6/30/2005

Politics Eh! Not So Different

Canada has managed to get itself in the world’s (at least the U.S.’s) spotlight recently with the discussion and now legalization of same sex marriages. Something that has become painfully clear from comments and analysis is how few people recognise or understand the differences between the Canadian and American styles of government. Most distressing are the number of Canadians who are unfamiliar with their own country’s means of governance. Since the majority of the misconceptions seem to centre around the role of The Supreme Court of Canada in the delivery of government it will be necessary to explain the history of our Constitution and The Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Since one must also understand the basic differences in the two styles of government a brief explanation of Canada’s structure is in order. Canada is a constitutional monarchy. This means that the Queen of England, through her representative the Governor General, is the titular head of the country. But instead of being ruled by the monarch we are ruled by our constitution. The Queen is thus a figurehead only. Like the U. S. Canada has two levels of government, federal and local, which is called Provincial instead of State. The constitution delineates which powers the province controls and any limitations that may be placed on those powers. The easiest way to look on it would to be to think of it as the provinces having day to day control, while the federal government sets the overall rules. The federal and provincial legislations are both elected following the British system of federalism. Political parties compete for seats in the House of Commons. Any party gaining a majority of seats forms the government. The leader of that party becomes the Prime Minister and selects his cabinet from elected member of his party. The number of seats in the House are determined by population and area. Some seats, like those in urban centres such as Toronto, have a disproportionately large number of voters, while some rural areas are the reverse. A party could therefore garner substantial amounts of the popular vote but fail to see it translate into real power. Canada is geographically huge but population starved. With only about a tenth of the population of the United States a representative by population style of government was deemed to not provide adequate regional representation. As it is Ontario and Quebec still provide the majority of the seats in the House, leading to a certain amount of regional resentment. At first glance ignoring popular vote seems undemocratic, but it actually enables accurate representation. This style ensures adequate representation from lightly populated areas and doesn’t concentrate the power of choosing the government in the hands of the urban centres. Ironically those parties who complain the most about this system actually benefit from it. Whilst their popular vote may not translate into power, their ability to win seats with lower population bases offsets that loss. To those not used to this system it may appear strange, but it gets the job done as well as any other. One of the oddities of the Canadian system is the non elected Senate. Loosely based on the British idea of the House of Lords, instead of inherited seats, these are awarded as rewards for serving the country. In reality they are handed out by the serving government as retirement presents. Each province has a designated number of senators representing them, and they are replaced on retirement by the sitting federal government. Primarily they are there to rubberstamp bills passed by the house. It is only on the rarest of occasions that any bill is rejected. Even then all the House of Commons need do is re pass the motion and it succeeds anyway. In America there is what’s known as the system of checks and balances. The three branches of government: The President, The Legislative, and The Judiciary. Canada’s Judiciary plays a similar role to their counterparts in the U.S. in that at the Superior and Supreme Court levels they ensure that bills passed by Parliament adhere to the constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Both countries follow similar procedures for appointing high court judges in that the sitting government is given authority to select it’s membership as vacancies occur. Due to the less extreme political climate of Canada there is usually less of a furor surrounding these appointments. Up until twenty five years ago the Supreme Court of Canada was not even the final point of appeal. As Canada was still governed by an act of British Parliament(The British North American Act) supplicants could in theory still appeal to the British for a final judgement. All of this changed with the repatriation of the Constitution in the early eighties by Prime Minister Trudeau’s government. After a contentious battle with the separatist government of Quebec, nine of the then ten provinces passed bills enabling Canada to have it’s own governing documents. While the constitution itself was widely seen as symbolic, a statement of final independence from Britain, the accompanying Charter of Rights and Freedoms has become the biggest political hot potato in Canadian History. Almost every law, act and even assumptions of behaviour have now had to be scrutinized through the lens of it’s focus. This has seen the repeal of many laws that have been ruled in violation of the Charter, and the creation of new ones to enforce the spirit of the Charter. Any country governed by a constitution must have a system which interprets, applies, and enforces it’s rules. Since Canada, like the U.S. relies on it’s superior courts to for this role, this has led to the perception that they have unprecedented power. In actual fact all they are doing is fulfilling their duty as designated by law. How is it the court’s fault that politicians have not taken the time to understand what their own constitution says? Politicians blaming the courts for decisions they don’t like is akin to blaming a police officer for giving you a speeding ticket when your going twice the limit. They know, or should know the law, why were they trying to circumvent it? It is important that a constitution’s interpretation not be subject to the whims of political fashion, or subject to one groups belief system. As much as possible it should be a middle ground which extreme beliefs break upon like waves on a breakwater. Inevitably neither side of the political spectrum is ever happy with the arbitrator. But as it is not the court’s job to please them or appease any particular philosophy their complaints sound more like sour grapes than anything else. Although Canada and The United States have different styles of governance we share the same basic tenet: the rule of law as set forth in our constitutions and our respective Bills of Rights. Canada’s constitution guarantees everybody equal access to all the privileges of citizenship. Unless they are revoked due to behaviour counter the laws that govern the country no person shall be hindered from participating to the fullest extent in our society. The job of Canada’s Houses of Parliament is to enact laws that respect that sentiment. It remains for the judiciary to define and ensure compliance. For better or worse both countries have chosen a variation on this theme to be their means of governance. We may not always like it, but until something better comes along, we should all be grateful for what we have, and try to make it work. Life would be a lot easier that way. cheers gypsyman

6/29/2005

Same Sex Marriage

It’s official. Sometime after 9:00 pm last night the Canadian House of Commons passed a motion legalizing same sex civil marriages. In pretty much a free vote, where people don’t have to vote on party lines, the bill passed with a comfortable majority. Even with some Liberals voting their “conscience” and saying no the opposition couldn’t come up with the votes to defeat the motion. The only sop thrown the political right was that the bill in no way forces a religion to perform such a ceremony if it doesn’t want to. Whether this would stand up in a court which ruled that any obstruction to same sex marriage was unconstitutional is a question for another time. What matters now is that Canada has become only the third country in the world to have a law endorsing same sex marriage. The whole thing was slightly redundant because it’s the provinces that have control over laws governing marriage, and all but three provinces have already established laws that allow them. With the passage of federal legislation the remainder will probably follow suit shortly. It was all rather a tempest in a tea cup anyway. Once the courts had decided that it was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to prohibit same sex unions, it became illegal to do so. A government could invoke something called “The Not Withstanding Clause” which allows them to opt out of the Charter of Rights on a specific issue if they seriously wanted to prevent gay weddings. There is no way that a politician or political party is going to go on record in Canada as being the ones to do that. The potential political fall out could destroy their chances of re-election. In this country no matter how right wing you are, if you are serious about holding power , you can talk a good extreme game, but you’d better not put it into action. Most Canadians are justifiably proud of their reputation for fairness. Invoking the Not Withstanding Claus to deny somebody a right given them by the Supreme Court of Canada would not go down well. The Liberal party’s approach to the matter was to make it rights issue. Over and over again the federal government emphasised that this was about guaranteeing minority rights. That in a country as diverse as Canada we can not treat any one group differently then the next in terms of certain inherit rights, even if we don’t happen to agree with them. Everybody has the right to be treated in the same manner. Perhaps in an attempt to cloud the issue and play the fear card, some members of The Conservative Party Of Canada accused the Liberals of being hypocrites. Their reasoning; because they would protect the rights of homosexuals but not those of people who were the victims of pedophiles. Those type of remarks typified the level of debate offered as opposition to the bill. The only explanation for comments like these is they are being made for the benefit of constituents who feel that way. In a fine example of leadership the Conservative Party of Canada showed they are willing pander to the lowest common denominator in our society by utilizing statements that will be sure to raise some people’s ire. It’s these types of appeal to the hate card that manifests the distrust of the party in the urban areas of Quebec and Ontario. As these are the areas in Canada with the highest population density, they also have the majority of the seats in parliament. Unless their leader, Steven Harper, is able to reign in some of his more voluble members they are doomed to never gain power. But he has proven himself not much more aware then his fellow travellers. Ever since the courts made their decision Mr. Harper has been ranting and raving about how horrid same sex marriages are. Americans will probably recognise the language, it sounds like it has been lifted from the speech of any republican politician. You know, the bible, God, and traditional family values. Slogans meaning little or nothing. But in Canada we don’t trust politicians who invoke God in the way Americans seem to. Because of the divers nature of our population separation of church and state is very important to our voters. The slightest hint that one religion is being pushed to a place of import in political decisions makes a lot of people nervous. What would happen to them in a faith influenced state? Throughout this debate Mr. Harper has shown that he is either not above wilfully misleading people or is just ignorant of how our constitution and the Charter of Rights works. He has continually stated that in order to prevent gay marriage that the bill had to be defeated in the house. But as was pointed out earlier, and has been pointed out in many a newspaper article, the only way to stop gay marriage now would be through invoking the not withstanding clause of the Charter. Even yesterday after the vote was lost he was still talking about the legislation. If they were to form a government one of the things Mr. Harper would ensure is that a new bill would be introduced. The longer he continues to play that tune the more ridiculous he is looking. Symbolically the passage of the same sex marriage bill does two things. One it lends authenticity and authority to a court decision. It also makes the Liberal party look more and more like the party of government. In the past session of parliament, in spite of having a minority government, they have managed to pass the majority of their agenda, with little or no concessions. The Conservative Party of Canada on the other hand has managed to look unorganized, desperate, and ignorant of the laws of the country they want to govern. With the beginning of summer recess and the house not sitting again to the fall the Liberal party has lots of time to plot their strategy. They are now in a position where they can let themselves be defeated and stand a good chance of recovering seats lost in the last election. The same sex marriage bill was an opportunity for Steven Harper and The Conservative Party of Canada to show what they were made of. Unfortunately for them as more of the country get to know them the less they are liking them. There chances of forming a government are all of sudden looking slimmer and slimmer. cheers gypsyman

