Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Open letter to Justin Trudeau

Dear Mr. Trudeau,

When your election brought an end to the Harper regime I was among the many celebrating an end to an oppressive episode in Canadian history. I did not vote for you, but was part of the movement that encouraged strategic voting. I even wrote letters to NDP candidates in certain ridings, begging them to stand down in favour of Liberal candidates if that would defeat the Harperites.* 

We did this in the expectation that we would never have to do it again if you won.

I fully recognise that your powers to affect change are limited by realities over which you have little or no control. Canada is part of a complex world where transnational corporations wield enormous power. 

On this issue however nothing stands in your way. Changing the electoral system to one where every vote counts is still well within the power of a national government. You made it an issue. There is NO EXCUSE. There is only the impression that the Bay Street Liberals are back, just with better looks and some modern social values. There is the impression that the Bay Street establishment is confident they have regained their old role as Canada's default ruling party. The present system works in their favor and they would like to keep it that way. 


There is already widespread distrust in the whole democratic system. Blatant disregard of promises made encourages cynicism and apathy. This in turn encourages extremism, as we have just witnessed South of the Border. There is still time to put this issue on the front burner. 

P.S. Ditto for Bill C51 and the legalisation of marijuana issue. Stop back pedaling! At least call in your attack dogs who are still arresting people selling tomorrow's medicine today.

*Like former Progressive Conservative Tom McMillan I do not consider them Canadian conservatives.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Defining -isms.

This blog has been brewing for a long time. I have become increasingly impatient with excesses of political correctness. Please note: excess. When P.C. stands for Plain Civility I am all for it.  

Let's get some things straight before we start.
I am all in favour of measures designed to level a tilted playing field. 
I would gladly pay more taxes in order to fund programs designed to rectify past grievances as far as possible.
I want committed partnerships to be recognized with the full force of the law, regardless of the variation of sexual identity.
I am in favour of making workplace adaptations for people with various challenges, physical or mental.
I want schools to teach the true history of everyone, not just the winners. 
I am aware that I live on a stolen continent.
And so on.

But I am sick and tired of that whole walking on eggshells thing one keeps reading about. I say reading about because hey, I live near a village of 1500 mainly pinko beige people. My own experience is limited.  I just seem to have this compulsion to read, reflect and comment on what goes on in society at large. Maybe there is a disorder name for it. Compulsive Comment Disorder?  Some enterprising psychologist can add CCD to the next DSM. But, as is my wont, we digress. So many topics! So much to go on about! 

Anyway, here goes.

Defining  -isms.

In some circles, mainly the liberal tribe that I mostly identify with, the ugly accusation of '-ist' is taken on board at the slightest provocation. It used to be just racism, but we now have other forms of prejudice like sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and so on. There is even "able-ism". The accusation usually has the effect of stopping a conversation in its tracks while the liberal in question adopts a stance of cringing apologetic reverence to the aggrieved minority du jour. I remember a white woman in Every Woman's Almanac twisting herself into a mental pretzel accusing herself for feeling guilty. This attitude sets my teeth on edge and rouses my inner redneck.

Some time ago CBC radio did a program on Trans people. More on that topic another time. Someone used the term "cis woman" to refer to herself. She meant she was a woman, you know, the regular kind. Estrogen, tits, vagina, just born that way. DoC forbid we use the word without qualifier as a default setting. That is Privilege, also used as verb. Privileging is a sin bound to get the perpetrator accused of being an -ist.

Here is my main beef, voiced before: too many people cannot make the distinction between being genuinely mistreated because they are a minority, and the inconvenience of being one.

I used to have the typical knee jerk guilt reaction. I still often do. But something shifted many years ago thanks to an article in another small feminist magazine that had been taken over by what we now call identity politics. The more victim categories one could claim, the greater one's status. An author was whining about the difficulty of getting time off work for her religious holidays, while Christians could be guaranteed free days at Christmas and Easter. This is when the penny dropped. You see, the author was Jewish, and so is my father, freeing me from the usual guilt reaction in this case. In a true AHA! moment it clicked: This is not persecution, it is inconvenience.

