DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" ""> Tossing Pebbles in the Stream: 04/01/2012 - 05/01/2012 .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, April 26, 2012

Norway, I Salute You

This past week 40,000 Norwegians gathered in Oslo in the street on a cold and wet day to make a declaration that they reject all that Anders Breivik claimed to stand for. This assemblage of Norwegian citizen stood and sang a song that Anders Breivik hated as an example of what he saw as the corrosive nature of multiculturalism. For this and many other complex reasons he felt called upon to kill 77 people in a bombing and on a island where young people were holding a rally. This was an unprecedented experience of Norwegians, an assaults against the very ethos of Norwegian society. In a way, it was the equivalent of the attacks of 9/11 for Americans. They hoped that Anders Breivik heard there singing as he was being tried for his crimes..

Norwegians singing in the street.

The song Norwegians chose to sing was a Pete Seeger tune, They sang it is Norwegian and in English. Below is Pete Seeger singing this song, Rainbow Race. It is a sweet gentle melody with a message of acceptance of all people.

I deeply admire the Norwegians for how they have responded to the horrible outrage against their Society and the attack aimed mostly at the youth of their country. They have dealt with this situation with grace and restraint. They have resisted all forms of outrages words and deeds. They have not allowed this event to cause changes in their cultural ethos of civility and the rule of law. They behaved according to their deeply held cultural convictions. There were no calls for the death penalty. Breviik was not declared a terrorist an special laws passed to a military tribunal would try him using a process that did not offer him full legal and civil rights.

There were not efforts to round up all right wing political types or the outlawing of their minority views. Most of all, they did not buy into any of Anders Breivik's views with suggestions that immigrants and foreigners were a threat to Norwegian society.

I would like to think that Canada could behave as well as Norwegians under similar circumstance but the reality is we would not. We have already in our history behaved badly. This of the internment of Japanese Canadians, for which only recently has the Canadian government apologized. All across Northern Ontario there are former sites of interment camps for not only German prisoners of war but also Canadians and residence of Canada who were of German or Italian heritage. I shall never forgive Pierre Elliot Trudeau for buying into the fearful lies about the extent of the FLQ terrorists using the War Measures Act to suspend peoples rights, arrest individuals and turn the military upon the Canadian people. In recent years we saw the use of security certificates that allowed the government of arrest and hold without trial Muslims in Canada. It took a while of Canada to correct and modify these extreme responses. Better that we had not succumbed to the fear in the first place. There is a little satisfaction that Canada's response was not a severe as the United States and not as long lasting. I would wish though that Canada had not been so easily able to abandon it commitment to the rule of law and civil society.

Norwegians have show us that this is possible.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Past slipping Away

When you reach my age there are those days when you are reminded how your past is slipping away. Today was such a day. I woke up to read that Levon Helms is in the final days of his life and later in the day there was the news that Dick Clark died.

Music has not been a life long interest of mine. But during those formative years every young person has when music seems so important, it was so with me. I was of the post war generation of teenagers who spawned teenage culture. Music played a big part in shaping teenager's lives in the relatively prosperous 50's and 60's. This has been the experience of young people every since, but different music shaping different cultural realities for another generation.

In the 50's in Canada we looked to the United States to experience youth culture. We lagged somewhat behind culturally, (I have since learned that the Australians lack culturally somewhat behind Canadians.) A large part of this experience for my generation was Dick Clark's American Bandstand. A group of us in junior high school would rush from school to watch this show on TV in Barb Mutter's basement recreation room. For a couple of years this was a very significant cultural experience for us. We learned all the pop music. We got to know, by name, many of the regular teenagers who danced on the show. Those where culturally rich days. How we envied those Philadelphia students who could be their. How did they get out of school so early that they could go. School must have ended there about 3:00 PM while we were in school until 4:30 PM. (We never really figured this out.) We learned how to dress and act. We saw for the first time black entertainers.We also go to see our first really popular Canadians singers on this show, like Paul Anka (from Ottawa). We learned the latest dances: the twist, the stroll and jive (the jive was not new our parents may have danced it, but it was new to us and very popular. In a year or two I mastered it when I took part in dancing classes in our area). We owe all this to Dick Clark, he was a rather straight laced person who sold us on American pop music. More importantly, he sold our parents on the idea that pop music was not a threat to the moral upbringing of their children.

