Category Archives: Fat Opinions

Slow Food at the Handlebar Pub and Bar.

 

Ambience

Maybe the ambience is a little less than stellar, but the Handlebar Pub and Grille is still a great hamburger joint. Sometimes the music is excellent too.

 

We enjoyed a very convivial  dinner here with friends Don and Marlene Hoeppner. The restaurant is popular so we had to wait about half an hour to get inside. In the meantime we sampled their beer and enjoyed the sunset in the background. Remember I am an inspector of sunsets. The Handlebar is  our favorite restaurant in the Phoenix/Mesa area. My friend Dave Driedger says they make the best burgers in the world. No doubt that is an exaggeration, but I think they are pretty good. Interestingly, for a burger joint, the Handlebar does not offer fries Sometines the music is pretty good too. . Slowfood  with a convivial evening with friends makes for some very good times.

 

Life and Death on South Mountain

I went for a hike with my sister Barb and her husband Harv. It was wonderful. We all hike at sort of the same speed. Hiking in the mountains is one of the best things about the Sonoran Desert. Yet sometimes it makes you think. This was one of those days.

We drove up the South Mountain to get to the top of it. The valley looked magnificent. Except for one problem: It was not a minor problem. It was smog. We started with a couple of wonderful overlooks, but the sight of smog in Phoenix disturbed me. Of course this was not the first time I have seen it, but it sure is disturbing from on top of this mountain in the city. What are we doing to this  wonderful valley? When you think about it you realize it is disgusting.

Not a pretty picture

Some people seem reluctant to admit that there is smog in Arizona. To me it was obvious. Almost every time we drive from San Tan Valley to Mesa or Phoenix we can see haze in the distance. This is not fog. Phoenix does not often have fog. But it often has smog.

According to WebMD, “The greater Phoenix area  is the 5th worst for smog in the United States!

It is true that fewer people in the United States are breathing smoggy air, thanks to clean air laws. At least for now. No doubt Donald Trump will soon get around to dismantling these laws just as he has so many other regulations that he claims are bad for business. They are bad for bad business; they are not bad for good business.

Smog or ground-level ozone, still poses a health threat. About one-third of Americans live in areas with unhealthy air. Air pollution can make it hard to breathe and increases one’s chances of having lung cancer, asthma, heart attack, strokes, and other nasty diseases. Yet what is the American Congress doing about it? Here is what The Guardian said about it, 

More than half of the US population lives amid potentially dangerous air pollution, with national efforts to improve air quality at risk of being reversed, a new report has warned.

A total of 166 million Americans live in areas that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association, raising their risk of lung cancer, asthma attacks, heart disease, reproductive problems and other ailments.

The association’s 17th annual “state of the air” report found that there has been a gradual improvement in air quality in recent years but warned progress has been too slow and could even be reversed by efforts in Congress to water down the Clean Air Act.[1]

 

I don’t know about you, but this does not sound very pleasant to me. I don’t want Donald Trump and his cronies to get rid of these “job-destroying regulations” as he keeps calling them. I think they are vital.

More recent studies do not paint a rosier picture either. As The Huffington Post reported recently,

Air pollution isn’t among the causes of death that medical examiners list on death certificates, but the health conditions linked to air pollution exposure, such as lung cancer and emphysema, are often fatal. Air pollution was responsible for 6.1 million deaths and accounted for nearly 12 percent of the global toll in 2016, the last year for which data was available, according the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.[2]

 

As Philip Landrigan of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai advised, “Air pollution is one of the great killers of our age.”[3]  Many have pointed out before me that the right to breathe is pretty darn fundamental. It is right up there with the right to clean water and fertile soil and bio-diverse ecosystems. We can’t live long without clean air. Yet we treat the world as a garbage dump.

I think George Monbiot puts his finger on the problem–Our lives of endless consumption. As he said, “Our consumption is trashing a natural world infinitely more fascinating and intricate than the stuff we produce.[4]

         Monbiot also asked a very pertinent question:

This is a moment at which anyone with the capacity for reflection should stop and wonder what we are doing. If the news that in the past 40 years the world has lost over 50% of its vertebrate wildlife (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) fails to tell us that there is something wrong with the way we live, it’s hard to imagine what could. Who believes that a social and economic system which has this effect is a healthy one? Who, contemplating this loss, could call it progress? [5]

This is my opinion:  Our modern industrial system (capitalism and its imitators) has clearly demonstrated that it is anti-life. It has been great at producing stuff, but this stuff is killing life on the planet. When will it be our turn to be killed? Who is next?