Being denied an apartment or a job because your name is Goldstein is wrongful discrimination. It needs to be denounced and fought. Having to live with a weekend that starts on Saturday instead of Friday is an inconvenience. Deal with it. Replace example with minority of choice.

When it comes to defining racism I prefer a narrow definition. It goes for other -isms and phobias as well. Racism is a philosophy that considers certain groups of people inferior to others,  and wants to organise society to reflect and reinforce that inferiority. 

All too often we see an -ism claimed when the issue is not malicious persecution or even resistance to needed change, but simple lack of awareness or just old habits of thinking.

Do the fortunate among us need to be aware that privilege played a role in whatever we have accomplished?
Yes. One does not have to share a prejudice in order to benefit from centuries of it.
Do we need to somehow compensate and hear more of the voices that have been silenced for centuries? Yes.

But could we please distinguish between malevolent oppression and people of good will just coming from their own experience?

Like everyone else muddling through this three dee  life, I live life as myself. I had the good fortune to be born 
in a favorable time and place as a white heterosexual able bodied woman with a loving, solid family of origin. On a good day I can pass for neurotypical. I have always been aware of my good luck, our parents instilled that in all four of us. I am a counter of blessings. Even so I do not react to daily life constantly wondering what the situation would be like for a paraplegic lesbian of colour who was abused as a child. Fill in disability, identity or tragedy of choice. 

The following riddle went around some years ago. A surgeon and his son are in a car accident. The surgeon dies, the son is seriously wounded. As they arrive at the hospital the surgeon on duty exclaims: "I cannot operate on this patient, that is my son!" How could this be?

If you did not immediately say that surgeon #2 had to be the boy's mother, as at the time I did not, that supposedly proved you were a sexist. I say bollocks to that. It just proved your reflexes had not caught up to your convictions. Old conditioning dies hard. Refusing the boy's mother her position as surgeon just because she was a woman, now that would be sexism.

My bottom line: Could we please approach each other with an assumption of goodwill as the default setting, instead of angry suspicion? I am willing to be educated, but I object to being accused of prejudice.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A brief open letter to the USA

Dear USA,

Tomorrow is the day Donald Trump becomes the 45th president. I put in my two cents on the outcome of the election in the previous post, but some things occurred to me today.

I believe that the human species, or at least our current global civilisation,  is facing an evolutionary bottleneck, a fork in the road. We are quite capable of destroying ourselves and taking much of Gaia's biosphere with us.  We are also capable of tremendous courage, compassion and inventiveness. I refuse to give up on the possibility of a unified, mainly peaceful Earth as portrayed in the Star Trek universe, where Jean Luc Picard's brother has an orchard in France.

In order to make it through we will need to draw on the very best of all humanity, from all cultures and as many times as we can remember. That includes the wisdom of tribal peoples, and it includes the best of the USA, and it includes the best of the people who voted for the incoming government.

Dear USA. The world cannot afford either American imperialism or American exceptionalism. Get over yourself. You do not have the right to devour a quarter of the world's energy with 5% of the world's population. You do not have to police the whole planet.

But the world needs the American dream. 
I am talking of the dream of an open society with social mobility, of a place where government is by and for the people and there is freedom and justice for all. Sure, the dream  has never  become reality. But we need the vision.

I assume some of the people who voted for Trump did so because they believe he represents the best chance to live up to those ideals. Here's to hoping they will hold his feet to the fire if he starts messing with the constitution. Freedoms are easier maintained than recovered.

My hope is that the USA's institutional framework can stand up to the worst impulses of the incoming government. My fear is it will not.

I am ending this with these words from the Facebook page of urban homesteader and writer Erica Strauss.

"No matter what your native language, all American citizens are protected by the liberties explicitly enumerated in our shared Constitution. Learn it, defend it, protect it."

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Thoughts on The Circus

History has always fascinated me. We are living through history in the making, a white water rapid in the river of civilisation. Someone on CBC radio compared our time to the European Renaissance, when one social order was making way for another. Interesting to read about, but not easy to live through. It is now more than a month after the end of what we have been calling The Circus, and what an ending it was. I have been spending hours on the iPad compulsively reading about USA politics.

