Grandma Joy

I  had an extraordinary start to a new year (or depending on how you count, a new decade). The Watertown television station had a story about an 89-year old Grandmother, Joy Ryan, taking a trip with her grandson Brad Roy, around the US to visit each of the 61 National Parks and Monuments in the country. Today, she was filmed ecstatically rolling down a sand dune in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Her name was Joy and she was filled with irrational exuberant joy. Her grandson explained that in some countries where she has become known thanks to the social media, she is called Grandma Pleasure rather than Grandma Joy and she is not sure if this racy name is appropriate but she is accepting it. Grandma Joy. That’s what we need!

Today Chris and I bumped our heads together. She said it was a “meeting of the minds.” Wishful thinking?

As we headed south we loved the Pink and blue sky in the east, reminiscent of the same colours yesterday evening in the west. Beauty as the sun sets and then rises in the morning.

 

Each year when we travel south we do not meander. It pains me to admit that. Generally, we drive with determination to get as far south as fast as possible. We are trying to escape the cold. And I am always worried we will get caught in a winter storm. Last year that is what happened and we spent a day and half in Watertown. So meandering is not allowed.  Normally, that would be against my religion. Meandering is in my DNA. Straight lines don’t exist in nature for a good reason.

This year I persuaded Chris to allow one meander–we drove to Falls Park in Sioux Falls South Dakota. Last year I had seen a photographs of this fabulous waterfall in the city. This year I was determined to see it. One meander had to be permitted! To deny this would be monstrous. Chris graciously acquiesced.  Later she even admitted it was a good idea. That was because the falls were so beautiful. Neither of us had ever seen a waterfall in winter. This was a special treat.

To add a cherry on top of this Sundae of day, I was interviewed by local NBC television station. They showed up in the park hoping to interview people and unfortunately for them, I was one of the interviewees. They wanted to know what my New Year’s resolution was.  My resolution was particularly lame. It was to improve my health. When I watched the show on YouTube I was shown up by a little boy with a dog. The kid resolved on behalf of his dog that the dog would be potty trained this year. Now that’s a resolution!

This was a magnificent start to our holiday. This was the good life. We were filled with Grandma joy.

 

Religious Violence

Our first day on the trip was incredibly interesting. To me travel is about learning. I love to learn about new and interesting places and people.

There was a lot of news this weekend about violent attacks by so-called domestic terrorists in the U.S.  Both incidents were deliberate attacks on religious groups. One occurred in New York, the other in Texas.

In New York a man was accused of stabbing 5 people with a gruesome machete at a Hanukkah party at a rabbi’s home.  It left the Jewish community in Monsey New York reeling, not only because of this attack, but because this was the 13th attack on Jewish people in New York in recent weeks.

In Monsey there was another attack, about a month ago, when a 30-year old Rabbi was attacked  on his way to synagogue just before dawn. It seems like Jews are under attack. Why is that? The alleged attacker in the most recent incident had a journal at home that contained references to Jews, anti-Semitism, and Adolf Hitler.  Internet searches on a phone recovered from his car included repeated searches for “Why did Hitler hate the Jews” as well as “German Jewish Temples nears me,” and “Prominent companies founded by Jews in America.”  Clearly, he had a special interest in Jews. Yet he has no known history of anti-Semitism and  according to a family member was “raised in a home which embraced all religions and races.” They also claimed he is not a member of any hate groups.

New York Mayor Cuomo was quick to denounce the crime as “an act of domestic terrorism.” President Donald Trump tweeted referring to the stabbing as an “anti-Semitic attack.” Trump also said, “We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism.” Of course, Trump ignores the fact that he has enabled haters in the past by statements such as his equating White Supremacists with people who resisted their venomous ideology. He claimed there were “good people on both sides.” Statements like that gave encouragement to the White Supremacists.

In a city called White Settlement Texas near Fort Worth a gunman identified as Keith Kinnunen who was unknown to the police, attended a church service at the West Freeway Church of Christ Parishioner Isabel Arreola said she sat near the gunman. She had never seen him before and began to feel uneasy about him when she thought she noticed he was wearing a fake beard as a disguise. Then she saw him take out a shotgun and starting firing. Abruptly within seconds members of the congregation approach the gunman and in fact one of them shot him dead with one shot.  Arreola said “I was so surprised because I did not know that so many in church were armed.”