I do not for one minute deny that each of us is responsible. We have to learn to curtail our consumption. We must do better. We cannot continue to facilitate the destruction of life on the planet?

Yet at the same time, we must remember that corporate capitalists are good–very good–at manufacturing desires in us. They spend a lot of money buying advertising, spin, and propaganda to convince us that we need their products. And by and large that money is well spent. It works.

Standing on South Mountain I thought about these things. I didn’t do anything about them, but I did think about them. Is that enough?

[1] Oliver Millman, The Guardian, April 20, 2016

[2] Erin Schummaker, ‘Air Pollution is Killing Millions Around the globe each year,” The Huffington Post, January 23, 2018

[3] Erin Schummaker, ‘Air Pollution is Killing Millions Around the globe each year,” The Huffington Post, January 23, 2018

[4] George Monbiot, “Its time to shout stop on this war on the living world,” The Guardian, (October 1, 2014)

[5] George Monbiot, “Its time to shout stop on this war on the living world,” The Guardian, (October 1, 2014)

Donald Trump has the Empathy of a Turnip

 

I also heard an excerpt from an interview of Donald Trump in a July 2008 on the Howard Stern show. This shows the real Trump, if there is such a thing. It relates to an incident at Mar-a-Lago, Trumps estate for rich cronies and wanna be cronies. An 80-year old man fell from a stage to the hard marble floor and the blood started to flow.Here is how Trump described the incident entirely in his own words:

“I was at Mar-a-Lago and we had this incredible ball, the Red Cross Ball, in Palm Beach, Florida.

And we had the Marines. And the Marines were there, and it was terrible because all these rich people, they’re there to support the Marines, but they’re really there to get their picture in the Palm Beach Post.

So, you have all these really rich people, and a man, about 80 years old – very wealthy man, a lot of people didn’t like him – he fell off the stage. 

So what happens is, this guy falls off right on his face, hits his head, and I thought he died.

And you know what I did? I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s disgusting,’ and I turned away.

I couldn’t, you know, he was right in front of me and I turned away. I didn’t want to touch him. He’s bleeding all over the place, I felt terrible.

You know, beautiful marble floor, didn’t look like it. It changed colour. Became very red.

And you have this poor guy, 80 years old, laying on the floor unconscious, and all the rich people are turning away

What happens is, these 10 Marines from the back of the room.

They come running forward, they grab him, they put the blood all over the place—it’s all over their uniforms—they’re taking it, they’re swiping [it], they ran him out, they created a stretcher.

They call it a human stretcher, where they put their arms out with, like, five guys on each side.

I was saying, ‘Get that blood cleaned up! It’s disgusting!’ The next day, I forgot to call [the man] to say he’s OK.

It’s just not my thing.”

 This is a picture of Donald Trump by the man himself. Other people’s blood and pain is just not his thing. What is his thing? The stained marble floor. The rich people who are upset. He gives no thought–absolutely none–to an 80-year old man lying on the floor in blood. Donald Trump has the empathy of a turnip!

This is the same man who said about how disgraceful it was in Parkland Florida that the armed security guard stayed outside the school during the entire shooting incident in which 17 students were slaughtered by a former student with an AR-15 automatic rifle, and that he really believes he would have run into the school to confront the young man with a machine gun even if he had no weapon. This statement comes from the man who got 5 medical deferments from serving in the Vietnam War because the family doctor said he had a sore foot, an injury that Trump later discounted. Stephen Colbert said that he did not believe Trump because he did not believe that Trump could run. The story is about as believable as any other Trump ever told–not at all in other words.