It is not my country, for which I am grateful. Nevertheless I live right next door, within easy reach of the grasp of Empire, should that empire decide to grasp what it wants by more direct means than the current arrangement. Think water. We Canadians may take comfort in being a kinder, gentler nation, but let's not kid ourselves. The standing joke is that when the USA sneezes Canada gets pneumonia. The best we can hope for is the kind of relationship Finland has with its giant neighbour to the East. Like it or not, we both have to pay homage and attention to the great power next door.

Early on I decided to not waste energy on the insanity of a months long campaign. We skipped the endless ponderings of the pundits during the primaries, though we did feel the Bern. I rarely watch those stupid debates, with the media standing by to pounce on the slightest misstep as a "gotcha" moment. Once our favourite socialist was defeated I mainly paid attention to the dilemmas of my online friends in the USA, most of whom are not Republicans. Hold your nose and vote Democrat or say enough of this corrupt bunch and go Green?

Interestingly some thinkers whose opinion I value were happy with the outcome, mainly because they wanted to shake up the status quo. There was some approval of Trump's supposedly populist stance on certain issues. I think it was Dmitri Orlov who posted a video segment of Trump that could have been lifted from a Sanders speech. Also, quite a few people worried about poking the bear and applauded Trump's better relations with Putin.

Anyway, now that the die has been cast I find myself wondering how to behave in the face of possible tyranny. At this moment demonstrations are a waste of energy at best and counterproductive at worst if they degenerate into riots. Besides, the time to be active is during an election campaign and you just had one, duh! Then there is the need to maintain civil relations with people on the opposite side of the political spectrum. I wrote this on Facebook.

"I just found out that an internet friend who I admire for her big heart and fortitude in the face of a tough life is delighted with the outcome of the USA election. This person is the farthest thing from a bigoted racist you can imagine. She is a beautiful loving soul and I will not hear a bad word about her, Trump or no Trump. Let us maintain love above all. Avoid stereotypes. Don't let the haters win."

I have often reflected on how I would have behaved during the early years of the Nazi occupation in my native Netherlands. Good and evil are easy to tell apart with the brilliance of hindsight, especially after winners and losers have been sorted out. It is not so easy while you are in the middle of things. Imagine yourself there, in 1940. Of course you hate the occupation, but it has become a fact of life. For all you know it might last a few centuries. It is my nature to avoid conflict, and I tend to think the best of people. I might well have been a compromiser, thinking perhaps I might be able to do some good on the inside. I might have been chastised as a collaborator after the war.

Times are tough all around and not likely to get better any time soon. For many reasons that we will not get into here, it will never be 1970 anymore. I may have been spending too much time in collapsenik circles, and I alo just reread 1984. Not cheery. 

I have no idea what to suggest to any young person coming of age right now. Who knows what the future holds? In twenty years we may solve the energy crisis, learn how to live together, collect all the best from all traditions and cultures, and be on our way to a Star Trek world. Yeah, right. See those pretty flying pigs in the pink sky? Or the most vital skill may be knowing which warlord to suck up to. So much for the wisdom of elders.

All I can come up with this is this.
Above all: KEEP THINKING. Connect to your heart and gut as well as your brain. If a small voice inside whispers something feels off, pay attention to it. Ask it to speak up and explain.

Decide what your values are and defend them, regardless of who is attacking them. The enemy of your enemy may be evil. A drone strike ordered by Obama is no less deadly than one ordered by Bush. A pipeline built by charming, spouting all the right words Justin Trudeau is no less damaging than one built by dour mr. Harper.

Be careful what you wish for regarding laws that inhibit freedom of speech or assembly. Apply the same standards to your own side and to your opponent's. 

James Pfeiffer once drew a great cartoon. A man in a pinstripe suit and a hippie are chatting in a bar. Both agree that under certain conditions limits to free speech may be warranted. Says the hippie: "Exactly! And that is why I say that in Cuba...." Man in suit exclaims: "Cuba? I thought we were talking about the United States!" Horrified they turn away from each other.