Stop laughing!!! We thought this dance was really cool.

Dick Clark continued on TV for years after American Bandstand. He never seemed to age. We marvelled at this. It just continued to remind us of those formative years, so long ago. For me, he will always be remembered as the host of American Bandstand.

When I got older in the late teens I became aware of much more powerful rock and roll music in the Toronto area. This is where Levon Helms comes in.

We did not have to look to the United States for powerful rock and roll. It came to us from Arkansas in the form the Rockabilly music of Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks. They came to Canada to perform and Ronnie Hawkins stayed to become a enduring figure in Toronto's popular music scene. He most often performed at Le Coq d'Or in the city. Levon Helm, his drummer stayed on while the other three members of the Hawks returned to the US. Hawkins replaced his lost band members with three promising Canadian musicians: Robbie Robertson,
Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson. Levon Helms and Ronnie Hawkins, with their great musicianship and discipline in their music shaped the Hawks into one of the most, if not the best, accomplished rock band.

When the Hawks outgrew Ronnie Hawkins it moved to Woodstock, New York, where Levon took up residence, and made their own music occasionally playing for other singers, most notably Bob Dylan. It was now known as "The Band".

The guitarist by his side is Robbie Robertson. Levon Helms is on the drums.

Levon Helms, when Robbie Robertson left the Band, became the undisputed leader of the group, which underwent several name changes but always with Helms at it helm.. His life was dedicated to music and performing. He even survived throat cancer to once again sing and perform with his band, until recently. He was a musician's musician.

If you want to hear a whole concert of the Band go here and listen to the one in Pittsburgh.

With the likes of Levon Helms and Ronnie Hawkins we did not need to envy our American cousins and look south for a rich music scene, We had Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, leading the awakening of Canadian popular music. We have continually had Ronnie Hawkins every since. He was still performing as late as 2010 (in my home town of Port Credit). Like Helms he was a southern good old boy. We embraced them both. Hawkins never did shake his southern roots and Arkansas twang. He has long been a great character in Toronto.

Levon Helms singing Up On Cripple Creek

The likes of Dick Clark and Levon Helms live on in our memory and have shaped a little of who we are. In the electronic age we can revisit them but all the same when the die, we feel we have lost a little of what we once felt was a part of us. We miss them and we feel a little older.

Postscript: Levon Helms died today April 19. 2012. The Toronto Star had a nice article about him.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Pillar of Canadian Society

It was 30 years ago when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed and became not only the pillar of Canada's commitment to the rule of law but also a pillar of the very nature of Canada's structure of society and culture. We may view the WWI battle of Vimy Ridge as the moment in history when Canadians became most conscious of our nationhood, but this was only symbolic and emotional. And while the federal nature of our country was determined with the British North American Act in 1867, it was the repatriation of our Constitution (which includes the Charter of Rights and Freedom) which fixed the parameters and vision of our country long into the future.

The British who had to accept the changes to the British North America Act where reluctant to see Canada accept a bill of rights which was not in the parliamentary tradition but more like the American Republican form of government. But in the end, they did and Canada got a Charter of Rights and Freedoms which was much more than a bill of rights.

The Charter assures us that long into the future Canada will be a federal, bilingual and multicultural society. History will record that this is Pierre Elliott Trudeau's political legacy. Like no other Prime Minister he has shaped the nature of Canada, perhaps forever.

The Charter accomplishes several things. It sets forth the rights of individuals in much the same way as the United States Bill of Rights does. But it moves beyond this. It guarantees collective rights, not just individual rights, such as federal bilingualism: services in both official languages, education in both official languages, and the right to have legal federal court transactions, and publications, conducted in either official language, anywhere within Canada. This is not the case provincially except in New Brunswick, which has long been a bilingual province. The Charter does not change the rights of aboriginal populations which have been long established through treaties signed. It recognizes First Nation's people being Amer-Indians, Inuit and Metis. It also protects many of the rights of other cultural and religious communities within Canada.