My Country tis of thy people you’re dying

 

On the way home from the theatre 2 days ago, we heard reports on the radio about young students from the school in Parkland Florida where 17 students were killed, allegedly by a young man with an AR-15. They had heard President Trump’s assurances that “they were safe” and were “loved” by people who would do “everything” to protect them. Lies in other words. Fake news. They also heard him offer once again his “thoughts and prayers,” but also noticed that in his talk the word “guns” was never spoken. After all it was not for nothing that the NRA had contributed $30 million to his presidential campaign! It appears that was money well spent.

The newspapers had also reported to the students that “their” Florida Senator Marco Rubio and “their” Florida Governor Rick Scott had both scored A+ in the rating released by the National Rifle Association about the quality of politicians from their perspective. A+ ratings are reserved by them for “legislators who have excellent voting records on 2nd Amendment issues and who vigorously fight to promote and defend the right to keep and bear arms.” I wonder how the students would have ranked them? I believe Rubio and Scott each received $3 million for their last election campaigns. Again money well spent from the perspective of the NRA. From the perspective of the students not so much.

In fact after the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando Governor Scott said, “The second Amendment never killed anybody. Evil did.” So his solution for mass shootings is to allow evil to arm itself to the teeth with automatic rifles? Or is it to allow young people to buy them before they can vote or drive a car.

One of the 17-year old students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, that was interviewed said that Senator Rubio “had blood on his hands.” I concur.

Many of us thought that after the massacre at Sandy Hook School in Newtown Connecticut in December 2012, when Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members, something would be done in the United States to control gun violence besides thoughts and prayers. After all what could be worse than that? We were sadly mistaken. Nothing was done except to make gun ownership easier.

The Florida students who have been casting blame on their politicians who have put campaign financing ahead of the safety of school children have got it right. They do have blood on their hands.

We also heard a college professor talking on National Public Radio. He has written previously on this subject. He says that Americans can expect changes in gun control laws in the next year. I was shocked to hear that. But I had not heard it all. He added, “Americans can expect changes to gun control laws that will make it easier to get guns with silencers.”

On the day of the Florida massacre the school Superintendant said “Today we saw the worst of humanity; tomorrow we will see the best as we move forward together.” I strongly disagree. If nothing is done once again, this is not the best of humanity; this is the stupidest.

How can one deny that this country is sick? It reminds me of what Buffy Sainte-Marie sang “My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.”

 

Regulations Stink

Many Americans in the west hate government regulations. That is one of the reasons Donald Trump is so popular, he has declared war on government regulations. He said that for everyone added, 2 would have to be removed. He seems to think most of them are bad because they interfere with the God-given right of American businesses to despoil the earth and exploit their workers and everything else in sight.

On a small scale–but a stinky one–that has become an issue in San Tan Valley where we live here in Arizona for 3 months.  Johnson Utilities a corporation I assume is connected to the company that developed much of this area including the community we live in, controls things like water and sewage. Water is an important asset in the desert and it controls it here. They have just announced that they are raising water rates by 23%. What would you do? Would you pay or go without water? They do have a pubic utility board here like we do back in Manitoba, but I am not sure how much clout they have. I will have to wait and see.

There is another related issue however that has many residents riled up, particularly those who live close to the water treatment plant run by Johnson Utilities. The locals can’t stand the smell. They say it is so bad they often have to stay inside. Reminds me of complaints back home about hog farms. It seems though that that the objectors are out of luck even though Johnson Utilities had been found to have violated regulations for emitting hydrogen sulfide more than 100 times. It was fined $20,000. Unfortunately, the people living next to the plant have not been helped, even though as one resident described the situation in a local newspaper, “the stench is like the inside of a porta-potty in the heat of summer at the end of a 3 day music festival.”

It seems that it is not just government regulations that stink. Maybe not all regulations are bad.

An ideological Odd Couple: Truth Seeking, Democracy and Freedom of thought and Expression

Part I–We must love the truth more than our opinions

Chris and I went to hear a pubic dialogue between Robert P. George and Cornell West at Arizona State University. It was one of the best such public events we have ever watched. Since there talk was long and (I think) important I will break it up into 3 portions to make it more palatable. This is part I.

