Happy Canada Day! It’s no small thing.

It’s no small thing that without fear, I walked 2 km or so by myself to Lafarge Lake to check out the Canada Day festivities there today as the afternoon wound down. I never gave a thought to safety. No need. And as darkness began to settle on the day, I walked home –again without fear. This privilege, this safety: it’s no small thing.

At the park were thousands of people, most of whom look different from me. And they chattered away gaily in all kinds of different languages, including English.

There we all were, an odd mix of cultures, having a few family laughs on Canada Day: politely making space for each other, selling and buying food, bouncing babies, swinging toddlers, handing cash out to teenagers. It was a glorious bustle –a magnificent mix of Canadians: all equally participating, all equally alive, all equally able to be themselves without fear of some snide comment or dark resentment. It’s no small thing.

The day Prime Minister Harper coined the terrible term, “old stock Canadians” seems like so long ago, though it was just last fall. Today, such a notion would have been a sacrilege. Who among us could have claimed to be any more deserving than anyone else? The very thought of it is absurd.

I’m home now. My wife is still at work, on her evening shift.

The house is quiet.

Thousands of miles across the country, in Nova Scotia, I have a new grandson whom I’m going to visit in a few days.

The world has its problems. This vast nation is imperfect; there can be no doubt about that.

But today I am glad for Canada.

Things were better before we went “no frills”.

Don’t tell our grandkids this, but we grew up in a much better time. If you’re my age and you’re a Canadian, you’ll remember some of these times.

You’ll remember that before the first world started going “no frills”,  airlines provided full meals, even on flights as short as a couple of hours. And on shorter flights, the snacks were much better. A kid would be handed a toy airplane; an older kid, a deck of cards. And you didn’t have to pay extra to check your bags, even if you had more than one. People weren’t dodging luggage in the cabin. There were nice, wide seats. There were more attendants wandering about trying to ensure your comfort. Flying was a nice experience, even if you didn’t fly business class. Not any more.

If you walked into a department store, in every department, you were greeted promptly by a sales clerk, who would help you find what you wanted. You could find a young man to help your to the car with your bags. Shopping was kind of a nice experience. Not any more.

You’ll remember schools being more personable places. There were more secretaries. You could phone the school and talk to a human being. If a kid were sick or in need of help, there was a school nurse. There were truant officers patrolling neighbourhoods to catch kids skipping. There were alternate education programs for the kids who just didn’t fit into the regular school setting. Every high school had an automotive shop, a wood shop, a metal shop, and a teaching kitchen. Students could take “typing”, and become very proficient on a keyboard. Not any more.

Hospitals had more nurses. A woman who had given birth could recline for a few days afterward until her body recovered and started settling into motherhood, and she and her baby could be together intimately without anything else to do but get to know each other. Just for a few days. Not any more.

Except in rural communities, mail used to be delivered to everyone’s door. And where it wasn’t delivered, there was a post office where a real human being worked. She could sell you stamps, help you post a parcel, or just say hi to you while you emptied your box. It was nice. Not any more.

There was far better service in many sectors. Doctors would make emergency calls to your house. Milk could be delivered to your door. There were no exasperating automated phone cues when you made a telephone enquiry about a bill or service. A human being would talk to you and help direct your call. Not any more.

Municipal gardens and school grounds were beautifully maintained. Parks provided free summer recreation programs for kids. The boulevard was neatly maincured. Litter was picked up off the ground. Roads were well maintained, snow cleared. Not any more.

We’ve gone “no-frills”. And that, more than anything, has killed jobs. And who benefits? Shareholders in large corporations, and the already rich who can pay lower taxes. And who loses? The rest of us.

The ticket having been issued, the incident should have been over.

Even for an aging White high school teacher in faraway Canada, thinking about the Sandra Bland incident is upsetting. Bland reminds me of a hundred young women that I’ve taught over the years. I could imagine any one of them in the same situation as Bland, following the same bizarre script.

When I watched the police video showing the young woman get pulled over, I couldn’t help thinking that this was a decent, intelligent young person. Yep. I liked her instantly. For whatever reason, she wasn’t prepared to suffer this fool of a cop. She had some “edge”. The video shows her to be articulate and intelligent; strong-willed. I like that in a young person.