Concerts In The Key Of Me

What is it about rock stars and charity events that brings out the cynic in me? Well lets be fair, not just rock stars but any so-called celebrity gathering to raise money for “a worthy cause” has a tendency to leave me less them impressed. Their voices drip with sincerity while their glistening white teeth gleam out from behind perfect faces under perfect hair in expressions of perfect sympathy. It’s all just a little too perfect for my tastes. None of these people look like they have much more to worry about then whether their cuticles are perfect. How can they even begin to understand anything of the reality that the people they are talking about experience. To hear people who obsess about excess fat on their thighs describe the horrors of famine makes me choke on my food. Maybe its the heat and humidity that’s making me so cranky but I look at the people they have lined up to perform at the Canadian Live 8 concert and something doesn’t feel right. With a couple of exceptions, the recently added Neil Young and Bruce Cockburn, the line up reads like a list of the vacuous and the vain. How the organizers can think that an anorexic Celine Dione performing in a concert to raise awareness about poverty and hunger is anything other then obscene I don’t know? The irony of having someone who makes their living from working in one of the more horrendous examples of conspicuous consumption in the Western world, Las Vegas, headline a concert to raise awareness about poverty would be laughable if it wasn’t so nauseating. More money is probably spent on the gaming tables there in a year then the Gross National Product of the countries who will supposedly benefit by this concert. The organizers and participants say they are trying to raise awareness of the issues surrounding debt relief for developing nations through these concerts. Have they ever been to big rock concert? How many people in the audience can remember the names of the groups they are seeing let alone absorb any political message given out during that time? At the Canadian concert they are talking about having twenty to twenty one groups performing. The continuous bombardment upon the senses that is assured by that number of performers is not conducive to information retention. What is the chance of anyone walking away from that concert with more understanding of the complexities of international trade and third world debt? I hate to say it but so few people in North America have any awareness of issues and life outside of their own personal concerns that I can’t see what impact a concert will have on those not already informed. Like a variation on you can bring a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink, the audience may be coming to the concert but what incentive is there for them to partake of the water being offered? There was a time when one of the things I did was organize benefits like this. Much smaller in scale of course, and for less grandiose purposes. Invariably the majority of the people who turned out for the event, while quite willing to part with the money for admittance, had only showed up to see whatever bands were performing. The fact that the concert was for a purpose had no significance in their minds. They knew very well that it was a benefit, and would make appropriate noises when ever someone said anything about the cause, but at the end of the evening they knew no more then they did at the outset. What about the publicity given to the cause by all the lead-up in the press? Well how much of that really deals with anything substantial. The big headlines are about who is going to be performing, not about which countries need debt relief most. The broadcasts of the shows won’t be much better either. People will only tune in to watch the bands they like. Remember were talking about a television audience here who are glued to remote controls and switch through channels during commercial breaks, or hit the fridge, bathroom, or other important missions when something is on that doesn’t interest them. How many of them will stay and listen to someone like Steven Lewis? Cast your mind back twenty years to the original Live Aid songs. The Brits, the Americans and the Canadians all put out their own ditties in aid of famine relief. Of course each of them came with their very own video, and a special “making of feature”. Ostensibly these and the subsequent Live Aid concerts were done for charitable purposes. But how much impact did any of these monies or events have on the situation. Thousands of people remain in refugee camps and famine still stalks the sub Sahara on a yearly basis. Nothing concrete or long term has yet to be established for relieving these conditions. In fact in the ensuing years most governments decreased the amounts of money spent on foreign aid and invested less effort into improving the lot of people in other parts of the world. One of the last things that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau did when he was still leading Canada was try and interest his fellow leaders in the idea of North/South versus East/West as an emphasis for foreign policy. He thought that by implementing Marshall Plan style programming in developing and non aligned countries would have more influence on the spread of Communism(this was the late seventies early eighties)then direct conflict. Who knows what the world would look like now if anybody had bothered responding to this idea. No one was interested. They could spend money on war but not on people. Sound familiar? Sir Bob Geldof wants a million people to turn out next month in Edinburgh to demonstrate at the G-8 conference. Do you think that Tony Blair is going to allow them within a mile of the conference site? How will that sit with the security folk? I can just see the reaction of Bush’s people if they’re told that a million people are going to be parading around demonstrating against his policies. With the war in Iraq and bin Laden still on the loose don’t you think the guys paid to protect the president will be a little tense? It’ll be lucky if the demonstration is allowed to take place in Glasgow let alone Edinburgh. The argument used by the people involved in these types of events is that they are lending their names and reputations to raise awareness of an issue and put pressure on the politicians to take action. But what sort of real effect can any of this have? The debt relief plan already inacted by the G-8 people goes nowhere near far enough to deal with the problems at hand. But even that token gesture has been watered down by resistance from countries unwilling to commit money to foreign aid. No amount of public pressure is going to cause people like George Bush or Jacques Chirac to change their minds. World condemnation hasn’t worked in the past why should it now? If in the past these leaders and their predecessors haven’t listened to the likes of Pierre Trudeau, Nelson Mandela, Steven Lewis, and a variety of U. N. leadership, what makes Bono and Bob Geldolf think that they will be any more successful. Sure politicians like Canada’s Paul Martin will use them for photo ops. but that’s no guarantee of anything. The Canadian government can’t even keep its promises about child poverty in it’s own country, let alone for the rest of the world This G-8 meeting will come and go and they will make the usual announcements of progress and steps forward. The little bits that Tony Blair managed to squeeze out of them will be heralded as the dawn of a new era in the developed world’s dealings with Africa. Then everyone, the protestors, the politicians, and the concert goers will go home and forget about it. In the end the only purpose served by all this Live 8 hoop la is to make some people feel good about themselves. Since these are people who already lead incredibly privileged lives it all begins to feel terribly self indulgent. If they really wanted to make a difference they’d spend all this time and energy directly on the affected countries, or one of the Non Governmental Agencies working on the ground. But the number of photo ops is pretty limited under those circumstances. A concert in the Key of Me is far more rewarding. You can feed your ego while appearing to do something important. No matter how sincere some of them may hope they’re sounding it all rings a little false. It’s hard to trust in the sincerity of people who make their living out of manufacturing emotion into three minute packages. cheers gypsyman

