8/31/2005

Family Values Make For Strange Bedfellows

There's an old saying about politics making strange bedfellows. Well if I use the saying in conjunction with the grouping of people this posting is about, I would find myself with a one-way ticket to hell. There's a strange alliance (I'm tempted by the word unholy) brewing out there between those who we would nominally lump as enemies: Catholics, Mormons, and fundamentalist Muslims. Talk about finding friends in the enemy's camp. ABrian Whitaker report in the "Guardian Unlimited" from last January reported on the increasing formalization of relationships in this previously loose alliance of theocrats. In November of 2004 a group consisting of Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a charming gentleman who advocates wife beating and traditional family values: Cardinal Alfonso Trujillo, who leads the Catholic Church's War On Condoms; (my caps) Mahathir Mohamad, the former dictator of Malaysia who once fired and jailed a senior aid on suspicion of Homosexuality; and representatives of the Mormon Church all got together in Doha, capital of Qatar, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the United Nation's Year of the Family. Qatar, being a country that refused to sign the international Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women on religious grounds, actually sponsored this meeting. In fact the government went so far as to appoint the "World Family Policy Centre" of Bringham Young University-run by the Mormon church-to host a series of preliminary meetings to gather the best family policy scholarship available to be used at this meeting.
Opening the conference, Sheikha Mousa bint Nasser al-Misnad, the wife of Qatar's ruler, announced that the well-being of the family was in peril. She warned against trying to "redefine the concept of family in a manner contrary to religious precepts" - though there was little danger of anyone at the Doha conference doing that. Brian Whitaker, Guardian Unlimited; January 2005
In the past we have seen these groups be mutually supportive without any formal arrangements or meetings. In Africa one of the biggest hindrances in the fight against the spread of AIDS is the opposition in various forms these groups bring to family planning and the use of condoms as a safety measure. Whether by influencing American foreign aid packages that prohibit any links to Planned Parenthood, or telling people that condoms contribute to the spread of AIDS, (United Families International, a U. S. based organization preaches sexual abstinence to African countries and says that sex education and condoms cause AIDS) or telling the faithful these practices run opposite the word of God, the result is the same. It's of interest to note that Sheik Yusuf has been banned from the United States since 1999 because of his advocacy of violence against Americans, and that he has recently been linked to the suicide bombers working in Iraq. But I guess the fact that he exhorts his people to kill Americans at any opportunity is not important to these pro-family Christians. They accuse liberals of giving aid and comfort to the enemy! I'm all in favour of respecting other people's beliefs, but these people make it really difficult to adhere to that principle. Their preoccupation with forcing what they believe down other people's throats is nauseating: their use of scare tactics and lies to bully people into doing what they want, blackmailing starving countries to adhere to their religious beliefs or not receive aid money, and associating themselves with people who actively support terrorist activities against their fellow citizens is not behaviour that I find justifiable no matter what the ends. Maybe I missed the psalm or parable that preaches the end justifies the means, although since it has been Church doctrine since the Inquisition, I can't see why it surprises me. (Hey Homeland Security people, shouldn't you be looking into this. How many people are in jail right now for being friends with someone who knew a suspected terrorist's barber, and yet here are folk who freely associate with someone banned from the U. S. for advocating violence against its citizens) I know there are a lot of people who don't like the idea of the separation of church and state, but I thought the rationale behind that was to ensure people's right to practice the religion of their choice. Isn't that why so many people have come to North America, for the promise of being free to worship and believe as they wish, even if it is contrary to the beliefs of the majority? There was a big brouhaha, and rightly so, when the Taliban cracked down on Christians, and knocked over statues of the Buddha about how freedom of religion was being constrained. We hear about infringements on human rights in China because of prohibitions against Christianity. Why than is it so hard to understand when people want a two way street, and the right not to be Christian. Those who attended the 10th anniversary celebration conference in Qatar would have their single-minded view of what worshiping God entails enforced upon the rest of the world. Be they Muslin or Christian, the participants don't have any use for freedom of religion or the rights of other divergent opinions. It's their way or the highway to hell. If the people of the United States genuinely want to become a religious theocracy, like those they are so highly critical of in Iran and other Muslim countries, ruled solely by a single interpretation of the bible, than they will. But I would think that the majority of Americans still have too much respect for the diversity of the human spirit and individual freedoms for that to ever happen. The Scottish novelist Christopher Brookmyre in his novel Not The End Of The World has a leader of the religious right bemoaning the lack of fervour amongst Christians as compared to Muslims. Let us hope and, dare I say pray, that this new alliance doesn't see the beginning of Martyrdom as a means for the Christian right to get their point across. Nice clean cut Mormon kids going door to door on missionary work is one thing, putting a timed explosive into every copy of the gospels in another. They haven't hesitated from using violence in the past, bombing abortion clinics, shooting doctors, and advocating violence against foreign leadership; their record isn't exactly spotless. Who knows? Maybe right now in the middle of the deserts of Qatar there are joint Muslim/Christian terrorist training camps preparing a new wave of martyrs who are itching to strike a blow for family values everywhere. Not a pleasant thought. cheers gypsyman

8/30/2005

E. M. D. R.: Leave the Past Behind

I don't normally talk about personal issues. I have a wife and a therapist for that type of stuff, besides most people have their own shit that they are dealing with and don't need to wade through mine. But since I want to talk about a type of treatment, and give a first hand account of its effectiveness, you are going to need some background to better understand what I'm talking about. This won't be one of those, oh my life is so hard things, so don't take it like that. I've lived with it for my whole life and I don't think that, so there is no reason for you to either. As a child I was sexually abused by my father for a period of about ten years: infancy to until I was around twelve years old. The dates are bit unclear, because I am unclear about the whole time period. You see I had blocked everything out until I was thirty-three. Drug and alcohol use started when I was thirteen, and closing down was pretty easy with their assistance. My folks wondered why I was so fucked up and kept sending me to shrinks and a variety of councillors when I was in my teens and early twenties. But nothing ever came out of those meetings except some of those glib assessments one associates with seventies psychobabble. One of the reasons everything was so buried were the coercive tactics of my father to ensure his secret was kept safe. Another was anyone else's refusal to believe me when I told them. The one time I worked up the nerve to tell my mom, she called me nasty and threatened me with reform school. I was a problem child: shoplifting, lying, etc, traits which continued on through until adult hood, along with the addictive behaviour I picked up as I aged. You must remember this was the sixties, I didn't really understand what was going on, except that talking about it was bad, and my father wouldn't love me if I said anything. Imagine what that combination would do to the mind of a kid, and you can see how I ended up not remembering. It was a lot easier than having to figure out what to do, at least that's the way I see it now. Anyway didn't everybody's father act like that? Who was I going to compare notes with? Okay, fast forward to when I've just turned thirty-three. I'm a mess; emotionally and physically. When I was thirty-two I had undergone a fourth surgery on my left knee, a previous reconstruction and two arthroscopies. This last reconstruct was to reverse what they had done in the first one. (Don't ask) Well there was only so much my leg could take and I developed a form of nerve damage known as Reflex sympathetic dystrophy By the time my aforementioned birthday had rolled around the skin on my left leg from my knee down was turning black and I was in continual agony. As a birthday present a friend had arranged for me to visit an acupuncturist to see if there was anything that could be done that way to assist me. Do you know what a healing crisis is? It's when the body kicks into overdrive in order to solve its own problems. It usually means you get a whole lot worse before you get better. It often occurs in the holistic methods of healing that rely on the body's corrective abilities to effect a cure. Well I knew nothing about it at the time, so on the day after the treatment and it felt like I was going to die from the pain to say I was shocked was an understatement. I phoned the acupuncturist to ask what the fuck? That's when she explained the concept, apologizing for assuming that I knew what to expect. But I don't think even she expected the nightmares I would start having. It was like opening the proverbial Pandora's box. When the flashbacks started I thought I was going crazy. There's nothing like reliving rapes that you don't remember to make you question your sanity. I was lucky. I had a housemate at the time who worked for a sexual assault crises centre in town, and although they only dealt with women, she recognised what was happening and lent me the book that saved my life The Courage to Heal Written for women, I changed the pronouns and finally understood what was going on. I went through my first bouts of therapy than, and it helped me with some of the behaviour modifications I needed at the time. I stopped booze and drugs, and thought things were going great. In fact they were, I met the woman who has since become my wife a couple of years later and started to really get my shit together. Than a couple of years ago it all fell apart again. To ensure that I'd never forget his loving attention, it seems my father has managed to inflict permanent damage on the muscles of my pelvic wall. For years I had been troubled by mysterious pain in my lower abdominal region that no one had ever been able explain. In 2001 this pain elevated to a crippling level. After having the right half of my colon removed failed to solve anything, (the surgeon had warned me in advance that there was little hope of success but I was desperate) it was finally diagnosed properly. The pain had only been representing in the abdomen, not originating there. Than the flashbacks started again. They were trying to treat my pain with nerve blocks, which meant injecting the effected area with a mixture of steroids. That could have set them off, but maybe they were just waiting for a chance to come out again, and like a time bomb whose clock strikes they went off. It was the doctor treating my pain condition who first mentioned Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (E. M. D. R.) as a means of treatment. Fortunately enough I was able to find not only a therapist who practiced the treatment, but also one who was covered by my medical plan. Now for the $64,000 question? What the hell is E. M. D. R.: how does it work, and does it work? Well I had no idea about it and quite frankly if anybody aside from the doctor who suggested had told me about it I would have probably dismissed it out of hand. As it was, I was inclined to believe it was just another one of these pop psych. bullshit things like: I'm O.K. and You're a Fuck Up! Keeping that open-minded approach in place I went on line to check it out. The more I read, the better I felt about it. The best place to start of course is with the person who started the whole thing: Francine Shapiro Phd. This site give you the theory, the history and all the information you require to get a good understanding of what it is all about. In a nutshell it is a process similar to hypnotism but different. The idea is to allow the client to analyse the flashback without reliving the experience. When you relive it you stay stuck in that moment and continue to experience all the emotions and stress that the original event caused. The client selects a "target" for working on. This could be any scene that they remember that causes a severe emotional reaction. He or she then identifies the emotions it triggers and any physical reaction it causes. Does it make your stomach cramp? Does your chest hurt? Once the target is established the client is asked to picture the event. When they are ready the therapist begins the process of alternating stimulation of both sides of the brain. By either inducing the eyes to move from side to side, using hand pulses, or listening to a tone in alternate ears over headphones the client should be able to "watch" the memory play out dispassionately. By watching instead of re experiencing a person is able to escape the trap of endlessly reliving the same moment. By processing, analysing and keeping track, of how you feel between sessions, and discussing those results with your therapist, you begin to connect the behaviour and coping mechanisms that have resulted from your abuse Therapists love to say, and for good reason, awareness is half the battle. Knowing that your fear of the dark is caused by the fact your father used to sneak into your bedroom late at night and rape you in your dark bedroom gives you a logical explanation for something you could never explain before. With E. M. D. R. neutralizing the effects of the flashbacks you can combine that with your knowledge of where your fear came from, and overcome it. The rapes were in the past, not now, so there is nothing to fear. That is a rather simplistic example but it gives you the general idea. E. M. D. R won't work for everyone. A good indication that it will work for you is if you are able to meditate with any degree of success or have proven susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. There's also no guarantee that it will work on every occasion either, it all depends on your state of mind that day. I have found that on days when I've over tired, or am dealing with some other external distraction that I can't control, like my pain level being too high, that there is no point in attempting it either. You have to be able to concentrate or hold a point of focus to some degree. E. M. D. R. has worked wonders for me. I have accomplished more working with my current doctor in less then a year, than all the years of my previous therapy combined. It's not a miracle cure by any means, but what it does is establish the things you need to work on. Unlike behaviour modification therapies, you go deep enough to find the root of what causes you to behave in a certain manner. It's much easier to change inappropriate behaviour when you know there's no longer any need for it. It's been a difficult year, thinking about shit that I haven't really wanted to think about, but E. M. D. R. has made it easier. The onus has still been on me to want to change, but at least I feel like I'm really doing it this time, and won't have to go through this again in five to ten years time. Every year seems to bring a new sure-fire cure onto the market. From Chicken Soup for your Gall Bladder to I'm Hot Stuff, Your Not somebody is always willing to guarantee they know how to make you "feel good about yourself". E. M. D. R. doesn't come with any guarantees, and it's definitely not a self-help therapy. What it does do is offer you a means to find your way clear of a past that could be crippling your future. For that I'm eternally grateful. cheers gypsyman

