a domicile outside their constituency for periods of time. I also know that the times they are a'changin' and that in a time when a politician can give a speech in Ottawa in the morning, have lunch with a colleague in Regina and be interviewed in Vancouver in the evening, the rules as imagined when we first established Canada's bicameral parliament are bound to seem fuzzy and archaic.

Mike Duffy's trial will demonstrate in spades how poorly we've kept up with changes to our politics that would better fit the temper of the times, how hide-bound we are by tradition, our habits of thinking and the archaic ceremony of it all. A glaring example: suggestions for abolishing the senate are scoffed at because our constitution requires a level of unanimity that can't be achieved (or so it's surmised). In other words, our past dictates our future on that issue. Constitutions and Bills of Rights and Confessions of Faith and bylaws, etc. are all necessary, but when we treat them as law books rather than as living, advancing processes, they inhibit us more than they help us.

Mind you, we're still party-animals in our attitudes and ways of making decisions; some of us think more conservatively and some of us more liberally and that will affect how we react to change, how we make decisions collectively, what we assume to be necessary for our national and individual well-being. Harper's, Mulcair's, May's and Trudeau's behaviours are governed in large measure by non-identical, stable underlying worldviews. No matter how we restructure, there will always be conflict, negotiation, quarrels and dissatisfaction-with-outcomes.

The Mike Duffy trial may alert us to the degree to which we've failed to address restructuring to make the best use of our talents in governing ourselves as amicably and as fairly as possible, given the fact that we'll never be unanimous . . . on anything. The bickering over residency and party vs. government business are merely symptoms of this failure.

Abolishing the senate, inaugurating proportional representation in government would be good starts in a good direction, in my opinion.