Thursday, March 27, 2014

Our Democracy In Danger

Over the last few months I have been involved in protesting the ferry cuts to the coastal communities and now I'm going to have to get involved in another cause, the giant incinerator project that is planned for Duke Point.  Prevailing winds being what they are, Gabriola is going to suffer from the airborne effluents from the project.  They will be burning Vancouver's garbage and that means Toxins everywhere!  Damn!   I didn't come here for this.

But democracy is not something to be taken for granted.  This morning I saw Rick Mercer's rant on the attacks launched by the Harper Government on Canada's Democracy.

Yesterday, Heather and I watched Elizabeth May's talk on the decline of democracy in Canada given at McGill University.  (I have included the link, it is about 50 minutes long and is a clear and cogent discussion of the attacks on our environment and our democracy by the Harper Government.   You might want to skip first 18 minutes as her talk doesn't start 'til then.)

This is serious my friends and it is just the fine edge of the wedge that these guys are planning to drive into this country.  Everything is at risk, resources, healthcare and the right to vote to name a few.  Even if this government is defeated, the job of rebuilding is monumental.   These are not small issues or levels of destruction that have been laid at our feet, just because we don't hear about them doesn't mean that they aren't happening.   This government operates in secrecy and that is because they have a lot to hide.

It is time for us to stand up and say enough!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Words of Wisdom - Duane Michals

Heather, Quilting

"The history of photography has not been written, you will write it.  No one has photographed a nude until you have.  No one has photographed a sequence or a green pepper till you have.   Nothing has been done until you do it."
- Duane Michals from Real Dreams 

I met Duane Michals at a gallery on 4th Avenue way back in the 70's.   I confess I was initially disappointed in his prints.  i guess I was expecting immaculate 11x14s but of course, as I looked at the work and realized his intent, it made perfect sense.   Looking at his book today, I am as intrigued with it as I was when I first became aware of him.  What struck me was his generosity, his willingness to empower people he had never met.   I carry this thought.  It sustains me and I have repeated it to many, many students over the years.   It has been a great gift.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The End of the Civilzation and The Meaning of Life

Yesterday I read an article written by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center that predicts the end of civilization within a few decades.

As if the mere prediction isn't alarming enough, the report states that one of the primary causes of the impending collapse is the uneven distribution of wealth and the separation of the elite from the commoners.   It also predicts that the wealthy elite will survive longer than the impoverished commoners unless sufficient action is taken to more evenly distribute the wealth of the planet and dramatically reduce the demand for our diminishing resources.  A not encouraging outlook.

What's more, writes Nafeez Ahmed at The Guardian:

"Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies — by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance — have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a 'perfect storm' within about fifteen years."

So, fifteen years, I'll be 82 if I'm still alive as I intend to be, and living on this island if I am really lucky.    I know it's a crap shoot, given that I have lost so many friends over the last few years but dammit, I'm stubborn.

It's sad to think that this catastrophe will unlikely be avoided as precursors to other collapses were ignored by our fore bearers, the Romans, and the Mayans to name a couple.

Having decided that there are so few years left, I thought I might share with my few dear readers the conclusions I have come to regarding the meaning of life and the purpose of our existence in this universe.

I am a pretty simple guy, I am not terribly interested in nor capable of academic discourse so don't expect a detailed dissertation.   I'd also like to say that I do not believe that this planet is the only host for life in our universe, let alone the others that probably exist.   So I do not think that the extinction of the life forms that populate Earth will mean the complete destruction of life generally.   Nor do I fear that all other life forms share the greed, arrogance, and lack of compassion that seems to characterize human beings.  But I do regret the loss of so many beautiful creatures.   I also recognize that there are some wonderful people on planet Earth who live authentic and generous lives.  So please excuse my rather cynical rant.

My thought is that life was created to extend the dimensions of the universe in an experiential sense.  Giving life to the creatures that inhabit this planet provides another dimension to creation in that, as self contained consciousness containing organisms, we create relationships, reproduce and have experiences of discovery and creation ourselves.  Being sensory holons (as imagined by Koestler) we therefore provide sensory and emotional input to this multi levelled universe.

So I think that is our purpose, to extend the dimensions of the universe into the emotional and experiential planes, to reproduce so the extension can continue and to provide the organic compost for our future generations.

My sense of wonder is based on the notion that we form relationships with others, we collect experiences based on our relationships to other living things, to the planet and ourselves, and we create structures to support our civilization.   This information, this experience, is accumulated and becomes part of the life of universe as a whole, a part of the entity we identify as God.

Unfortunately, we seem to be a selfish and self destructive form of life.  Perhaps this is not unique but it is lamentable.