8/29/2005

Hurricanes, Humans, and Hubris

Eye of Hurricane Katrina "You are like a Hurricane, there is a calm in your eye" Neil Young: "Hurricane" Ah Neil, that sure was a vivid description you gave in your song "Hurricane". Artists so often use forces of nature as imagery that we sometimes forget the actual magnitude of the events. How they can affect the lives of thousands, if not millions of people. It's not until something of the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina shows up that we begin to understand our insignificance in the grand scheme of things. Reading articles like the one toady at "The Globe and Mail's" web site describing the enforced evacuation of the whole of New Orleans serves only to remind us that we can never leave nature out of our calculations. With a great deal of the city below sea level, New Orleans is dependant on a series of levees, canals and pumps to keep it dry at the best of times. But the potential floods caused by a storm of this strength could literally make it uninhabitable. (For a nice overview of the system of levees constructed in the Mississippi basin check out this post at blogcritics.org by Dr.Pat) If the worse case scenario plays out, scientists predict that the city could be swamped by a nine-metre cesspool of human waste, toxic waste, and even coffins. Those who can't be evacuated, tourists and the poor, are being bussed to last ditch shelters, including the Superdome. Look at the satellite picture up at the top of this post. What a nasty red eye glaring at us. For those of us with an anthropomorphic take on things it's easy to postulate that Old Mother Nature is right pissed with us. That's the type of eye you'd usually associate with a biker who's been running on cheap speed and booze for a week. Not a person to mess with. Let's face facts for a change. We haven't been the nicest of tenants. We spill shit all over the place and don't clean up after ourselves; we blow huge holes in things; we make noise all day and night without caring about the neighbours; and when we use up one place we just move on to somewhere new, leaving the old place next to uninhabitable. Any landlord worth his salt would have had us evicted long ago. But Nature has been really forgiving. She even lets us get away with murder on nearly a daily basis. Hardly a day goes by without some species of life being exterminated. We may not have been the direct cause, going out and actively hunting it down, but the way we live is not conducive for encouraging any one else's continuation. Our ever-increasing demands for food, shelter, energy, and whatever else we may fancy that day, has caused the available habitat for other creatures to dwindle at an alarming rate. I know there are those of you out there who will say that God gave us dominion over the planet and told us to go forth, be fruitful and multiply. That's all very well and good, but what are you going to do when there's nothing left to have dominion over except a lot of desert. Build sand castles? The Old Testament was written long before the invention of the internal combustion engine, atomic power, and a multitude of other things that the folk writing it couldn't have predicted. In those days, prior to Christ for you out there in want of some perspective, the world was a lot simpler and smaller. None of us can postulate any more successfully than any one else, what they would say about today's reality. The majority of large scale disasters seem to happen in the developing world a lot more often than in North America. It's like twisters and mobile homes; more often than not a tornado will destroy a mobile home park. No one has painted a bull's eye on them for twisters to aim for literally, but we might just as well have. No foundations, flimsy construction and spread out in an open space, they are simply more subject to damage by high winds than other types of structures. In countries where cities were built up around seaports, because shipping was and still is the primary means of trade, it is only natural that there will be a higher percentage of wind and tide related disasters than an inland city. Poverty and population density are also considerations when measuring a storm's impact. When there are countless numbers of people living in squalid and flimsy structures, with insufficient infrastructure to support them, damage will be far more severe than in other instances. The age of a city will also factor into any potential for damage. Cities like Mumbai (Bombay) and Calcutta; designed for pre automobile traffic, sustain more damage from a storm than a modern city like New York of Boston. Hurricane Katrina has exposed another mitigating factor that impacts on a storm's potential for damage: our pride in our technical expertise. It used to be there were conventions for writing plays. For a work to be considered a tragedy it had to focus upon a central character who is brought down by a flaw in his character. (Thus the saying a tragic flaw) A favourite of Classical Greek theatre was hubris which means exaggerated pride in ones abilities and self. The only reason that anybody can even live in New Orleans in the first place are through the artificial means that I mentioned earlier in this article. Due to our hubris concerning our ability to control the natural flow of a river as huge as the Mississippi, one million people now face the prospect of being made homeless for an extended period of time. Who knows, if the worst-case scenario comes about, how long it will be before New Orleans is habitable again. Will the floodwaters even recede? Or will the damage to the work of the army Corps of Engineers up and down the Mississippi be so substantial that it can never be restored? Those are all very real possibilities, simply because no one has any idea what the actual impact on the system will be. How many other places in the world have been built in areas that we should have stayed clear of? You'd think we'd have learnt the lessons taught us by Pompeii and Herculaneum which were destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79CE. San Francisco burning to the ground didn't stop them from rebuilding it in the same place after the horrible quake in 1906 and they are still expecting it to drop into the sea at any time. You'd think with us being a Judeo-Christian culture where pride is listed as one of the seven deadly sins, we'd pay attention to the warnings we've been given. But each successive generation seems to think that it's somehow exempted from the laws of nature, and we know more than our predecessors. Last December's tidal waves that swept through the Indian Ocean, this summer's exceptional monsoon rains that flooded Mumbai, and now Hurricane Katrina's impending destruction of New Orleans seem to indicate that we are out of warnings. I'm not willing to say there is a correlation between our abuse of the environment and these incidences emphatically: it could all be just a quirk of fate, or an off shoot of the shift in the El Nino, but that likelihood can't be ignored. There are things that as a species and a generation we should rightly take pride in. But we should not believe that we have sufficient talent and knowledge to be messing around with something as complicated as Nature. We have to learn how to work with Nature rather than try and force her to our will. That's a battle we always end up losing. There are a series of small islands off the coast of Indonesia, which are inhabited by the remnants of a native tribe. It is estimated that there are about sixty people living scattered throughout this atoll. Since the Indonesian government prohibits all contact, it is hard to get an accurate census. After the tsunami the people seemed to have vanished. It was feared, as they were fishers that they were all swept away. Finally during a fly over a helicopter spotted a single person down on a beach. It turned out that two weeks before the disaster they had known it was coming by the signs and indications they read in the water. They evacuated their villages and moved up into the hills to wait out the storm. These people's ancestors had seen these storms before, and they've held on to the knowledge of how to predict them and what to do in case of them. Their housing is designed to be rebuilt easily so material damage was limited. They suffered no casualties. cheers gypsyman