6/28/2005

Politics: Canadian Style

O.K. that’s it. I have sat patiently through it all, but now I feel it’s my turn. I’m going to talk about Canadian politics. Almost every web site I go to, blog or otherwise, harps on about people and incidents I have never heard of and don’t care about. So now it’s your turn. But as a service I’ll offer this quick primer in Canadian civics for you out there who may not know anything about our system of government. Skip ahead if this information is redundant because it’s going to be really basic stuff. First things first. Canada is a Constitutional Monarchy. This means that the Queen, or as in our case the Governor General, is considered titular head of state, but in fact has no power. We have a federal system of government which involves parties fielding a slate of candidates across the country competing for seats in The House of Commons. Any party that wins an outright majority of seats runs the country for the next four or five years, they have to call an election in their fifth year of office. The leader of that party becomes the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister then appoints his cabinet from fellow members of his caucus, in other words people who were elected to the house of commons, not just his buddies. He doesn’t need to worry about anybody’s approval, except for bruised egos within his own party. The folks who lost the election are called the Loyal Opposition. In the case of a majority government they have little or no effect on what happens in the country. Pretty much everything they do is posturing for the next election in the hopes of impressing somebody somewhere to switch their vote next time around. Things only get interesting when there is a minority government and the guys with the most seats have to curry favour from a smaller party to stay in power. Since we currently have four political parties and three independent Members of Parliament (M.P.s) the current situation has made for the best House watching in ages. But I’m getting ahead of myself, you still need to know about the parties. The ruling party of about the last dozen years are the Liberals. This has nothing to do with liberalism, although I’m sure most conservative observers in the U.S. dismiss Canada as akin to socialist, these guys have spent the last ten years cutting the heart out of our social programs in an attempt to balance the budget. Until recently they were pretty much indistinguishable from the party calling itself The Conservative Party of Canada. (They used to be called the Progressive Conservatives which will give you an indication of the change) I think most people would easily recognise them as Republican clones. They are a new feature on the Canadian Political landscape as we have never had any real polarization in politics before.(except for the French English thing) The problem for this party is that a majority of people in Canada don’t like the politics of polarization. It’s just not polite. The newest party is also one of the most contentious. The Bloc Quebecois are a separatist party through and through. They only run candidates in Quebec, and are there to represent the interests of their constituents alone and don’t give a hoot for the rest of Canada. The last party to have sitting members are the New Democratic Party(N.D.P.) They are what passes for Canada’s only socialist party. Advocates of social programs like day care, health, education, equal rights and the environment they maintain a small core of seats which can sometimes swell dependant on the mood of the country. Their long association with unions took a hit when union memberships became affluent enough to worry more about taxes then jobs and wages. As I had previously implied Canada currently has a minority Liberal government. When combined with the N.D.P. they are one or two votes short of a majority in the House of Commons. Given the fact that if a government is defeated and an election called on what is known as a vote of confidence(any piece of important legislation like the budget would do) the tension around Parliament Hill has been palpable enough to cut with a knife. Just last month the excitement reached fever pitch, at least for those reporting on it, as the vote on the budget approached. Steven Harper leader of the opposition Conservative party announced that he had allied with the Bloc Quebecois in an attempt to defeat the government over the budget. Since Mr. Harper has been heard to refer to the Bloc as traitors this was largely seen as a marriage of convenience. (Background note: There is currently a scandal of some significance being played out in Quebec about the shenanigans of the Liberal party’s fundraisers and kickbacks and illegal slush funds. As their popularity dropped like a rock both the Conservatives and the Bloc saw an opportunity to increase their standings in the house if an election were called immediately.) To off set this alliance Paul Martin, Prime Minister, struck a deal with the N.D.P. Instead of having a $4.5 billion tax cut for businesses in the budget that money would be earmarked for health care, education and the environment, more specifically to help Canada meet it’s Kyoto accord targets. He also guaranteed he would call an election as soon as the inquiry into the scandal had released it’s final report. Everything was still up in the air until two days before the vote and in a twist out of some weird novel, a prominent female member of the Conservative party changed sides to become a Liberal. What made this even more titillating is the fact that she had run against Mr. Harper in the last leadership convention, was considered a moderate sheep among the wolves, and was dating the deputy leader of the party. Not only did she leave her party but she left her man over politics! Vote day rolled around with still nothing clear. It would all come down to how the three independents voted. Pretty much everyone knew how two of them would go, one each way, but it was the third who was important. Making it all the more poignant was the man literally had to crawl out of his sick bed to attend the vote as he is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments. I don’t know how votes are conducted in the American Senate, but here the procedure is as follows. The Speaker of the House(sort of a hall monitor and rule enforcer who does his best to maintain a semblance of order) reads out the bill in question. He then asks that all in favour of the bill stand, and they do one after another through the party ranks, and then the opposed. The votes are then tallied. It was a tie. Somehow or other it ended up a tie. In that case the speaker must cast the deciding vote. Since he is a member of the ruling party, who normally is not allowed to vote, that meant that the motion was carried.(It also explains how with an odd number of seats a tie is possible because one member doesn’t normally vote. The speaker is an M.P. just like everybody else) The government survived to fight another day. The political fallout has been that Steven Harper and the Conservative party came off looking opportunistic and so desperate for power that they would do anything with anybody in a chance to get an election called. Since the majority of Canadians had no desire to have another election so soon, his popularity along with that of his party’s has plummeted from leading in the polls a month before the vote, to trailing the Liberals by as much as 5% Even more significantly was the fact that his personal popularity, which is just as important here as for American politicians, dropped even further then the party’s did. In the month since that fateful day he has done nothing to improve upon his fortunes with his actions and speeches. First of all it was decided that they had to do a political makeover on him to make him more friendly and accessible to the public. To that end they have organized a series of “barbecues with Steven” events for the summer months in an attempt to show him as just a regular guy. The reaction to this announcement has been greeted with contempt and cynicism from both the press and the public. The unintentional but implied condescension in the plan has not been lost on anyone. Then there has been the tenor of his speeches. Recently they are beginning to sound like those of a bad loser whining because he didn’t get his way. How else could you explain his lashing out at the Liberals as making a deal with devil for receiving the support of the Bloc Quebecois in both a recent vote and the upcoming vote on same sex marriage. Are they only a devil when they vote against you Steve, or what would you call your actions of a month ago where you and Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc appeared in a joint press conference announcing your intent to defeat the government. People’s memories aren’t that short. The Conservative party of Canada has enough problems as it is with voter credibility without their leader sounding like a hypocrite. For too many people in Canada they represent a type of social conservatism based on religion that does not play well here at all. Even their opposition to gay marriage has been worded in such a manner as to bother people who might otherwise have supported their stand. In the month leading up to the vote on the budget, anticipating a victory and an election, the Conservatives were intent on finding candidates for as many ridings as possible. While this it itself was understandable the nature of the candidates gave people pause for thought. More and more of them were self identified members of fundamentalist churches. As a large majority of Canadians are uncomfortable with church and state associations this has them concerned about the direction the party would take if they ever gained power. Although I try to avoid generalities, Canada does have a history of being more liberal socially then the United States and the majority want to maintain that status. If only from a misguided sense of superiority the power of the religious, and what is considered here the extreme right, in America is looked down upon. One only need compare the more liberal attitude towards same sex marriage, medical marijuana and abortion as represented by court decisions and the public’s lack of outrage over those decisions to see how large a gap exists between the two countries. With ninety seats in the House of Commons the Conservatives seem to have some basis of support, but in actuality it is rather tenuous. The majority of that vote was more dissatisfaction with the a party that had been in power for twelve years. More along the lines of a warning to not take the people of the country for granted then anything else, the results of the last election should not be read as an endorsement of Conservative policies. Unless some miracle happens, and what that could be is unfathomable, and the Conservatives manage to convince the people of Canada that they are not a threat to the status quo of fiscally responsible social programs that provide a decent safety net for everybody, they stand little chance of ever gaining power. Unlike there predecessors the Progressive Conservatives their appeal is too focused and their power base too narrow. The moderate conservatives who were the bedrock of the old party have little or nothing in common with this new party. Well there your go. I’ve had my turn. Now we return you to your regular programming of the American political wars. I hope you enjoyed the break. cheers gypsyman

6/27/2005

The Gene Race

One of the more amazing breakthroughs in science is also becoming one of the more controversial. The further we delve into the mystery of who we are and what makes us that way through the study of genetics and D.N.A. results in answers being postulated to questions of racial characteristics that are making people uncomfortable. From the earliest days of evolutionary theory people have tried to pervert scientific fact in order to prove the supremacy of one people over another. The social Darwinists of the early twentieth century extrapolated that rich, poor, and other social status indications were the result of natural selection; a survival of the fittest played out in society’s hierarchy. Of course they and subsequent subscribers to supremacist theories, including the Nazis, only used supportive arguments, and discounted any facts that countered their theories. The Nazi myth of the pure Aryan bloodline arose from tales of Teutonic knights. (Interestingly enough new anthropological research has shown that Aryan’s were native to India not a people passing through from Europe and back again. see forward to Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series for more details) Geneticists fear a similar recurrence of events with the new information they are uncovering. Until very recently it was thought that as little as only .1% of genetic code was pertinent to racial traits. That under the skin we were pretty much all the same. Not only have scientists started to rethink that original ratio and increase it up to .2% with the potential for it being as high as a full 1%, they are coming to realize the amount of influence that .1-.2% has is far greater then was first presumed. By examining the D.N.A. of a particular person they are able to establish their exact racial breakdown based on previous definitions of country of origin. For example a sample can show that a person is made up of a mixture of German, West African and Native American racial types. They can even pinpoint the exact percentages of each strain. While it’s tempting to see this as a breakthrough for crime detection, it has been pointed out that these figures do not definitively translate into physical characteristics. Even if a person has predominant West African genes it does not mean they will have the physical characteristics of an African American. As an example of genetic quirks and throwbacks I would cite the example of a family of Mohawk Indians I know. While the parents are both dark skinned and black haired, along with one son, the other son has flaming red hair, green eyes and is as pale skinned as any European. Both sons are the birth children of the same parents, but one carries a regressive gene from some earlier generation. So although their D.N.A. samples would have a similar complexion(no pun intended) the two sons share few obvious physical traits. But where this issue starts to get both serious and exciting is the topic of race specific traits. For example one anthropologist has postulated that Ashkenazi Jews(ones of European decent)have a gene which passes along traits of higher intelligence then other Europeans. They claim that over a thousand years of laws that pushed them into business forbidden Christians caused a type of natural selection that had those fittest to thrive in an intellectual capacity prevailed. By stating the possibility that intelligence could be a genetic trait, and that different races could have different genetic potential for achieving higher intelligent quotient the racial supremacy can of worms is opened. As more scientist delve into the genetic map in an effort to discover hints to how certain deceases are passed from one generation to another, more racially specific data is being uncovered. While the merits for discovering how and why certain deceases are passed and whether or not a certain race’s immunity can be replicated are obvious. What need is there for us to figure out why one type of people can run faster then another? What common good is being filled by that information? Furthermore when you consider how young the human race is( the oldest being around 120,000 years old), the amount of time passed for any significant distinctions to have developed through genetic mutations is limited. The difference between the human genetic code and a gorilla’s is only 1%. So how much real differences can have developed between humans in our limited time on earth. There is more genetic variation between two frogs sitting side by side in a swamp then two humans. Solely studying genetics discounts far too many factors. Even in the example cited of the Ashkenazi Jews the role of environment and social conditions was cited as being the reason that the “smart gene” developed. This does not mean that other races given the same situation would not respond in the same manner. If it had been people of African decent would not the same thing have happened? But instead of looking at it from this angle the scientists said let’s see why Jews are so smart. Instead of developing a general hypothesis which would have said what effects does this type of environment have upon the evolutionary process in humans, they deliberately limited the study to one racial group based upon a generalized stereotype. Until they are able to reproduce identical environmental conditions for all genetic possibilities to react too, how can anybody postulate one group is smarter, or faster, or anything better or worse then anybody else. It is irresponsible to make statements like this without qualifying them in some manner. This type of information is too important to be dealt with in a trivial manner. It is reprehensible that scientists are utilizing racial stereotypes as a basis for research. To claim that Ashkenazi are genetically smarter,(If you ever met my mother’s family that argument would fall apart in front of your eyes) or that Kenyan Blacks are inherently faster based on information from a still inexact science falls into the province of trying figure out how many angels one can fit on the head of a pin. One seriously has to wonder what motivated this research in the first place. scientific information was taken from articles in the Globe and Mail dated Sat. June 18th and June 25th/05 written by Carolyn Abraham. They are the first of two articles dealing with race and genetics that are being run in the paper for the next couple of weeks. If you are able to access the paper either on line or in hard copy they are well worth reading. gypsyman cheers gypsyman

Methinks They Do Protest....