It is interesting to note that the Charter of Rights and Freedom does not guarantee property rights as a more individually focused bill rights might. At least one writer attributes this to the New Democratic Party, which was at that time more aggressively socialist.

The Charter also sets out the federal nature of Canada and who the Federal and Provincial jurisdictions will interact, allowing the Provinces to use a "notwithstanding clause" to opt out of some federal laws, but not all. It is not applicable to the the laws guaranteeing the bilingual nature of Canada.

There was a time in Canada's history when Canadians saw themselves as Americans ,written small. We were largely influenced by American culture. I might even say in the Canada of my youth we envied a lot the United States. My recollection is that I learned more about American history than Canadian history in school. We struggled against this cultural imperialism and our own sense of inferiority by such efforts as laws that protected and supported Canadian cultural elements with various arts institutions federally funded. There have always been pressures for Canada to just be a market extension of the United States. The nature of Canadian society has always been at risk. And yet we had begun to change Canada moving away in many ways from our southern neighbour. With the reparation of the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedom the distinctive nature of Canada is now assured, protected and guaranteed. During my lifetime Canadian culture has become increasingly rich and distinct. The Charter will help to see that this continues to be the case.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has come to be a model for other countries. It has seen Canada as a moral leader in human and political rights. This once was the role of the United States as it saw itself as "the light on the hill". In recent years, this light has faded as the United States Constitution has been unable to be used to defend the high ideal of rights embedded in it.

The Canadian model of how to organize a country which recognized not only individual rights but also social right within societies of mixed linguistic and cultural groups.

If you ever had any doubts about the importance of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for Canada you only have to follow the attempts of the present Conservative Government of Stephen Harper to try to change the nature of Canada. Harper has admitted that his party is to the right of the political and cultural centre of Canada. He is determined to move the country to the right so that the Conservative Party's view of Canada is the new centre. Harper is no fan of the Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedom. His government is testing it's limit. Many of the Conservative Party's laws, in such things as their law and order omnibus bill will be challenged in the Supreme Court. I am assured by reading the Charter that his laws will have to be modified or abandoned by being unconstitutional. Some already have been changed.

It is interesting to note that this 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not being recognized by the Federal government of the Harper's Conservatives. This is ironic for a government that loves to wave the flag at every opportunity when it comes to the military, our military history and even the Royal family. You would think our Constitution and its importance to Canada would be worthy of federal celebration. I see this as a snub and a contempt for this pillar of Canadian society.

There are those Canadians who hate the Charter and see it as a divisive document between different views of Canada. They often see it as a Liberal Party document, that fixed their view of Canada on our country for all times. I see these people as those who know little about Canada's history and values. I encourage them to read "A Fair Country" by John Ralston Saul where he argues that Canada is a metis society which called upon aboriginal values as well as English and European values, in such a way as to make Canada quite different from the Old World and the United States. This has served us well culminating in our current bilingual and multicultural country. Perhaps, arguably the most successful such society in the World. The Sun Newspapers and the Sun Television network often give voice to the negative view. They see the Charter as being divisive. They are the Canadian equivalent of the Fox News Network of the United States and deserve to be ignored.

The Charter is worth a careful reading. The study of it should be required in the school system and among new immigrants.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth signing the repatriated Constitution April 17, 1982

The damaged Constitution

There are two copies of the Canadians Constitution. One was slightly damaged by the rain the day it was signed. The other, signed indoors, was pristine, until one day it was vandalized as an act of protest. It is an interesting story. This red stained copy of the Constitution is a reminder that our rights and freedoms must always be defended. The incident is symbolic of how open a society we are that an ordinary citizen could easily have access to our Nation's foundation document. I hope this will always be the case as an ideal. We need to always be tolerate of protest and dialogue even if it is occasionally extreme.

The Charter of Rights and Freedom has been used to continue to make changes in Canadian society through decisions of the Supreme Court. I need only point out the gay and lesbian community has been added to groups that have Charter protection. Need I point out that Canada has relatively easily accepted gay marriage and accepted abortion and birth control as individual rights. Such issues, which are contentious in the U.S. are largely irrelevant in Canada.
Recently, the federal governments opposition to needle exchange and injection site for drug addicts, has been rejected by the court. There will now be more of these. One could go on and on reviewing large and small issues dealt with by the Court in the past 30 years.