8/28/2005

Ontario Bans Pit Bulls

I admit it. They make me nervous when I see them walking down the street. Their swagger, the expression on their face, their heavy jaws, and the lolling tongue all conspire to inspire less than confidence in their nature. Confused? I'm talking about what is commonly referred to as a Pit Bull This stocky, low slung dog, has developed a fearsome reputation in recent years and has been blamed for many attacks on humans. Ironically the American Kennel Club is still recommending the breed as an ideal family dog due to their gentle nature and easy going temperament. In fact the American Temperament Test Society Inc. gave the breed an 83.4% passing rate as opposed to the 81% assigned to dogs in general. What happened? How has this easily trained, friendly animal become such a vicious killer that the provincial government of Ontario Canada has banned it? As of Monday August 29th it will be illegal to purchase, breed or import any animal considered falling into the category of a pit bull. There is a grandfather clause exempting animals already owned, as long as they are sterilised, muzzled and controlled in public. Any pups born before November 27th of this year are also exempted from the ban. This has raised fears among those who run shelters that current owners will just start either abandoning their pets or dumping them on humane societies. In a Canadian Pressarticle John Roushorne, general manager of the Windsor-Essex Humane Society says that all he can do is put them down.
"We can't take dogs we identify as being pit or mixed pit as anything other than a euthanasia…We have no place to put them, I'd have them stacked on top of each other if I wasn't euthanizing them." John Roushorne, Canadian Press article.
Prior to the ban many municipalities had already put restrictive by-laws in place concerning the control and ownership of pit bulls. Windsor has had a ban in effect for a year now. Mr. Roushorne estimates that since that time he has seen a minimum of twenty animals a week turned into the shelter. He calls this a significant increase in the numbers from before the ban was enforced. Across the province the worry is that this activity will be repeated in shelter after shelter. It is feared that people will simply get rid of their animals rather than be bothered with complying with the stringent measures required by the law for owning a pit bull. It's when you hear about behaviour like this by owners, that the real problem starts to be revealed. All dogs, no matter their size or breed, are extremely territorial when it comes to their home space, food, or those it considers its pack or family. Knock on the door of any home that has a dog in residence and more often or not it will begin to bark. Walk by a yard where a dog is tethered and he or she will let you know that this is their territory and you'd better not come in without permission. Any dog has to be properly trained by its owner to ensure of its compliance with your wishes. The trouble is very few people seem to want to make that effort. For whatever the reason, either laziness or some misguided belief that training is bad, the result is the same: an uncontrollable animal. How many times have you been threatened by some teeny tot of a dog? Everyone laughs and says how cute. But that means the owner hasn't trained it. Translate that mentality to a large dog like a pit bull and what happens? What was cute in the Yorkshire terrier is potentially fatal in a pit bull. How many times have you or someone you known been nipped by your pet? Dogs bite people all the time, but it hardly ever develops into an issue and the breed isn't labelled a "killer" or a danger. Compare the jaws of the majority of breeds and a pit bulls. What would be passed off as a nip when performed by any other animal develops into a serious injury when delivered by a pit bull. Their jaws are designed to lock in place when they clamp down. These are the descendants of animals that were used in that delightful old pastime of bear baiting. They were genetically bred for the ability to get a tenacious grip upon an animal more than twice it's size and not let go under any circumstances. For every responsible dog owner, there is an equal number, if not greater, of irresponsible ones who cannot be bothered to properly train their animals. They think that their duty to the animal ends with feeding and maybe taking it for a walk once in a while. Of course there are the owners who pretty much ignore their animal and leave it tied up outside all the time. I'm sure every neighbourhood has one of these unfortunate creatures whose howls and cries can be heard at most times of day or night. Dogs are social creatures and need company or they get lonely and miserable. A dog left outside is an unhappy dog; an unhappy dog can easily turn into a dangerous animal. When talking about pit bulls most people tend to make sweeping generalizations: the breed is inherently dangerous, they have been bred to be vicious, and they are unpredictable and will attack without provocation. While it is true that the animal was used for "sports" like bear baiting, and is still in demand for dog fights, this had more to do with their physical characteristics than any psychological condition they have inherited. There may be instances when a particular dog comes from an inbred line that causes it to behave erratically, but that can be true of any breed. Most behaviour on the part of an animal is learned behaviour. Pavlov's famous experiment with dogs and conditioning is the most obvious example of this, but one only needs to think about the differences between an animal that reacts on an instinctual level as compared to one that is rational to see how this is true. In the wild its mother teaches an animal how to survive. In the case of predators, like dogs, this includes how to use the weapons at their disposal to quickly and easily bring down prey. She also keeps them in line through the use of punishment and rewards that are often commonly used by humans when training an animal. A young wolf or coyote pup that gets out of line will either receive a cuff to the head or a quick nip to correct its behaviour. It quickly learns to associate pain with things it shouldn't do and stops doing them. Instead explaining things in terms of why and why not as a human mother could do with her children, a wild mother has to quickly prepare her offspring to survive without her. Training by conditioning is the most efficient tool for that process. This holds true for the human animal interaction; a dog will learn how to behave based on how it is treated by its human companion. This susceptibility to suggestion is what makes all animals a potential threat if they are not treated well or even simply ignored. I realize that this is somewhat of a generalization, but have you noticed the predominance of young males who own pit bulls? Or how many of these owners take some sort of perverse pride in their pet's potential violence? Its as if the owners see the dogs as some sort of proof of their masculinity. What impact is that having on the dog's mentality and conditioning? The problem is not with pit bulls. The problem is with dog owners who don't want to take responsibility for ensuring that their animal is properly socialized. There are always going to be people who are going to buy a dog for the wrong reason, or who are not going to be bothered to take care of them. I worry about a pattern developing. Another breed will be discovered that is violent and unpredictable. There will be emotional appeals made to the government to ban the animal, and we will go through the same process again. The true solution is in implementing better legislation concerning the owning of pets. If you buy a pet, with the exception of a licensed breeder, you should have it sterilized within its first year. With an animal like a dog it must be properly trained to at least obey basic commands that allow the owner to restrain it orally. We are the supposed rational creatures, shouldn't we be held responsible for our pet's behaviour? Everybody is quick to blame the animal in the case of an attack, but maybe we should be looking at the animal at the other end of the leash. There have been some horrible attacks on children and others in unprovoked circumstances by pit bulls. Instead of dealing with the specific dogs in question, as would happen in any other breed, it has been concluded that these animals are too dangerous to exist in our society. That in of itself is a joke when you consider our society and our casual attitude towards human life. How many violent assaults occur on a daily basis and we still haven't banned humans. Let's stop blaming those who are not the problem. The politicians have taken the easy way out on this one by banning pit bulls. Its probably too late to save them from extermination, and that will be what happens eventually. When everyone bans them, where are they going to go but under six feet of dirt? But maybe when the next violent breed of dog appears we can exercise our rational minds and figure out a better solution. I hope so. cheers gypsyman