Be vigilant. Beware the frog in boiling water effect, but don't get carried away by slippery slope fallacies either. 
See people as individuals first, and let the individual decide to which extent she wants to define herself as member of a group.
Avoid blindly climbing on bandwagons. Pay frequent visits to fact check sites before posting the latest meme on social media.

When the big world goes nuts and institutions start failing or grow rapacious, do what you can where you are to make a better world. Funny. I can think myself into a tizzy and I keep coming back to my mantra.

Be Here Now. Cultivate the Garden. Just Be Kind.

P.S. This excellent article in Yes Magazine says it all.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

An Addendum to the Serenity Prayer

We all know the good old serenity prayer, don't we? 
"Grant us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, 
the courage to change what can be changed
and the wisdom to know the difference."

Wise words, but too simplistic. 

A dear online friend just posted a long list of common sense advice, that starts with: "Live beneath your means".

Really?  Go tell that to an overworked parent in today's brutal economy who has to choose between paying the rent or putting food on the table. It is good advice for those who have choices. Not everyone does.
Has the writer of these homilies looked at wages lately? At the absence of job security? At the cost of housing?

Avoiding substance abuse, adopting the healthiest possible lifestyle, being willing to work and generally being a decent human is personal responsibility. Doing something about a global economic system that is destroying the planet while removing the ability to earn a living from whole communities requires working with others.

Traditionally the so called Left has stressed the need for collective action, the so called Right the need for personal responsibility. Isn't it obvious we need both? I blathered about this in part of a previous blog, see here. 

Anyway, here is my addendum:

"Grant me the wisdom to know the difference between change that is my personal responsibility, and change that demands that I organise with others."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A short rant on an IKEA commercial

I am rather fond of IKEA. That Scandinavian design is all about making the most of small spaces, living well with style without spending a ton of money. I even like the commercials. Long live the home indeed.


The latest commercial goes on and on about making every second count. At first glance that is good advice. Be Here Now, live in the moment, all that good stuff. But then my warning  antennae start tingling.  Is home not supposed to be the place where you can just lean back and relax already? Does relaxation, feeling safe, letting go, not come with a certain amount of forgetting what time it is?

Not on a weekday in the IKEA home. The reason we have to be so aware of our precious seconds at home is because, in today's precarious economy, sec0nds is all we get. We barely get up and put a braid in our little daughter's hair and it is time for the whole family to dash off. 

Long live the home my foot. We are being groomed to not ask for more than the crumbs of our lives. We get the seconds, who gets the hours? Stay awake friends. Demand more.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

On audio books and Robert Kennedy on GDP, and even a recipe.

How I love that wonderful invention, audiobooks from the Public Library system! It works especially well for taking in non fiction books that I find quite interesting, yet somehow cannot read without getting restless or falling asleep.

Trying to just listen to audio usually results in a refreshing nap. But I love the combination of doing something with my hands, usually cooking, while listening. It makes the chore effortless and somehow the mind takes it in. Sometimes I have the print or e book AND the audio version, so things can be looked up without scrolling.

Today's offering is Mark Kurlansky's "1968". An interesting year that I remember well. I turned 25. It was my last full year as a European. I had won a scholarship from the Alliance Francaise (Sorry, no accent under the C) to spend the month of August in some school in Menton on the Riviera. Unfortunately in May students in Paris fell in love with playing revolution and the whole thing was cancelled.

Anyway, halfway the book is this AWESOME speech by Robert Kennedy on the madness of worshipping economic growth. I couldn't have said it better myself. Insert emoticon with tongue in cheek. I took the time to transcribe the segment, which is a pain to do but I need to be able to refer to it.
So, without further ado, speaking eloquently from the great beyond, HERE's Robert!

"We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in the mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones average, nor national achievement by the Gross National Product, for the Gross National Product includes air pollution and ambulances to clear our highways from carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. The Gross National Product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads. It includes the broadcasting of T.V. programs which glorify violence to sell goods to our children. 

And if the Gross National Product includes all this, there is much it does not comprehend.

It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our debates or the integrity of our public officials. The Gross National Product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.

In measures everything in short except that which makes life worthwhile."