I must point out that the Harper government has argued before the Supreme Court many times and loses almost every time. The Court has chastised the government on several occasions. The one I was please with most was the one that told the government they failed to do enough on behalf of Omar Khadr, the child soldier, who is suffering under the American justice system. Hopefully, he will be back in Canada soon but if it were up to the Harper government he would be left to rot in an American military jail. Canadian citizens have a right to have their government come to their aid internationally, whether the government approves or disapproves of their politics. The draconian actions of the government after the 9/11 attack in New York, were somewhat limited by the court. Muslim men detained without trial under security certificates were finally freed as their detention was illegal and unCanadian. I have faith in Canada's Supreme Court. It remains truly independent, which is largely guaranteed by the Constitution. Effort to politicize it should fail. It is interesting to note that the recent decision against unwarranted wiretapping by the police was written by the two recent appointees to the court by the Harper government. It is interesting to review the decisions of the court over the years . I look forward to future decisions.

We have every reason to have faith in the strength of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the veracity of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Lovely Leigha

I recently spend so time visiting my friend, Lynne, in Mississauga. This time I had the pleasure of getting to know Leigha her lovely grand daughter better. Leigha, as I mentioned in a previous post is fighting a form of cancer on her kidney, Wilms. She has had a kidney removed, undergone radiation therapy and now is on chemotherapy. All is going well except that her immune system is somewhat weakened by her therapy so she is susceptible to infection. She has had to briefly revisit the hospital for have a fever due to some mild infection. This is all normal.

It is though to see a 3 year old having to go through all the treatments to this disease. She is handling it well. It many ways she is handling it better than the adult family member who love her. She is an adorable lovely and charming child.

(click on photo to enlarge)

This is a picture just after she asked me to get my camera. The previous visit I had shown her how to take a picture with it. She remembered. First I took her picture as she anticipated being able to take some for herself.

Here is one of Leigha's pictures of me holding one of her stuffed toys on my knee. It seem the toy was the subject of the picture and not me. Just as well as I am a little camera shy. Nice composition I thought. Many of her pictures were of the floor or ceiling or parts of people half in and half out of the picture. But she was getting the right idea.

Now don't you just want to sit down beside her and read her a story.

I look forward to my next visit now than we know each other better. I expect when she sees me she remember my camera and want to use it again.

Monday, April 09, 2012

National Defining Moments

I have been thinking and reading lately about national defining moments which successful nations seem to have. Today, Canada is remembering the successful military battle of WW I at Vimy Ridge which has persisted at the event that most focused Canada's identity as a Nation. For our provincial Canadian partners in Newfoundland and Labrador we are also remembering their catastrophic defeat in WW! at Beaumont Hamel, at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. It is geographically close to Vimy Ridge. Also at this time, the British and

Falkland Islanders. are remembering that short but intense war thirty years ago(1982), which expelled the Argentine occupiers . There have been others which come to mind. I think of the defeat of the Australians and New Zealanders at the Battle of Gallipoli. For these two nascent nations this was a similar experience to Canada's victory at Vimy Ridge. To this day it is celebrated as ANZAC Day. For our American cousins, I think they view the American Revolution as their defining event. They have had many war events to point to since. One could argue this is more myth than reality for it was arguably not a great unify event. It was in fact a victory for an American property class which developed the National defining myths. At the time, and for over 100 years, slaves were not included, nor were American Indians. It was true that many "Americans" did not support the revolutionary split with Britain particularly in the Northeast. North of the border we embraced these United Empire Loyalists who evently fought alongside the French, British and Aboriginal residence in the War of 1812 to repel the attempt of the United States to annex these northern British colonies. This was an early moment of awareness for the future Canadians. They knew they were different from Americans and did not want to be part of the United States.

Nations seem to need these moments to shape their national consciousness, sadly they are often military events.

