Posts filed under ‘Politics’

Thank you, Michael Vick

Funny, moving, controversial.  Underneath it all, my theory is that the steadfast allegiance that Michael Vick enjoys among his remaining fans comes from the fact that the abused often become the abusers.  And the abused often come to identify with abusers.  And once they do, there is no room for compassion.  Compassion is a weakness that can’t be allowed.

The walls they built to survive the pain become those of rage. And once rage takes over, they — the abused and now abusers and their admirers (a certain portion of them abused themselves) — cannot afford to feel much compassion, because to do so would be to risk breaking down the walls that protect them from their own trauma.

Scratch a dog-fighter, and you’ll find a history of abuse, neglect, poverty and the distorted sense of self and justice that comes from that.  Dog-fighters have a very strange relationship with the dogs they abuse:  they have the highest degree of respect for the best fighters — not just because those are the ones they make money on, but also because those are the ones that demonstrate the kind of resilience, tenacity and survival-against-the-odds that are the only personality characteristics they respect.  It’s all about respect.

These are the characteristics that they self-identify with and nurture:  the ability to survive abuse, essentially, is to validate their own experience and choices.

Of their fight dogs, with every bone they splint and wound they dress, they are saying to that dog and to themselves:  you’ll survive this.  And you’ll be better for it.  And no one else can understand your pain the way I can.  They do not see themselves as abusers, in that moment.  They see themselves as victims.

They are the abuser who beats, and says to the beaten:  I did that for your own good.

Who batters and says to the battered:  you caused me to do this, you are to blame.

And then, of the non-fighters, the ones who can’t or won’t fight or in the case of human beings, fight back — those are the weak not strong, they are the scared not brave, they are to be scorned not respected.  The victim’s  inability to survive, their powerlessness, enrages the abuser even further.  In the abuser’s twisted sense of justice, the victim becomes deserving of the abuse, torture and murder they will receive.  It’s the only way the abuser can reconcile the massive cognitive dissonance that is occurring within them as they abuse and are victimized at the same time.

This is the psychology of a victim of abuse who becomes a perpetrator of it.

Granted, it’s not entirely the explanation for every dog-fighter’s mentality, or a dog-fighting football player’s, or those who continue to support him and feel he was treated “unfairly.”  There are, in fact, sociopaths out there whose development stems from an entirely different set of circumstances.  But true sociopathy — which isn’t even recognized as a valid psychological categorization by many — is the exception.  Of those who abuse, whether people or animals, the path from abuse to abuser I’ve laid out above is far more typical.

Scratch Michael Vick, and this is likely what you’ll find.  Scratch a certain proportion – I would say a high proportion – of Michael Vick defenders, and you’ll likely find something similar.  It’s the most bizarre and almost inexplicable logic, but it is the alliance of the abused with the abuser.

Therefore:  we should not hate the abusers nor heap venom upon them (although, let me be clear: we should definitely hate their acts and speak out against them).  But, I have seen far, far too many comments on message boards, discussion forums and blogs among pit bull fans who would condemn Michael Vick to the same kind of torture and death that he perpetrated.  These are not the words – much less the acts – of a civilized, compassionate person or society.  They are the words and acts that entrench the problem and the problematic behaviour (the abuse of animals, in this case), not achieve retribution for or rehabilitation from it.

My position is that Michael Vick deserves as much compassion as the dogs he abused. He is a victim of abuse, himself.

He is also a victim of a society who said to him:  your only value, your sole redeeming quality as a human being, is this talent you have for playing a game that is more important to us than addressing the systemic injustice and lack of opportunities that we, as a society, have given (or failed to give) you.

And of the Vick hangers-on, the mother, the girlfriends, the wife, the siblings and the cousins … they were saying that to him, too:  you’re nothing to us if you can’t bring us a pay cheque, can’t dig us out of this grinding poverty that we’ve experienced — that our people have experienced — at the hands of a white society that has never done anything other than hate us.

So yeah, this is about race.  And it’s about abuse.  And it’s about politics.  And it’s about a culture that adores football and its celebrities more than it does social justice and the citizens to whom they deny it.  And then finally, lastly really, it’s about the current treatment of a certain breed of dog — a breed that now bears the burden of being a symbol of ALL of that injustice, and is suffering for it.