These are two outstanding thinkers who talked about critically important issues particularly in these dangerous times. They disagree with each on many points but do so amicably and respectfully. They learn from each other, every time they speak together, and they do that often. One–Cornell West–is black and a radical democrat. The other Robbie George–is white and conservative. They have been called “an ideological odd couple.” Both are professors and public intellectuals. They teach a course together at Harvard. Both speak from a Christian perspective, though each has a very different interpretation of Christianity. Yet both respect other religious perspectives too. George is a Catholic with Pagan proclivities. He has learned a lot from Plato and Socrates.

The topic of the dialogue was Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression.”   The topic is particularly important at this time in our history because of recent events at American and Canadian Universities in which invited speakers were heckled or prevented from speaking altogether, sometimes violently. What are the limits of freedom of thought and expression? That really is the issue. They reject what they call campus illiberalism which they describe as the effort “to immunize from criticism opinions that happen to be dominant in their particular communities” and to exclude certain topics of discussion by “questioning the motives and thus stigmatizing those who dissent from prevailing opinions.”

The two professors made a joint statement on March 14, 2017. Here is part of that statement:

 

The pursuit of knowledge and the maintenance of a free and democratic society require the cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth. These virtues will manifest themselves and be strengthened by one’s willingness to listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one’s beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share.

 

George begins with conservative beginnings. Yet he says, he greatly admires Brother West, who begins with strong deeply leftist views, because West exemplifies a man of principle and integrity, both of which today are in too short supply. Listening to George I quickly concluded that he also exemplified principle and integrity. I like how these two brothers–one black and the other white, and one Marxist and the other Conservative–liked and respected each other. That in itself, if we heard nothing else today, was inspirational. In this day of extremism, intolerance, and unwillingness to listen to the other side, was a breath of fresh air.

What brought West and George here today was very important–truth-seeking. That was really the theme of their talk. They both sought the truth. To begin with that of course presupposes that there is such a thing as truth. We can never be sure that we have found it, because we are all fallible. Because we are all fallible we must recognize that we might have something to learn from the other. No matter how unlikely that might seem to us the other might be able to teach us something so we ought to listen to the other with respect and thank the other if we did learn something. If we are corrected in our views then we have learned something and should be grateful for it.

Of course I could not help noticing that there were many people in the crowd who seemed to agree with George and West on this point. Yet nearly 50% of Americans who voted, and more than 50% of Arizonans who voted in the last Presidential election, voted for Donald Trump. I have never heard of anyone less willing to accept criticism or a challenge of his or her ideas than Trump. He is the exact opposite of what West and George advocated for.

Truth seeking is important because it is the foundation of a democratic republic. Without truth seekers we will not have a healthy democratic republic. As George said, “We must love the truth more than our opinions.” He added, “We must love the truth even if this means we have to change our mind. “

A love of truth is essential for a citizen in a democratic society. Democracy needs citizens who can talk to each other despite strong disagreement even over fundamentals. Currently this all but absent in the United States in particular, but in many other places in the world as well. As George said, “Too often those who disagree want to shout each other down instead of speaking to each other respectfully”. That is why society in such countries is suffering from this loss. It was for this reason that West and George issued their joint statement. They wanted to warn people what was at stake and what might be lost.

As George said, “You cannot get at the truth (no matter about what) if you are unable to expose your beliefs and arguments to criticism. That means that you must be open-minded, humble, and willing to listen to the other side.” Obviously such an attitude is the opposite of a dogmatist. And as Tom Robbins said, “It is a dogma eat dogma world.” As George said, “Dogmatists are not truth seekers.” They love their own views more than they love the truth. That is why dogmatists are married to their own opinions. I said that.

We must always recognize that we might be wrong. Dogmatists cannot do that. Such an attitude will lead to the virtues of open-mindedness and a willingness to listen to the other side. Again dogmatists find this difficult.

Such an attitude requires one more very important element–courage. Opening yourself to criticism, especially publicly, is very difficult. Such “openness makes one vulnerable. We don’t like such a state of vulnerability. We do all that we can to avoid it. “It takes a special kind of courage to expose oneself to criticism.” “We must recognize a love of truth that is above our loyalty to tribe, class, group, or ideological soul mates.” “We must always remember that no one has a monopoly on truth.