Vimy Ridge, which I have written about before, was the first time the Canadian soldiers from all across Canada fought as a unit and not just part of the British military. The Canadian Corp, at the time part of the British military, was given the task of dislodging the German troops occupying Vimy Ridge. The Canadian Corp was a volunteer force of mostly rural and small town men, such was the nature of Canada back then.It had no great military tradition. As a result, it seemed to be able to find new and creative ways of solving the problem of dislodging a well dug in superior force. The old ways of warfare of pitting wave after wave of soldiers against barrages of deadly weapons until manpower of loss of ammunition is depleted resulting in "victory". This was the way WWI was being fought in the Battle of the Somme, which saw massive casualties in battles over a narrow piece of land. (1000 yard of less). The Canadian military leaders were creative and meticulous in their planing and execution. They built a scale model of the Ridge. They practiced the attack strategy, they invented fighting in small units (a sqad) under the leadership of an officer which could act creatively on it's own. They invented the creepting barrage which allowed the troops to advance just behind an artillery barrage which forced the enemy to seek cover rather than fire on the troops. These military tactics have been employed by armies ever since.
Canadians prevailed at the Battle_of_Vimy_Ridge, where the British and French had failed. They represented Canada well for which Canadians have since felt we gained something in our National identity. Yes! there were many casualties but not nearly as many which could have result if the old way fighting had been used.

The WWI defeat of the Newfoundlanders at Beaumont Hamel was the result of way wars were traditionally fought. The War of the Somme was such a war of attrition. They made a frontal mass assault against machine guns were their numbers were decimated. What makes this Newfoundland defeat to significant of Newfoundlands is that the Newfoundland regiment was made up of volunteers from all over the island, mostly from the many small outport fishing communities. A whole generation of Newfoundland men (boys) were lost. Hardly a family or community went untouched. In some cases, brothers , fathers and son, cousins were lost. To this day Newfoundland, now part of Canada, remembers this event from their colonial past when their men answered the call in defense of Britain and did not return.

Both Vimy Ridge and Beaumont Hamel battle sites are Canadian territory within France. They French honoured Canada by giving them the site of Vimy Ridge, while the mothers, sisters and wives of the Newfoundlanders raised the funds to purchase the Beaumont Humal site. When I visited Vimy Ridge a couple of years ago, which is a moving experience all Canadians should seek, I wanted to visit Beaumont Humal but could not. I hope another trip to Belgium and northern France will make this possible.

For some time now I have been interested in the Falkland Islands. It is almost an obsession with me. I have long been interested in remote places in the World where people live, usually on islands. The Falkland Islands are such a distant and remote archipelago in the South Atlantic. It was a British colony, sparsely populated and dependent mostly one industry, sheep farming. They British had colonized this uninhabited land continually since 1833. Argentina have laid claim to it, and all the Antarctic British Territories, as part of the Spanish territory which came to form that Nation. They have it written into its Constitution that these groups of Islands off the coast of South American are part of Argentina. The Falklands are the only one of several island groups continually colonized. Others have been whaling stations or weather and scientific sites. Britain and Argentina have debated the sovereignty of these islands for over 150 years.

Prior of the Falklands War the Falkland Islands were in decline economically. They were no longer a resupply place for ships sailing around South America as a result of the development of the Panama Canal. The wool industry was in decline. In fact the small population was in decline having dropped below 2500. Even now the population is small at 3,000. The British had been exploring ways to unburden itself of this remote colony so dependent on Britain. This was part of a world wide effort at decolonization. Britain had been considering a deal with Argentina to turn the Falklands over to it under an arrangement similar to that of Hong Kong, which after 99 years sorted back to China.