AMEN. I just might want to learn this by heart. And meanwhile a double batch of my almost famous super nutritious muffins was made, the red currant and lemon zest variation.  The link goes to the recipe. You're welcome.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The white cats are back.

The good news is, the Harper regime has been voted out decisively in favor of a Liberal majority. Most of Canada heaves a sigh of relief. Turnout was way up, with many young people voting. Yeah! Dingdong the witch is dead!

The bad news is, the party of my choice, the social democratic NDP, got clobbered, though the NDP candidate in my riding squeezed in. 

I can understand why. The high watermark of the party's standing, forming the official opposition for the first time ever in 2011, owed much to the personal charisma of its former leader Jack Layton, who died of cancer shortly after the 2011 election. He was a tough act to follow, and Tom Mulcair lacked the charm of his predecessor.

Mulcair also made the mistake of trying to out-Harper the conservatives by promising balanced budgets, which left the door wide open for Liberal Hope and Change Boy Justin to promise stimulus instead, and never mind the deficit for now, let's get things moving first. Ironically Trudeau ended up sounding more like Jack Layton than Mulcair did. We might say the NDP got outflanked on the left.
While I am beyond happy that Harper is gone I am curbing my enthousiasm for the outcome. It all reminds me a lot of Obama. Personal charisma and Hope and Change yada yada. Then the moment he gets in what does he do? Nominate Monsanto man Tom Vilsack to agriculture. My spidey senses started tingling  when an email was leaked by a close Trudeau associate, advising the oil industry on how best to lobby an eventual Liberal government. That individual stepped down, but I fear the revolving door between corporations and government will keep merrily turning. And let's remember that Hope and Change Boy voted for Bill 51, with some vague promises about fixing the worst excesses of the invasive spy bill. Mulcair promised to do away with it.

Anyway, let's wait and see. This will be better than the previous government for sure. Part of me would like to cheer for young Trudeau and part of me is cynical. Sure, the black cats are gone. But I had been hoping for a government of mice, not a return of the white cats.

Update a month later. The new cabinet is in and it looks very promising. I fear this government will end up giving too much power away to the TPP, another one of those sovereignty destroying trade agreements that support corporations over citizens. But otherwise things look good. Imagine an indigenous woman as minister of Justice and Attorney General?! Yeah! 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Reflections on Canada's N word

There was a graph here that disappeared, from Eiynah "Nice Mangos". Never mind, just read her blog, please.

I don't know what irritates me more.

The cynical manipulation of the issue by the Harper regime, attempting to win votes by pandering to xenophobia,


The knee jerk politically correct reaction of my fellow liberals, falling all over themselves to prove how accepting of diversity they are,


The damn medieval face coverings themselves and the smug religious fanatics wearing them, whether by choice or not.

For some perspective, my solidarity lies with the brave women taking to the streets in this picture from 1979, fighting for the right to NOT wear the things.
Canada's new N word is Niqab, the cloth some fundamentalist Muslim women wear to cover their face, leaving just a slit for eyes. 

For non Canadians or those having lived under a rock the last months, the present conservative government had appealed a court ruling deciding that a woman could take the oath of citizenship while thus garbed. I have gone on about this issue in some depth before. 
The prime minister used the case as a wedge issue during the endless federal election campaign.

I detest the efforts by the Harperites to fan the flames of xenophobia. I am proud that Canadians have pushed back against this, including playful acts like the guy who went into an advance poll wearing a sort of doily over his face. Even so I stand by my original thoughts, explained at length here.

Today I want to discuss the accusation of Islamophobia that occurs when one expresses a preference for uncovered faces.

Yes, I am an Islamophobe. As a feminist how can I be anything but? Why should I not fear the growing influence of a religion that systematically relegates me to second class citizen or worse? This is an equal opportunity phobia. I fear theocracy in general. I am equally worried about the rise of the ultra orthodox in other religions. The dystopian Republic of Gilead from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is looking less like fantasy and more like a possibility by the day.  Schoolgirls on buses in Jerusalem are being harassed by ultra orthodox Jews whose actions resemble the morality squads of Tehran. 

