DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" ""> Tossing Pebbles in the Stream: 08/01/2009 - 09/01/2009 .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More Roadside Weeds

Summer is rapidly coming to an end. It was a lovely seven days while it lasted! Last night they had frost just north of here. It has been a cool and rainly summer this year which has left many plants behind in their blooming. I have lush tomato plants but no tomatoes anywhere near to ripening. When you live here you have to know abundant ways to use green tomatoes.
Weeds always do well no matter what the weather. This year they are tall and lush with blooms.

(Click on photo to enlarge)

Black-eyed Susan/Rudbeckie

Canada Goldenrod/Verge d'Or du Canada

Cilioate Aster/Aster Ciliolé

Joe Pye Weed/Eupatoire Maculée
Posted by Picasa

TED KENNEDY 1932-2009

The death of Senator Kennedy is the end of our connection to the days of Camalot. Those were the heady years of my young adulthood, (the 1960's). It was a time when there was a struggle for good and progressive change. We all believed it was possible. As history unfolded, it was only partially accomplished. Most faded in their efforts in the face of the tragic deaths of so many of our heroes and more selfish and cynical times. A few continued on to fight the good fight continuing to protest against war and injustice. Others carried on the struggle for progressive change for the good from the inside of government. Senator Kennedy used this avenue to make a difference. With his skills as a communicator and facilitator of the legislative process he made a very large contribution to the United States.

I shall miss his booming voice with the Boston accent. His voice during the Bush Presidency was not heard nearly enough.

I think he was one American politician who knew about and understood Canada. During the day I have heard Ed Broadbent, former head of the New Democratic Party and Brian Mulroney, former head of the Progressive Conservative party, speak of their friendship and admiration of Senator Kennedy. Both noted he admired Canada's universal health care system and thought such a single payer system was the only kind that would see adequate health care as a right for all and not a privilege for those who could afford private coverage. Sadly, it seems the US might soon pass universal health care which falls far short of this ideal.

In a long political career Senator Kennedy's many legislative accomplishments will carry on and remain as a tribute to him and his liberal ideals of government serving the needs of all citizens.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Scottish Justice and Compassion

I watch the remarkable address by Scotland's Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill this morning when he announced the compassionate release of Abdelbast Ali al-Megrahi, the convicted bomber of the plane, Pan Am 103, over Lockerbie, Scotland.

In his speech he laid out the circumstances of the bombing, the wide variety of consultations he made with interested parties and the bases for his final decision to grant al-Megrahi a compassionate release so he might return home to die from his terminal illness.

MacAskill resisted pressure from the United States to leave him in jail. Hilary Clinton at least twice demanded it. I am sure he also heard pleas from many of the relatives of the 270 victums of the bombing. He even asked the British government for their opinion which they largely declined except to say there was no legal barrier to Scotland granting compassionate release. I take it that the British parliament see the release as a right of the Scottish parliament. (Similar to States' Rights in the US. )

MacAskill accepts the judgement of al-Megrahi's conviction even though he had been granted a second appeal based of their being some ground for overturning his conviction. Some believe he was a scapegoat.

In the end, MacAskill accepted the advice of doctors, and visited al-Megrahi in jail to see for himself the state of his health. He exercised his pregrogative and made his decision on the basis that Magrahi had only about 3 months to live and qualified for compassionate release.

I find the MacAskill reason for granting compassionate release quite remarkable reflecting a very high level of legal judgement within a legal system. He began by saying his decision is based on the humanity of the Scottish people. The application of the law includes not only justice but compassion. "Our justice system dmands that judgement be imposed, but compassion be available."

He then said,

"Mr al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them,

"But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days."

In Scottish justice, compassion and mercy have a real and important place. Justice is not just punishment or retribution. This is a remakable high standard for a legal system. We in North American do not even come close. with our vindictive legal system always seeking harsher punishment for more crimes, trying to satify those who seek to "throw people in jail and throw away the key." Then there are our Security Certicates and withholding habeus corpus from "enemy combatants, and , of course, defense of capital punishiment, the ultimate lack of compassion.

The Scottish view is in stark contrast with The US Supreme Court Justice Scalia's recent opinion in the Davis case, which I take to mean that it is legally OK to put an innocent man to death by the State. Once one has had his Constitution right to "Life. . . ." taken away if cannot be regained legally by proving ones innocence.