8/27/2005

Needs And Wants: Two Ways Of Seeing The Same Thing

"I'd never be a member of any club that would have me as a member" Those immortal words of the most famous of the Marx philosophers have guided most of my major life decisions. Well, not really, but it could explain my antipathy to things like co-ops and communal living. Or maybe it's I just don't like people? Whatever the reason I've been more than reluctant to join anything that involves more than one other person. That's probably why I've never had a problem with monogamy and adjusted to married life without a problem. But ever since those early report cards saying I didn't play will with others the story hasn't changed much. Which makes it all the more surprising that I've joined two groups on the net. All right one of them is mandatory and I don't have to really chat with anyone. But the other is on a strictly volunteer basis. What's fascinating about this group is that they are talking from a completely different cultural perspective than the one I'm familiar with. Instead of hearing thoughts shaped by the Western Judeo Christian ethos that developed my thinking process, I am privileged to listen, and occasionally comment, to a group composed primarily of people with Asian and Indian heritage. As it is primarily a literary discussion group, the majority of the time I've never even heard of the book, or series of books under discussion. But since most of the titles talked about deal with lessons on how to live a good life, or other philosophical notions, I'm not totally left out of the loop. I've long been opposed to the practice of what I call culture dipping. That is, taking an aspect of someone else's belief system and applying it out of context in your own culture. Not only is it usually inappropriate, but it's also insulting to the people whose ideas you are appropriating. On the other hand learning another person's perspective is one of the things that allows for the discovery of common ground between cultures. If we continually look on other cultures and beliefs as "different" instead of trying to focus on similarities, we will continue to be a planet of strangers. When the moments of synchronicity do occur it feels like a ray of sunlight has broken through a cloudbank. All of a sudden something that had made no sense a second before is a concept that you have always espoused and valued. Such a moment occurred during a recent discussion about the difference between needs and wants. For the western mind the problem usually is learning how to separate the two. Most of us here in North America have no idea that there is even a difference. Take a look at our obsession with material wealth and that's not to great a leap of logic is it. But as far as I can tell from experience, and that's all I have to go by, what it really comes down to is gratitude for the gifts we have. Once we learn to be grateful, our wants requirement is lessened. Needs/wants tend to spring from some sort of dissatisfaction with our lot in life. When I find myself needing something I closely examine my real motivations for that item. For example I recently fixated on getting myself a laptop for writing. It would not have been the end of the world if I couldn't get one, but the reality was that it would make my wife's and my life easier. She uses our desktop for graphic design, and right now is currently recording a CD of her music on it. We were starting to run into conflicts; with me needing to write and her needing to do her thing. My wanting of the laptop was to fulfill the need to satisfy both of our desires to be creative. It is not the same as shelter or food or health, which are basic needs, but as the old union song says, "give us bread and give us roses too". There is more to life than just survival, quality of life must enter into the equation somehow. Where the real problem lies is a definition of quality of life. Accumulation of material goods of any sort does nothing to improve the quality of anybody's life; it just adds clutter. In order to live a want free life one must have the awareness to understand where ones own personal fulfillment lies. For me it was having the means to write whenever I needed to. For my wife it was having the means to work on her artwork and music as required. The $100 Canadian I spent on the laptop was a cheap price to fulfill all of that. With that one purchase we are each able to do what is needed, and in the process find we want for less. Both of us had gone through periods in our life when we would buy things in an attempt to fill some hole or other in our lives. All that usually resulted from that was guilt over spending money we really couldn't afford. Now this is a discussion that could occur quite easily between two western people. What made this unique for me was how it came up. Instead of simply being about the relative merits of material wealth it began with a concept alien to my way of considering things. As I understood it the topic was responsibility to ones choices and ambitions. If we have striven for years to accomplish something, whether professionally or personally, it becomes our duty to fulfill that attempt. In that fulfillment all of our needs will end up being met. I think of myself in this context and I realise the truth of that statement. Since a very young age I have always wanted to write. For a variety of reasons, I have never been able to commit myself to it in a serious manner until this year. In the years leading up to now I have always experienced a level of dissatisfaction no matter what it was I was doing. Even when I thought that I was following my dreams, working as an actor, and the theatre, I was heavily addicted to alcohol and drugs. Suggesting a certain level of unhappiness. It wouldn't matter whether or not I had the means to buy anything I wanted, or was stone broke, both of which I have experienced at various points in time. I could never eliminate that empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. Despite living in circumstances that most people would consider unfortunate: I have a chronic pain condition requiring heavy medication and painful treatments, and which limits my physical activity to short walks; around the same time that I became disabled my wife's life was affected in a similar manner through a recurring condition of her own; we are now living on a provincial disability pension which barely meets our needs, let alone cover our debt payments from before we both took sick; I'm more content with my lot in life than ever before. It is the rare occasion now when I find myself wanting something, that isn't needed. It's not like I spend my whole day writing either, so it's not as if I don't have time to brood upon things. It really is a matter of getting fulfillment from fulfilling my duty to myself When I read that last sentence I can see how people might interpret that as very selfish behaviour. What about the needs of others, and your responsibilities to them and society as a whole? What about working for a living and all those things that have to be done whether we like it or not? But how many of those responsibilities are dictated by wants instead of needs. If we desire to accumulate stuff, than we need the money to pay for it, than we require the means of obtaining money. Since that does seem to be the prime motivation in our society, than things like getting ahead and working yourself into an early grave become a responsibility. This is where it is important to learn to differentiate between needs and wants. If raising a family is what you need to fulfill yourself than you do what you can to achieve that end. Since everything you are doing is helping you achieve that goal, than no matter what you are doing will be satisfying because it pertains to the primary need. It's the difference between being forced to get a job and give up your dreams to raise an accidental family, or one that was not planned, and setting out with that goal in mind where the distinction is made clear. In the former everything is a responsibility and a burden, in the latter, you are doing what you want to do. We've been raised in a society where we are told it is our duty to go forth and work to make money and raise a family. When you look at it dispassionately it's a pretty joyless existence. For a society of so-called individuals there is very little true individual freedom. We are born, go to school, work for x number of years, and than die. Maybe along the way we raise a family. Is it any wonder that artists are looked upon with suspicion? They are one exception to the Protestant work ethic that dictates how we live our days. They are doing what they want to do and appear to be turning their back on responsibility. In truth they are being just as responsible as the next person, but instead of the dictates of our society, they are being responsible to themselves. Who do you think is leading a more truly fulfilling life; the artist living in his garret painting, or the banker sitting in his office forty hours a week for forty years? Who's truly getting their needs met? I made certain choices a long time ago, choices, which a lot of my friends and immediate family didn't and probably still, don't understand. I chose the path less traveled in our society of working as an artist, with all the risks and economic insecurity that accompanied it. The thing is though, that because of that choice all those years ago, I'm sitting here today doing what I want to be doing and feeling like I'm not lacking for anything. Different cultures have different views and attitudes towards the same subjects. These views are often reflected in the makeup of their society and how it operates. As the world continues to shrink and contact between cultures continues to grow, we need to take advantage of any opportunities to explain ourselves to each other. The more we know about each other the less chance there will be for misunderstanding and uncertainty. I don't know if I completely grasped the topic that was under discussion in the group that day, or if I've even been able to explain it clearly, but every little piece of information I collect helps piece the puzzle that is our world together a little more each day.

8/26/2005

Indians and Mascots

I'm going to wade into territory that I would probably be better off staying out off, but since I don't know when to keep my mouth shut here goes nothing. The whole issue of team mascots being given pseudo Native American nicknames has always left a taste in my mouth, and not a good one. Now that the NCAA has finally gotten around to doing something about it, everybody is in an uproar over it. It seems that this is an issue that won't go away. From the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins in professional sports through the college ranks with the Florida Seminoles and the Central Michigan Chippewa's to name just a few. For the majority of these teams the mascots or nicknames have been a part of their identities for decades. In those innocent days before political correctness no one thought twice about the significance of either impersonating another race, or utilizing a nation's name as a signifier of a characteristic. In all of these cases the name was chosen in the belief that it represented a positive attribute that could be associated with the team. Fierceness in battle, bravery, etc. were all characteristics that any sports team would love to embody. I mean what sounds better to you: The Cleveland Indians or the Cleveland Accountants. The motivation behind the names is obvious. The intent was never negative; in fact some would even say they were positive because of the qualities that were emphasised. Why than, all the uproar about something as innocuous as a nickname or a mascot? A stereotype even when construed as positive by those utilizing it, still only generates a one dimensional view of a people. It reduces the complexity of human nature down to a series of characteristics imposed on a people by outside forces. Instead of treating a race of people like individuals they are lumped together into a singular category. All black people have rhythm and are good athletes, Jewish people are good with money, and Asians are studious are observations and commentary made by others. It becomes up to them to prove that they are capable of doing something other than what is considered normal for a person of their type. Have you ever heard of "white" males ever be defined in that manner. Can you name any specific trait that they are assigned in the same manner as described above? Not in our society. Perhaps if we were to live where our culture wasn't predominating we would learn what it's like to be on the receiving end of that kind of treatment. When a race of people, or any grouping of individuals; religion for example, are defined by attributes decided upon by others, there is the risk of dehumanization. That is the breeding ground for ideas of racial superiority, and ultimately things like ethnic cleansing. In our not too distant past many people believed that some races were superior to others. As recently as the 1990's people were making claims such as Asians are smarter than whites who are smarter than blacks. The majority of us have outgrown such sentiments, in regards to the majority of ethnic groups, but remnants of cultural bias still remain in our society.
"I watched the movies and saw the kind of Indian I was supposed to be. A cinematic Indian is supposed to climb mountains. I am afraid of heights. A cinematic Indian is supposed to wade into streams and sing songs. I don't know how to swim. A cinematic Indian is supposed to be a warrior. I haven't been in a fistfight since sixth grade and she beat the crap out of me. I mean, I knew I could never be as brave, as strong, as wiser as visionary, as white as the Indians in the movies." Sherman Alexie: "I hated Tonto(still do)". Los Angeles Times 1998.
Sherman Alexie is Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian poet, author, screenwriter and director. In books like Reservation Blues and Indian Killer he illustrates the ways in which the stereotype of the noble savage is perpetuated. The stone-faced, stoical, mystic warrior never appears on the pages of his books except in the imagination of non-natives. There are urban Indians going to school, getting drunk, being lawyers and living lives just like their white counterparts. There are reservation Indians living life of desperate poverty, and there are the ones who have fallen so far that they will never get back up again from their seat on skid row. But not a one amongst them is a fierce warrior, any more than you or me. If all of a sudden Indians were integrated into our society: taught in our schools, argued cases in our courts, just generally became part of our accepted landscape, how long would those nicknames persevere? These harmless nicknames and mascots are a symbol of the marginalized nature of their existence. With the exception of Notre Dame's Irish how many sports teams make use of anything pertaining to ethnicity aside from those employing Native American mascots and nicknames? Why is less acceptable to call a team The Washington Blackskins than the Washington Redskins? Why is it okay for the University of Illinois to have a white person put on red make up and pretend to be native and not to put on black face and pretend to be black? If it is considered offensive to display one race as a one-dimensional character why is it allowed for another? Any school with the nickname of "Coons" and using a Minstrel Show mascot, who tried to defend their actions on the grounds of tradition would be dismissed as racist and backward. The issue of mascots and nicknames is not as grey as some people would like you to think. Just because an injustice has been ongoing for years and years is not justification for it continuation. The segregation of schools and buses was a tradition that was abolished, as was slavery. Obviously these were more overt forms of racisms and oppression than what is being discussed here, but in there own way mascots are equally harmful. In fact their seeming innocuousness makes them even more difficult to combat. It's very easy to say: "Oh what's the harm?" or "Lighten up, it's just a little harmless fun" But every generation who performs the Tomahawk Chop, or sees another white man dressed up like an Indian waving a tomahawk and clapping his hand over his mouth making whooping noises, is another who's view of Indians is limited to a one dimensional cartoon. I'm not native, but I have dark skin and long dark hair and am often mistaken for one. With reactions ranging from people actually saying "How" or calling me "Chief" it only tells me that we have a long way to go before acceptance as equals is possible. To those of you who say lighten up it's only a mascot I say your right. If it's only a mascot you can change it. What's a mascot or a nickname as compared to basic human dignity? Nothing. It's time for people to grow up and remember there are more important things than games. cheers gypsyman