When Moses brought down the word telling the Israelites how to lead exemplary lives one of the top ten was to stop the worship of graven images. NO MORE IDOLS for the masses. In those days that was an edict fairly easy to execute because the golden calf didn’t have a publicist and there were no hoards of reporters ready to report on their every hanging participle. “Methinks she doth protest too much” said one of Shakespeare’s characters concerning the another’s protestations of denial. It has been suggested that perhaps the same could be said for our newest idols. That those individuals who decry the intrusion in their lives the loudest by the masses of paparazzi are those most desirous of said attention. How many of us get paid fifteen million dollars for six to eight weeks work of being ourselves? How many of us have a publicist who issues statements about whether or not we have a girlfriend? Do you honestly believe that people who consider it necessary to hire someone to issue statements about their personal lives are not courting the attention they claim to despise? The argument could be made that the press have made such accoutrements essential. That in order to maintain some vestige of control these people are forced into the position of having their lives filtered through press releases. By giving out tidbits they are able to keep the feeding frenzy to a minimum and maintain some semblance of privacy in otherwise public lives. But there’s where the dichotomy starts to rear it’s ugly little head. Haven’t these “idols” by their very seeking to obtain that status come to a tacit agreement that their lives are for public consumption? When people like a Mr. Cruise and a Ms. Diaz protest, both who have recently made headlines for their complaints about the media, who are they appealing to for sympathy? Having carefully constructed careers conditional upon public adoration: the more that people lay out shekels to worship their image the higher the wattage of their star power, what did they expect? That they could shut off what they had created? With the worship comes the heightened expectations and demands. They couldn’t have been blind to past history. One only need to look at the lengths people have gone to obtaining relics from previous stars. Those who buy sweat stained pieces of Elvis’ scarves with all the devotion shown to a shard of the true cross surely must have prepared you for what was in store? The shocked protestations that accompany ringing denouncements of the popular press are as hollow as the smiles they flash during their promotional tours. How can we be expected to take them seriously when a person books himself into the couches and chairs of the public confessionals that are talk shows in order to publicize their private life? With those actions they generate the expectation that we are privy to their innermost secrets. Their efforts to increase popularity and polish their shine only serve to generate the insatiable appetite the public has for information. Demanding that people pay attention to you, and then giving them reason to, unsurprisingly enough results in them doing so. Why are there certain of these people who seem to attract more attention then others? There are those who are continually on the covers of the mass circulation media, or being featured in stories. Could there be a correlation to the number of times that their faces appear staring out at you from photos of parties, openings, and charity events? Occasionally there will be attempts made to drag a name that stays out of the light into the glare of revelation. But, because that person has not cultivated an idol identity, they never stay there for long. The mass attention span being what it is, if there is not continual reinforcement, interest quickly wanes and the public eye moves on. One can choose to make a career out of being an actor, a musician, or any type of performer, or you can choose to be a star. In the case of the former they do their work, and then go home at the end of the day. They may not be making the same amount of money as the star, or have the same name recognition, but they have a life. The star makes a conscious decision to pursue the course they have taken. If they didn’t like what the results were they could stop playing the game. They set out to become a caricature of a human being: everything about them blown up larger then life, and they have succeeded. In Rudyard Kipling’s short story The Man Who Would Be King he tells the tale of two ex British soldiers in the Indian army who set out to find a small country to rule. When a tribe mistake them for gods instead of men they are quickly elevated to exalted positions. But when their humanity is revealed the tribe turns on them and leaves them for dead. By setting themselves up as idols for the masses today’s stars strip themselves of their humanity. Unknowingly or not that is still the result. They have intentionally strived for and elevated themselves to a level of wealth and power that few of us could ever hope to obtain. Like Kipling’s soldiers signs of humanity could bring about their downfall. The pact they have entered into with press ensures that they are kept larger then life. Their trysts, their flings, their parties, and their marriages are reported down to the last detail. Their faces loom down on us from billboards tens of times larger then life, and stare back at us when we line up for groceries. They are omnipresent because they want to be. The golden calf that Moses prohibited was built by men to be worshiped as a God. Today’s idols are still built by men(and women)but by those desiring to be worshiped. Since they demand the attention they so decry, protestations ring hollow. They know perfectly well that the old saying of “ Any publicity being good publicity” is essential to the maintenance of their status. The fact remains that the only thing keeping them in the public eye is their desire to be there. Like an addict who has grown dependant on their drug, they need the attention to survive. They could step down off the pedestal they’ve placed underneath them at any time. But they like the view from up high and aren’t about to surrender. Otherwise they would have done so long ago. Spare your sympathy for those who truly deserve it. Not for those who complain about achieving their goals.

6/26/2005

Every Picture Tells A Story

There’s a picture that hangs just beside my bed. It’s a reproduction of a photo that was taken of me when I was eighteen. I keep it up there for a couple of reasons. First it’s a remarkable portrait. It was taken early one morning at the Shelburne Ontario Fiddle Festival. It features my head and shoulders: my hair is long and covered in a floppy hat that has Tim Curry’s signature scrawled across it and my hands are cupping a harmonica which I was trying to learn how and play(without any success). I’m bleary eyed from lack of sleep and over indulgence but it really captures who I was at that time in my life. But aesthetic qualities aside its value is increased because it is the only memento I have of a friend who was killed nearly twenty years ago. As long as I have this picture I can not forget him and the reasons for his death. His death was the only time that world affairs and political decisions have ever directly impacted on my life. I have never lived in a war zone, seen people killed under fire, or had to survive any of the traumas too many people in this world deal with as a daily existence. But the blame for the death of my friend can be laid directly at the feet of the men in Washington D.C. who decided to break the laws of their country and illegally supply arms to the terrorists trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. The irony of his death was that he had actually come under fire from the “contras” while serving in a school house building brigade in Nicaragua . In the 1980’s a variety of groups in Canada, mainly church and other Non Government Organizations(N.G.O.’s)would send down groups to help outlying communities build things like schools, or irrigation systems. Do the little things that would help improve their standard of living. Help them help themselves. These farming communities were usually targets of the brave contra’s, especially the one’s bordering Guatemala where the American run bases were. They would sneak across the border and rain mortar and machine gun fire down on these villages, killing anything they could and then run away before the army could show up. These were the people Ronald RayGuns compared to founding father’s of America. He managed to survive those times in the bush. I never had the opportunity to talk with him about it to see how it felt. But I imagine he was pretty cool under fire. Not much ever seemed to faze him. The last time I saw him turned out to be shortly before his death. He was just finishing up his journalism degree and was preparing to go back to Nicaragua and start covering the story on the ground. He had no pretence of being unbiased, all of our group had been fervent supporters of the Sandanistas and their attempts to pull the country out of its poverty. They had a long hard road to travel and he wanted to walk with them and record it. I’m sure he would have had no problems with access to information because of his previous work as a brigade worker, and as an English language reporter from North America willing to tell things from the Sandinista point of view would only have increased his value to them. My friend was killed shortly thereafter in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital city. He had just stepped off the curb when a truck came out of nowhere and ran him down and vanished. If someone wants you dead there is no easier way then a traffic accident if done by professionals. Maybe he wasn’t important enough to warrant that kind of attention and I’m just a paranoid But at the time of his death the American government were really cranking up the propaganda war against the Ortega government. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to believe that the C.I.A. or the contras could have a hand in silencing someone who had the potential to speak against them. My friend’s contacts in Canada did include people in mass circulation newspapers and that could have been seen as a potential threat. Even if that was not the case, the fact remains that he would not have been on that street corner if it weren’t for the policies of the American government at that time. If they could have followed the practice implemented by the previous Jimmy Carter administration of non intervention in popular uprisings and the withdrawal of American influence from Central America, his death would not have happened. The United States has a long and tawdry history with South/Central America and the Caribbean. Since the Monroe doctrine of 1810 extolling their right of “Manifest Destiny” over the whole of the western Hemisphere they have treated these areas as their personal fiefdoms. Politicians make derisive comments about “tin pot banana republics” when it has been their own policies that have created most of those regimes. Putting the interests of American fruit growers and sugar manufactures above the local population was seen as the major prerequisite for a politician to gain the backing of the U. S. The slightest indication of independent thought would be rewarded with a quick change to a government deemed more suitable. Not surprisingly this has led to a fair amount of resentment and mistrust on the part of the majority of peoples from these parts of the world. Grinding poverty and death squads looking to quash opposition and preserve the land holdings of the chosen few were facts of life in countries endorsed by the U.S. But that is a legacy that can be overcome. What may not be as easily overcome were the years of single crop growth. Who knows what permanent damage has been done to agricultural land where all that has been grown have been bananas and sugar cane? Will these countries ever be able produce sufficient diversity in crops to reduce their reliance on exports for survival? What happens when a people have no hope? Well look at Columbia as an example of how an alternative crop stepped in to fill the void. With the coffee plantations owned by so few individuals, and the market so variable, people chose something that offered a guaranteed return: Cocaine. I’m not saying that the morality was right, but to them it must have made economic sense. The irony of it all is that because of their policies in the first place it was the American government that provided the impetus for the growth of the drug cartels and their wide sphere of influence. No one has offered the poor farmers an alternative crop to this day from the one that they can sell to the drug lords. In 1976 Jimmy Carter started to reverse over a hundred years of interference. With such symbolic steps as signing over the Panama Canal to the Panamanians he was beginning the long process of rebuilding diplomatic rather then autocratic relationships with his southern neighbours. Unfortunately the overthrowing of another American puppet, The Shah of Iran, opened the door for Ronald Regan and a return to the old patterns. Countless people have needlessly died since the 1980’s, including American nationals, because of these policies. Each of these people have friends or family somewhere who keep a treasured keepsake as a memento of a person who won’t ever come home again. I remember when Ronald Regan died and tributes poured in from all over him. For me his true legacy is a picture that hangs beside my bed and the memories of a life ended too early. Perhaps if more politicians had a photo like that beside their bed the world would be a little safer and saner. I’d like to think so.