"Justice Scalia, in a dissent joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the hearing would be “a fool’s errand,” because Mr. Davis’s factual claims were “a sure loser.”
He went on to say that the federal courts would be powerless to assist Mr. Davis even if he could categorically establish his innocence.
“This court has never held,” Justice Scalia wrote, “that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

MacAskill made the Scottish case without reference to religion, only to humanity. It would have been so easy to say "as a Christian people. . . .". Compassion and mercy are not the preprogative of Christianity but of humanity. It is always amazing to me that those countries that so often couch their social convictions in Christian terms so often have the harshest forms of justice.

The decision by MacAskill acknowledges compassion and mercy have little to do with those who are granted it, but , says so much about those that show mercy. It is an act of grace grated another without condition It is not a "tit for tat" deal. The person may not deserve mercy or compassion but the individual is called to grant it out of his own deep felt values. I think this point will be missed by many in the next few days as thay rant against this decision.

If I were Scottish, I would stand proud and tall in the face of this decision of the Scottish Secretary of Justice, Kenny MacAskill.

If you want to hear the summation of his address visit here,

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Canada Deserves Better

He makes my skin crawl every time I see him on TV. He is Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. We deserve better. Canada is a better country than what he and his Conservative party reflect. We need to kick him and his party out of office sooner rather than later.

It is in the area of human and civil rights that Harper is most offensive. This past weekend we have been reminded of two of the failures of the government to do the right thing on behalf of Canadians in trouble abroad. The Federal Appeal's Court rule against the government in upholding the lower court decision that the government has violated the Charter Rights of Omar Khadr, who as a child soldier has been held by the US in Quantanamo Bay for 7 years. The court has instructed the government to ask that Khadr, the last western detainee there, be returned to Canada.
Rather than immediately saying we hear and respect the courts decision, Harper in his crerpy style refers to it as a split decision (2/1, as if it is less valid) The government in its vindictive way suggests it may go to the Supreme Court as if a seven year delay on coming to aid of Khadr isn't long enough. I have no doubt the government will lose before the Supreme Court which is certainly more representative of Canadian view than Harper and his government.

Today, Suaad Hagi Mohamud, will arrive back in Canada after being detained in Kenya after the validity of her passport was questioned. For reasons unclear at this point the government declared she was an imposter and asked the Kenyans to presecute her. The government officials refused to adequately review her situation until her lawyer had DNA testing done.
Only then did the government concede and agree to give her a temporary passport and ask the Kenyan govenment to drop the charges so she could come home to her 12 year old son she has not see for three months. This case reflects the characteristic mean spirited attitude of the government.

All this would might be forgiven as unusual circumstance but unfortunately it is part of a pattern.
It is a pattern of treating some Canadians of non-white European stock as less than worth Canadians. Most of the situations involve Muslim Canadians. The Conservative government is nothing short of racist in it attitude and behaviour toward Canadians they treat as second class.

Here are some of the situations where we see the pattern. The Case of Maher Arar is well known as Canada allowed the US to rendition him to Syria where he was in prison for a year and tortured. He has since been cleared of any possible charges and awarded $10 million dollars in compensation . Less well know in the case of Abdullah Almalki, another Syrian Canadian who was inmprisoned and tortured in Syria.

More recently, there is the case of Abourfian Abdelradzik who for six years was jailed and tortured in Sudan on the advice of the Canadian government. He was finally cleared by CSIS ,Canada's Security agency, and the RCMP. He lived for a year in the Canadian Embassy in Sudan. afraid to leave for fear of being re arrested by the Sudanese. He was caught in a catch 22 situation until the Canadian court ruled that the Government had to issue him a temporary passport so he could get back to Canada.

Then there is the case of Canadian Bashir Makhtal, kidnapped from Kenya and being tried in Ethiopia. What help is the Canadian government offering him.

China has imprisoned an Canadian Uighur, Husseyincan Celil. What is Canada doing for him?

They are not all far away in other countries. There is the case of Mohamed Warsame who was held in jail in the US for five years. (much of it in solitary confinement) until he made a deal to confess to a lesser charge to have more serious charges dropped.