In September the laws in Texas were changed to permit weapons in places of worship unless the facility bans them. This church was reorganized once the law was changed and now Texans are praising the effectiveness of the new law. Church security became an important issue in Texas after a previous gunman walked into a church in Sutherland Springs 2 years ago and fatally shot 26 people and wounded 20 others.

This time Texan parishioners believe that the church responder saved “untold lives.” I don’t know if the new Texas law is good or not. I know I was surprised when Texans took that approach after the previous attack. But it seems to have helped in this case. I always think a bunch of vigilantes are about as dangerous as a lone wolf domestic terrorist.

What really interests me about these 2 incidents however, is trying to understand what is happening in houses of worship that is putting parishioners at such risk. I always tend to think this is an American problem because it is such a violent society. But similar incidents have occurred in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, France, German and elsewhere.  Why is religion leading so much to violence? Are the perpetrators also led by religious zeal? What is going on in modern society? Does anyone know? I wish I did.

As a Dog Returneth to his Vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly

 

On the first evening of our trip to Arizona, we ended up staying in Watertown, the scene of last year’s disaster. For those of you who did not read my blog last year, let me explain.

First, we cut our drive on Interstate -29 short on the first day of our journey last year on account of freezing rain. We lounged in our hotel room for about an hour toasting our smarts in getting off the highway to a safe harbour in the hotel. We were exceedingly proud of ourselves.

Then we went to dinner, but because I was stubborn and foolish, I did not listen to my smart wife who warned me not to turn right as we were leaving the hotel,  and as a result we ended up right back on the 1-29. Freeway.  Only this time it was exponentially worse. The highway was incredibly icy. Cars and trucks were  everywhere in the ditch and on the meridian. I had to drive 12 miles to the next exit before I could turn around. Then I drove another 12 miles back on nothing but white knuckles and guts. It was a terrifying ride. I have rarely, if ever been as angry with myself as I was that night. And I have had many occasions to be mad at myself. I had been perfectly safe in the hotel room and I ruined it!

As if that was not bad enough, the next day we were socked in by a blizzard. Since by then our car doors were totally iced shut I had to tramp in a blizzard to Walmart to pick up windshield wiper fluid to de-ice the locks and car doors.  As I was working on the car in the freezing conditions I was very annoyed by my smart wife who was yelling at me by the hotel door. Why would she bother me when I was working so hard? It turned out she had gone to window with a vague suspicion that I might be as stupid as I was. She “knew” I was de-icing the wrong car! Some lucky car owner must have wondered who the Good Samaritan was that de-iced his car. Only I (and Chris) knew it was not a Good Samaritan. It was a Good Dummy. After that I had to de-ice my own car, and thankfully I had enough fluid left to do that. As I keep saying, life is hard when you are stupid.

Well a year later almost to the day we were back in Watertown. As the good book says, “As a dog returneth to his vomit so x a fool returneth to his folly.” That was me. Only this time I was not quite as stupid. This time we drove in easily. There had been another awful winter storm but this time we avoided it completely. By the time we got there the storm was over. Yesterday morning I-29 had been closed all the way to the Canadian border. Today it was open and much better. We saw only the remnants of the storm. Huge piles of snow beside the road and again large numbers of vehicles in the ditch and meridians again.

According to USA Today, the storm had caused 20 million people in the Midwest to be given winter storm advisories yesterday.  It also reported,   “The fierce storm had closed interstates and caused hundreds of crashes over the weekend in the north central U.S., where conditions were especially bad in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Minnesota.”

But this time we were lucky.  Sadly, not smart, but at least lucky. We had intended to leave on December  29 right into the teeth of the storm, but were delayed by a visit from our son Stef. Since he left for home on December 31, 2019 we decided to wait until then too. Lucky us. This time. Thanks Stef.

Jordan’s Principle: Health Care for Indigenous Children

 

On the first day of our trip to the south we listened to CBC radio, as we usually do. We heard Cindy Blackstock talking about Jordan’s Principle.

