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.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


We are now past the middle of the campaign that will decide the outcome of the October 19 federal election. I had vowed be active and help to influence the outcome. I am tired of it already.

The season may be partly to blame. In the beginning of the campaign the months of relentless heat, smoke and drought  sapped everyone's energy level. I was hoping to feel more like it when the days got crisp. Not. I am full of energy again but still busy with outdoor work and putting up the harvest. In August I was looking forward to the end, but now my head is back in garden space.

The level of discourse so far leaves much to be desired. I blame the media as much as the politicians. They seem to pay more attention to soundbites and  'gotcha' moments than to discussing the different visions of the parties.  I would like to see more honesty and less partisanship all around. Make an attempt to engage me, the voter, as if I have a brain. 

On scandals:

If a party has been in power for a certain length of time some member will be caught with a hand in the cookie jar. This is wrong, but may well be inevitable considering human nature. I want perpetrators caught and punished, but would like to see the media pay less attention to the details of relatively small scandals. Report on the basics and move on. I would like to see all leaders admit that such things happen. All leaders should do their best to limit the occurrence of corruption and not try to cover it up, but they can't promise 100% success. Scandals, even those plaguing one's opponents, are a distraction and a circus. I do relish the fact that a government that made much of the scandals of its predecessors is hoisted on its own petard. But we have more important issues to deal with.

On the economy.

I would like to see all politicians acknowledge that there are limits to what they can do when in power.  In particular, the whole concept of "managing the economy" needs to be less politicized. Economic cycles seem to be rather like weather. They can be responded to but not totally controlled. 
All parties claim or deny ability to manage the economy depending where the advantage lies.
I did a blog on that in February 2008.  

I would also like to see more honesty about where true power lies these days. Governments still have some, but transnational concerns like corporations and banks have more. Could we please have that out in the open and admit that the corporations have us by the short and curlies, instead of mouthing platitudes about "creating a favorable climate yadayada"?

Social Issues

Issues like gay marriages, niqabs....these are important to some of course, but also carefully manipulated as a distraction from other, more important issues of the day. 

The Big Picture.

There is the inevitable tide of history, in which the rest of the world's population is rightfully rising and demanding it's fair share, even as the world's resources are being strained to the limit.  Could we have an honest discussion about how to deal with the claims of the rest of the world? 

There is the reality of the limits of growth in a finite world. Whether fossil fuels are running out now or will in a hundred years, sooner or later humanity will have to live within a solar budget. Better start now, while we still have some ancient sunlight left to ease the transition.

Whoever is in power, it will never be 1970 again. Be honest about that and stop promising you will bring back the good old days.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Some thoughts on collective guilt and personal responsibility

My talented virtual friend Jacqui Binford Bell, she of the amazing art and photographs, posted this thought provoking remark on Facebook. 

"Don't we at some time just have to let go? Stop all the vendettas, jihads, reparations, grudges, monuments to people who just went to work, all the days we stop for a minute of silence. All the things from the Maine to Wounded Knee we must remember even if we never participated and would not consider it today. When do we have time to just move forward and make today and the future better? How can you enjoy the dawn when you are constantly made to feel guilty, ashamed, or afraid?"

I started to reply and realised I needed a blog.
First reaction: 

Goodness yes. I am so tired of feeling guilty. I am not rich or powerful, and at least I am female, but I am white and was born at a propitious time. I have been aware of my good fortune all my life, even blogged about it. It turns out Dad's Jewish mother gave me the right to move to Israel so now Gaza etc. is on my plate too. It is overwhelming and dammit, I am not a bad person!  I did not personally infect any Sinixt (the local first nation) with small pox. I did not personally impose any head tax on the brave Chinese labourers who built Canada's railroads, nor did I bomb Gaza. On the contrary, I did my best to protest.

Yes, wouldn't it be nice to just wipe the slate clean and start over.

Then there is the sad fact that efforts to redress historical wrongs often end up creating new injustices without doing much to compensate real victims of the old order. 

Development aid has been described as money that poor people in rich countries send to rich people in poor countries. Groups consist of individuals. Picture the plight of the child of a white working class family who has worked his butt off to get the right grades to get into a college. However, affirmative action resulted in his place going to a middle class child who had it easier and whose grades are lower but who has the right colour or gender.  Affirmative action may sound like a fair idea but does it work in practice? Can we keep what is best in the idea while keeping an eye out for individual injustices?

However. (a favourite word)
History is still with us. Even as individuals of previously oppressed groups are making headway, large numbers are still facing extra obstacles. Old prejudices do not disappear overnight and everywhere at the same time. 

Then there is this. Wealth accumulates through generations. Many a baby boomer has had an inheritance from frugal depression era parents. Those parents in turn benefited from the Era of Prosperity(1946-1980, more or less), now fast receding in the rear view mirror.
As most of you know, that golden time of working class prosperity and home ownership excluded many. I highly recommend this essay  on becoming aware of white privilege. My own children owe their education partly to a legacy from their upper middle class paternal grandparents. Groups who missed the boat in past times lack that head start. The playing field is not level.

Even well intentioned individuals who would not dream of certain actions still benefit from them. My very presence in the paradise where I live was made possible by genocide. I have no idea what to do about that but there it is.

I agree with Jacqui that it would be nice to start fresh here and now. I certainly join her in rejecting a certain kind of kneejerk PC mea culpa mentality that one sees in liberal circles, where the victim is always right. But the decision may not be ours to make. As individuals we may be mostly blameless, but as members of a group we have benefitted from a past order and nothing can change that. We don't want to go through life cringing, but we must admit to our share of collective advantage. 