Arnie & Gracie - Bad Rap foster dogs

Arnie (front), a Bad Rap dog seeking adoption and Gracie, a Vick survivor and Bad Rap Ambassadog, now placed in a loving home

I’m passionate about pit bulls, because I’m passionate about the issues of social justice that emerge when you start to talk about them:  the attitudes toward them, the myths and misconceptions, the fear and ignorance.

And for the fact that that conversation can now be had when we talk about these dogs, I thank Michael Vick.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

For information on the rehabilitation of the Vick dogs, and to understand more about pit bulls in general, please visit:  Bad Rap (Bay Area Dog-Owners Responsible About Pitbulls).  Thank you for reading.

February 13, 2011 at 11:07 am Leave a comment

Reflections On An Oil Spill

“Dear future generations:  Please accept our apologies.  We were rolling drunk on petroleum.”
— Kurt Vonnegut

Dear Kurt,

It is too late to apologize.

I am worried that the human race is not going extinct quickly enough to protect the Earth and its creatures from the devastation we are perpetrating on it.

As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we are riven by conflicts that increase the likelihood that the weapons we have built, supposedly to protect ourselves, will be used against us.

As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we experience climate change at an unprecedented rate because of our lust for more things: things that go faster, that shine brighter, that “enrich” the “quality” of our “life.”

As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we experience earthquakes caused by tectonic plate shifts as Mother Earth readjusts her mantle in response to her polar ice caps becoming lighter.

As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we strip people of the habitats that sustain their lives–lives already below or barely at the poverty line–and we drive those in the “undeveloped” world further into desolation and despair for the sole purpose of enhancing our already opulent lives in the “developed” one.

As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we extinguish life at 100 to 1,000 times the naturally occurring rate of extinction ever, ever in the history of the planet.  Not the history of humankind.  The entire history of our 4.5 billion year old PLANET.  Current modelling suggests that up to 50 per cent of all animal life on Earth (arrogantly, we have not included human beings as part of the equation) will be extinct within 100 years.

We are in a sixth mass extinction, called the Holocene extinction.  We are entering a new Ice Age, and this one is caused not by asteroids hitting the Earth or a natural warm-up in the environment allowing bacteria to take over the oceans, but by us. By the one species with the most evolutionarily advanced brain–a brain capable of considering itself the top of the food chain.  By creatures who evolved to create technologies that are beyond our own comprehension to manage and that inevitably will, and clearly are, destroying everything on Earth including ourselves.

But not, in my opinion, fast enough.

We have developed nuclear power–so called “clean” energy–bringing power to people around the world and improving their productivity so they can make more stuff, and also make more people–requiring us to generate more power.  We have nowhere to store the radioactive waste, which we know will outlast our species by hundreds of thousands of years.

We have developed atomic weapons that we can’t and shouldn’t ever use, for they will more surely destroy us than save us from destruction regardless of who fires first.

We have manufactured space-age materials and technologies to communicate with each other over vast distances, but the gaps between cultures are as wide as ever and we don’t understand each other any better than we did in the Dark Ages–we’re only more aware of how many more of us there are and that they live on the opposite side of a round ball that circles the sun, rather than a flat disc at the centre of a finite Universe.

This latter knowledge–that we are but one species on one planet of an infinite number in an ever-expanding Universe–has really not given us the perspective it should have, because at the same time as we’ve developed the means of communication to bring us together as citizens of that planet, we’ve also developed religions and national borders and political systems still rooted in the philosophies of the Dark Ages that drive us apart.

The devices that we manufacture using the space-age materials we’ve invented now fill mile-high landfills in China and Latin America and an area the size of Texas swirling in the South Pacific because they cannot be re-absorbed by the Earth and we don’t know how to get rid of the core materials.  Although we sure do know how to get rid of the devices that we make of them–cell phones, computers, game consoles, radios, TVs–and have come to accept the term “planned obsolescence” without really thinking about the impact it has on our oceans, our land and our people.

We have developed genetically-modified foods that cause the very cancers that we’ve developed life-saving surgeries and treatments to eradicate.  Despite being able to farm healthy foods better and faster than ever before, and despite eating 2,700 calories a day–500 calories more than people ate just 40 years ago–the U.S. has the highest diabetes, cardiac and obesity rates of any nation on Earth because there’s more money to be made manufacturing and selling junk food than there is growing and distributing healthy food (genetically modified or not).