Jordan River Anderson was a young indigenous boy from the Norway House Cree Nation who suffered from Carey Fineman Ziter syndrome, a rare muscular disorder. As a result of his illness he required years of treatment in a Winnipeg Hospital. He spent the first two years of his life in a hospital.

If you have ever been in a hospital you know you want to be there if you are very sick, but the shorter your stay the better. It is a horrible place to live. After 2 years in the hospital his physicians agreed that he could live in a family home near the hospital in Winnipeg.

Had Jordan been white, it is likely that none of this would have been a problem and Manitoba Health would probably have covered him. Unfortunately, the federal and Manitoba wrangled about who would pay. Manitoba took the position that as an aboriginal child the federal government was responsible. The federal government was not so sure. For more than 2 years the two governments fought over who would be responsible for his considerable medical bills. During that additional 2 years Jordan continued to live in the hospital. In fact he actually never got to live in a family home, because he died at the age of 5 before that ever happened. It was a case of horrendous abuse perpetrated by the two levels of government. It was a dark day for Canada and Manitoba when he died.

It is true that in Canada there is some ambiguity about which level of government is responsible for government services for First Nations children even when those services are ordinarily available to other children living off reserve. As a result it is common for the governments to wrangle over the bills while the services to the children are delayed. Often the services are denied until the dispute is resolved.

 

According to Jordan’s principle, that was agreed to by the federal and provincial governments after the bad publicity as a result of the case of Jordan River Anderson, the governmental agency that is first contacted will pay, without delay or disruption and then if the government that paid feels the other government ought to have paid, it can refer the dispute to an impartial dispute authority for binding resolution if the two governments cannot agree which should pay. The idea was to help the children immediately and let the governments work it out later. This was a great idea. Jordan’s principle was unanimously adopted by the House of Commons of Canada on December 12, 2007

Sadly according, to Cindy Blackstock, an indigenous activist, the government had interpreted the principle so narrowly that hardly any children get to benefit from it and the stark injustice continues.  As a result she helped First Nations file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (‘CHRT’) and independent adjudicative body. In January 2016 the CHRT held in favor of the First Nations complainants and found that the Government of Canada improperly implemented the principle which Parliament had unanimously adopted. As a result according to CHRT Canada discriminated again First Nations Children  and youth on the basis of race and ethnic origin contrary to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also ordered the government to stop applying that principle in a discriminatory manner and to apply the principle fully.

Since that ruling in 2016 nearly 4 years ago, the CHRT has issued 7 non-compliance orders against Canada for failing to abide by its rulings. The 3rd of its non-compliance orders was issued by the CHRT in May of 2017 after the it had found that Canada continued to repeat is pattern of conduct and narrow focus with respect to Jordan’s principle. At the same time the CHRT issued 22 additional orders. The Liberal government under Justin Trudeau says it agrees with the decision but want to think carefully about how it implements the rule. That sounds sensible, but in the meantime Indigenous children continue to be discriminated against.

 

As part of a much broader claim against the federal Government by Indigenous children, in September 2019, the CHRT issued a ruling related to compensation. It ruled that the federal government should pay $40,000 to each child who was in child and family services care on reserve at any point from Jan. 1, 2006, to a date to be determined by the tribunal. It even included payment to some of the parents and grand children of the children involved. That amount is the maximum allowed under the Canadian Human Rights Act. In other words, the tribunal might have awarded even more if it had the authority to do so. Clearly, the CHRT saw the conduct of the Canadian government as egregious.

It is arguable about whether or not such a cash award is the right way to solve such a problem. After all it may seem like throwing money at a problem.  Yet it shows how serious the problem is and how badly the Canadian government is failing indigenous children, thus continuing a pattern of neglect and abuse that is more than a century old. It is time for a change. Indigenous children should be treated equally with non-indigenous children whether they live on or off-reserve.  Anything less is a disgrace. And they should not have to wait until the federal government is ready to do what it has been ordered to do.

From Billions to None

 

On New Year’s Eve, 2019 we left for a 3 month journey, mainly to Arizona, but to included other parts of the magnificent American Southwest.