Hers was a reaction that anyone might have after being chided for such a minor offence as failing to signal. She naturally felt a bit insulted. Hell, I would have felt the same way, and may well have reacted the same way, although it is unfathomable to me that as a middle-aged White man I’d ever be treated the way she was.

But I digress. The point is, the ticket having been issued, the incident should have been over. The police constable gave her the warning ticket, and in a rational world, everyone goes on their way.

But the cop didn’t stop there. He derisively asked Bland “What’s wrong?”, as if he expected her to be all smiles after getting a ticket. (Actually I have no idea what answer he expected, so bizarre was his behaviour.) But as a cop he must have known that whenever you have to address someone’s behaviour, you’re going to encounter a bit of attitude. After issuing the ticket, he should have simply left her to sulk. But this just wasn’t good enough for him.

After the cop asked Bland what was wrong, she told him quite specifically. Unless this was his first day on the job, the cop should have expected this. She wasn’t even disrespectful about it, conceding, “you have to do your job” (or something like that. I don’t have the stomach to watch the video again to get the quote right.) And then the cop escalated the tension in the situation, engaging in argument, and demanding Bland put out her cigarette. And when she refused, he dangerously escalated, illegally demanding she get out of the car.

Clearly, the cop wanted far more than to be able to uphold the law. He wanted unquestioning compliance. It was personal. It bugged him that this girl opposed him, and he wanted to humiliate her: put her in her place.

And really, it’s suspicious that he pulled her over in the first place. He went after someone for failing to use her signal light as she pulled over to let him pass. Can there be any doubt that he was looking to stir up trouble?

I can only imagine the awful feeling of vulnerability and trauma Bland must have felt as she was forced out of her car. What if she had been assaulted before? We all know (cops more than anyone) the high rate of assaults against women. And if this is what happens on a public road in broad daylight, I shudder to think what might happen behind closed doors in a jail.

I guess it’s important to recognize that this incident, as awful as it was, wasn’t the ultimate cause of Bland’s death. But looking at the incident on its own, and knowing it was the event that set off a three day jail term culminating in this poor woman’s death is just awful.

I don’t remember where Bland said she was going, but one flick of the wrist ignored; a signal light not engaged, and three days later she’s dead. It’s so senseless.

What we need to do about global warming

I’m no scientist, but even I, with my limited knowledge of science, recognize that many species, not the least of which is homo sapiens, will be wiped out soon due to climate change if we don’t change our behaviour in drastic ways. And I do mean “drastic”.

Ask yourself: “How important to me is the survival of the human species after I’m gone?” We are at such a level of crisis that this should be the most pressing question of our time. The science is well documented. If you have doubts; if you think me to be alarmist, you might want to have a read of John H. Richardson’s Esquire piece from July 7, 2015. There are many things we need to do. Without further expostulation, here are a few things that I can think of that we need to do right away if we give a damn:

1. Stop eating ANY meat at fast food restaurants.

Why? Because large, powerful fast food corporations are stripping the skin off the earth (the rainforests) in order to produce pastureland for animals that will be rendered into hamburger. The animals produce methane, which contributes to a feedback loop of more and more harmful hydrocarbons in the atmosphere that can only be diffused by more trees, which are being further and further stripped away. Pork and chicken produce their own environmental nightmares.

2. Stop driving cars. Wait. No. Don’t just stop driving them; stop OWNING them.

Why? Because the production and operation of cars relies on fossil fuels, and everybody knows that the production and burning of fossil fuels leads to increased carbon in the air, and pollution of the water supply and oceans. Unless you can use mass transit, move close to where you work so you can use transit, and if two of you work; one of you quit. You will need to give up a lot of your comforts. Make drastic changes to your lifestyle. To hell with luxuries, if you really care.

3. Buy EVERYTHING in bulk in re-usable containers. Stop buying ANYTHING that is pre-packaged.

Why? Because the plastic, the cardboard, the paper that go into merchandising things like breakfast cereal, nutrition bars, soda pop, candy, frozen meals (just to name a few): all of them require an exorbitant amount of fossil fuels and wood fibre to produce. The production of petroleum products (like plastics) and the destruction of trees are two of the leading contributors to increased hydrocarbon emissions and toxic pollution (and consequently, global warming). And we are fooling ourselves if we think that recycling can fix this problem. At best, recycling only slows the inevitable.