We spend kajillions of dollars a year sending probes into space and to distant planets looking for signs of life, while back on Earth millions of our own people die for lack of food, water, medicine and shelter that would cost a fraction of that.

Somewhere buried in the rock of the Earth’s pre-Cambrian shield in Norway is a cement-encased bunker that holds half a million seeds,  gathered over the past two years from every area of the world.  The best and most resilient grains that can restore plant life to Earth and provide sustenance for any survivors of environmental cataclysm, either natural or human-created.

My fervent hope is that, if it ever came to needing them, no one survives to plant them.  Because I think we’ve pretty much proven that human beings are a failed species, destined to obliterate not just themselves but pretty much every other living thing–animal,vegetable and mineral–that surrounds us on this beautiful and currently still blue-and-green rock hurtling through the Universe.

I am so very, very glad that I never had children. My line and legacy will die out with me. It’s the least I can offer you, Mother Earth.  I pray that as we wipe ourselves out through our own greed and ignorance–or rather, through being too smart for our own good–we leave you with enough of what you need to replenish yourself after we’re gone.

May 1, 2010 at 6:09 pm 1 comment

Sorry Seems To Be An Easy Word

"The Apology" by Mark Ryden

Eccentric Muse comes off the slopes and dives into some current events that have caught her attention.

This week, U.K. PM Gordon Brown issued an apology for the British government’s Child Migrants Programme, in which up to 150,000 children, aged three to about 14, were shipped off to populate the colonies, including Canada, in the early part of the 20th Century.  In reality, these children were no more than human chattel, embarrassing (many were the children of unwed mothers) and a drain on Mother England’s resources during a time of war.  They ended up as child labour on farms, in mines and in factories, certainly neglected, frequently sexually and physically abused.  My grandfather was, apparently, one of them:  a “Barnardo” orphan, named for the main child services agency that executed the policy.  He ended up in Northern Ontario somehow (the details are sketchy), meeting my grandmother and fathering three children by her, then leaving her in poverty to fend for herself.  That legacy of shame and pain runs through my family tree.  There’s a whole story here that deserves telling, but that’s not what I’m on about today:  of interest is the apology, because….

Also earlier this week,  Mayor Peter Kelly of Halifax, Nova Scotia apologized to the former residents of Africville, a black settlement in Halifax which was populated until 1970 by descendents of African slaves who made their way up the coast to freedom in Canada. (Incidentally, if you’re looking for an award-winning fictional novel based on one of these journeys, pick up Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes; in the US, “Someone Knows My Name”:  Hill creates the extraordinary character of Aminata Diallo, whose story is tragic, moving, inspiring and ultimately redemptive.)

The community of Africville was a robust and deeply-textured one, but also a disenfranchised one.  After years of thinly-veiled neglect and outright racist hostility, during which city services like garbage collection, water and policing were denied to residents, Africville was destroyed:  razed by city planners who claimed it was a slum (with, as is typical, a disingenuous lack of awareness of their having made it so).  The last of the families was moved out, the land confiscated, bulldozers were brought in and this “blight” in the north end of town was wiped clean.   In 2002, a memorial plaque was erected and the patch of land that used to be Africville was recognized as a national historic site.

This week (during Black History Month, natch), we have an apology from the City of Halifax for their poor decision-making of 40 years ago.  Not, I note, an apology for their behaviour leading up to the decision, which was equally or more abhorrent.  There are boundaries to the apology commensurate with the level of liability that the City of Halifax is willing to take on, I guess.  I note as well that the other terms of the settlement, $3 million and 2.5 acres of land, is being given to the Africville Geneology Society.  There is so far no individual compensation offered. (Nor is there any financial settlement accompanying the UK apology).