8/25/2005

Review: Restless Soul. New Release From the Proclaimers

The Proclaimers are back! Instead of having to wait four or even seven years between releases, as fans have in the past, Restless Soul reaches stores only two years following its predecessor. Already available in the British Isles the disc will be released in North America on September 6th. On first listen things sound pretty much the same: great harmonies, ringing acoustic guitars, gritty, realistic lyrics, and a driving beat. But from the first track on there is a noticeable difference. First, the production values are more sophisticated than one has come to expect from a Proclaimer's disc. Strings make sporadic appearances filling out the sound and adding previously absent texture. Previously known for an almost in your face approach to their presentation, it feels like they've taken a step back from their microphones in an attempt to make a more intimate album. In keeping with this the tracks on the disc have a more introspective theme. "When Love Struck You Down", "Turning Away", and the title track "Restless Soul" have the brothers turning a microscope on the inner workings of love and motivation. In fact as a whole the album seems preoccupied with the nature of relationships. From the simple joy of a shared post coatis moment in "That's Better Now" and the pleasure of re discovering the reasons behind love in" What I Saw In You" one gets the feeling that they have set out to write pop love songs for adults. Instead of typical juvenile teenage infatuations, this is a celebration of the joys of a lasting love. Of course not all love can be idyllic. "He Just Can't" is about the denial a man goes through when he realizes he has crossed the line of no return by beating his wife. "He just can't face the fact," repeats the refrain over and over again. Simple words that convey complex emotion and one simple fact: abusers just don't get it. Examination of love wouldn't be complete without one good obsessive, bordering on stalking, love song. "Bound For Your Love" is not about stalking, but it shows how we can get so wrapped up in a person that we can't be apart from them and tend to make fools of ourselves in the process. Of course not all love is between people. "I'm Gone" is a tongue in cheek peon to the simple pleasure of drinking just one too many on occasion. While lyrics such as "All of my fear and most of my pain ran hand in hand to catch the last train…" are a clear indication of the escapist quality of drinking to excess, the song is also a healthy contrast to the puritanical attitude that having more than two drinks makes you an alcoholic. For those of you looking for the anthem like songs of the Proclaimers, past "D .I. Y." will fit the bill. D. I. Y. is the British acronym for do it yourself. Here the Reid brothers are instructing all those who either manufacture weapons or send people off to war to just show us how it's done and kill themselves.
" Warmongers kill yourselves, Demonstrate the power of the product that your trying to sell. Gun wavers shoot yourselves, make a big hole in your head with a shiny shell". "D. I. Y." Restless Soul, The Proclaimers
Not since Bob Dylan's "Master's of War" have I heard such a ringing condemnation of both the armament industry and those old people who have no trouble sending people half their age off to die in battle. The sentiment of, maybe there would be less war in the world if those who did the ordering and building actually experienced it is an old one, but one that bears repetition. The disc ends with two songs dealing with death and mortality. "Now and Then" is about the brothers' father who died a couple of years ago. It talks about how once the rawness of new grief wears off one still has moments of regret. "If I cry, you just smile and sigh, I never said goodbye, I never will" Those three lines sum up the spirit of the song; not wanting to forget somebody is one thing, but holding on to grief serves no purpose. It's also indicative of the nature of the whole album, simple, real emotions served up in a matter of fact manner; as opposed to the melodrama of most pop music. "One more down" is about not knowing what comes after we're done on earth. Everyone has his or her ideas of course, but we will only find out the truth of the matter when we die.
"One more down, some more to go. Then I'll know or I won't know. If all the songs I hear you sing are everything or anything." "One More Down", Restless Soul, The Proclaimers.
The Proclaimers have always been different from the norm in the world of pop music. In style and substance they have managed to separate themselves from the pack by their unique blend of acoustic music and punk in your face attitude. In North America, at least, they are a refreshing alternative to the generic sounds that predominate on rock and pop charts. Restless Soul is no exception. If it's slightly more introspective than previous releases, that's only to be expected. When musicians who sing with passion and from the heart, as the Reid brothers do, change and grow as people, so does their music. Restless Soul is pop music sung by adults for adults. Restless Soul will hit the shelves of music stores in North America on September 6th and the Reid brothers will be hitting our shores two days latter to start their North American tour in Hamilton Ontario. The first part of their tour will see them travelling down the eastern seaboard, across the mid west in both Canada and the U. S., and ending up in the House of Blues in Los Angeles on October 11th. For a full listing of tour dates check out the gig section of their web site. Look for an interview with one of the Reid brothers at this web site in the near future. cheers gypsyman

8/24/2005

Ecological Footprints: Our Guide To Survival

"Walk softly and carry a big stick" Teddy Roosevelt is quoted as saying in reference to foreign policy. In some ways it could also be the new motto for environmental groups. As human presence on the planet continues to grow, means of curtailing our impact on the natural world become even more pressing. The primary means of doing this should be through education on how everyone can decrease the effect they have on living here, and punishing those who step over the line. There is already a means for measuring our "Footprint's" depth based on the amount of resources used and waste created by individuals and cities. When the data is assembled calculations can be made estimating the number of "earths" it would take to sustain a family or city to continue living their current lifestyle. Factors such as what type of foods are eaten, how many cars are driven (and used by how many people) are considered to try and generate an assessment of the drain on non sustainable resources and waste generation. At present this system is nothing more than a rough gauge against which we can judge our behaviour patterns in an effort to live in a more sustainable manner. Serious adjustments would need to be made to incorporate enough factors to make this an accurate standard by which we could judge the impact a business has on the environment. There are two major concerns that are not taken into consideration in the "Footprint" measurement. One is the consumption and use of both fresh and salt water; the other is the speed at which sustainable goods are spent. The real problem facing the world is not, as most people think, the depletion of non- sustainable goods, but the speed at which we go through sustainable ones. Although the earth is able to replenish itself, it is not able to keep up with our demands. This is the cause of famines, droughts, and any other shortages experienced on a regular basis throughout the world. Water consumption is of major importance as it is such a vital component of life. It is imperative in any impact study that the effects on the water table as well as on any bodies of water in the vicinity are considered. Omitting that is the equivalent of not considering the health of a human's blood in the search for an illness. Currently we have a piecemeal system in place. Individual statistics are gathered on an industry's CO2 emissions, or the water's near by a plant are checked for pollutants on a complaint only basis. It's unfair to both industry and the planet in its methodology and effectiveness. By only being able to catch or discover cases of pollution after the fact the damage has been done, and in some cases is irreversible. A Footprint based system would allow an agency like the Environmental Protection Agency (E. P. A.) to set standards that would be easy to enforce and follow. As the Footprint also measures resource usage, it could serve as a means for a company to increase efficiency in methods of production, there by saving them money. Perhaps they are a plastics company, which manufactures patio furniture using pre-cut forms and moulds. There would be an amount of waste material left over which would be discarded. If the company began an internal recycling program, they could turn the waste back into raw material to be poured into new moulds. Not only would they save on material costs they would decrease the size of their ecological footprint. Even if only a percentage of recycled material could be reused in each new product, it would still represent a savings on all fronts. According to Native American belief the world is one huge interconnected web: pull on one string it affects the whole, cut one string the whole is irrevocably damaged. The Footprint measurement allows us a way of measuring how hard each of our endeavours plucks a string in the web. I will also serve as an instruction manual for being able to take steps to rectify problems. If we are willing to make a little effort the return would be inestimable. Not only would sustainable business practices improve the environment, they will also improve the bottom line. If you were wondering what happened to the big stick, well that's what would have to be used on any transgressors. If clear guidelines are set forth on how business is to be conducted there can be no excuses for failure to comply. Anyone straying outside their parameters would have to be punished severely enough to act as a deterrent for others. We have only the one planet, and there is only so much that it can provide before it is used up. Without proper management and care we won't have any resources left to use in the future. What type of profits anyone expects to be able to make from prospects like those is beyond me. cheers gypsyman