6/25/2005

Racism: Le Plus Que...

One of my favourite commentators on social issues is Rick Salutin who writes a weekly column for the Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada. Unabashedly left wing he nevertheless is unafraid of criticizing the tactics and policies of the political left. Unlike a lot of writers on the left he doesn’t get hung up in intellectualizing over issues. He manages to keep both of his feet firmly on the ground. His career has included stints as a playwright and novelist. He was one of the people involved in the early 1970’s in helping develop professional Canadian theatre. His contributions and support helped to establish the small alternative theatres that have since seen Toronto grow to one of the larger live theatre centres in North America, second only to Los Angeles and New York in per capita attendance and facilities. His columns are often thought provoking, and he is never afraid of poking his pen into issues that others may have felt best left alone. This weeks article is no exception as it raises the spectre of racism in the United State.* Forty one years ago Edgar Ray Killen, a former Klansman was involved in the murders of three civil rights workers. He has been recently sentenced to sixty years in prison, which he will have to serve in isolation due to fear of retaliation from other prisoners.
"It's kind of a race issue," said a state official, "in that our [prison] population is 70 per cent black." This is what I find perplexing about the "race issue" in the United States. They seem to deal with it impressively. And they don't seem to deal with it at all.
Mr. Salutin’s comment on the state official’s statement serves as an introduction to an outline of the contradictions on the lives of black people in the States. He points out the amazing advances that have happened in the last forty years: a black Secretary of State, (Colin Powell) followed by a female black as Secretary of State(Ms. Rice)Such things he says would not have been believed possible forty years ago. He cites a book written by a Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal which stated that for the United State to achieve its full potential it would need to come up with a solution to racism. He went on to add that for that to happen major fundamental changes in the fabric of the society would have to occur. Mr. Salutin points out that on the surface America has managed to do the one without the other. The only societal change that has occurred has been the treatment of individuals by other individuals. In other words personal overt racism is no longer the norm as it was forth years ago. All other aspects of the consumer driven society have stayed relatively the same.
Yet, however much the United States has changed, it remains fervently capitalist, globally interventionist and busily religious in a traditional or fundamentalist way. It has, in other words, managed to accommodate a lot of racial change without seeing its basics profoundly undermined.
What does that say about racism? Does it mean that it was never as deeply entrenched in the American psyche as was first suspected, or have all these changes only been on the surface, or only for a select few? Mr. Salutin adds one more detail to the mix that seems to emphasise the latter view over the former. One of the basic structures of American society is the disparity between the two races economically and socially. There are still a disproportionate number of blacks incarcerated, without access to health insurance, and living in poverty compared to their white compatriots.
How can a society deal so widely, successfully and, I'd argue, fairly earnestly with race -- yet still not have dealt with so much of it?
The great thing about Rick Salutin’s pieces is that he leaves you hanging. Like a modern day Socrates( the Greek guy not the Brazilian soccer player) he poses questions to get you thinking about the issues he considers important. Having survived this long treading like a fool(definitely not an angel) I will venture to continue where he left off. Just in case anyone gets the wrong idea I’d like to say in advance that I’m not one of those sanctimonious Canadians who when it comes to issues of race believe they are better then Americans. I’ve seen too many “Paki” bashings, and heard too many racist comments that are firmly believed and ingrained, to know better then to swallow the line that somehow Canadians are less racist then Americans. We’ve shown that given the opportunity and means we’re every bit as bigoted as the next person. Nothing to boast about but true. The question for both of our countries is why, even though overt racism has disappeared, have certain ethnic groups not been able to break out of the cycle of poverty, violence and crime? While one could say that the poverty and lack of opportunities that accompanies those living conditions are sufficient reason themselves. Take government cutbacks to funding for education and public health as an example. Poorer neighbourhoods do not have the ability to have the community pick up the financial slack as would a more affluent centre. This leaves a growing gap in the quality of services. But economic environmental issues while important, do not tell the whole story. Our society remains a competitive environment based upon a first past the pole winner take all attitude. When there is an established head start for a certain group in that atmosphere, and another group had to fight for hundreds of years just to be allowed into the race, who do you think will have the advantage? Even if two people are of equal skill and character if you have a lap head start your going to cross the finish line first. For the most part you only need to be half as smart as your opponent under those conditions to leave him choking in your dust. Then there is the issue of trust. How long, how many generations, does it take for a formally subjected race to trust and be trusted by the former oppressors. Even though a significant number of European heritage people live in similar conditions it’s hard not to perceive your situation as being enforced on you when your parents’ generation were not able to receive service with people of the same economic status because of skin colour. What would that do to your ability to trust in the equality of a system? For those on the other side of the fence wouldn’t you always have the slightest feeling of worry that these people who maybe your parents prevented from voting might just like revenge. Isn’t there a little voice inside your head that says well if I had had my land stolen, and been treated like dirt I know I would, and doesn’t that colour your dealings with them? Be honest now, even though lynching is a thing of the past, if you were a black man would you be comfortable being pulled over by the police in a major metropolitan city? As a white person don’t a group of young black inner city men make you nervous? In Kingston Ontario where I live there was an ongoing argument about whether or not a disproportionate number of black males were being routinely stopped by the police. The chief of police very bravely had his officers keep records of the race of the people they stopped to try and pinpoint any sort of pattern. These records, admittedly gathered over a short period of time so of some limited accuracy, produced numbers that verified the original assumption. Interestingly enough because of these efforts on the part of the police force relations between the black community and the police have improved. The police were willing and brave enough to question their own behaviour which served to increase the bonds of trust. Even though the figures backed up a presumption of racism the effort was seen as a positive step towards dealing with a problem. Instead of denial and increased tension a step was taken towards some semblance of reconciliation and understanding. It will be interesting to see what occurs in the wake of this experiment. It will take steps like these, ones which admit that all is not rosy in our integrated world to break down the barriers of mistrust. When I hear comments coming out of supposedly liberal people like “Oh this is a wonderful community, only 1% black” when talking about potential housing in the States(my in laws) I can’t help but agree with Mr. Myrdal when he says that it will take a fundamental change in the fabric of our society for racism to be eliminated. As long as we perpetuate a system that places value upon material wealth while simultaneously depriving a good portion of our people with even the opportunity to compete for the prizes, resentment, mistrust, and fear will be our constant companions. Neither Canada or America, or any country for that matter, will ever realize it’s full potential as long as divisions remain between any of it’s peoples because of real or perceived discrimination. Colin Powell, Ms. Rice, and other people of colour or a visible minority group, in a position of power will continue to have the taint of tokenism attached to them, no matter their political stripe, as long as the balance of power is so heavily tilted in one direction. After we as a society have accomplished so much more then any one could have anticipated in the times since the Freedom Riders went down to Mississippi forty odd years ago, are we not doing a disservice to the memory of those who died by leaving what they started unfinished? This will only be accomplished by admitting the problem still exists and to stop sweeping it under the carpet. The American satirist Lenny Bruce once said that until the day comes when a child doesn’t run home from school crying because someone called them a “nigger” we can not stop fighting for equality. We need to change our objective to being until the day comes that we don’t think in terms of skin colour at all we can not stop our fight for equality. *Rick Salutin, Toronto Globe and Mail, Friday June 24th/05. Due to the subscription nature of www.globeandmail.com I’m unable to provide a link to this article.