There may be other cases, which I have not read about. I am afraid their probably have been.
Some have gotten little attentions from the public and even less from the government. Those that managed to get some public support finally got some action out of the government which seems determined to do little or nothing for Muslim Canadians in trouble abroad. Do they just figure Muslims are all "terrorists" and Canada owes them nothing. They are not second class citizen, they should have the same right as all of us. By contrast, Brenda Martin, who was convicted to a crime in Mexico, was brought back to Canada by a government chartered jet. Need I say she is not a Muslim.

Finally, Let me say something about Security Certificates. Five Muslim men, residents of Canada have been held under these certificates: Mohammed Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah, Hassan Almrei, Mohammed Harkat, and Adil Charkaoui. They are the Canadian equivalent of Quantanamo Bay prisoners. These men were held, without charge and no guarantee of a court date. They are being held on secret evidence which they are not allowed to see or challenge. These men are under threat of deportation, possibly to a country that tortures. Periodically, there cases are reviewed. Here is an article that explains these draconian detentions. It finally took the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision to tell the government these men could not be held indefinitely. They were given a year to adjust the law. Most our now free in Canada but living under very stricked conditions which are really house arrest, with still little chance to get their day in court.

The Conservative government isn't the only government that shoulders some of the blame in these cases. Some date back to the former Liberal government. But all those that are still current are the Conservatives responsibility. All the opposition parties seem now to recognize the injustices involved.

I expect the Canadian people who have reviewed and apologized for previous official racist injustices among Native Canadians, (Cultural Genocidal Residential School), Japanese Canadians , ( imprisonment during WWII) , and Asian Canadians (head tax and not giving them the vote until 1948.), want to see the end to such government behaviour. We are a different country now than when these abuses were perpetrated. We now pride ourselves on being Multi-Cultural. We need to closely examine our governments behaviour toward Muslim Canadians.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Eunice Kennedy Shriver 1921-2009

Her contribution to America, the World and Humanity is the greatest of all the members of the remarkable Kennedy family. The Special Olympics and the lives of the Special Olympians will be a living tribute to her for years to come.

Take a moment and visit the tribute web site to her.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Native Technology: The Birch Bark Canoe

The First Nation People of North America survived for thousands of years before European occupation. They did so as a result of developing technology which perfectly met their needs.

Among native technologies the most prominent are the canoe, the snow shoes, the tobbagan, the sled, the Wigwam, the crooked knife, woven baskets and birchbark containers.

In the northern woodlands there was an abundance of flora and fauna to support life for those who could travel and seek it out in season. It is a land of countless waterways which were perfect highways with the right technological creation. That was the canoe.

I have long loved canoes. I got mine when I was 17 and I have hauled it with me wherever I went. It has brought me countless hours of enjoyment both a graceful human powered machine, and as a work of art. Mine is a classic cedar strip canvas covered canoe. Even when made in factories it is largely a hand crafted work of art.

I have always thought it would be wonderful to make a birch bark canoe as our First Nation people did in order the live there nomatic life in the great woodlands of North America. A birch bark canoe can be made with just a few hand tools and materials easily gotten from the forest. There are a few craftsmen around who still make canoes as the First Nation people did. They are people with skill and patience create a work of art which is perfectly adapted to travel on the lakes and rivers of our country.

Song of Hiawatha

Give me of your bark, O Birch Tree!
Of your yellow bark, O Birch Tree!
Tall and stately in the valley!
I a light canoe will build me,
Build a swift Cheemaun for sailing,
That shall float upon the river,
Like a yellow leaf in Autumn
Like a yellow water-lily!“

Lay aside your cloak, o Birch Tree!
Lay aside your white-skin wrapper,
For the Summer-time is coming,
And the sun is warm in heaven,
And you need no white-skin wrapper!“
Thus aloud cried Hiawatha
In the solitary forest,
By the rushing Taquamenaw,
When the birds were singing gaily.
And the tree with all its branches
Rustled in the breeze of morning,
Saying with a sigh of patience,
Take my cloak, O Hiawatha!

With his knife the tree he girdled;
Just beneath its lowest branches,
Just above the roots, he cut it,
Till the sap came oozing outward;
Sheer he cleft the bark asunder,
With a wooden wedge he raised it,
Stripped it from the trunk unbroken.

Thus the Birch Canoe was builded
In the valley, by the river,
In the bosom of the forest;
And the forest´s life was in it,
All its mystery and its magic,
All the lightness of the birch-tree,
All the toughness of the cedar,
All the larch´s supple sinews;
And it floated on the river
Like a yellow leaf in Autumn,
Like a yellow water-lily.