Shortly after we crossed the American border I was shocked–absolutely shocked.  You won’t believe this. I saw wildlife! For the first time in our annual trips to the southern US we actually saw wildlife.  We saw a small herd of about 7 white-tailed deer in a farmer’s field.

At one time North America had more wildlife than Africa!  Now most of that has disappeared largely as a result of western “progress.” As we all know the 60 million bison were driven to very near extinction from which only heroic last minute efforts saved them.

The most dramatic story is probably the story of the North American Passenger Pigeon. In the 19th century the most common bird in North America was the Passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius).  It may have been the most numerous bird species in the world. Many people described the vast flocks that flew through the sky.

Barry Yeoman described how one aboriginal youth encountered on such flock:

In May 1850, a 20-year-old Potawatomi tribal leader named Simon Pokagon was camping at the headwaters of Michigan’s Manistee River during trapping season when a far-off gurgling sound startled him. It seemed as if “an army of horses laden with sleigh bells was advancing through the deep forests towards me,” he later wrote. “As I listened more intently, I concluded that instead of the tramping of horses it was distant thunder; and yet the morning was clear, calm, and beautiful.” The mysterious sound came “nearer and nearer,” until Pokagon deduced its source: “While I gazed in wonder and astonishment, I beheld moving toward me in an unbroken front millions of pigeons, the first I had seen that season.”

Actually many people described encounters with passenger pigeons and all of us moderns find such report unbelievable, because we have never seen anything like it. Yeoman described one such report this way:

Throughout the 19th century, witnesses had described similar sightings of pigeon migrations: how they took hours to pass over a single spot, darkening the firmament and rendering normal conversation inaudible. Pokagon remembered how sometimes a traveling flock, arriving at a deep valley, would “pour its living mass” hundreds of feet into a downward plunge. “I have stood by the grandest waterfall of America,” he wrote, “yet never have my astonishment, wonder, and admiration been so stirred as when I have witnessed these birds drop from their course like meteors from heaven.”

One of my favorite writers, Aldo Leopold referred to their flocks as “a feathered tempest.” An observer from Columbus Ohio said one day he saw a “growing cloud” that caused children who saw it to scream and run home for safety. They could not understand what it was, for nothing else compared ot it  Women also hurried home at the sight. Horses ran for cover. Some people considered it a portent of the approaching millennium. Many dropped to their knees in prayer at the sight of a flock. Some flocks required more than 2 hours to fly by. In one case after a flock few over a town, when it was finished the town looked a ghostly white in the now revealed sunlight because it was covered in white pigeon poop.

Even when the numbers of the pigeon began to plummet the relentless attack was not stayed. In a fact according to Peggy Notebaert of the Nature Museum and the Field Museum, as the pigeons’ numbers crashed, “People just slaughtered them more intensely. They killed them until the very end.”

I love to travel through the North American plains, but it always makes me sad too. Thinking about what might have been. But, as they say, extinction is for ever.

USA: Is this a country without Honour?

 

I love America; I love Americans. They are a wonderful people, but they have gone seriously awry. But sometimes they are seriously misguided. And when that happens a friend should be able to say that to the friend. This is one of those times. It is not enough to claim that you are honorable—you have to walk the walk and talk the talk.

Honor used to be an important value among Conservatives—genuine conservatives I mean. But increasingly among modern conservatives at least, honor is no longer important.

When Donald Trump realized what he had done in letting loose the Turks on his allies the Kurds, and realized that to some of his supporters, honor still meant something, this is what he announced, by tweet of course:

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I in my great and unmatched wisdom consider off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey (I’ve done before)”

Stephen Colbert described this as Trump going “full God Emperor.”  This is on a level with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.  But ignore the incoherence of this quote. Ignore the corrupt and idle boasting. Just look for the honor. You won’t find it. This is what America elected as their President. A man without honor! And 63 million Americans seem to like it. Does that mean American without honor too?