As things worked out. The Argentina military Junta in 1982 was dealing with an increasingly restless population. To rally the country to sport this dreadful regime they decided to invade the Falkland Island and just take what they claimed was theirs. The Junta bet the British would not defend this colony 7,000 miles away. The Argentina populations with national pride forgot their grievances with the junta temporarily. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher was also losing popular support. She risked all by committing the nation to going to war with Argentina over the Falklands. An expeditionary force made it's way south, using the British Ascension Island in mid-Atlantic as a base. The result was that Britain, perhaps in her last Imperial adventure defeated the Argentine forces which had invaded the Falklands. It was a short war of 72 day but a real war none the less. Ships were lost, lives were lost, Creative and skilled war craft on the part of the British professional army defeated the young inexperienced Argentinian troops that were on the islands occupying them as now part of Argentina. It is an interesting small war to study. There are some YouTube videos which tell the story of the war rather well. What is not well known is the part the local inhabitants played in the war. They were traumatized by the events of living in a war zone. Some were held prisoner not knowing their fate. Others had unpleasant experiences with the occupying troops. Still other participated to the degree they could in their own defense. For example, when some military vehicles were lost with the sinking of ship the local farms with tractors and wagons move goods forward to the British troops fighting. To this day some Falkland Islands suffer from this emotional trauma. In the end, the Argentine troop surrendered. The Argentinean Junta collapsed . And Margaret Thatcher basked it the glory of leading the nation in a successful war. I encourage you to read about this war writ small in all its political and military and social aspects.

Ironically, as it turned out the war was a good thing for all parties. Argentina saw the end of the military rule in that country that has become known as the dirty war in Argentina. Dreadful human rights abuses were inflicted upon the people in those years. Argentina returned to democratic rule. Britain got to enjoy one last taste of being an Empire. But the biggest changes came for the Falkland Islanders.

The Falkland Islanders had made it clear to Britain that they were British and wanted to remain such. They did not want to be handed over to Argentina, with whom they did not share a culture or a language. This is very different to Newfoundland being encouraged by Britain to become part of Canada. Newfoundland shared a language (some wonders sometimes with their unique dialect), culture and history of good relations with Canada. Even with that It took two referendums for Newfoundland to finally agree to join Canada by only 52% support. There was and is not support of the Falkland Islanders ever becoming part of Argentina.

Since the war the Falkland Islanders have prospered. The large sheep farms were broken up and sold to local people who formerly would have only worked for the large farms. The sheep industry was diversified, no longer raising sheep only for wool but also for meat. A modern abattoir was built that met European standards. The government was reorganized so that local people had more control. Most significantly a fishing industry was developed such that it was managed requiring foreign boats to pay a fee to fish in Falklands waters and meet standard set by the Islanders. This became the largest contribution to the income for the country of the Falklands (now much more independant that a colony). This allowed them to fund all their own government and social programs. Their children could be sent to Britain for education paid by the Falklands government. Many have come home to take up positions in professions, beginning the process of replacing contract workers. Currently, the Falkland Islands are on the verge of mining oil from below the sea. Interesting, this is the economic engine that saw Newfoundland begin begin to prosper, which was failing before it joined Canada and for years was the poor sister province. It is no longer a "have not"province in spite of a much depleted fishery. One can only hope that the Falkland Islands will continue to prosper. One could argue they have the best prospects in all of South America. They have not only the oil to make them very rich (hopefully, they will follow Norway's example of save for the day when the oil runs out. Norway currently has about 500 billion saved so that every citizen will eventually have a pension. No other country has been this wise). There are other opportunities yet to be exploited in the Falklands. It is a place with few trees, low mountains and lots of wind. It has begun to develop for its own use wind powered electricity. Few countries of the world have the potential to be free of carbon based energy. Iceland is the best example with their geothermal power. With an abundance of cheap energy many industries could survive on the islands. I think of heated greenhouses for any number of crops and desalination plants to improve the availability of water to support a larger population. There are lots of opportunities yet to be realized. Their own airline would be nice so that they could easily reach other parts of North and South America, Africa and perhaps even Australia and New Zealand. This would free them from some threats from Argentina. I could envision a Falklands college that could educate their own students and draw many foreign students to specialized studies of importance to the Falklands and the South Atlantic.In time a prosperous Falklands may have much to offer South American in exchange for a right to exist. I imagine Falkland Islanders have such dreams to fulfill.

I think for the post Falkland War generations the declaration of wanting to be British will change to wanting first to be Falkland Islanders. When that happens they will have achieve what Canada, Newfoundland , New Zealand and Australia achieved with their war experience, a time to remember when they gained a greater sense of a national identity, as Falkland Islanders.