Everyone has something to learn. Are we really willing to acknowledge flaws on our side when we are accused of being disloyal to our group? This is extremely difficult to do. “We will experience all kinds of pressure to conform to the norms of the group, but if we love truth we must do exactly that.” This requires great courage, because there is a strong tendency for a group to circle the wagon when criticism in encountered. If you admit that the other side has a valid criticism of your group, members of your own group will attack you. You will be treated as a traitor, or a kid who is no longer cool,. This happens in all kinds of groups, not just “other groups.”

As George, said, “We have to make the commitment to save our children from dogmatism or indoctrination and to dedicate themselves to truth seeking, open mindedness, courage, and the love of truth.

Wabi-Sabi

 

I love old buildings. Old buildings bring to life a philosophy that arose in Japan called Wabi-Sabi. It is a philosophy that concentrates on impermanence and transience. The building epitomizes impermanence. It was crumbling in the field. Practitioners of this philosophy don’t seek perfection. They realize perfection is not of this world. As Richard Martin said, “Wabi-Sabi reminds us that “nothing in life, or design, is perfect.”        Practitioners of this art find magic and beauty in the ordinary. They look at the existential. In other words they look at things as they actually are, not in some invisible essence. They concentrate on the vital here and now.

It reminds me of Michelangelo who found beauty and life emerging out of stone. He celebrated the world of becoming as opposed to the world the complete. Incompleteness is all. The philosophy is consistent with the the Buddhist concept of the first noble truth: “Dukka, or in Japanese, mujyou (impermanence). Wabi-Sabi is also a philosophy of the existential. It concentrates on the vital here and now rather than the ideal forms of essence of objects. It is an idea that is comfortable with what actually exists and sees no need to reject that in favor of some idea, which might some day come to place. It is prodigal in favor of what we see here and now in front of us in all of its genuine though by no means pristine glory.

Wabi-Sabi is ready to accept things as they are. It does not see life as many in the West do as a journey of progress towards ever better. It does not look for growth or progress. It accepts the now. It gives a eternal yes to the here and now. In fact it emphasizes instead decay and aging rather than growth and progress towards an ideal. That is exactly what we saw today in the field.

The philosophy of Wabi-Sabi requires that we abandon our customary elentless pursuit of the perfect and the better in favour of marveling what is already there before us. It celebrates what is right with the world right now.

Complementary to this view is an approach that recognizes the importance of slowness. Only when one moves slowly can one see what is often overlooked, namely the beauty in the imperfections that confront us. According to Martin, “For me, this is the perfect antidote to the invasive, slick, saccharine, corporate style of beauty.” It is the style that rejects the airbrushing and Photoshop perfections of corporate advertising campaigns.

I read recently for example, about the fact that the advertising campaigns now photograph women who are gorgeous, but even they cannot compete any more with the perfect ideals they are expected to realize. Even they cannot meet these unreal standards. So photographers routinely airbrush out tiny imperfections or Photoshop changes to the models. Kate Winslett, one of the most beautiful of the current crop of Hollywood actresses was not good enough for a recent edition of GQ magazine. Airbrushing techniques were used to make her thinner. Even though in the article she was quoted as being appalled at the current obsession of the beauty industry with absolute thinness.

Marketing geniuses routinely alter the images of the breasts or waists of their already magnificent models. They are never good enough. The photographs have to be “enhanced.” As a result the beauty you get is as close to perfection as one can get. But to me it reminds me of the moth trying with fatal diligence to get to the perfection of the light. I find such beauty boring, and finally soul destroying.

Opposed to this is the beauty found by Wabi-Sabi. It is found as part of the quiet, the still, the ordinary, the real. As Leonard Koren who wrote in his book Wabi-Sabi for Artists, designers, Poets & Philosophers said,

Wabi-Sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional… The closest English word to wabi-sabi is probably ‘rustic’… Things wabi-sabi are unstudied and inevitable looking… Unpretentious… Their craftsmanship may be impossible to discern.

Photographers who practice Wabi-Sabi find things well worthy of a photograph in old buildings, peeling paint, decaying wood, rusted metal, ancient lichen on old rocks, scratches, and worn spots. They like imperfect lines. They like what is rustic rather than what is antiseptic and shiny new.