I don’t accept that Americans can blame it all on an ill chosen President. 63 million people voted for this one and I have been told most of those who did, still support him.  This is not an issue about Trump. He is too easy a target. But what about the country? It is not as if Donald Trump ever concealed his lack of honor. He boasted about. He said that in the Vietnam War he served by managing to avoid getting a venereal disease. Then he dismissed John McCain as a poor war hero because he got caught. Trump escaped the Vietnam War the way many rich boys did, by getting dubious health deferments as a result of alleged bone spurs, so that he could stay behind and chase models and starlets, while other young men and women, usually poor men and women, risked their lives and fought the war. Americans knew exactly what they were getting, and although 66 million voted for Hillary Clinton, 63 million voted for him. That is no aberrant number. That is a lot of support. This is where the problem lies. Trump himself is easy prey, but not 66 million Americans. Is the country without honor? I think it is time for Americans to step up and be counted. I think it is time for Americans to think about this.

These Colors Run

 

Have you seen that bumper sticker with an image of the American flag—Old Glory—with the caption, “These Colors Won’t run?” I have. The problem is it ain’t true. They do.

America used to be a proud country. And for good reason. There was  a lot that was good about it. Sometimes I wonder what happened?

Recently the American military, under the command of their  Commander-in Chief –Donald Trump–abandoned a long-standing ally—the Kurds.  At the same time, in tweet, Trump made it clear that Turkey a long time foe of the Kurds, could have their way with them. And very few Americans have grumbled about it. Most have accepted the lame attempts by that Commander-in-Chief to dismiss the shabby, dishonorable treatment of an ally with a shrug of the shoulders.

That Commander-in-Chief poured scorn on the Kurds saying they did not help much. They didn’t even help in World War II. As is so often the case with this leader, the truth is different. Trump and the truth keep little company. The Kurds have been America’s chief ally in the fight against Syria and ISIS. The Kurdish forces are called the Syrian Defence Forces (‘SDF’).

Dr. Kori Schake put this in perspective: “They have been the ground forces doing the fighting for the defeat of ISIS and you can see it in the casualty figures.  The U.S. suffered only 5 casualties in the Anti-ISIS campaign. The SDF suffered over 11,000! They have been doing the hard dangerous work and we have just abandoned them!

And the Americans through their chosen President mock the efforts of their closest ally and prepared to abandon them. It did not take the Turks, who have it in for the Kurds, to take advantage. This then allowed the Syrians, who used poison gas on their own people, to win the Civil War that has cost so many lives and resulted in so many refugees and asylum seekers around the world. Of course, the Americans refused to accept them, even though they were so instrumental in creating their problems. First the Americans abandoned the Syrian rebels, then they also abandoned the Kurds.

So the Kurds made a deal with the Syrian leader Assad rather than face the brutality of the Turks. As Schake said, “which tells you a lot too.”

Where has all the honor gone? Whose colors don’t run?

 

Power Shift: The Longest Revolution

 

The 2019 Massey Lectures were delivered by Sally Armstrong. You can listen to them on CBC radio by using the free CBC app. A book on the lectures is already out called Power Shift: The Longest Revolution.  The theme of the lectures was the arrival of women’s fundamental equality. Armstrong argues The better off women are, the better off we all are.

Many parts of it were very interesting. The last 5 minutes of the last lecture were one example. With passion she concluded her lecture series this way:

“Man the hunter is bogus. There is no evidence that woman was not right there beside him hunting. The ancient past is a flawed account that was history recorded mainly by men and mostly about men. In fact, for millions of years we now know that men and women had equal status. And then they didn’t. It was during the agriculture era when food became plentiful, when they could focus on development rather than sheer survival until tomorrow, then both men and women realized that the future depended on producing more labourers and only women had the sexual reproductive capacity to deliver a child. Pregnant women were appropriated by men to produce the next generation, as much as land was prioritized and acquired by men at that time. That was the birth of patriarchy and subordination of women. That subordination was heightened when religion was formalized and institutionalized in the early legal codes. It has taken 10,000 years and a million years to right those wrongs. The power shift came from goddesses and priestesses, seers, diviners, nuns, healers, writers, reformers, activists, suffragettes, and feminists who took on the prophets and the kings, the orators and the philosophers, the politicians and the bullies, to find justice, fairness, and equality for all. It has been indeed the longest revolution.’

It really is time for male dominance to end. Even men would be be better off if that happened.