cheers gypsyman

Demo Defined

With the Live 8 weekend fast approaching I thought that in the spirit of public interest I would publish this little primer for the uninitiated. Since most of you will probably just be attending/watching the concerts there may not be much interest, but for those who have yet to get there feet wet, and are looking for some tips I thought I could finally put my years of activist activity to good use. Did you ever Demo? You know, Demo. As in I demo, you demo, we demoed, let’s go demo at, and what are they demoing about over there? I’ll give you a hint, it has nothing to do with demographics. Give up? Demo, short for demonstration, as in protest or other organized(so to speak) gathering of folks who vaguely have a common goal in mind. Whether pro choice, pro life, anti war, pro war, for nuclear power or against it a demo was and maybe still is the thing to do when you want to go out into public and make a noise. Demos come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from small groups huddled nervously together in a clump, to large marches parading through the streets. They can be loose affiliations of disparate groups coming together for a common cause, or simply individuals with a bone to pick. Quite often they end up being a mixture of the two which leads to what’s known as a general strike. Each generation seems to spawn its own issue for demo purposes. Almost if they all have a need to let off steam about something or other. Sometimes a theme like peace, or freedom is repeated, but the object of attention changes. Demos can be parties celebrating life and the joy of being out with people of common mind. They can also degenerate into wild conflicts between baton wielding, pepper spraying police officers and rock hurling, epithet tossing demonstrators. Unfortunately it’s hard to know at the onset how any particular demonstration will turn out. The experienced demo participant is aware of this and takes the following precautions: Always have someone standing by with bail money in case of arrest; always bring with you a good sized handkerchief or scarf that can be used to cover the mouth and eyes in case of gas; if possible wear kidney pads so if you have to turtle under a baton attack you won’t end up pissing blood(if no pads available protect your kidneys with arms leaving your head exposed, your less likely to take a hit to the head as bloody skulls don’t look good on camera and most police forces care about their images now); and finally unless your prepared too withstand most of the above mentioned abuse stay away from any fellow demo attendees whose attire includes gas masks, ski masks and goggles, or who smell strongly of gasoline. Of course the above advice also depends on your motivation for attending a particular demo. If you are genuine in your desire to peacefully protest then those are good rules of thumb. But, as is the case for many males aged 19-24, you are there to attract demo groupies(yes they exist) it’s best to at least appear ready to either inflict or take some damage. Nothing guarantees a little post demo lust fulfillment then the smell of kerosene or the a trickle of blood(Not just crazed marine chopper pilots love the smell of napalm) But if you can’t get a lucky injury don’t despair because the post demo dance/concert is always a good opportunity to get to know that cute somebody who caught your eye earlier. Something about a woman and a placard in camouflage.... Never, ever, ever, put your name down on paper. I don’t care what the petition is or who is handing it around. It’s not worth it no matter what the enticement.(or who) Any or all of those groups handing around petitions is infiltrated somewhere along the line, and all those names will be recorded. Those guys taking pictures are not from the press. Do not let anyone take your picture or see you clearly if they do, unless you want a permanent file somewhere up in Washington or Ottawa. Does that sound a little paranoid? Well remember you are dealing with people who make my paranoia look mild. The F.B.I. have recently said that the biggest domestic terrorist threat facing the U.S. are environmental and animal rights groups. If that’s not paranoia I don’t know what is.(It also makes me question their priorities and wonder what ever happened to guy named Bin Laden who was responsible for having some planes crashed into buildings) The last time I demoed was in 1997. We here in Ontario were suffering through a government who were determined to roll back as many social programs and gut as much of the education and health care budgets as possible. In response demos were organized as a means of protest. The irony of course, which was lost on most participants, was that the unions responsible for co-ordinating the proceedings had only their memberships to thank for the election of this government. They had had no problems when the government had promised them substantial tax cuts and so voted them into power, but when it turned out that you couldn’t balance the books only by gutting programs for the poor, the middle class unions like the teachers, nurses, and public service workers all of sudden woke up to find their nice sinecures threatened. Having just had my miniscule monthly stipend cut by 21% I was hard pressed to listen to their complaints about pension benefits with sympathy. I found myself marching with people who hadn’t given a damn for people like me and my wife. It wasn’t a demo, rather a gathering of special interest groups looking out for number one. It made me reflect on past experiences and wonder about a demo’s validity. At there best a demo was a coming together of people with common cause. A place where one felt genuine kinship with those around you. In the fractured world of leftist political activism as I knew it these moments were few and far between. One learned to savour the breaks from infighting. The old adage that the if the left could stop fighting amongst itself they might be able to accomplish something was never born out more then in the peace movement in Toronto in the early 1980’s. At that time the central focus was on trying to stop the testing of Cruise missiles over the Canadian west. Our government and the American’s had signed an agreement allowing them to fly over our territory as the landscape so resembled potential targets in the then Soviet Union.(These were the evil empire days of Ronald RayGuns) Toronto was a focal point for demos because the guidance system for the Cruise was being built just outside the city limits in the Lyton Systems factory in Rexdale Ontario. After a slow start with only a few of us protesting in front of the American consulate(having our pictures taken by the nice men with the cameras)proceedings escalated until the penultimate demonstration of around 50,000 people. For a city the size of Toronto in the early eighties that was huge. Things started to get ugly after that. When a bomb went off at Lyton Systems killing a security guard it turned a lot of people off from the supposed peaceful protesting. At that time I was a even more stupid then I am now, and didn’t know enough to get out when I should have. The show of unity that had been put on for the assembled masses quickly crumbled in the face of adversity. Infighting broke out between traditional rivals. There were the moderates who wanted to keep on with peaceful protests, the Direct Action types who viewed the peace movement as part of the revolutionary process and to confuse the mix there were the representatives of all the different factions of the Communist party. There were the Marxist Leninists, the Trotskyites, the Maoists, and the good old fashioned Communist Party Of Canada. It seemed the former were made up of dissatisfied members of the latter, who either couldn’t get their own way so quite to form a “real” communist party, or had been booted out for dangerous behaviour. Of these the most dangerous were the Marxist Leninists because there philosophy was to try and provoke the police to attack them to generate sympathy and cause the workers to rise up in righteous anger. Since most workers had no idea they existed and they wouldn’t have recognized a worker if they tripped over them, well you get the idea. By the end of the summer of 1983 it was pretty much over. The bomb makers had been arrested, and every thing else just devolved away. As endings went it pretty much was a whimper. But it hadn’t ended without leaving me with some lasting mementos. During the aftermath of the bombing my home developed a series of strange hic-ups causing my father to ask if it was possible that it was tapped(he had worked extensively as a drug prosecutor for the federal government and so was familiar with the sounds a phone would make from listening to a variety of taped conversations)When I broached the subject of the whether we could know the bombers with my then housemate, he said friends of friends. It wasn’t until 1988 that the full implications of that time were realized. That summer was seeing the first G 8 conference held in Canada. The call went out to temporary agencies for a variety of low level clerical jobs to be filled. As I was in need of work and fully qualified I applied for a job as a media clerk. The interview went well and everything looked good until one day I received an embarrassed phone call from the employment agency. I wasn’t going to be given security clearance so they would not be able to hire me. Initially I was flabbergasted, but then I thought back to a few years previous and it sort of made sense. At first it was funny, but as the years have past it has caused me to wonder about how much this could have potentially affected my future. In hindsight it’s easy to say that it was a mistake to get involved with something that adversely affected me down the road. But since I have never had any real interest in pursuing a career that would involve security clearance I don’t see that as a consideration. If the opportunity somehow arose that I could go back in time and relive moments I would probably not change a thing. As to whether or not I’d ever demo again, I’d have to say no, I can accomplish more through my writing. Do I think they are a waste of time and energy. That depends on circumstances and subject. It, like most things do, comes down to personal choice. If it’s something you feel strongly about and a demo seems to be the way to express that emotion then go for it. There really is nothing to compare with the sensation of being part of something that is bigger then you, surrounded by people who share a common intent. Savour and enjoy those moments for what they are, but don’t let them blind you to the realities of the situation. Marching in a demo is a far cry from committing yourself to a course of action that could have consequences you are not even aware exist. Think carefully before letting the emotions of the event carry you further then you want. Remember your purpose for being there and don’t deviate. You have the right to free speech and to demonstrate but use it wisely so that it can’t be taken away from you. cheers gypsyman