8/23/2005

Oil, China and Indai

Oil. It makes the world's economy go round. It's the rumoured cause of the wars in Iraq. It's also what emerging economic powers like China and India need most to ensure they keep up with the developed world. Which all explains both countries recent interest in acquiring control of Canadian owned PetroKazakhstan(PetroKaz) "China National Petroleum Corp", China's largest oil and gas company, has recently out bid India's state owned oil company, "Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd." in a bidding war for rights to control the oil fields of Kazakhstan. The location of these lucrative fields would be a natural fit for either country given each's proximity to the country of origin. Having a ready supply of local oil will improve their trade balance, and cut costs even further for two already low overhead economies. China's coming out on top of this deal can only increase the impact their economy is having on global markets. All though China and India have just announced an agreement, which will see their countries combining efforts to bid on energy assets, they are still pursuing their own targets as well. They are not limiting themselves to just oil fields either, anything connected to the petrochemical field is considered essential; plastics are of special importance. At present, everyone's favourite market place for doing natural resource deals seems to be those old hewers of wood and carriers of water people Canada. According to the "Globe and Mail" there are a number of factors contributing to Canada's appeal as a place to buy your very own petroleum company. First is the fact that there is plenty available to pick and choose from, second we are not a war zone, or even near by to one, and finally our dollar is still low enough to make purchases relatively cheap. It's not only oil that's being bought up, nor is it only China and India doing the buying. Both French and Swiss companies have bought up interests in mining operations in recent purchases and are looking to buy more. Even that old stalwart of Canadian industry, Inco, could be on the market. The real money is still over in the oil business. The Chinese are paying way above share value for the companies that they are buying, thus making them hard offers to refuse. Some market analysts are putting this down to inexperience in the world market place, or the fact that they are subsidised by the state so don't have to worry about profit and loss margins and stock holders. On the other hand, I wonder if its not deliberate policy. Knowing how dependant they are on Oil for the continuation of their economic growth, does it not make good sense to secure self-sufficiency? Even if the initial out lay seems a little steep, it's better than finding yourself at the mercy of others a little further down the road. Look at the situation that both America and Canada are in right now. Fuel prices at the pump are going through the roof for the average motorist. Small, insignificant military powers like Venezuela can threaten the U. S. by threatening to turn off the taps and cut off access to a cheap supply of oil. You would think that Canada would be in a better situation, having Alberta's resources to draw upon, but the division of powers and rights in Canada gives provinces control over their own natural assets. They are under no obligation to supply any more than negotiated, to the rest of Canada. It all comes down to where they feel they can get the best price. (The quagmire that is inter-provincial relationships is a subject best left for another time and place. Sufficient to say that oil and gas have always been a bone of contention between Alberta and the federal government in Ottawa) The biggest puzzle for me is why the United States has never made similar moves to those that China and India are making. They could have locked up oil assets years ago by purchasing controlling interest in companies north of the border. Instead of frittering away lives and money in trying to control unstable markets in the Middle East they could have laid out cash and bought in to a stable oil market close to home. Is there some sort of provision in The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that prevents our countries from purchasing each other's natural resource assets? Even if that were the case there is nothing preventing them from signing agreements to be supplied by any number of companies with oil. The west coast of America already receives the majority of its electrical power from British Columbia Hydro Electric. Now of course it would be too late. Both China and India seem to be willing to make these acquisitions in a no matter what the cost manner. This leaves little or no room for other corporations to manoeuvre. Together China and India make up close to a third of the world's population. Only in India has the use of personal motor vehicles caught on, and even than, it is nowhere near as wide spread as it is in Europe and miles apart from North America. The majority of their oil usage is directly related to their industry. If both India and China can develop their own consistent supplies of oil, and keep the demand limited to what is required for industry, their ascension as world economic powers is assured. Our obsession with the war on terror has left us blind to the fact that our economy is in deadly peril of falling into a pit that it may never climb out of. If things stay on the course they're running now, it's soon going to be us wandering around the world with hat in hand looking for help. I hope they offer better interest rates than we did. Cheers gypsyman

8/22/2005

Immigrants: All of were one once

"Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted. Our work contracts out and we have to move on. Six hundred miles to that Mexican border, They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves." Deportees Woody Guthrie. When Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics to this song he was commenting on the plight of the migrant workers hired to pick fruit and vegetables along the American/Mexican border. The workers were not limited to only one geographical destination. They would be hired to work as far north as The Holland Marsh growing fields just outside of Toronto Canada. The practice of hiring "temporary labourers" on low paying contracts continued on into the 1960's until the United Farm Workers managed to organize the pickers and pressure the growers into providing living wages. Although this has alleviated the problems faced by the migrant workers, it has done nothing to relieve the illegal immigrant problem faced across North America. While both Canada and the United States have laws that clearly define who is allowed to work in each country, it seems more and more people are looking for ways to circumvent the legislation in both countries. Whether it's individuals or corporations, or the immigrant them-self lying about their status, they are all complicate in the commission of this crime. For the employer there is the obvious advantage of not having to pay any benefits, or even comply with any local labour laws when it comes to hiring an illegal. The employee gets a much-needed job to keep them-self alive. The practice of hiring illegal workers has led to a thriving black market economy based on the smuggling of people across borders. They get shipped to Canada as either stow-a-ways in container bins or in the cargo hold, than are smuggled off the ships. From there they either disappear into the cities to work as slave labour for a number of years, or continue on down to the States via one of the various smuggling routes across the border. Although this practice is bad enough on its own to be condemned, it has the unfortunate effect of tarring legitimate immigrants with the brush of illegality. For reasons that escape me, there has always been a degree of resentment in North America against immigrants. These cases of illegal immigration are fuel for people who position themselves against immigration. Their arguments are aimed to appeal to our selfish and emotional aspects: they steal jobs from us, they are a drain on the public purse, and, the newest one, they may be terrorists. It leaves me wondering if any of these people have ever picked up a history book in their lives. Where would Canada and the United States be if it weren't for immigration? Four hundred years ago, in 1605, who actually lived here? Not us. It doesn't matter if you can trace your family back to Champlain or the Mayflower; you are the descendant of immigrants. Talk about leaches on society. If it hadn't been for the Indians, neither the early French settlers, or those folks who landed at Plymouth Rock, would have survived their first winters here. Every person living in North America, even some Native Nations, is an immigrant from another country. Compared to civilizations around the world in fact, we are all recent arrivals. All of our families, no matter the ethnic background, face a period of adjustment lasting up to a generation in length if not sometimes longer. Each new wave has received government support and sustenance of some sort or another. Whether homesteaders being give free acres of land and a couple head of cattle, or a refugee from some war torn country receiving the benefits of our social system, it all amounts to equivalent support. Times change and so do the means of supporting immigrants. Canada and the United States have long declared themselves beacons of hope and freedom for the oppressed of the world.
"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
These words engraved upon the base of the Statue of Liberty emblanise the sentimants that our forebearers presented as our face to the world. A haven and a refuge for those looking to begin a new life. Wave upon wave of hopeful faces filled Ellis Island and the port of Halifax waiting to begin their new lives. Now Ellis Island stands empty and Halifax is unloading only goods. Today's refugee's land in our airports to be processed in antiseptic waiting rooms by uniformed guards who check that their paper work is all in order. Automatically treated with suspision now instead of welcome, the difficult task of aclimatizing for a new comer has been compounded by our attitudes. What has caused us to be so selfish that we don't want to share those gifts that we're given our families? When and why did we start closing the door? The first indications that circumstances were changing came as early as the 1930's when Jews fleeing Adolf Hittler's Germany were being refused entry by the governments of both Canada and the United States. While no proof exists to support the theory, unfortunately nothing else makes sence, rampent anti semitism among the elite of both countries has long been blamed for this travesty of justice. Sadly this was only the onset of North American xeonophobia. Each new wave of immigration (going back to the 19th centurey head tax on Chinese immigrants) has been greeted with hostility. Either through government edict like the Chinese and Jews or from individual's bigotry against something different. One of the nastier examples of this in recent memory was in the 1970's in Toronto Ontario. Idi Amin Dada, dictator of Uganda, had decided to purge his country of all non Africans. The result was that all people of Asian and Indian decent were forced to flee for their lives. A sizeable chunk of these people ended up in Toronto. The majority of these people had been professionals back in their native Uganda, doctors, lawyers, etc., but here were forced to make menial jobs just to make ends meet. Typically the cry went up from the bigots that they were taking jobs away from Canadians. The logic behind that arguement has always defeated me. If these jobs are available for someone to do, that means that no one else wants them. How many white anglo saxons do you find in kitchens washing dishes and scrubbing the grease pits in a major metropolitan centre? Usually it's some guy with a degree in nuculer physics whose has too much pride to go on welfare. In Canada what strikes me as funny about the people who do most of the complaining, is the fact that most of them haven't held a job in ages. But these same people would never dream of doing anything like washing dishes, even though they aren't qualified for much more. It's a typical case of finding a scrapegoat instead of accepting responsibility for your own situation. When one travels across Canada out to the western provinces, it's interesting to notice the makeup of various farming communities. There are whole towns that are of Ukrainion or other eastern European country, descent. Family groups and villages from the old country would come over here and be transported directly to the place we needed people to live the most. It didn't hurt that these people were from a similar climate as the praries, but it still serves as an example of how immigration has assisted in the development of our country. Without them Canada would never have achieved its goal of streching from sea to sea. There is no reason why this sort of directed immigration policy can't be established again. In Canada we are land rich and people poor. Currently we are desperate need of population growth outside of the southern Ontaro and western Quebec corridor along the St. Lawrence river. Why not set up simillar programs as we had then to encourage populating our sparse landscape? If we stopped treating immigration as a problem and a threat, and examined our own not too distant histories to see how it has benefited us in the past, I'm certain we could find a way to open our doors again. Once we did that it would certainly cut back on the illegal immigrant problem. If we are serious about dealing with illegal immigration, than we need to make it as unprofitable as possible for companies who participate in the employment of those not eligable to work in our respective countries. Any corporation with any connection to the use of illegals, no matter how removed they claim to be, should be fined heavily and their excutives responsible for personal decisicons jailed. Take for example the case of Walmart who were accused of hiring illegals as cleaning staff. They defended themselves by claiming it was the contracter they used who was responsible. But since Walmart awarded the contract, probably based on the cheapest bid, it is still they who are responsible for the who is working in their stores. They should be held accountable for their failure to do due dillagence in the awarding of the contract. Governments must lead the way in creating the means of ensuring the demise of traffic in humans. Offer amnesty to any illegal who is willing to give evidence against smuggelers of human cargo. Local police forces need to strengthen their ties with immigrant communities so that they are treated as allies in the fight against this new form of slavery, not the enemy. In the past few years we in North America have learned just how precarious a place the world can be. One would have hoped that it would have increased our compassion for those fleeing strife torn lands and desperate situations. Instead we have given into our fears, whose flames have been fanned by the media and our politicians, and selfishly deny the succour given our families not so long ago. What would have happened if the first nations people had let the settlers starve four hundred years ago? Would more settlements have been attempted, or would the whole thing been abandonded? Obviously we can only guess at the answers, but I would think if there had not been such a freindly welcome, neither country would have developed at the same rate of speed or in the same manner. By allowing fear to dictate our lives and change the values that created these two great countries, we have lost the war on terror before it even got started. We only play into the hands of terrorists when we react in a bigoted and close minded manner. We're better than that. Let's prove it by opening our borders and our hearts to those who wish to escape terror and start their lives anew. To paraphrase John F. Kenedey: " The light from their endevours will illuminate the our place in the world" cheers gypsyman