(Henry Longfellow)

Below is a video of a Cree, César Newashish, making a birch bark canoe from cutting down the birch tree to taking it for a test run on the water. I really enjoyed this video for several reasons. I love the appearance of the man whose life time of hard work in the out of doors shows, from his weathered skin to the slight hump in his back. I particularly love his hands, strong and full of character. I also enjoy his patience and skill in creating a finished canoe. It is nice to see the children, playing around him as he works and occasionally paying attention to what he is doing, perhaps learning a little so some day they too may make a canoe.

Pride of craftsmanship shows when the man decorates his canoe to more fully have it express itself as a work of art. He draws animals on it that are familiar to life in the bush. I hope you will take the time to watch this creation of a canoe from a few local materials, with hand tools and the skill and patience of a craftsman. It all speaks of the dignity of careful work to create the perfect object, practical and beautiful.

This canoe is very similar to the one being made in the video. It is in the Ojibwa style that the Anishinaabe (people) of this area used. This was for sale for $5,200 about twice what one would pay for a canvas cedar strip canoe like mine. Fifty years ago, when I bought mine new I paid $150.

If you wanted an authenic birchbark canoe, built according to the historic documents in the Smithstonian Museum it would cost you at least $650 a linear foot which is what Henri Vaillancourt charges for his canoes which truly are a work of art, almost too beautiful to use.

There are a few birchbark Canoe builders in our region. All seem to be interesting characters, none more so than Eric Simula, who is on a 1000 mile canoe trip in Northwestern Ontario in a canoe he built.

For a careful worker, I believe a person could make a birchbark canoe. A woman in Ottawa whose website I have visited for several years, made a small one in her backyard. She also has made other native crafts including beautiful mukluks which I covet.

In Canada, a land on countless lakes and river, with 1/4 to 1/3 of all the Earth's fresh water, the canoe is a powerful symbol of our heritage and the gift of such a perfect technology from our First Nation's People.

Friday, August 07, 2009

August 6, 1945

I always remember this date. It is the most important date in the 20th Century. Is the beginning of the atomic age. The dropping of th bomb on Hiroshima was the ultimate act of terror using the only true weapon of mass destruction, putting it in contemporary terms. It was the day when "good people" did the most evil thing.

Personally, this day of terror was the beginning for my generation having to live under the threat of nuclear destruction. The first social justice cause I ever got involved in was "Ban the Bomb".
Do you remember the fear that brought us air raid shelters. Periodic drills with air raid sirens screaming over our otherwise peaceful communities reminding us how dreadful life could become in a instant. The Doomsday Clock and its periodic adjsutment always reminded us of our potential peril.
I remember clearly our high school passing out a form to fill out. It was about what to do in the face of an atomic explosion in our area. Even then, it seemed ridiculous to me and I told my teacher so. It required that we put down how long it would take us to get home at a brisk walk.
Supposedly this is so a school administrator could decide whether to send us home in the face of a nuclear attack or to have us stay at school. As if it would matter where we died. I think I refused to fill out their stupid form.
We all grew up being told that the dropping of the atomic bomb was sadly necessary to end the war and save maybe as many as a million lives of American soldiers invading the island of Japan.
I believed this for years and still many people believe this, as a justifications. Politicians still repeat it. To our shame IT IS ALL LIES. It seems all wars are justified by lies. Those who get their lies out first shape the discussion.
The lying began with President Truman who said the targets were chose because they were military targets and every effort was made to minimize civilian targets. 95% of the victims were civilian. We were told that the Japanese were fanatical and would not surrender without this dramatic act of terror. In fact, the Japanese were trying to surrender at the time through the good offices of the Swiss and also through the Russians. The only condition was that the phrase, "unconditional surrender" not be used. We were told they were not irrational people, but they understood the war was over for the Their navy and airforce had been destroyed and their people were suffering from starvation. They only require a little face saving jesture which the Americans rejected, instead using this dreadful weapon.
What we are not often told for it challenges the mythological thinking that dominates the rationalization for this ultimate war crime and act of terror is that many people including military officers of the highest rank did not want to use this weapon from Eisenhower on down. The pressure to use this weapon as the ultimate experiment (on human beings) was to see what it could do.
We have not been told that the dropping of the atomic bomb had little to do with military necessity against the Japanese but was a diplomatic jesture for the benefit of the Russians. It was perhaps the beginning of the cold war. The Americans did not want the Russians to get involved in the Pacific theatre. The end of the war with Japan ended the opportunity for the Russians to turn eastward.
We need to come to know that August 6 is a day of shame and not victory for us. There is no way we could ever expect the Japanese to forgive us. I wonder if we should really forgive ourselves. We have not done nearly enough to outlaw and elliminate these weapons. We seem to be waiting for the next use of them to rally the forces of sanity. The thought of my grandchildren and their children paying the price of my generations failure to resolve this issue, is upsetting.
If what I have written sound strange or unfamiliar to you read the few articles I have listed below.
Here is an article that relates the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the current day nuclear threat.
Here is a moment my moment account just before the detination.
Here is the chronology of political events before the use of the atomic bomb.