4. Reduce travel – especially travel that requires short flights in jets.

Why? Jets burn a LOT of fuel. Enough said.

5. Vote for government that will tax fuel.

Why? Because it is a well documented fact that the more that fuel is taxed, the less of it people use. Furthermore, the revenue generated by fuel taxes can be reinvested into national economies, paying for such things as health care, education, and the building of green infrastructure.

6. Buy local groceries.

Why? Because global food corporations are using harmful techniques to mass produce food. They are killing bees; they are creating genetic modifications that could be harmful to eco-systems; they are burning an inordinate amount of fossil fuel to cool and transport food. Warning: it will cost you more, but shopping more frequently and locally, you ensure that you buy only what you need, so less is wasted.

7. Spread the word by example, through education.

Why? Because we live in a capitalist world in which over-riding motive is profit. This motive is what drives people to harm the world for personal gain. It’s what entices corporations to stop at nothing to earn market share, and what entices consumers to save a few bucks by buying the cheap goods these corporations offer. Through powerful manipulative advertising, we are seduced into becoming consumers. We want to have a little more than the other guy. We don’t want to give up our shiny toys, our green lawns, or our nice clothes. We can’t be caught dead wearing the same thing at two different parties, as if this matters at all – all at the expense of the ecosystem that sustains us.

If we don’t break the cycle, we can look at ourselves as one of the last generations of humans on earth –the ones who saw the trouble coming, and did nothing. This is no exaggeration. The science is irrefutable.

A note to progressives: You can celebrate Canada Day

If you’re conflicted about celebrating Canada Day, think about this. Who says Canada Day should be about pride? Ignore the people who would have you believe this.

Canada day is not at all about pride; rather, it is a celebration of community.

No matter what we’re proud of or ashamed of, we’re here. Today we go outside, meet our neighbours and “be” together: sing some songs, eat some food, watch pretty lights in the sky. It’s about being alive together in this good place.

Happy Canada Day.

Peace and love to you all.

Miner49er

NDP: the only party that understands the economy

Alberta’s Wildrose Party leader, Brian Jean is quoted in a CBC article as saying, “You can’t trust the New Democrats with the economy — we’ve seen that right across the country, whether it be in Ontario or otherwise …They destroy the economy.”

I want to point out a fallacy in this article: I’m surprised that reporters just stand there and nod knowingly while party leaders repeatedly spout this nonsense about the NDP. They could at least ask for an example, but they never do. It has become the slam dunk approach for other parties to win elections. Simply write off the NDP by saying that they can’t be trusted with the economy, and you’ll scare voters away. And somehow, news reporters just lap it all up.

In fact, the opposite is true about the NDP. Just as one example. in BC, the economy did far, far better with the NDP in the 1990s than it has done since with the Liberals. There were more jobs, there were more services to people, including health, education, and road maintenance. Hospitals and schools were in better repair and cleaner. There were fewer antibiotic resistant bacterial infection like C-difficile, there were far fewer homeless people.

But of course, the rich don’t care about these things, because these are issues they can afford to avoid. Who would drive across the province when you can fly. Who would send their kids to a public school when you can afford private?

The preferred economic model of the most recent governments, including the BC Liberals, and certainly the Harper Conservatives, has been trickle-down economics, which supposes that if you lighten the tax burden on big corporations, they will have more profit to reinvest, resulting in more jobs. This theory has proven to fail over and over in a global economy because profit gets squirrelled away in divestment outside the country, in capital investment, in savings plans for shareholders, and in huge bonuses for the C-suite crowd. Very little goes to produce more jobs or better wages. After all, what do a bunch of executive officers in say… Germany or the U.S. care about Canada’s health care or our roads or parks?

The NDP recognizes that the secret to securing jobs and services that benefit the public at home is to demand that multinationals, and wealthy individuals pay a reasonable amount of taxes.

Ever notice that the employment statistics are “stuck”? That’s because current governments have cut off their own revenue stream at the behest of the big corporations as they try to avoid paying taxes. These corporations get to live here at half the rent of citizens, so that they can secure massive profits that the middle and lower income Canadians will never see.