8/20/2005

The Traditional Way: Not Always The Right Way

"A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask 'Why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous?' Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!" Tevye: Opening lines of Fiddler on the Roof. Directed by Norman Jewison. Script: Sholom Aleichem. Music: Joseph Stein.
Tradition. I can't hear that word without superimposing a Russian/Jewish accent on to it. Indelibly carved into my brain is the image of the actor Topol standing, legs apart, arms spread, extending that word in song for what seems like an eternity. Tradition. The movie, and I assume the play as well, Fiddler On The Roofhas as one of its themes, the intrusion of modern life into a small Jewish farming village, or shetle as they were known in Yiddish, in pre communist Russia. With these intrusions come conflicts between what has always been done, tradition, and increasingly liberal attitudes. Tradition we are told from the beginning, via the song of the same name, is the glue that keeps the fabric of the community together. It is our instruction manual and blueprint for leading the good life. The song asks without traditions where would we be? Tradition tells us who we can marry, what we can eat, how to treat our neighbours, and how to pray. From the moment we are born, our feet follow in the steps of our fore parents, without deviation. With tradition as our guide, we can't go wrong. What happens when tradition and want come into conflict? When is the time for tradition to bend and be flexible? When does tradition stop being the beautiful tapestry of our past, illustrating life, and become the shackles that tie is into backwardness and bigotry? Tevye is faced with increasing demands upon his willingness to bend with the times, until he is no longer able to and snaps. His tests come in the form of his daughters and their choices of husbands. In the case of his eldest, it is simply her desire to marry for love instead of following the dictates of the matchmaker. Although it means surrendering his dreams of wealth, he is able to bend with grace and allow her to follow her heart. It's the youngest two daughters that bring things to a head. The middle child falls for a secular Jewish communist. He cannot abide the thought of his daughter marrying a non-believer. He only reconciles with her when, after her husband is arrested, she must move away to be close to where he is imprisoned. The third daughter does the unforgivable and marries a Russian soldier. She is disowned and never spoken of again. Not until the whole village is forced to pack up and leave for the New World, and she and her husband join them, is there any sign of reconciliation. Tevye sees that his beloved traditions have not held back the other great tradition that buffets Jews. Their welcome wears out, and they have to move on. Traditions are handed down from generation to generation. They are transmitted in forms ranging from the oral stories told by tribal people that import survival and moral lessons; to texts like the Old and New Testaments, and The Qur'an, (Koran); and epic poetry like Homer's Odyssey, Virgil's Aenied, and Valmiki's Ramayana. The problem with writing things down is that it gives them the power beyond their words. Once something is on paper, it is equivalent to being carved into stone for all its flexibility. Relevancy becomes an issue. In the thousands of years since some of these stories have been written the world has changed. We have learned more about the nature of why and how things happen and came into being then were known by our fore bearers. An occurrence that were once explained away as magical or an act of God is now known to have logical explanations. Ideas that were once universally accepted, like the earth being flat and the sun and planets revolving around the earth, have been refuted. Does it not follow logically than that the stories we use as guidance for living should not also be adapted to our current world. Don't they need to change with our understanding of the world in the same way we no longer believe we will sail off the edge of the world? Stories that are teachings need to be relevant to the people reading them. Native American writers like Thomas King continues to use traditional characters like Coyote from their past, but incorporate them into present day native realities. This type of integration keeps a culture from stagnating. If we continue to be hind bound by the past, we end up retaining elements that may have been appropriate to another age, or may never have been appropriate at all. Attitudes towards women have changed in society, yet certain traditions continue to oppress them and treat them like less than chattel. That's not something we should encourage, so we need to adapt our stories to reflect changing attitudes. It seems like segments of Christianity and Islam (Not meaning to pick on those two, but they are the obvious example) are very resistant to this concept. Adherence to traditions that are out of step with the realities of today's world is the cause of some of our worse conflicts. Without archaic beliefs to fortify them, do you think we would have the proliferation of suicide bombers that we see today? How much better off would the world be if proper birth control and protection against Sexually Transmitted Diseases were available in the developing world. With both Muslim and Christian backed governments imposing their beliefs through aid packages conditional upon non-involvement in anything resembling family planning, the likely hood of that happening soon is slim. Tevye discovers that tradition can be a comfort, but it also can be a curse. We need to learn that lesson. We need to stop letting traditions pull is into the past, but start bringing them forward with us, into the future. cheers gypsyman