As Richard Martin said in Photo Life Magazine, ,

 

“Wabi symbolizes rustic beauty and quietness. It also denotes simplicity and stillness and can apply to both man-made and natural objects. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies in things, a unique one-of-a-kind flaw, for example, which sometimes occurs during the process of production or creation.

Sabi refers to things whose beauty can come only with age, indicative of natural processes that result in objects that are irregular, unpretentious, and ambiguous. It refers to the patina, such as a very old bronze statue or copper roof turned green. It also incorporates an appreciation of the cycles of life.”

 

The building standing in the field was collapsing from old age. Sort of like me. The philosophy of Wabi-Sabi does not reject aging as many in the West do. It embraces it instead. It welcomes the grace and greater beauty that often follows. That is how I felt about the building standing in the field.

Andrew Juniper in his book Wabi-Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence described it this way,

“Wabi-Sabi is an intuitive appreciation of transient beauty in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world. It is an understated beauty that exists in the modest, rustic, imperfect, or even decayed, an aesthetic sensibility that finds melancholic beauty in the impermanence of things… The term wabi-sabi suggests such qualities as impermanence, humbleness, asymmetry, and imperfection. These underlying principles are diametrically opposed to those of their Western counterparts, whose values are rooted in the Hellenic worldview that values permanence, grandeur, symmetry, and perfection.”

To my mind this a grand view of life and beauty. It recognizes the extraordinary that is all around us. We don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to find it. It can exist out in a farmer’s field. It is not far off in some ideal world that we can never approach. Like Jude we may have to find that the beauty or the love we seek is on our shoulder. All we have to do is be aware. All we have to do is see.

Then, when we see that beauty, as photographers we press the shutter. The camera is the perfect instrument for dealing with the here and now. That is all it can do. It can only see and record that one brief shining moment when its shutter is open—so briefly yet so completely. That is photography!

One of the parents of Wabi-sabi is a philosophy that is in determined opposition to soulless consumption.   It resists that soulless consumption that insists always on something new. It cherishes the old. It rejects the modern fetish of the modern. It accepts the old for what it is—something of lasting durable value, even where the outer appearance is shabby is worn. The real value of the thing remains. It is what endures, no matter what blows are suffered upon it.

It is only the dull, shallow, and shabby who no longer appreciate this beauty. People that are swindled by the temptation of shiny appearances, baubles in other words, are the same ones who can no longer recognize true value. There is an enduring value in things that the genuine conservative wants to preserve. The conservative wants to conserve the valuable.

Those who don’t see the enduring value think that time spent on repairing, protecting, or restoring is time wasted. So often in today’s shallow world as soon as something is apparently not working as well as it should it is discarded. Not only is that wasteful, it is foolishness. The person of Wabi-Sabi searches out what is of enduring value.

Perhaps the Persian poet Rumi said it best when he said, “Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure.

Children that Don’t Come Back        

 

The stories of Canada’s colonial history keep popping up and invariably it seems, they reveal horrendous treatment of Indigenous People in Canada by the dominant society. The latest that I heard about was the story of the Atikamekw First Nation in remote northern Quebec near Wemotaci. The story was shown on CBC National News.

In the 1970s children who needed medical attention in that First Nations Community had to be taken off reserve to southern hospitals a 100 km. away or more. Unfortunately a number of these children were taken away “never to return again.”

Alice Petugauy was a mother of 15 children. She said she was able to take care of all of her children except one—a daughter Diane. Diane had pneumonia and had to get health care that was not available in their community. She was taken away to the hospital but did not return. When her mother inquired of the authorities what happened to her daughter she was told, “Don’t worry about it. You have other children.”

Alice Petugauy was not satisfied with this response and made further inquiries. It took her a long time to get more information. Eventually, years later, she learned that according to provincial records Diane  had been “abandoned.” Of course this was not true. Alice learned that she had signed a document that gave up custody of her child. At the time she signed, the document had been translated into her language by a local priest, because she could not read French. She thought she was consenting to health treatment for her daughter. She was actually saying good-bye to her daughter.

A local social worker, Diane Beliveau, said that it was common in the Atikamekw community for children to be apprehended by Child Protection Services without good reason. Little or not evidence was needed to justify the apprehension. Authorities were predisposed to apprehend.