We need a little more NDP thinking. We need to ensure that the rich (including big corporations), who have enjoyed so much success in this country, are required to give back to the economy by paying their taxes. That’s what stimulates the real economy.

And I’ve yet to see a rich person suffer in such a system. Maybe he’d have to settle for a Volkswagen for his daughter’s grad gift, rather than an Audi. But this is hardly suffering.

“A Tribute to Liberty” dot ca – Harper’s Propaganda Memorial

P.S. I have used some strong language in this post, so read at your own risk. I’m furious with Stephen Harper. He is a bigoted radical. I grieve for the Canada I was taught to believe in: one in which intellectualism was more important than some nebulous idea of freedom associated with hockey and beer (for fuck sakes). You’ve been warned.

The Stephen Harper Government (I recently found out that Prime Minister Harper long ago began insisting that the government officially be called “The Stephen Harper Government” instead of “The Government of Canada) has put up a website advertising its new Memorial to Victims of Communism.

Sometimes I want to scream. What (the fuck) are we doing building a memorial like this? What a (really) stupid idea! Never mind the multimillion dollar cost of the land alone. This memorial is not a memorial at all; it’s a propaganda ploy –a very expensive one.

A memorial to victims of communism? Really? First of all, communism is an ideology, not an evil. But okay, let’s pretend for a moment that Communism is evil.

A memorial should not commemorate an evil; a memorial should commemorate an event. For example, a memorial may commemorate a particular event in a war, like the failed raid on Dieppe in World War II, in which many Canadians were dispatched to tried to penetrate the Nazi German stronghold, and were slaughtered.

The Dieppe memorial reminds us of many important things: the horror of war, the heroism of young people who stand against tyranny, the dangers of ill-conceived strategy, of thoughtless command, the importance of soldiering on in the face of adversity, the distressing reality of what humans are capable of doing to one another. In this way a Dieppe memorial is effective. It promotes thoughtful contemplation. Ultimately, it demands that we examine our own hearts, and ask of ourselves how we ourselves contribute to the state of our world.

On the other hand, this memorial that the Stephen Harper Government proposes is a memorial to nothing. Communism is not an event.

What the “memorial” will attempt to do is convince people that the horrors it depicts are caused by economic ideologies different from those of Canada’s current government. This memorial will promote closed-minded rejection of ideas, and not open minded contemplation of the human spirit. It will evoke sloppy sentimentalism juxtaposed against  an uncritical mantra: “Communism is bad.”

If you actually believe that communism is “bad”, ask yourself if you actually can define in words what communism is. And if so, what exactly is “bad” about it? Come on! I dare ya!

This memorial is a disgracefully sanctimonious permanent scare tactic against a political ideology. It is not AT ALL what a memorial should be. It’s an insult –a travesty!

Welcome to Harper’s Canada, where intellect will be spied on where it lives, where case files will be kept against any infidel who dares to question the status quo (looking at you unionists), and where the uncritical masses will be seduced into suspicion of any new ideas.

Canada! Fuck yeah!

There it is again: “Schools fail…”

A recent Washington Post article by Jennifer Fink got my blood boiling. Her 9 year-old boy is not doing well in school, and her first impulse is to blame this problem on the school. She complains, “The lack of movement and rigid restrictions associated with modern schooling are killing my son’s soul.”

Notwithstanding the screwed up social conscience demonstrated in the words “School is failing boys”, when the opposite is true, Fink’s understanding of what happens in a classroom is just plain wrong. The “modern schooling” she refers to is far less rigid than schooling of the past, and yet boys (in her mind at least) seemed to do better in the past. So unless less structure is hurting boys’ learning, one needs to think about the possibility that school is not the problem and something else is.

Tellingly, Fink mentions her son’s interest in Minecraft –an internet game that boys seem to like… a lot. In fact, I have heard one father/vice-principal describe it as “crack cocaine” for boys. I myself have seen students so consumed by Minecraft and other onscreen games that without exaggeration, I can only describe their behaviour as addict-like. There is no way schools can compete for attention with these games.

Here’s the truth. School is hard. It requires that students engage themselves in activities that are less fun than screen-based games. It requires them to reflect on what they know, and to stretch that understanding to grasp new, often abstract concepts like algebra, or literary symbolism.