Islam does not have a monopoly on misogyny or on the aim to do away with the wall between secular and religious powers. It does seem to have it more built in than the other bunch. I therefore fear it a bit more than the others. Fearing theocracy does not mean I fear ordinary neighbours of other cultures, including those from Islamic backgrounds. It does not make me a xenophobe or a racist.

It is said that politics makes strange bedfellows. I have always been an eclectic, and will never be a strict follower of any party line. On this one issue I find myself in agreement with a PM I otherwise cannot wait to get rid of. I repeat that I detest his use of the issue.

As for the much touted argument that it is their religion and therefore sacrosanct, I repeat my wish for some testing of that principle by a fundamentalist pagan
Seriously, what would happen if we demanded the right to dance naked around a May Pole, or even better, have a public orgy in the fields to help fertility?

Then there is the argument that telling a woman what not to wear is just as bad as telling her what to wear, so people who want to remove face coverings are as bad as the Taliban. Come on now. A bit of perspective here please. This argument suffers from the slippery slope fallacy, the idea that a bit of something is the same as a lot of it. According to that logic a gentle summer breeze is the same as Hurricane Sandy. They are both wind. All we are asking is one small concession.

Back in the early sixties we spent some summers in a rural area in Southern Spain, before that country had quite joined the modern era. It never entered my mind to dress in shorts on the street  there. It would have been disrespectful to the local culture. In this culture, we encourage equality between genders and we show our face. Doing otherwise, especially at a moment when one joins the nation as a member, is a sign of disrespect of our culture. 

Attempts at legislation seem to have a reverse effect. It gives the thing way too much attention and may encourage people to take up the custom who would otherwise not go near it. 

I am an immigrant myself, always aware that I live on a stolen continent. North America is relatively empty. It stands to reason more people from all over the world should move here. I welcome them. I love going to metro Vancouver and seeing the rainbow. 

However, some achievements from Western civilisation truly are progress. I refuse to apologise for  resenting the Niqab as a symbol of misogyny.

The linked blog contains words by a Canadian of Pakistani origin who feels baffled and betrayed by the PC crowd. Please pay attention to Eiynah "Nice Mangos".

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A fight for Canada's soul

I got a (rare) cold, just in time to miss the all candidates meeting. But I managed to crank out a letter to the editor of the Valley Voice, just in time for the dead line. Not as polished as I would have liked but better than nothing.

The editor,

This is not an ordinary election.

The government which we have to retain or dismiss on October 19  is different from other conservative governments. Even though my personal sympathies are pinko/green, I recognize the value of an occasional small c conservative government for all over balance. 

The Harper regime has been anything but conservative. 

The last years have  been a time of radical change, rammed through with an ideological fervour and without regard for political process. 
One could go on and on about the abuses of power. Robo calls, harassing charitable organizations with targeted tax audits, proroguing parliament. the Omnibus bill, the erosion of civil liberties, the gutting of environmental protection laws. 

Among  the worst things this government has done has been waging a War on Science.

Since when is Canada a place where important research, paid for with tax payer's dollars, is being destroyed, probably because the findings might not be to the taste of certain industry interests? CBC Radio's program Ideas recently repeated an excellent series on the topic. Important research on the spawning habits of Atlantic Cod could no longer be duplicated. The DFO library is largely gone.

To anyone who still believes "They are all a bunch of crooks" and it won't make a difference who gets in, I offer this: If Stephen Harper had been Prime Minister in 2003 Canada would have been involved in the invasion of Iraq. 

Remember when we were known as honest peace keepers and travelers sewed Canadian flags on their back packs, because Canada was so respected world wide?
I want that country back. 

I will be voting NDP, even though I am a member of the Green party.  Not this time We just cannot split the vote. Together, the opposition parties can defeat the so called Conservatives (they should be called Harperites). In the freshly gerrymandered riding West Kootenays South Okanagan the NDP candidate Richard Cannings has by far the best chance of winning. Besides he is good man, a biologist.

This is not an ordinary election. It is a fight for Canada's soul. Please vote, and if you want to defeat Harper, vote strategically.

Ien van Houten, Nakusp.