Many of these children never returned but surprisingly Diane did. She returned as an adult many years later and was reunited with her family including her twin brother. However, by then she could not speak the Atikamekw language and had lost the culture completely. As she said, “Something is missing in me. Something I have lost and will never be able to get back.”

I know that some Canadians are getting tired of hearing apologies from their Prime Minister. They want the Prime Minister to be more like George W. Bush who said, “I am not an apologizing kind of guy.” However, the actions of provincial authorities and all who acquiesced in such actions are despicable. The cultural leaders of the colonizing people—us white guys—have a lot to answer for. Will one more apology be needed? What is much more likely is that many more apologies will be needed.

I know that many white guys feel no personal responsibility. They did not do it. yet us ‘white guys’ are the people who have benefited from this system of white suppression of indigenous people.  We are privileged because of that system. At the very least we should make it clear that we object to that system and we are sorry that others who were not so fortunate as we were suffered as a result of that system.

 

 

 

 

 

Are Powerful White guys the most vulnerable group in America?

We have been in he middle of what could be called the Dog Days. Or rather, the Bad Dog Days. Every day it seems that one more rich and powerful white guy is accused of sexual assault or harassment. We have to remember that these men have not yet been convicted and have to be presumed to be innocent. Yet this troubling fact raises some interesting questions.

A good friend of mine recently told me that he felt sorry for NHL hockey players. He said, “Imagine how difficult it must be for them to go on a date? They are completely vulnerable.” “Can they even date?” he asked.

I admit there are some men who have been maliciously and falsely accused of sexual assaults. It happens, but I believe it is rare. Very rare. On the other hand, many women have been sexually assaulted and few of them have successfully reported the crime and then even fewer see the assaulters charged and then fewer again see their tormentors actually convicted. To get to that stage the woman has to go through a legal wood chipper. Often her life is reduced to a black hole of pain. I call it a black hole, because it is a place from which even light cannot escape. Only the bravest of women can survive the challenge reasonably intact.

It is a fact of modern society that most sexual assaults go unreported. According to Statistics Canada (2014) a “large majority of sexual assault [is] not reported to the police…Research has widely documented that sexual assault is an underreported crime…According to the 2014 GSS on Victimization, more than eight in 10 (83%) of sexual assault incidents were not reported to the police.”[1]

As if that is not bad enough, only a small percentage of those cases reported to the police lead to charges being laid against the perpetrator.

According to Statistics Canada again,

 

  • Over a six‑year period between 2009 and 2014, sexual assault cases experienced attrition at all levels of the criminal justice system: an accused was identified in three in five (59%) sexual assault incidents reported by police; less than half (43%) of sexual assault incidents resulted in a charge being laid; of these, half (49%) proceeded to court; of which just over half (55%) led to a conviction; of which just over half (56%) were sentenced to custody
  • About 1 in 10 (12%) sexual assaults reported by police led to a criminal conviction, and 7% resulted in a custody sentence. This is compared with 23% and 8%, respectively, for physical assaults. [2]

 

The reasons for this are complex. Some history may help to explain it. The fact is that for centuries rape was not even treated as a serious offence. Let that sink in. Is that not astonishing? Today we think of it as one of the most serious offences yet for centuries it was more or less tolerated. Today we understand that rape combines pain, degradation, terror, trauma, an unjustified seizure of a woman’s means of propagating life, and a disturbing intrusion into her progeny, that often leads to long-lasting if not permanent damage to her body and psyche. Today we realize sexual assault is abhorrent. That was not always the case.

In the Old Testament the brothers of a raped woman were allowed to sell her to the rapist! Soldiers of course were routinely permitted to rape their captives, and kings could do as they pleased with thousands of concubines. What ISIS does today, was routine.

The 10 Commandments do not mention rape as a serious offence. The Bible considers it much more important not to take the name of the Lord in vain, or make carved images, or remembering the Sabbath. Now the 10 Commandments are pretty lame, but it is interesting to see what horrible offences are worse than rape that they warrant being on the list of the top 10. The 10th Commandment warns us not to covet anything that belongs to our neighbour. That includes his house, his wife, his servants or his ass. Important property and in that order. Clearly the wife is part of his property. In one passage in the Bible it even says that a married woman who is raped should be stoned to death. Not the rapist; the victim! Sharia law contains a similar provision. Rape was seen as an offense against the woman’s owner—her husband or father or if she was a slave the slave owner. No mention of it being an offense against her.