6/24/2005

Woodstock Revisited

What started off as a whim turned into an experience. There are not too many concert movies that are successful at evoking a time and place. Modern ones especially are geared towards packaging a “star’s” songs for digestion of the home crowd. Aside from the obligatory adulating crowd shots, tight shirted girls predominant, little is offered to genuinely recreate the concert feel. It was with a fair amount of trepidation that I inserted the disc that I had just taken out from my library into my player. Could this stand up to the test of time? Woodstock was another place and time and who knew whether or not it could stand up to almost thirty year old memories of watching it in second run movie palaces. I haven’t even smoked a joint in eleven years for Christ’s sake. Now I was too young to have been there, in all senses of the word. In 1969 I would have been eight years old, and by the time I first saw the movie it was eight years after the fact. Some of the performers were dead, or their careers were over or even worse they continued to perform but the bloom had worn off and they just sounded like caricatures of what they had once been. But I was young and idealistic and thought the whole sixties culture wonderful. In 1977 Toronto, where I lived, was stuck in terminal musical blandness. Corporate rock, and disco predominated. Punk was still a year or two in the future(Toronto was always a couple of years behind New York and London)so the only hope of escape was into the past. With a brother four years older I had been listening to the music of the era since the mid sixties.(Some of the few decent memories I have of childhood revolve around music: my aunt giving my brother Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced and Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol.1 in the summer of 1967, watching the Beatle’s Help and A Hard Day’s Night on T.V. and seeing Yellow Submarine in the theatres, and buying my first record Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) My brother owned the sound track to Woodstock so I had heard a majority of the music and memorized most of the stage announcements(how could you forget the warnings about the brown acid)but nothing could have prepared me for my first watching of the movie. Although the music was wonderful and some of the performances spectacular(and some ridiculous: John Sebastian still makes me cringe and Sha Na Na in their gold lame looked too much like fore runners of the Village People, which on second thought after re watching it and remembering they were from San Francisco you gotta’ wonder)that weren’t what had made the memories indelible. First was the feeling of “happening” that was so adeptly captured by the movie makers. You could tell from the opening comments of the local farmer to the last notes of Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner that this had been more then just a concert. There was the impression that people had come to express a commitment to something beyond the music. Sure there will always be those who are just there for the party, but the majority had come to express solidarity for an alternative way of life to that of their parents. One could be cynical and say it was only because the majority of these people were the children of the well off middle class that the very values they were protesting had given them the privileges to be able to reject them. But that could be said of any group of people seeking to change what they don’t like about their world. Were not Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and others high ranking officers in the British Army and even at the onset of the revolutionary war still toasting the King of England in the officer’s mess? Part of the joy and charm of watching the movie again was the naiveté, the sincere belief that they would be able to change the world for the better. To eyes jaded by years of media manipulation, abuse of power, and the politics of greed the proponents of a better world being possible simply through the power of love may seem may seem hopelessly romantic. But as Elvis Costello said years latter “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding”. Sometimes simple is not simplistic. As a sixteen year old who didn’t fit into any discernable clique at high school, nothing was so attractive as feeling here was a place you would be accepted. It was irrelevant that the era had long since been swallowed up by the market place, that Woodstock actually had been the beginning of the end. With the revelation that popular music was reaching so many people, and the “counter culture” was so popular, those willing to exploit it for profit weren’t far behind. But sitting in a dingy second run theatre with pot smoke swirling around my head it was all a revelation. I didn’t have to try and fit in. Here were at least 300,000 examples of people who didn’t seem to care. From the skinny dippers, to the extravagantly dressed gypsy hippies they exuded a freedom of spirit seemingly absent from the grey world around me. And the music. Ah the music was glorious. People who I had only heard on record made real in larger then life form. The intensity of Ritchie Havens; Joe Cocker passionately rasping out Little Help From My Friends; a laid back Country Joe MacDonald leading the Fish cheer(give me an F....)and getting the throng to sing along with the I Feel Like I’m Fixing To Die Rag; the street thug energy of The Who; Crosby, Stills, and Nash when their voices still were sweet; and it all ending with the pyrotechnic guitar crying of Jimi Hendrix’s now iconic Star Spangled Banner. So would this stand up to my nostalgic memories, or like so many other past joys would it just end up leaving me disgruntled and upset? No, emphatically no! This one slim two sided shining disc brought it all back. From the first chord played to the last piece of garbage picked up I was enthralled all over again. Partially, I’m sure, it was the fascination to see everybody so young again and at the height of their capabilities. But that was tinged with sadness. Looking closely you could see the beginnings of the end for some, the signs of drug and alcohol abuse just starting to show, and having the benefit of knowing what’s in store you mourn the loss of what was so vital. There were some added treasures. This being an extended director’s cut there were performances that didn’t make into the theatrical release. I literally gasped in surprise to see Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane perform. Of all the bands from that time period they were one of the few who I had never had a chance to see play.(I know they performed at Altamont, and are in the film, but I’ve never had the heart to watch that movie for a lot of reasons) They performed a heart rending edition of Saturday Afternoon and to listen to the interplay of Slick’s, Paul Kantner, and Marty Bolan’s vocals was to fully appreciate harmonies again. Their voices soared and spiralled around each other like birds in flight. In the midst of all the anger about issues and conflicts that are expressed from all points on the political spectrum it was uplifting to see such uncomplicated optimism. To hear ideas expressed that were untainted by hidden agendas, to see people at least trying to show that it is possible to live with compassion and in harmony was like a balm for the spirit. After all these years and everything that has happened this movie of an event I didn’t even attend still has the power to move me beyond anything I have come across since. Peace and Love everybody. cheers gypsyman

6/23/2005

Cultural Genocide

It’s a beautiful morning and your sitting around the kitchen table with your wife and children. Each of you is preparing for the day ahead; the kids school, you work, and the wife what ever it is she’s going to be doing, when there is a knock at the door. You give the wife the “who can that be at this time of day” look, and motion her to keep her seat and get up give who ever it is the bum’s rush. When you get to the door your greeted by the sight of a smiling man in a suit carrying a clipboard. “Mr. Jones” he says with a faint note of inquiry to his voice? There is something in his manner which pre-empts your initial plan so you reply with what you hope is a firm “Yes”. “Ah good” He looks down to his clipboard with just a slight glance of his eyes, double checking it seems. “You have two children, a boy and girl, aged 8 and 10, is that right? “Yes, hey listen...” is a far as you get. “I’m with the government, I work for the child welfare office. It has been decided that you and all people like you are unfit parents so we are going to remove your children from your care. We will ensure that they are brought up in a manner more appropriate to how we want your people to be.” You step back stunned. This must be a joke. But then you look up over his shoulder and out into the street. There’s an old school bus and a truck parked in the middle of the block. Soldiers with weapons are standing around both vehicles with that bored guarded stance taken when they know they may have to do something, but don’t feel under any particular threat. Already there are blank faced children being led from doorways up and down the street. An unearthly silence is punctuated by the occasional muted sob as parents stand stricken in their doorways. You stand there helplessly slack jawed staring at the bland smiling face in front of you, hearing the muted sounds from behind the kitchen door of you family... two of whom you may never see after today. “Is there a problem Mr. Jones? I can show you the paper work if you want and you’ll see that this is signed by the proper authorities. There’s no need to worry about the children. They will be well taken care of where they are going. We will provide them with a better future then you could hope to.” His eyes track over your shoulders and you hear a slight noise behind you, a sign of movement. “Ah good Mrs. Jones and the children. No need to pack anything for them. All will be provided. At the government’s expense of course. You won’t be expected to pay a cent for this privilege. Go along out to the bus now children and you’ll be given your new names when you get on board.” “New names” your wife’s voice is faint as the children file by down the front walk. She clutches your arm. You will always remember the feel of her nails digging into the crook of your elbow. It will serve as the constant reminder of the day your heart was torn out. There is a rustle of paper as the man with the clipboard slides a sheet out from the bottom of the pile stacked there, and hands it to you. You stare at it blankly. The typed words sprawled across the paper are the iconography depicting your soul’s destruction. The word receipt is meaningless in your ears as it falls like ashes from his lips to your ear. You make one final attempt at communication. “Where...?” is as far as you get. “I’m afraid we can’t tell you that. It’s been shown that limiting their exposure to unsuitable influences provides the best results for the children. It’s all for the best.” One final tight smile, a nod, and he turns and walks away. Carefully avoiding stepping on the newly sod front lawn he turns at the sidewalk to the neighbour’s next door walk way. He’s tired he realizes as he approaches the next door on his list. They’ve been at this since yesterday with very little break time. Still all in all it’s gone much better then he has anticipated. Maybe he’ll be able to get home to the wife and kids a day earlier then planned. With that happy thought he knocks on the door with a slightly wider smile on his face then he’s worn for a while. * From the beginnings of our conquest of North America various methods were used in attempts to either destroy or assimilate the indigenous populations that we found here. Decimating their food supply, investing blankets with small pox, removal from ancestral territories, outright slaughter and cultural genocide. Since so many native tribes proved able to withstand the attempts to eliminate them as a race physically, by the end of the 19century it was decided that new tactics were needed to bring them to heel. The governments of both Canada and the United States decided to attempt mass cultural genocide through the eradication of language and beliefs. To achieve this goal they established, with the aid of various Christian denominations, a series of residential and boarding schools across both countries. Children were forcibly removed from their parent’s homes and shipped hundred’s of miles away from family and friends. The first stage was the removal of all aspects of their cultural heritage and identity. Each child was renamed, their hair was shorn off, and their personal possessions and clothes destroyed. All communication in any language but English was forbidden as was any worship of anything but Christianity. They were taught that their parents were evil and that their way of life backwards and savage. They were told that they were less then human and that their only recourse was to renounce all traces of who and what they had been. Although they could never of course be mistaken for white people, they could always hope to find something useful to do for their betters. They were all given vocational training in the most servile of positions. The girls were forced to do laundry, scullery, and other housekeeping jobs to prepare them for lives as servants, while the boys received equally menial training with the view to providing cheap manual labour for the future. They were given to understand that they would not be suited for anything else. The great lie perpetrated was that their so called preparation for life in the civilized world only ensured that when they were released into the world and moved to the cities they would be the poorest of the poor. Unlike immigrants from other countries who brought their culture and community with them for support, these immigrants from the schools had no such solace. Too many of them bore the scars of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as their only heritage. Unable to speak the language of their parents the option of returning to the reserve was equally bleak. Empty shells of people, plenty of them drifted into the destitute lives of alcohol and substance abuse in search of some solace. As recently as the 1970’s child welfare agents had the authority to remove children from Indian homes if they thought them unsuitable. These children were then placed into white foster homes where abuse and neglect were the norm not the exception. Only recently have the various nations been able to enact efforts to start healing the gapping hole that had been torn in their chain of generations. Unlike European faiths there is no single specific “Indian” culture. This is a misconception that has been perpetrated by new age wannabes looking to sell themselves off as shamans or medicine people. Each nation had it’s own traditions and beliefs, some as different from others as Christians, Jews, and Muslims are dsitinct. As a predominantly oral culture the destruction of language is the hardest obstacle to overcome. With it’s destruction comes the end of the means to tell the stories that defined a people. Already hundreds of nations have vanished and many more language groups are verging on extinction. Even among nations that are strong like the Haudenosaunee(People of the Extended House: Iroquois) its an up hill battle. One of the six nations who make up the confederacy, The Tuscarora, were down to only six people who could speak the language fluently five years ago. What is needed mainly is the time and the resources to accomplish this task. In Canada while there has been some movement by the governments to aid in this reconstruction, including court enforced settlements of hundreds of years old land claims, it is too little too slow. Far too many people appease themselves with demeaning comments about welfare bums and drunken drains on society then admit to a societal complicity concerning the situation. They look at tax exempt casinos, status cards, and free health care and say what more do they want? These sops to our conscience are little compensation for the damage inflicted by years of neglect and abuse. Restitution, restoration, and reconciliation are what is needed to begin paying back the debt owed to those we have supplanted. Australia has begun a program of reconciliation which culminated a few years ago in a cross country march of over a million people showing a commitment on all levels to rebuilding the relationship between the original peoples and the newcomers. That is the example we in North and South America should be emulating. There was a cynical joke making the rounds a while ago where the infamous thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock was referred to as the first welfare line. Some thanks we’ve shown. Maybe it’s time we repaid the favour.