Monday, August 03, 2009

August Holiday Weekend

This past weekend has been the August Long Weekend, in British speech, August Bank Holiday
. It is the height of the summer which after this weekend will be moving downhill toward Autumn. My son learned this several years ago when he went camping near the end of August to crawl out of his tent in the morning to frost on everything.

The weather this weekend has been a little bit of everything. Saturday was sunny and warm. Sunday was rainy and today is quite cool.

Saturday I preformed a wedding for a lovely couple on the deck of their parent's home on Chebogan Lake. Did they get lucky. It was a lovely day in a summer with few truly lovely days.
It turned out the family and I shared knowledge and aquaintances in the area. Perhaps, I am no longer an outside after thirty years living around here. In a rural area if often takes time to be accepted completely. I certainly felt like an outside when I got lost both coming and going from the wedding. I thought I knew that area behind Crystal Falls. Apparently not! I finally got there and back home after asking several people directions. When the gravel roads begin to look more and more like a bush logging road with few houses anywhere you soon get the idea you are going the wrong way. I had left early so as it turned out I was not late. Not that being late ever worries me. Nothing can happen until the minister arrives. . . .unless they open the bar before the ceremony. I hate that it is so undignified and shows little respect for the occasion.

When I admired a book from which the couple had taken a couple of readings to include in their ceremony, they gave me the book, which I have been thoroughly enjoying. It is "Chop Wood Carry Water: A guide to Finding Spiritual Fulfillment in Everyday Life." It is filled with wisdom for simple living and spiritual growth. I recommend it.

Yesterday I spent a little time on the Internet watching films from the National Film Board, one of Canada's publicly owned great cutural institutions. There is much to be said for government funding of the arts and culture. We always seem to get great value for our tax dollars.

Today it is quite cool. Last night, at 2.00 AM, when I was outside with Heidi, it definitely had that late September autumnal feel. But is was a terrific night clear with a lovely moon and lots of stars. I even saw a shooting star, bright and of long duration . I suspect it probably was some man made space garbage burning up in the atmosphere.

The shooting star season is almost upon us. The Perseids Meteor Shower peeks in the middle of August. In my idle youth it was always fun to talk a young lady into going out and watching for shooting stars. You know the rule. " you can kiss the girl you are with if you see a shooting star." To accomplish this in a canoe can be a challenge. Out on a lake with no light pollution is the best place to view this wonderful display of Nature.

Speaking of canoes! I have been wishing I was off in a canoe for a few days. It is alway a delight to find a little bit of wilderness to enjoy, either alone or with someone.

Of course, one is never really alone. All of Nature is there to keep you company. When you are physically alone you discover your Self shows up and teaches you, in your aloneness, valuable lessons about who you are. We need to be reminded once in a while that we are not separate from Nature but at home with it. My most satisfying religious experiences, (being visited by the awesome mystery of existence) have visited upon me when alone with Nature.

Below is a video I would enourage everyone to watch, whether or not you have done so years ago. It is long but worth it if you would like to know what canoe tripping is like and its many rewards.

It is a film of Bill Mason, Canada's iconic outdoors man, who sadly is no longer with us. He has left us a great legacy in the way of the films he made with the National Film Board. His instructional films of canoeing are very good, both entertaining and a joy to watch. He has also done a couple of films on wolves and whales. His delight in being in the wilderness is infectious. So make some popcorn and watch his family canoe trip.