This week’s two public apologies, on different continents and for different reasons, resonate with the 2008 apology to Canada’s native peoples.  At the root, all are apologies for stripping people of their histories  and their cultures. Is a trend emerging?  And if so (or even if not), does the increasing frequency of public apologies by governments erode the quality or value of the individual apologies being issued?  Throw some cash at the problem, issue a public declaration of contrition, get some press and let’s move on.  The devil on my right shoulder views these apologies cynically, and also believes that they are the politically and legally expedient thing to do: simply a risk mitigation strategy.  The angel on my left says, let’s give the benefit of the doubt to the apologizers…let’s also acknowledge our own complicity in the bad acts, and now let’s hold them (and ourselves) accountable for doing the right thing, which includes ongoing engagement in a process of reconciliation as well as taking concrete steps to prevent the same or similar things from happening again.  Let’s yank progress and future good acts from the still-clenched jaw of culpability when it opens its mouth to say “I’m sorry.”

None of these apologies has been unanimously accepted by the groups to whom they were directed (of course).  Both the Africville and native residential school apologies were mandated terms of the settlement agreements that were reached.  As such, both must meet the higher level of scrutiny of the affected groups and indeed, the rest of us who–as citizens of the country, province or city whose government is trying to make amends–are not just interested observers but also in some sense, co-apologists.   We evaluate the apology’s motive as a key factor in determining its sincerity, and whether it should be accepted.  Whether, in fact, we should forgive–or be forgiven.

I mean, this is the way it goes with apologies:  you need to mean it when you say it.  You need to acknowledge your accountability for the pain and damage you have caused free from any hidden agenda to benefit from your admission of guilt other than, possibly, obtaining the relief of confession and anticipating with humble hope the balm of forgiveness.  Without those essential elements, the receivers and observers of the apology smell a rat.  Like we do at a 6-year-old coming off the naughty step, we squint our eyes at the offender and suspect–with good reason–that what is being apologized for might not be what the perpetrator actually feels sorry about.

The non-apology apology is now a brightly shining, burnished-with-use tool atop every defence lawyer’s and PR/media strategist’s workbench.  Its too-frequent public appearance is undermining those apologies that are sincere.  Two words:  Tiger Woods.

Some apologies don’t need to be public, and issuing them publicly is to betray a woeful lack of understanding of exactly what you’ve done to feel sorry for.  Regardless, all apologies must include a commitment to never, ever again do whatever it was that got you into the pickle you’re now in. If you don’t know what you’ve done, you can’t very well promise never to do it again, can you?

Beware the non-apology apology that sounds like this:  I’m sorry for what happened or I’m sorry that you feel that way. Neither means that I accept responsibility for the act that caused the happening or the pain.  Perhaps the apology is not mine to give, in which case the apology is sympathy.  But this leads to another nefarious non-apology apology:  those that are offered on others’ behalf.  The apologist in this case is truly sorry and often feels a genuine sense of remorse.  This remorse, however, is combined with a desire for reconciliation that is so great, they will bear others’ burdens for them.  Their shallow sympathy does no one any favours and, in fact, absolves the real perpetrator of any need to change their bad behaviour.  These are the meaningless and even harmful apologies of the co-dependent.

Finally, beware the serial apologizers:  people (or institutions, and yes — I’m looking at you Catholic Church) who’ve taken the maxim “confession is good for the soul” to its illogical extreme.  Absolution is a given, as long as the right pose is struck, the right words are said.  To forgive is divine, so if you can’t forgive me after my apology, it’s your fault.

Extending The Hands Of Friendship

"Extending The Hand Of Friendship" by Simone McLeod

In this vein, I was heartened by the furor that ensued when the City of Winnipeg first announced it was contemplating giving $2.5 million to a group called “Youth For Christ” to build a community centre in downtown Winnipeg.  And today, I am saddened to learn that after a heated six-hour debate, Winnipeg’s City Council has voted 10:4 in favour of the proposal.  The money will start flowing, and the aboriginal youth who populate the area will soon have a community centre with an indoor skateboarding park, a performance-art studio and a job-training centre.  How is this a bad thing, you ask?  Well, on the surface, of course it’s not.  Drawing a parallel to Africville, however, Youth For Christ is now providing access to services that this population should have had all along, and that the city, province and federal government should be funding as a matter of course in keeping with the spirit of apology and restitution made in 2008, not to mention that it’s just bloody well the right thing to do for those citizens whose disadvantage is a direct result of government-sponsored systemic discrimination. Oh, and by the way:  these services should be respectful of native language, culture and spirituality and not, by all that is holy, hinge on these kids accepting Jesus Christ as their Personal Saviour or even having to put up with someone’s conversion efforts.  I mean, for the love of….. [insert Deity of your choice here].