Who cares about the next Generation?

 

I heard David Schindler speaking on National Public Radio in April 2017 on our way home from Arizona.  I have also heard him speak a couple of times in person. He is one of Canada’s most respected scientists. He is an expert on water and the harm we do to it.  Schindler warned that the damage to the environment that we hav caused would have profound effects on people 50 to 100 years from now. But it seems we are incapable of looking ahead that far. No one cares. That short-sightedness is extremely unfair to future generations. Don’t we have obligations to them too? Instead of worrying about them we continue to spew out pollutants into the atmosphere, the ground, and the waters we use. That damage might become  irreversible.

The classic example of this, according to Schindler, is the Alberta Tar Sands that he had studied for the last decade or so of his scientific career. The pollution in those Tar Sands are a ticking time bombing, he said. We are leaving it behind. We  will have a lot to answer for.

Another long-term problem we are creating for future generations is climate change. Scientists are 90% (or more) certain that our actions are causing irreparable harm to our climate. We can’t afford to wait until they are 100% certain.

Many people—like the editorial writers in the Wyoming newspaper I read early that morning  driving home from Arizona concentrate instead on short-term economic losses of pollution or climate change mitigation.  I don’t want to entirely discount those consequences. They will hurt some people. But these writers fail entirely to take into consideration the immense longer-term damage. The costs of mitigating climate change will dwarf the cost of the damage to our economy, but others (like our grand children for example) will pay them in the future. That makes it easy to ignore those costs now. It will be someone else’s problem. Our actions are extremely selfish, unwise and unfair. The editorial writers consider the cost of current job losses, extra taxes, and things like that. These are nearly insignificant in comparison to the costs of the harm of doing business as usual. We cannot afford to ignore the cost to the planet.

The editorial writers appeal to the same people Republicans and Conservatives appeal. Or my Member of Parliament. He only cares about the economic cost to his current electors. The next generation is not his problem. All these leaders are concerned about is what costs will they have to pay. The next generation can be dammed. That attitude could lead to disaster. In fact, it looks like it is leading to disaster.

The Best Argument to do Something About Climate Change: Your grandchildren. 

Here is an amazing fact, related by Mia Rabson, that should give us some pause:

“A baby born in Canada today will never know a time in which their health isn’t at risk from a warming planet, an annual look at climate change and human health reported…The Lancet medical journal’s 2019 countdown on health and climate change has dire warnings about the kind of world we might be leaving to future generations.”

When I actually think about that I think about my 4 grandchildren.  For the rest of their entire lives they will never experience a day in which their health is not at risk from a warming planet. This is what I, with a little help from my friends, am leaving them. What will they think of me? I don’t want to think about that. It makes me too uncomfortable.

That Lancet Report also said this:

“The Life of every child born today will be profoundly affected by climate change.  Without accelerated intervention, this new era will come to define the health of people at every stage of their lives.’

We have to remember that the Lancet is not some radical environmental rag; it is an internationally respected medical/scientific journal. This is very bold language for such a magazine.

Some of the ill health effects the report warns against include malnutrition, especially in the poorer and hotter countries. Why do poorer countries always get hit first and hardest? In Canada the worst health effects will be on things like air pollution, heat-related illnesses, and exposure to toxic smoke from forest fires. These are expected to impact children’s health for the long-term. Don’t we care about this? Or is it all about the economy?  And not just the economy, because it is clear that in the long term the effects on the economy will also be horrific, but do we care only about the short-term impact on the economy?  What will our grand children think about the economic ruin we leave behind for them to deal with only because we don’t want to interfere with our God-given right to make money no matter what the cost?

Of course there are other unpleasant health effects we are bequeathing to the next generation. Things like more widespread spreading of diseases as well as the inevitable result of political strife that will surely follow.

As Rabson reported,

“Hotter climates are also conducive for the transmission of disease. Nine out of the ten most suitable years for the transmission of dengue fever have occurred since 2000. The number of suitable days for the spread of the pathogen that causes diarrhea has doubled since 1980. In Canada, Lyme-infested ticks are marching their way north.”

Don’t we love our grandchildren? Isn’t that what they will ask?