I have been more privileged than many and less than some. I remember a conversation, long ago, with a well-born couple about their early married days when the man was still a student. I asked them what they had lived on. "J's money". "What do you mean, "J's money"?" "J's money." Repeated with a tone of impatience for my lack of understanding the obvious. In their circles everyone started life out with an ancestral sum and J's father had died young. These were nice people. I was not out to wage class warfare. (Not that day anyhow.) I wanted to hear something  like "Well you know, we were lucky. J's dad had left him enough etc." I just wanted them to be aware that not everyone had their head start and to acknowlege their good fortune. They were blind to it.

Perhaps the most helpful thing we can all do to make this a kinder world is to be wary of ideological thinking, be it religious or secular. Be leery of any attempt to stifle debate for any reason. Do NOT circle the wagons the moment our side is attacked. Go through life with eyes, mind and heart open, and do not deny the reality of our own first hand observations in order to fit the facts into a rigid framework.
Keep asking: does this work?

I have said it before and will probably say it again, but sometimes one's opponent is right. Granting the other side a point does not mean one has to buy the entire intellectual framework.  For example admitting that some people stay home on Mondays to nurse a hangover does not mean we agree to abolish paid sick leave.

I guess it keeps coming down to trying to just be reasonable and kind.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review: Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Pope Joan is a thoroughly researched historical novel about the story (history or legend?) of a woman who lived as a man and became pope for 2 years in the mid ninth century A.D. Her true gender is revealed when she gives birth during a procession. Extensive notes about sources in the back support the argument for this being a true story. 

The time is the tail end of the Dark Age. The Carolingian renaissance spurred by Charlemagne has come and gone, the feudal order of the Middle Ages has not quite congealed yet. For history buffs, may I recommend Dan Carlin's audio book  "Thor's Angels" about the end of the Roman empire and the times leading up to Charlemagne. It is still free for the download. Blog on Dan coming soon.

The bottom line is that Pope Joan is a great read. I read it with pleasure and recommend it. Like much historical fiction it offers good sugar coated learning. It even inspired me to dig up the Penguin classic with Two Lives of Charlemagne that was sitting, unread, in my book shelves, and want to search for a refresher course in Latin and read some classics again. 

However....As a novel it suffers from Too-Good-To-Be-True-Heroine Syndrome. This syndrome seems to be an occupational risk of historical fiction. Think of Aya from Jean Auel's prehistorical series, or the too amazing Claire created by Diane Gabaldon. 

Joan shows such promise as a child that a traveling Greek scholar offers to teach her once a week, against the wishes of her tyrannical father, a married canon in the church. Priestly celibacy was not universally proscribed yet. There is no mention of homework or independent study during this time. After two years of this she is fluent enough not only in Latin but has mastered enough Greek to read the Iliad. Really? Not only that, she understands Greek well enough to translate a fragment of technical text that contains instructions on how to build a hyraulic contraption that later is cleverly used to create the appearance of a miracle. Yeah, right. Unlikely escapes from danger keep happening. The supporting characters are cartoonish and lack complexity. As a novel it has more elements of a Harlequin romance than I would wish.

Nevertheless, the vivid portrait of a time, with many historical figures accurately inserted, make this a worthwile read.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

He says, she says. Searching for truth amid changing trends.

I have wanted to do a blog on this topic for a while. Today the controversy around Jian Gomeshi provided the impetus.

For non Canadians or Canadians who have been living under a rock, Jian Gomeshi is or rather was the popular host of the radio show Q, devoted to pop culture but veering into more serious terrain quite often. On Sunday he was fired by the CBC. 

He wrote a long and candid Facebook post in which he claims the accusations that caused his dismissal were the work of a vengeful ex girlfriend and he is guilty of nothing more than a taste for kinky sex. 

I admit that at this point I jumped on the "It must be that dastardly Harper agenda getting rid of a popular small l liberal voice" bandwagon. I promptly signed a petition demanding his reinstatement. I am not proud of that, but then, the current neo con regime has been slashing at my beloved CBC with a vengeance for some time.

However, next thing I know a friend posts a blog post by another woman who had a disturbing encounter with the sexy stubbled one (I hate that look. Grow a beard or shave.). That post sounds authentic and supports the accusations.
More women are coming forward with allegations. It turns out the Toronto Star had been investigating for months.
This puts the affair in a new light.  

We are left with the dreaded 'he says, she says' scenario. 

What does this have to do with trends? Well, depending on the collective mood either one side or another will find it easier to get an honest or sympathetic hearing. 
For the longest time women could not get any justice in cases of sexual assault or harrassment. Children with abuse issues, ditto. Then the tide turned, though not everywhere at once and it certainly is not easy. But I do believe we have now reached a point in Western society where we need to look carefully at both sides.

The bottom line:  Women fear being raped etc.
Men fear being unjustly accused of sexual misconduct.
Both fears are entirely justified.

For most of history power has lain with the accused, if accusations even happened. This is still the case in much of the world today. Let's not waste time on the old ways.

In some circles in our modern Western world there is now a tendency to prejudice in the other direction. Thinking may run to "The victim is always right." 

We get places where a male employer is afraid to tell a female employee she looks nice today, and teachers are afraid to be alone with a child, let alone give a much needed hug. Foster parents' lives have been destroyed by false allegations of abuse. These things happen. They are real.

Meanwhile the old horrors are still happening too.  Rape, sexual harrassment in the work place, child abuse, it is all real as well.
Waves, counterwaves, backlash, backlash against the backlash, turbulence.

Which brings us back to the difficulty of distinguishing truth from falsehood in individual cases. He says.  She says. 

I don't know what to think of the Gomeshi case. CBC should have gone about this more carefully. A forced leave of absence while matters are sorted out would be appropriate.  
I do know I find Gomeshi's proclivities disgusting even if they are consensual. Yes, this does affect my liking for him. AND I want him to have a fair hearing, in a court other than that of public opinion.