Oh sure, John Courtney, the Executive Director of Youth For Christ, has danced with Fred-Astairian verbal lightness of foot to counter the criticisms of those (apparently a minority? how can this be?) who find it just a bit hypocritical and a lot insulting to have Youth For Christ–a group whose sole, self-admitted raison d’être is to convert youth to Christianity–running this new community centre that will serve a majority Aboriginal population.  He’s not even trying to say that staff won’t proselytize–he’s admitted outright that they will, although he prefers to refer to these activities euphemistically–but he does say that, should any kid not wish to receive Christ as his or her Personal Saviour, well, they won’t be denied access to the services that the community centre offers.  Uhhh, oh yeah John?!? Just how will that work, exactly? And just exactly what don’t you understand about systemic discrimination and the appropriation of culture in general, and the impact it has had on this population specifically?

No, Youth For Christ is not the Catholic Church, and this community centre is not a residential school.  But the devil-and-deep-blue-sea choice Youth For Christ is (or will be) implicitly presenting to these native kids is fundamentally the same:  here’s comfort, shelter, food, a job, a life … and in return, you need only give up your own culture, your own traditions and history, to obtain it.  Shame on you, City of Winnipeg.  You ought to be sorry and it’s already too late to apologize.

February 26, 2010 at 5:37 pm 7 comments

My Valentine To Canada

I’m a little weird about the Olympics. They seem to come around every so often (every four years, I hear) and there’s a great flare-up of national pride that goes along with them, along with the inverse questioning and self-analysis of whether this outpouring of overt Canadianness is, well, Canadian.

A seemingly infinite number of op-ed pieces bemoan the dearth of medals we’re earning or have earned, and the inevitable and oh-so-Canadian dialogue as a result of this failure to ‘bring home the gold’ occurs: are we funding our amateur athletes appropriately? Should we be giving them more? How do we distribute it equally? The undercurrent is: how do we instill a love of competition in our kids, a deep-seated and permeating desire to WIN, WIN, WIN, but in a way that doesn’t violate our inherent “niceness” or corrupt the love of those activities that are quintessentially Canadian: swooshing down a pristine powdery slope, twirling on a frozen pond, playing pick-up hockey on a busy suburban street where the goalie has to awkwardly move a tattered net (bought on sale at Canadian Tire, and handed down from brother to brother, neighbour to neighbour) every time someone yells “CAR”?

Other countries don’t seem to get enmeshed in discussions of the amateur sport bureaucracy or economics, or some shameful and stillborn sense of competitive fierceness. When the U.S. speed skating team’s sponsor dumped them, Steven Colbert–a comic!!–jumped in and single-handedly became benefactor, fundraiser and PR/media machine all in one. And then promptly began whipping the team and their supporters into a fervour by poking fun at Canada. How did Canadians respond? In most cases, we found it as funny as anyone else, of course. To really understand how this epitomizes the Canadian character, reverse the situation and think about how the U.S. speedskating team and their supporters would have responded if Jim Carrey did a Second City sketch ridiculing Wisconsi-whiners or Vermont syrup-suckers. Uh huh.

So, the Olympics, to me: every four years, a contingent of young, well-scrubbed and healthy-looking Canadians of whom I’ve never heard are touted as great Canadian hopefuls to bring honour to the nation, by performing well at activities that I pay no attention to, and bringing pride to a nation that is slightly embarrassed by any blatant display of national pride.

Sports, all sports–team, individual, amateur, professional, even the local community centre’s tiddlywinks championships–are “other” to me. Completely foreign. I learned to do the basics, more for survival than any desire for recreation or love of competition. I learned to swim in the freezing cold Vermilion River in northern Ontario, where ice was still floating in June, and where a line up of parents with brightly coloured beach towels spread like bullfighters’ capes waited for us to emerge blue-lipped and goosebumped into their waiting arms after the obligatory three-minute dunking.

I learned to skate on a flooded portion of our backyard under the glare of a rigged-up Christmas spotlight (since darkness would have fallen by 4.30 or 5 p.m.) I can still hear the whoosh-whoosh sound of my ski pants as I lurched wobbly-ankled from one end of the ice to the other, my hand-knit red woollen mittens holding on for dear life to the kitchen chair that I pushed in front of me to keep my balance.