Perhaps God is sitting back, watching and wondering what we will do, evolve to a higher plane of consciousness or destroy ourselves and everything we touch.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Derek Youngs

I was on Facebook this morning and found that Carolyn, Derek's wife had posted a video dedicated to this wonderful man,  Derek passed away suddenly, three years ago.  I still miss him and feel the loss in my heart.

I knew Derek for 30 years.  He was the kind of guy who filled the room, not in a boisterous way but with love and gentility.  When he spoke to me, I knew I had his complete attention.   Above all, Derek was authentic, thoughtful, and loving.  He saw the humour in life and seemed to live each moment to its fullest potential.  

He claimed that he had been born during the Blitz in a London Subway Station.  He called himself Derek "Walker" Youngs and walk he did,   His mission in life was to bring a message of peace and wherever he went, he walked.   He walked across Canada twice I believe, he walked from California to Washington DC.  When he met people, he would tell them he was walking from Canada to Japan.   Derek was a man who lived within his means somehow, he certainly wasn't wealthy, not in the financial sense anyway.  He would set out on a journey with a return ticket and a few dollars in his pocket, land somewhere and just set out.   He walked the length of New Zealand with little more than a backpack.   He walked all over Europe, often accompanied by people that he met along the way.  

He taught me a lot about life.   I lived in my own conflict for many years and Derek helped me to see that there was another way to be.   It took me a long time to gather the courage, to step out and be just me.   I still struggle with it, but when I get really stuck, I try to remember to ask myself what Derek would say.   Sometimes it works.

Carolyn's slide show is much more eloquent than I can be here.   It is filled with humour and memories to this man who meant so much to me and many, many others.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Our Big Mistake

Another rally on Gabriola today, held at Artworks and hosted by the indomitable Kathy Ramsey.   The place was packed of course and at one point proceedings had to be paused while the people stuck outside the door were given the chance to go upstairs and avoid the rain.

I love this place.  I moved here two years ago from Vancouver and when my friends asked me why I was going to this seemingly remote island, my reply was not what they expected.  Sure it is quiet and beautiful here.  There's a sense of peace and although the island economy is not what it could be there is something vastly more important here, community.

Gabriola is a place where individuals take responsibility for the environment and for the other people who live here.  When the province refused to build a health centre here, the community pulled together and did it anyway with a generosity that I have seldom seen.

Gabriola has, I am told, the only registered "Commons" in Canada.   The Commons is an old farm that has been converted to an impressive community resource with meeting and workshop rooms, commercial kitchen (coming soon), community gardens so we can grow our own food, a yurt for meetings, dancing, poetry readings and more.  It's the home of Gertie, our own bus transportation system, the Mac User Group, the food bank, PHC (People for a Healthy Community) and many other organizations, groups and resources.  It belongs to the island and to its inhabitants.

People help each other here.  We argue, we worry and we stand together.  We believe in democracy as all Canadians do.   People think we come here to live the easy life, to get away.  But that is not so.  We are here because we directly affect our environment, our lives and the lives of our community.   We collect rainwater, we dig wells, we worry about the future.  Living on an island is not easy, we can't stay here all the time.  Our kids have to go to school on the big island, we buy supplies, see doctors, specialists and visit friends in hospital.

But the title of this posting refers to a condition that seems to have grown over the years and it affects and has affected the whole country.  Right now it seems so extreme as to be alarming to those who are aware of what is happening.   I think that Canada has been blessed in the past with pretty good governance considering.  Now before you jump out of your chair, let me say that our elections have been bloodless over the period of my life.  There have been many, many bad decisions, many, many mean and nasty politicians, and much abuse.  But overall, Canada is a wonderful country and to a great extent it is our system of government that has made it so.

But now we are in a time of danger.  The rise of the political right, the opacity of government, it's secrecy, its dogmatic, economy based decision making and the fragmentation of the left have brought the country into a state of peril.  We Canadians now have to stand up and demand that the country return to democracy, run by transparent governments that are accountable to the people.

Canadians are known as a polite people.  We try to respect other people's opinions and generally try to think in the positive.   We are and should be proud of that.  But if we are not careful, we will find ourselves the subjects of a fascist government.  The signs are there, we are being warned every day, we must pay attention.

What's more, we must take action.  The first part of this posting deals with Gabriola as a community.   But the fact is that a city is a collection of communities.  When I lived in Vancouver, I had great neighbours.  We would often talk about current events but the flavour there was different.  I felt isolated interestingly enough, a small blip in a giant country.  I felt the only difference I could make to the world was to care about the people around me.   The demands and distractions of living in the city, working a demanding job and building a life were all consuming.   I had no time for politics.  I voted and was appalled to hear that I was one of only 60% of the country who did so.

What's more, I knew people who didn't vote!   They had reasons, excuses, some valid, some not.   But what we didn't ever discuss was that voting is a responsibility.  Voting is the mechanism by which we participate in choosing our government.   I realize now that I failed at my job as a citizen of this country.  If each of us finds one person who has decided not to vote and we are able to help them to exercise their right, we will have done our fundamental civic duty.