6/22/2005

Nationalism Vs. Patriotism

George Orwell wrote that nationalism was one of the worst enemies of peace. He defined nationalism as the feeling that your way of life, country, or ethnic group were superior to others. These types of feelings lead a group to attempt to impose their morality on any given situation. When those standards were not met, more often then not, war would result. In contrast he stated that patriotism was the feeling of admiration for a way of life etc. and the willingness to defend it against attack. The obvious difference between the two is that while patriotism is a passive attitude, nationalism is aggressive by nature. Orwell was writing this during the years just prior to World War Two when nationalism in Europe was running rampant. Not only was Hitler stoking the fires in Germany, but Mussolini was taming the savages of Ethiopia, and Stalin had just finished Russiafying the Ukraine and was contemplating “reclaiming” Finland. Since the end of World War Two nationalism has escalated beyond what Orwell’s worst nightmares could have visualised. The first wave began with the dissolution of the colonial empires through out the developing world. As they retreated they left behind cesspools of ethnic tensions. In some countries it had been official policy to play the race card as a means of keeping unrest in check. By creating conditions where it seemed one group was favoured over another, especially a minority over a majority, resentments were built up to the boiling point. As far as the colonial masters were concerned as long as they were fighting each other they won’t come after us. From one country to the next as independence was achieved nationalistic violence was the rule rather then exception. In India Hindu leaders like Ghandi who pleaded for restraint were murdered by extremists of their own faith. In Israel terrorist groups from both sides set bombs and attacked civilians in order to solidify their claims to territory. But it was with the big two that most of drama became centred upon. The U.S.S.R. under Stalin did a quick land grab after the end of the war simply by refusing to leave the countries that they had “liberated” from the Germans. On their side the United States began their policy of propping up a variety of dictatorships under the guise of preventing the spread of communism. It’s debateable whether these initial actions were driven more by “real politick” then nationalism, one side trying to limit the other sides power and influence more then an expansion and imposition of a way of life. But in the end the justifications for actions began to take on the sound of nationalistic fervour whatever the original intent. American governments began wrapping themselves in the flag of protectors of freedom and democracy under more and more spurious circumstances. Meanwhile the Soviets claims of liberation from the chains of capitalism and oppression became harder to swallow during the post Stalin revelations of mass murders and famine. Nationalism has a history in both countries as far back as their beginnings. Under the Tsars the Russian empire was just as expansionistic as the Soviets stretching their sphere of influence from the Balkans to the near east. In the U. S. it was first implemented as policy in 1810 with the Monroe Doctrine, which lay claim to the whole western hemisphere as being under American influence. In both countries these policies continue unabated till this day. Chile, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, and Cuba for the U.S. and Chechnya and Afghanistan for the Russians are all recent examples of hemispheric control exerted by both nations. Of course with the collapse of communism the influence of Russia has waned and that of America has increased. The fall of communism combined with the death of Marshall Tito gave the world another fine example of nationalism in action. As Yugoslavia fell back into it’s divergent states majority ethic groups began to “cleanse” their territories of minority presences. Once again proving that nationalism knows no boundaries or is exclusive to any one race the cities and country sides of the former Yugoslavia became killing fields. Serbian killed Croatian, Croatian killed Muslim, Muslim killed Croatians and Serbians, Albanians and Macedonians killed each other and so on in a viscous circle of hate. To claim moral superiority or believe that one way of life is superior to another is to pay disservice to the notion of diversity. How can one genuinely respect another’s beliefs if you feel inherently better then they are just because of an accident of birth? It’s one thing to take pride in who you are and what you believe in. It’s another altogether to think that yours is the only way. This attitude has led to the extermination of whole nations of indigenous peoples throughout the world. Vibrant and living cultures that could have contributed thinkers and ideas were cut off because “they were not like us”. Through literal and cultural genocide our world is being homogenised to a point that will soon reach no return if we are not careful. Look at Orwell’s definitions of nationalism and patriotism again. Think about the differences. Which do you think would contribute to a better world? cheers gypsyman

Memories

Memories are a funny thing. They can be triggered by the least amount of stimuli. A smell, a noise, or even a colour can bring something back to your mind that has been long forgotten. In the regular course of a day we see, hear, taste, and experience countless sensations that our brain’s processes. Some are trivial, others important. But all of them are stored away in our memory to help form the picture of what happened to us that day. We may not remember specific details, even immediately after their occurrence, but somewhere down the line any one of them could be the trigger that enables us to recall an event. Although we may censor feelings and sensations during the moment of experiencing on a conscious level, our brains take in everything. There’s no way we could cope with the amount of information inputted otherwise. Take a moment and think about the information that you are recording right now. Aside from reading this article what else are you experiencing? There is the chair your sitting in and how it feels, the sound of your computer’s fan, the taste of your coffee or what ever your drinking, eating, or smoking at the time. This is all aside from any mood that you may have brought to the computer with you when your sat down to read. If your focus is on what your reading then that will be what you remember of this situation. But what if your partner came into the room and you have a fight? Or your child hurts themselves and you have to tend to them? Either one of those events will quickly supersede reading and retaining the information in this article. As incidents become more personal, ones with greater emotional investment, they become more important to hold on to, and or make a stronger impression on our awareness. Therefore if you were to look back on the events of sitting reading this article, you’ll remember being at the computer, maybe that you were reading something, probably not the content, won’t remember how the chair felt on your butt, or what the computer’s fan sounded like. Even though all that information was available you will think of it as the time you and your partner had a fight, or your child skinned her knee. Of course as with any good theory there are exceptions. As a means of protecting itself the brain is able to shut off receptors so that it doesn’t overload, so that we don’t get over stimulated. In times of extreme stress we will go into a state of shock which will enable us to block out primary sensations. Although our physical memories may remain, the pain of injury for example, the events surrounding the cause will be either eliminated or buried so deeply that we have no recollection of them happening for years. Sometimes a person will live out their life with the memory never reviving. Often it takes a shock equal in magnitude to the initial trauma to revive what had been suppressed. In other instances they will be reflected in our unconscious mind in the form of nightmares. A person may go for years in this manner never understanding the cause of their night time disturbances, until some event or instance triggers the memory. Using the earlier incident of reading this article and the argument with a partner as an example, lets say that this had developed into something traumatic. The partner became abusive, either emotionally or physically, and in the aftermath the incident was repressed. Some years pass and you’ve started to have peculiar nightmares, violent or disturbing, that make no sense. Then one day your sitting at the computer and something about the way the seat feels, or the fan of the computer sounds, or what your reading on the screen triggers the release of that memory. Those minor details that we didn’t even realize were occurring were part of the picture our mind formed of that event. Stored in our brains along with countless other impressions formed over the years they serve as the stimuli for remembering a specific incident. When the incident has already started to work it’s way back into your conscious mind via the nightmares it doesn’t take much for their relationship to the larger memory to be established. There’s a saying that runs along these lines: “Your never given more then you can cope with”. In other words some part of you knows when you are going to be able to come to terms with past traumas and begins to gradually release them from where they were buried. On an unconscious level you are able to figure out when enough time has passed or you have gained the strength that the hurt will be minimal in contrast to the immediate aftermath of the incident. When people develop Alzheimer’s decease the initial signs are the inability to remember things from their daily routine. Then as it progresses they lose track of themselves and the present day world. More often or not they begin to associate people and events with memories of their past. Perhaps it has something to do with the earlier memories are formed the more potent they are, or that there is so much information in their brains the old stuff can no longer stay in storage and is forced to the surface. What ever the reason they have definitely travelled back in time mentally. I think we can probably devise some clues from their behaviour at this time as to what type of childhood or youth they had. So many people have been shocked to see their sweet talking aunts or mothers develop into angry, swearing, and close to violent creatures. Until recently it was just assumed that this was a natural state of the disease. They were forgetting the moral code dictating behaviour. But now it’s believed there might be more to it. In the incidences where people have taken the time, and had the patience, to sit with these people and listen to them for extended periods it has become clear that they all had experienced some sort of abuse at one time or another. In most of the cases it was sexual abuse at the hands of a family member. Due to the mores of the time they had repressed these memories so successfully that they have laid dormant until Alzheimer’s had broken through the walls they had built around their childhood. They were never given the chance to deal with the anger and grief in a constructive way and so now they are lashing out. With these memories being the only mementos they have of their lives is it any wonder they are so angry? In the movie The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Eye the two main characters erase the memories they have of each other and their relationship. They hope to obtain happiness by forgetting those memories that caused them pain. But it ends up not being that simple for either one of them. The bad had been accompanied by a lot of good which neither of them want to lose in the end. We all have times in our lives which we would prefer to forget. But most everything that happens to us has gone into making us the person we are today. The ability to remember mistakes we have made allows us the chance to never repeat them, by learning from the consequences of our actions. We could never achieve any growth without memory. It’s amazing the lengths people will go to in the quest to erase memories. Alcohol and drug abuse are two of the more common solutions. But that’s only finding temporary solace at best. They end up being just as unhappy for other reasons. Repressed memories have a way of coming out in some manner at some time. Wilfully suppressing them only makes things worse in the long run. We have the ability to retain information for a reason. Whether to help us perform tasks, interact socially, learn from experience, or to relive pleasure. Sometimes a memory will be unpleasant and complicate our life, but we have the ability to resolve these situations. It is better to have good and bad memories then no memory at all. cheers gypsyman