Ahhhhh … the hand-knit red woollen mittens. Could there be any more emblematic object of the Canadian winter, indeed, of how Canada has grown up? Until my NYC-based friend Donna mentioned them, I didn’t even know the red Olympic mittens were a hot commodity. Donna pointed out what I probably wouldn’t have given a second thought to, even had I known about the mittens, which was their subtlety. There is no Canadian flag, no flagrant display of brand–not the designer’s, the manufacturer’s, the retailer’s or the country’s. A white maple leaf, made of felt, is appliquéd on the *inside* palm. The five-ringed Olympic symbol and the words “Vancouver 2010” are embroidered in white wool on the outside.

So very Canadian. Self-effacing and discreet. And yet, in what I think is a delightful ironic twist, the mittens have gone viral. They’ve become a must-have Olympic accessory-slash-souvenir, symbolizing the 2010 Winter Games and their host country. And, I noticed, when the Canadian team entered BC Place during Friday night’s opening ceremonies waving to the crowd of 60,000 uncharacteristically loud Canadians, the placement of that white maple leaf, shining brightly against the red wool backdrop (our flag in reverse), said: Hi! We’re here, we’re Canadian, and (please excuse us, but) we’re damn proud of it!

The placement of the maple leaf had to have been intentionally conceived just for that moment. Had to. And at other times, it’s a subtle reminder not to take us for granted, that you may overlook us–we may, indeed, be overlookable at times–but we’re actually always here on the world stage in ways that you might not even realize. We’re walking here beside you, hand in hand with you. The rest of the ceremonies drove that point home, again and again.

The opening ceremonies were a stunning spectacle of Canadian artistry. The choice to produce such an artistic display of Canadiana was in itself very Canadian. They will–for me–be what these Games are about, because it’s pretty unlikely that I will pay much attention to any of the events. Again, I wasn’t going to even watch them…I probably wouldn’t have but for my many U.S.-based friends who were all watching.

Apparently, there is a 100-page media brief prepared to help commentators and journalists understand the meaning behind what they were seeing. I would love to get my hands on that book, but even without it, the images washed over me and tapped in to something pretty deep, pretty close to my heart, and pretty surprising…for me.

I love my country. I’m proud of it and its accomplishments on the world stage in a way that goes far beyond a two-week effort to win medals. I don’t love it in an anthem-singing and blind allegiance-pledge-reciting kind of way. I love that it is filled with forests and surrounded by oceans, and populated from coast to coast by people who want to protect them.

I love that we have apologized to and are doing our best to redress the injustices we’ve perpetrated on our First Nations people and that, despite the swirl of controversy and protest that led up to and continues during these Winter Games, we strive to keep the dialogue going to find acceptable compromises.

Although I wish we weren’t there, I love that we said no to Iraq, but yes to Afghanistan–not out of fear or anger, or as the unthinking act of a puppet, but because we react to and seek to help people who are oppressed and suffering regardless of politics or culture. I love that we donated more money per capita than any other nation to emergency relief in Haiti and that our government matched our citizens’ contributions dollar for dollar–and no one, not even the right-wingiest of wingnuts even thought of turning that tragedy into a pulpit from which to espouse egregiously distorted, hateful and incendiary (not to mention just plain wrong) beliefs.

I love that, even though the 2010 Winter Olympics are taking place right next to the oft-cited poorest postal code in Canada–a postal code incidentally filled to overflowing with the outcome of our appalling treatment and racist policies towards our aboriginal founding peoples–that it is also a neighbourhood populated by safe-needle exchange facilities (although I hate that we have to have them).

I love my country because gay marriage is legal, everywhere, and so is a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body, and neither is subject to a legislative system that can overturn the legality of these decisions on a whim or because of the disproportionate but loud and well-organized bleating of so-called “faith-based” or “family values” lobby groups who are eroding the fundamental democratic principle of the separation of church and state while simultaneously turning a religion supposedly founded on love into a tool of hate.