Democracy demands participation.  For some of us that means taking an active role, putting our communities on priority.   Not everyone can do that.   But we can all vote, and we can help others to vote, in fact I think we must.   That's what island living has taught me, may I never forget it.

Our federal government was elected by 35% of the voters!   That figure does not represent the will of our country and we have been paying the price for it.   In fact, we will be paying that price for some time as the damage to our nation has been deep.

In addition, our system of voter representation is seriously flawed and needs to be changed.  Proportional representation in British Columbia was defeated because our provincial government demanded a majority of 65% in favour.   The vote was 64% and the initiative failed.   Does 64% represent the will of the people?  I think it does.

Finally, my last demand is to our politicians on the Left.  If the federal Liberals, the Greens and the NDP cannot find a common ground upon which they can build a coalition for a single party, they are risking the country.   This is not the time for nit picking.   Our next election will be critical.   If the forces of the left can find a way to put their differences on hold, present a united front, find a way to ensure that the right is defeated, there will be hope for our future.

The conservatives have done more damage to our environment, our social systems and our individual citizenry than any of us can imagine right now.  It will take many years to rectify these egregious actions.   God help us if they win again.

UPDATE  Mar 22 2014
Here's a link to a CBC article stating that of more adults who are under 30 had voted, the outcome would have been different.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lost in the Atrium

OK, I admit, this is not my best picture.  In fact I was hesitant about putting it up at all.  But it is authentic and speaks well to my state of mind upon leaving the BC Ferries corporate headquarters on Tuesday following the protest at the BC Legislature.

I had never attended a protest before and frankly wasn't entirely sure what to expect.  I took a small Nikon pocket camera with me because it fit easily in my pocket.   I wasn't serious about the pictures from the protest but felt I should do something to record the event.  JPGs were good enough I told myself and chose convenience rather than precision.   I thought that if I got anything at all I would probably convert it to B+W anyway.

I admit I was somewhat disappointed with the turn out.  I thought that the impact of these cuts would have brought out more people and I even worried that tempers might get a bit out of hand.  Silly me!

I never realized just how large the lawn of the Legislature really is.  It seems that there were over 700 people attending but they were dwarfed but the immensity of that lawn.  However, what we lacked in numbers was more than made up for by the quality of people there.   

It was a serious event, media people were everywhere.   But coastal people are a pretty well grounded lot it seems.   They carried signs, wore outrageous clothing, sang and laughed.   They were serious but in a true spirit of the coast, they were there to be present, to get the message out, to support their friends in other communities, and hopefully, get this very misguided government's attention.

Musicians, politicians, grandparents, young families and children were there to make their voices heard.   I was proud to be an islander.  I spoke to a police sergeant standing on the steps, who said that he wished all demonstrators were this sensible.  I saw friends and made new friends.   I even saw a few politicians who impressed me as well intentioned, seriously concerned people.  

I felt elated at times, the spirit, the energy, the humour, the camaraderie, were infectious.   I love these people, my fellow British Columbians, who came to support and represent the thousands that it seems, couldn't attend.

I admit I left a bit early, it was supposed to end at 1:00pm and I was ravenously hungry.   I had a quick bowl of soup and there, across the street was the head office for BC Ferries, "The Atrium".  I thought, "here's an opportunity to see where they live, these people who are responsible for running our marine highways."  

It is an opulent structure, with a soaring atrium dwarfed the people who sat in its shops sipping coffee, chatting, oblivious to the havoc they would shortly cause to so many peoples' lives.  

On the elevator, a man and a woman discussed fuel consumption anomalies that were obviously important to the efficient running of the enterprise.  They left and I was alone in a strange environment, a mirrored elevator.   Before I could blink, the doors opened again and I was standing in the foyer of BC Ferries main office.  A cold, uninviting, oppressive space, uninhabited, despite a huge built-in desk that stretched the length of the wall.  I heard voices, laughing about what fun they were going to have on the weekend, and was confronted with a woman who asked if she could "help" me.   I told her I had come from the protest to see the offices of the Ferry Corporation but I had seen enough.  I wanted to get out of there.  Her comment was that she would bet that the protest would have been a lot of "fun".   I looked at her speechless.  She then asked me what I thought of the office, blocking my way so I could come no further.  I told her it looked like a prison, to which she replied that she thought it was "very nice."

I left, thinking that there was no hope for the world. 

I took the picture at the top of this post as I descended to escape from the aquarium and all its thoughtless fishes who have bought the package. the pipelines, the 54inch TVs, and the GM'd foods that we call dinner.

"We should separate" I thought, "I don't know who these people are."   But I'm afraid I do.   They don't want to think, they don't realize and they don't care, as long as they get paid.