8/19/2005

Ashok Banker Interview: Part Two

This is the second part of a two part interview I conducted via email with Indian author Ashok Banker. Ashok is best known currently for his adaptation of the classic Indian epic The Ramayana. In this part of the interview he discusses some of what motivates him, reactions to his work, future plans, and a little about the culture of India. Part one can be read here You've mentioned in comments we've exchanged and in some of your postings that you want to reclaim Indian history for Indians. Can you elaborate on that and explain how your version of The Ramayana fits into that motivation. Would Americans be willing to have Vietnamese, or Burmese, or Germans, or Russians, write their history, their textbooks, govern them, and force their language, script, customs, religion, system of governance, legal system, etc, etc, upon them for four hundred years, and then expect them to continue those traditions unquestioned? Ashok 2 Would any country or culture, for that matter, accept another culture that invades and occupies them by force, be the only judge and narrator of their cultural myths and traditions and legends? Yes, of course, I wish to reclaim Indian history. Not only for Indians, but for all to read. Wouldn't you rather know how an Indian writer perceives the Ramayana, or the Mahabharata, or various tales of Indian legend and history? Rather than, say, an English writer, or a French author? Or even a Canadian? Besides, I don't deny those people the right. I'm merely staking my claim to a right which has unjustly been denied me and other Indians ever since the East India Company banned the translation of Sanskrit and other edicts and scriptures into English two hundred years ago. (And surreptiously permitted only translations which erroneously showed Western superiority in everything from timelines to civilization development. Read the work of John Keay and many other British and Indian historians to learn more about this.) I'm stating what should be an obvious right, and yet, I am the first Indian to tell the Ramayana in its full form, in an original individual voice ever since the original Sanskrit poem was composed, some four thousand years ago! Isn't that incredible? And what does that tell you about how much we were oppressed and suppressed, both culturally and politically? In North America we have had our view of life in India formed by media images of poverty and overcrowding, Hari Krishna temples, Hollywood clichés, and the Beatles. The Ramayana deals with a variety of real concepts, but in particular dharma. Can you elaborate on that concept and explain why it is so important? Oh, let's not pretend those are false. They're not. We certainly do have poverty, overcrowding, Hare Krishnas, and all the clichés are indeed true. But the clichés are simply realities portrayed in a negative light, or for humorous, or worse, melodramatic effect. The reality of India is probably too complex for the western mind to comprehend easily and quickly. That's why those westerners who visit here, invariably stay on, fascinated and 'hooked' to the difference of our cultural milieu. The first thing to understand is that India is a multiplicity, not a singularity. That is to say, everyone worships and believes in One God, because Hinduism is monotheistic, but the forms or avatars of that One God can be as many as there are worshippers. It's an uniquely individualistic self-willed faith and culture. So dharma too is left to each person to decide. The Buddhist concept of Dhamma (spelt differently too) is quite different from the Hindu concept. And even among Hindus - not just sects, but individuals - dharma can mean many things. But mostly it is 'what is right'. And judging 'what is right' is left entirely to you. Dharma is that precept that tells us that Bush is not just wrong, he is evil. And so is any nation that wages war upon others, with or without cause. Dharma is not always pleasant or nice, as in the Mahabharata, where it is used as Lord Krishna's justification for waging war upon one's family, or for committing murder. But it is 'what is right'. It is the cornerstone of Indian life, not just Hindu, but Muslim, Parsi, Catholic, Sikh, everyone. It is in the water, air, our blood. Dharma is the reason why Indians have never ventured out of this subcontinent and invaded another nation in ten thousand years of unbroken civilization. Or built armada or sent armies to explore and conquer other lands. At best, wars have been waged against invaders, or amongst neighbours. As you know, humans are unique from other creatures in one respect: We are the only species that control the males. (We have company as warmongers, since ants also wage war on each other.) In India, the males are controlled not by the females or other males, but by Dharma itself. That is why we do not hesitate to bow or prostrate ourselves on the ground, flat out, and kiss the feet of a living priest or sacred person. Whereas in western society, people hesitate to bow the head let alone kneel to anybody short of God Himself. Also, while western society has the tradition of killing their saints and saviors, India is exceptional to that as well. We are quick to believe, and slow to lose faith. This is dharma, greater than religion, community, nationality, sex. What has the reaction in India been to the release of The Ramayana? How about countries abroad? Have some countries been more open than others to "foreign ideas"? Fantastic. At first, things were up in the air as nobody really knew what to make of it, it being the first of its kind. Also, some sections of the media arrogantly dismissed the series outright, with an otherwise well-respected magazine Outlook claiming that it was a "sexed-up" fantasy. You've read it and you know just how much sex there is, if at all! None! Other English media were quite scathing and bitchy, praising the books and the writing to the skies, using words like "milestone," "historic achievement," "epic labour of love", and so on, while taking potshots at me. The irony is that nobody had ever written anything based on Hindu mythology before and made a critical and commercial success of it before, but once I did, I was instantly criticized for having done it to make money! But even through all the bitchiness and carping, they were still praising the books to the skies. You have to remember that in the Indian media's version of the caste system, writers are at the bottom of the ladder. Films stars are way at the top, because the media depends on them for regular interviews and features to keep selling their publications, while writers don't really command any circulation, so it's easy to take potshots at them. Then there's the fact that most Indian journalists are wannabe writers and so they're hugely jealous of any successful author. Lastly, I've been a successful journalist and columnist, and I've crossed over to high profile success as a novelist, so that increases their envy tenfold. But readers have been overwhelming. You have to remember that I was writing the first English-language Ramayana ever attempted. Most English-speaking Indians don't want to read the Ramayana because it's like reading the Bible, or the Koran. But once people started reading the books, they loved them! And word of mouth spread so fast, that the books quickly became bestsellers. In fact, there's so much talk of US being a big market for books. But India is just as big a market, provided you have the right book. My Ramayana was evidently that kind of book, because my royalty statements clearly show the books selling out their first editions on publication. Worldwide too, the response has been tremendous. People clearly love the books, as you can see from reader's responses on my website and critics have praised them highly too. There's been some nastiness from bigots and racists in the US in particular, where I've been criticized for absurd things like using Indian words and not altering the books to suit American tastes, whatever those are. On some forums like sffworld.com they seem to enjoy making up nasty little lies about me and the books, and claiming ridiculous things based on no evidence at all. But despite these American bigots, the series has caught on in the US and these days the most new 'converts' I hear from are US-based. Overall, my audience seems to be pretty wide, from Germany to Japan, France to Malaysia, Canada to Israel, you name it.But there's also no question that the majority are Indians or people of Indian origin. As even my UK and US publishers Time Warner realized when they had to change the covers of the books to make them appear more "Indian" rather than typical "fantasy". In the overseas edition you've included a glossary of Sanskrit words and their meanings within the context the particular usage in the book. What is the status of Sanskrit as a language? Like Latin and ancient Greek, something scholars learn to read old texts, a language of religion like Hebrew used to be, or is it still in common use? Actually, that was at the request of my UK and UK publishers. I disagreed with the inclusion of a glossary, and that's why you won't find it in the Indian editions, even though most Indians are as unfamiliar with Sanskrit as readers anywhere else. Sanskrit, in case you didn't know this, is a dead language, even in India. It's used by brahmin pundits (ritual priests) for ceremonies and rituals, but not generally spoken, written, or heard. However, most Indian languages, Tamil in particular, are derived from Sanskrit and bear a close affinity. Sanskrit was never a language of religion, like Pali which became the medium for Buddhists, or Awadhi which was common speak for many North Indian Hindus. This is a general question about Indian writing. Do you think there is such a thing as a distinctive voice in Indian writing? Would it depend on the language the story is written in? This is a question best answered by readers rather than writers. I think yes, there is such a thing as a distinctive Indian voice, and it's heard most often in the ethnic Indian languages. But in English? I don't know about others but speaking for myself, I don't think I write Queen's English, and certainly not Anglo-Saxon as the Americans like it written. One of the major criticisms I've had from American critics and readers was my 'voice' and my style. One critic in Locus magazine complained that I even used an Indian word 'dhobi' when I could simply have used 'washer man' instead. In fact, I couldn't have used 'washer man' for the same reason that you can't generalize policemen, fire officers, army personnel, nurses, etc, all as 'uniformed people'. In India we use a specific kind of language, a combination of Indian words and English, what we call Hinglish or Indian English (the title of my blog), and frankly, we're quite proud of it. It's the same 'style' that Salman Rushdie famously took from us and which made him so unique You've assembled quite a list of projects that you want to tackle in your attempts to retell the history of India from an Indian perspective. I doubt there are many people who have heard of the majority of titles on the list, excluding the Ramayana could you offer a brief summery for each: The Mahabharata - nine books The Krishna Coriolis - three books The Ganesa Palindrome - six books Tales of Devi - at least three books Epic India - over 20 volumes Indus Saga - five books related titles - five or six books I'd rather write the books and let people find out about them in due course when they're published, than talk about them now. The best way to know what's next on my plate is to keep in touch with my blog You have a film project in the works as well. I believe the title is Beautiful Ugly and is based on your childhood. Can you tell me how you came up with the title and its significance? Can we assume this will not be filled with Bollywood type musical numbers? This is actually a book named Beautiful Ugly. But as usual, the media has focussed only on my plan to also produce a docu-feature based on the events described in the book. The documentary is a personal comment on the events and an attempt to place them in their social context and is really more of an audiovisual essay rather than a film. I plan to release copies of the documentary with the book when it's published. No, this will definitely not be filled with musical or dance numbers - I'm sorry but to associate any Indian film with Bollywood musical dance numbers is one of the saddest developments of recent times. I particularly dislike Bollywood and those musical dance numbers as many other Indians do. It's like asking a Canadian author whether the film based on his book will have Mounties in it! One final question before I let you go, what do you hope the average non Indian reader will get from reading these books? How about Indian readers? If I could be frank, I'd say "nothing". That is, I wouldn't really advise the average non-Indian reader to read my books at all. That's harsh I know, but my books, the Ramayana series in particular, does require some understanding of Indian culture, if not a whole-hearted willingness to immerse yourself in a culture that predates Christianity, western culture and history, and even western mythology to some extent! On the other hand, intelligent non-Indian readers who are eager to know more about Indian culture and the roots of world civilization in general, would certainly enjoy my books as entertaining and sometimes insightful glimpses into a great ancient culture. Of course, I strongly recommend my books to Asian readers, because the whole continent shares affinities in myth and culture. Well that concludes the interview. As usual, when dealing with the Internet, and technology nothing went as planed. We had hoped to be able to do this as a direct "conversation" exchange of emails. But due to server problems and real life on both sides of the world plans changed. Ashok ended up receiving two emails containing the final six questions. He in turn sent me back answers in bulk form, which allowed me to cobble this interview together. I have done nothing to change or edit the sequence in which the questions were asked, and hopefully, there is some kind of flow. I had a great time preparing for this interview, our emails in the run-up to setting a time were a wonder, as I tried to figure out when Thursday would be for both of us. By leaving it his hands we were able to pull this off. My deepest thanks go out to Ashok Banker for making his time available to me to conduct this interview. cheers gypsyman