I love my country because it produced Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen–artists whose poetry transcends their medium and genre, borders and time–and I love my country because kd lang, an Alberta-born lesbian vegetarian, can stand on a spartan stage in a white suit and bare feet surrounded by sparkling lights and maple leaves and 60,000 people who couldn’t care less about her sexual orientation and who, instead, are moved to tears by the power of her voice singing an anthem by a Montreal Jew-turned-Buddhist poet, a song of such complexity and paradox whose original lyrics are never sung, a song that no one really knows the meaning of, but one that speaks to us anyway and when voiced by kd, reaches its mitten-encased fingers way deep down into our heart and soul and guts and expresses what it is like to feel gratitude and belonging to something bigger, much bigger, than we are as individuals or even as a country, but what it feels like to be human: to struggle and seek and strive and make mistakes and learn from them and want something you can’t have and get something you don’t want and still want more.

I love my country, because we can celebrate THAT, all of that. That we have all of that to celebrate, and that we did so with such artistry and subtlety this past Friday. And because, god knows why or how or whose cockamamie idea it was and why they believed or even whether they believed it would work as beautifully as it did, the second-most-talked-about (next to kd) moment of the opening ceremonies was the spoken-word poem by Shane Koyczan, a 34-year old Metis man from Yellowknife, who wrote and performed We Are More, holding the crowd spellbound when not cheering for such lines as: “some say what defines us / is something as simple as please and thank you” and “we are an experiment going right for a change / with influences that range from a to zed / and yes we say zed instead of zee.”

I just about leaped off the sofa, screaming “a POEM!” “a POEM!“, so disbelieving was I of the audacity, the brilliance of whatever creative mind chose to include it.  And not just any poem, but a contemporary poem by an average Joe, a poem with real edge and an insidious, revolutionary, cultural-stereotype-blasting purpose.  A poem that echoed a beer commercial, but THAT. IS. CANADIAN. !!!

Even when I couldn’t get all the rapid-fire ideas about Canada and about Canadians as Shane was speaking them, I got the cadence and the energy and the exquisite use and love of language that is also so Canadian and I knew–as did so many of us, whose responses lit up the blogosphere in the hours that followed–that this moment was special and nation-defining in a way that simply choosing to showcase a poem and poet like this was.

This poem “We Are More” is the equivalent of a white felt maple leaf on the palm of a mitten.

If you haven’t already clicked, read it in its entirety HERE.

February 14, 2010 at 3:42 pm 3 comments

High Hopes

JFK and Jackie

JFK & Jackie - The Early Years

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief, shining moment that
was known as Camelot.

(from the Broadway play by Lerner & Loewe)

I was conceived somewhere roundabout September 1963, two months prior to JFK’s assassination, and 11 months after the Cuban Missile Crisis.  When sorting through some of my mother’s books after her death in 2000, I found a pamphlet nestled between Dr. Spock’s Baby & Child Care and a book of baby names.  As to the latter, under consideration:  Constance, Judith, Rebecca and Stella, among others.  I ended up a Jennifer, from the Welsh “Gwenhwyfar”, as in Guinevere, the Queen of Camelot.  An interesting coincidence, as Jackie Kennedy didn’t coin the term to describe her husband’s presidency until after his assassination, in an article in Life magazine.

The Holy Grail, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

The Holy Grail by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

So while I’d like to think my parents were drawing both a political and literary allusion, they were probably responding less to what was swirling about in the zeitgeist, than to the name’s feminine prettiness and growing popularity (they were actually ahead of the wave on that one…).

The pamphlet, however, was a dramatic juxtaposition to Dr. Spock and the baby names.  As I recall, it was a deep, blood red with somewhat shocking blue and yellow type on the front, probably 8 or 12 pages long.  I think my brother still has the box of books; I must go and try to dig it up.  It was entitled:  “How To Build A Backyard Bomb Shelter.”   It was startling to find it there, and know what must have been going on in my parents’ minds as they started their family.  What those times must have been like for people:  to have had such hope and belief in the future, and then to watch the events unfold as they did–assassinations and riots and the ongoing threat of nuclear annihilation.