Conceptual learning requires that students use their short term memory and rehearse concepts until they are part of long-term memory. The concentration required for conceptual learning means that concepts like algebra or literacy cannot be taught efficiently in a jungle gym. Concentration for learning is naturally subverted by any kind of distraction, including music played through headphones or a lit screen on a child’s desk. The huge body of cognitive psychology from the past 50 years provides enough information to make it obvious what is going on. Students are distracted.

So here’s an idea. Before you blame school for your child’s failure, look at your child’s environment, do a little research, and (God forbid) examine your own parenting. Stop expecting schools to take care of the needs of your child that would best be met while he is wasting time on Minecraft. Give him a ball and glove and send him outside. And tell him that he is expected to pay attention in class.

Leveraging the Parliament Hill Shootings

Certainly the shooting that happened on Parliament Hill on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 was a tragedy. Two men died. And one man was forced into the traumatic circumstance of having to kill another man.

It’s enough that these things happened.

But why the sudden burst of anthem singing? And why this sudden compulsion to identify an enemy? Are we a country so beaten down that we need to rise up, wiping away our tears as we vow to “stand on guard for thee”? What is going on here? Have we lost our collective minds?

What is so great about Canada?

There are some things, I suppose. It’s to our credit that so far, our rights to mobility and privacy have been so well upheld. It’s a great thing that our court rooms and parliaments are open forums. I suppose that if we are forced to define what’s meant by freedom, these things would factor in.

But in the wake of the shootings on Parliament hill, mobility and privacy are the very things that are under threat –not from any gunman, but from our own leaders, who seem to be leveraging this event into their hawkish ambitions to be the guardians of righteousness –protecting citizens from themselves for their own good. And how convenient this patriotic fervour can be in times when the government needs to drown out dialogue about an economic policy that promises to keep public services down, and to rape the natural environment in the name of protecting the wealth of the richest people in the world!

And let’s not forget ourselves. Patriotism can blind us to the fact that there are things in Canada that are not so great. Did no one see the tent city in Oppenheimer Park? Shall we simply ignore the fact that an RCMP member is on trial for perjury after causing the death of a man who came to Canada to visit his mother? Shall we simply gloss over the historic fact that for over a hundred years of our formation as a nation, our way of life destroyed the way of life of the original citizens of this “soil”? Does anybody care about the sad legacy of so many women who have disappeared on the Highway of Tears?

You may say that I’m reaching –that I’m negative. I’m not. You may say that I hate Canada. I don’t

And you may say that these terrible aspects of our nation are isolated incidents – things that no country, no matter how great, can avoid. And maybe they are.

But if that’s true, why then is the recent Parliament Hill incident NOT an isolated incident? Why, when Nathan Cirillo was shot, did we launch ourselves into vainglorious sentimentality over our downtrodden nation? Was it because he was wearing a soldier’s uniform?

And why, in light of all the other incidents in this country is he being called a hero? How can those of us who never knew him deem him to be anything? Certainly heroism can’t be ascribed to him for his job, standing as an honour guard for a statue, any more than it can be ascribed to a taxi driver. The simple fact of his murder doesn’t make him a hero. Why are we all of a sudden clamouring for a hero?

One has to ask if there would have been an attack at all if an honour guard had not been present to remind a man with radical beliefs of our newly militarized history, courtesy of Stephen Harper’s conservative government. It’s fair to wonder if the presence of a soldier in full regalia on public display was a trigger for the killer’s deluded mind.

Why do we need an honour guard at the war memorial? Is it not enough that the public can walk by the statue and pay their respect to those whose historic circumstance placed them in the midst of horrible tragedy: tragedy that didn’t stop when the guns were silenced? Do we need a spectacle to tell us how we should view this work of art, or how we should view the meaning of our dead?

Have we forgotten how terrible war is? Should it not be a thing we remember with a bit of sadness and sobriety? Is it not a disservice to engage in sudden bursts of sloppy sentimentality and vainglorious patriotism?

Those who died didn’t die for this. I know, because I have spoken to a few of those who fought and survived. For them, war was not glorious –not in the least. My grandfather feared fanaticism of any kind, including nationalism or religious zeal. He knew they were the foundations of thought on which Naziism was built. And here we have a prime minister who embraces both.