This clearly shows the place of woman at least in societies governed by 3 of the world’s major religions. Men were dominant and women were subordinate. That is how it has been for centuries. We have come a long way from this, but we have not come far enough. That culture still lingers and we continue to suffer from its legacy.

In recent times that dominance of men has diminished. Some men are pained by that lack of dominance. This has led to all kinds of psychological trauma in men. Many people experience a loss of power as deeply painful. Too often men react with blind belligerence when women challenge their dominance, or heaven forbid, “the liberal state.” That too often drives the men to irrational fury.

One of the reasons so few women even report sexual assaults to the police is the historical futility of such reports. The man usually gets off. Even if he does not, the woman is tortured in court by defence counsel. Many have expressed this as “being raped a second time.”

I have no statistics to back this up, but it is my firm belief that since only 12% of sexual assaults are reported, the number of false reports is much lower. Women don’t want to go to court against men who have assaulted them; surely much fewer want to go to court against men who have not assaulted them! I am not saying it never happens, I am just saying it is rare—very rare.

Women are particularly leery to report powerful men. The judicial system is severely slanted in favor of those who can afford the best legal counsel and in favor of those who have the respect of society—like powerful men, particularly white men. Like athletes for example. It takes an incredible amount of courage or folly to take on the powerful elite.

A couple of years ago I read a fascinating article in the New York Times by Ross Douthat. He wrote about assaults by Asian men in England, but many of his remarks are applicable to many other situations. This is what he said,

 

Show me what a culture values, prizes, puts on a pedestal, and I’ll tell you who is likely to get away with rape. In Catholic Boston or Catholic Ireland, that meant men robed in the vestments of the church. In Joe Paterno’s pigskin-mad Happy Valley, it meant a beloved football coach. In status-conscious, education-obsessed Manhattan, it meant charismatic teachers at an elite private school. In Hollywood and the wider culture industry — still the great undiscovered country of sexual exploitation, I suspect — it has often meant the famous and talented, from Roman Polanski to the BBC’s Jimmy Savile, robed in the authority of their celebrity and art. And in Rotherham, it meant men whose ethnic and religious background made them seem politically untouchable, and whose victims belonged to a class that both liberal and conservative elements in British society regard with condescension or contempt.

The point is that as a society changes, as what’s held sacred and who’s empowered shifts, so do the paths through which evil enters in, the prejudices and blind spots it exploits. So don’t expect tomorrow’s predators to look like yesterday’s. Don’t expect them to look like the figures your ideology or philosophy or faith would lead you to associate with exploitation. Expect them, instead, to look like the people whom you yourself would be most likely to respect, most afraid to challenge publicly, or least eager to vilify and hate. Because your assumptions and pieties are evil’s best opportunity, and your conventional wisdom is what’s most likely to condemn victims to their fate. [3]

 

So don’t expect the modern “successful” rapist to necessarily look like that ruffian in the alley. He may look like a “successful” business man, or celebrity, or hockey player.

Hockey players, like other professional athletes are routinely worshipped. Remember Iron Mike Tyson, the former Heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Surprisingly, perhaps, he was convicted of sexual assault and sent to jail. Then when he returned to the ring after serving his sentence he received a lengthy standing ovation. Now I can see that a criminal who has served his or her time should be accepted back into society. That is only fair. But what had he done to warrant a standing ovation?

Jordan Klepper referred to “the most vulnerable group in America–powerful white guys”. But he meant it as a joke. It is no joke. But powerful white guys are hardly the group we should be most concerned about helping. There are much more vulnerable people than that who deserve our concern.

[1] Shana Conroy and Adam Cotter, “Self-reported sexual assault in Canada, 2014” Statistics Canada (July 11, 2017)

[2] Shana Conroy and Adam Cotter, “Self-reported sexual assault in Canada, 2014” Statistics Canada (July 11, 2017)

 

[3] Ross Douthat, “Rape and Rotherham,” New York Times, (Sept. 6, 2014)