High Hopes

I can honestly say that the two forces:  Dr. Spock’s psychoanalytic humanism, applied as diligently as possible by my two loving parents, and the political turmoil of the 60s with the fall-out residue of anxiety, pervaded my formative years and of course made me into who I am today.  Hopeful, but anxious.  As I read around the Internet, it seems many of us are the same.  It was rare to read or see anything about the JFK anniversary without some parallel being drawn to President-Elect Obama, who reminds so many of JFK and of the struggles of that time.

The Kennedy presidency started out with an incredible sense of optimism and hope, and ended so tragically.  Still today, according to a documentary I watched on the History Channel last night called Oswald’s Ghost, more than 70% of Americans believe that there was some kind of conspiracy behind Kennedy’s assassination, and that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone. What do you think?  (While you’re here, why not take the poll in the sidebar?)

The filmmaker, Robert Stone (no relation to Oliver, I don’t believe) was interviewed by NPR when the film came out last year. You can listen to the entire clip below. Stone has a unique perspective and sums up how I and many others feel, that the Kennedy assassination kicked off a chain of events–political assassinations, protests over the war in Vietnam, Watergate–that made us who we are today, and that caused a deep questioning and a fundamental cynicism about our political and social institutions and leaders.

JFK & Jackie Arriving Dallas 11-22-63

JFK & Jackie Arriving Dallas 11-22-63

Which is why I think you find, among Obama supporters of about my age, that sense of anxiety, even fear, underlying the hope, optimism and belief in change.  It’s fear that a bullet will put an end to the Obama presidency, yes; but it’s also a less literal fear.  It’s fear that the change it is hoped he will bring will be exterminated before it gets any traction.

Click here for the NPR interview with Robert Stone on the Kennedy assassination, conspiracy theories and the impact of these events on our worldview.

JFK’s campaign song was, if you can believe it, “High Hopes”–a song that my parents must have loved as  I recall it being played a lot in our house.  It brings back a visceral nostalgia in me, even today. I just found a remarkable video on youtube of a Sinatra version done especially for the campaign.  According to the youtuber, polkadotbox2, only 1,000 copies were pressed and they weren’t distributed commercially, but rather in pubs, bars, bowling alleys, etc. around the DC area in 1960.  Enjoy:

And in case you need the comparison driven home literally, here is another youtuber’s video:

November 23, 2008 at 1:36 pm Leave a comment

Beam Me Up, Obama…

hope-i-has-itI’ll be damned.  After rewriting my post on the New World Order, juxtaposing Obama’s vision of the future with Gene Roddenberry’s political theories, I find I’ve hit some kind of left-wing, Trekkie vein in the zeitgeist.

I’m not much of a Star Trek freak myself, so this is probably obvious to all but me.  Nonetheless, check out Paul Rosenberg’s Star Trek Socialism on the Open Left blog.

Geeks and lolcatz rule.

November 9, 2008 at 7:08 pm 2 comments

New World Order

paw_largeI promise to get back to writing silly flights of fancy soon, but I’m not quite done processing my thoughts around the momentous events down south yet.  I’ve tried to do a little of both here in this re-written (11/08/08) blog post.

Barack Obama’s 1994 autobiography, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, has shot to the top of the and other bestseller lists. However, if you want to know what Barack himself is reading, you might want to check out Fareed Zakaria’s new book: The Post-American World. Zakaria is the editor of Newsweek International, and I caught an interview with him this a.m. on Nov 6th on CBC Radio 1.

Prior to that, I had an exchange with aurora*raby on gawker about what the next step is for the U.S. (this was Nov 2, before Obama won).  The left-leaning,  educated, predominantly northeast, urban gawker audience was raging against and in some cases vehemently insulted by an article in Germany’s der Spiegel calling the U.S. “a superpower around the globe, but a Third World country at home…” and making a number of other inflammatory (albeit closer to true than false) accusations. In a moment of sanity on a thread that was degenerating in somewhat surprising ways to me given the gawker demographic, aurora*raby commented:

“we prove ourselves to be one big alcoholic family (Bush’s, no doubt) if we lash out at constructive criticism. We are very close to throwing off the yoke. Let’s start thinking about the next step.”

It prompted me to think about the next step.  Also, over the next week, about leadership, globalization and the Starship Enterprise.  To get in the proper frame of mind, I suggest you click on this youtube vid for the soundtrack to the rest of this post.

More, after the jump.


November 7, 2008 at 12:13 am Leave a comment

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