Topics

A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

This is civilisation….not a corporate board

A society is judged b y how it treats its members….not its deficit
Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND CANADA – The following can be taken as a large, thought-out and extended FUCK YOU to those of a conservative bent who insist that government is fuck youintrinsically wrong. You already know that I and most thoughtful people think you’re ignorant, narrow minded, unthinking and, frankly hypocritical, if you’re not hopelessly stupid. Government is what separates us from a state of nature; and before you start romanticising that condition, remember, were not talking about some Arcadian or even some well-articulated but equally mythical Jean Jacques Rousseau masturbatory fantasy, but rather about that very real condition that would exist without the institution of government; that condition of human beings so clearly expressed by Thomas Hobbes some four hundred and fifty years ago: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

We need government. Government is civilisation. So let’s stop the bullshit and stop arguing with the moronic Ted Cruz, Grover Norquist, and Fred Flintstone and their ilk about whether government ought to exist and discuss a real issue: the form that government should take.fuck-you

For the purposes of this FUCK YOU, I’m not even going to go into the macro detail: republic or parliament? Dictatorship or monarchy? Instead I’m going straight to the kind of issue that makes the less intelligent question the need for government at all: the efficacy with which its necessary services are delivered.

A case in point is the Canadian model; or in this case, specifically the British Columbian provincial government model. It ain’t great, but it is unquestionably better than most despite the tireless attempts of the elected people and the permanent employees to undermine it and make it less representative of and responsive to the people, the fact is that it at least pays lip service to its function of serving the needs of the citizens.

We do have a social safety net and it even works after a fashion. And contrary to those who have it made, the social safety net is the primary purpose for the existence of government. In its simplest explanation, the purpose of government is to harness the purchasing power of the total number of citizens to provide for all with an efficiency that can’t be matched by all individuals.

That’s it. Whether it’s building a bridge or providing medical care, civilised people have decided to pool their resources and ensure that all their neighbours enjoy the benefits of civilisation.

So if you are among those imbeciles who somehow has ferreted away enough money to cover your immediate and likely future needs and therefore sees anyone who actually still has needs that exceed yours as “takers” or parasites…..FUCK YOU. The rest of us are better than that. We’re better than YOU.

Where government fails is in the tricky little details of the provision of those services…..not in whether they ought to be provided at all. Of FUCKING COURSE THEY SHOULD! That is the very function of civilisation.

Are there ways to improve the fairness of the distribution of society’s goods and services? Certainly! The first thing that comes to mind is to eliminate redundancy and that can be accomplished to some extent by making efforts to ensure that departments share information. Do we eliminate compassion and caring programmes completely? To save money?

jesus-says-fuck-you-

 

I have cancer. Life threatening and possibly fatal cancer. As a result, I am entitled to a raft of government benefits. But a cynical person might make the assumption that those benefits are managed in such a way as to make them difficult to obtain. Just as an example, because I have been unable to work for months due to my condition, I am entitled to stay at no cost in a residential lodge in Victoria while I undergo six weeks of radiation treatment. Before I can do that, I have to show that I have been drawing employment insurance or show my termination papers from my employer that I ought to have received when I was no longer able to work.

As writer, I have no employer, hence no termination papers. And since I lived on my savings, I never drew employment insurance; it seems that because I chose not to access one of my benefits (employment insurance) I may not be able to access another (lodging during treatment). As I am disabled at the moment, my son’s preschool is subsidised; a letter from my doctor certifying my inability to work was apparently sufficient to access some of my benefits but the same criteria for one benefit seem to be insufficient for me to access another benefit that is required for the same reason and as a result of the same cause. For each of the benefits to which I am entitled. I am required to jump through a different set of hoops to demonstrate my eligibility; a redundant exercise, since the disability is the same, the requirements are the same, and the information each department collects is the same.

Minor griping, of course, since the benefits are there, they are real, and they are generous in this society’s compassion. They are simply in need of some radical administrative revamping. Occasionally, though, during the labyrinthine exercise in acquiring those benefits upon which one has always known they can rely and for which one has paid taxes their entire lives, one encounters a Cro-Magnon asshole who makes it clear that in his or her view we need to cut these programmes as they encourage people to rely upon them rather than being self-reliant. It almost makes one want to wish a fatal disease on that person; at the very least it encourages one to kick that insensitive schmuck in the genitals.Give a fuck These people are rarely civil servants; there are some, of course, who resent those citizens whom they are paid to serve, but by and large that attitude is encountered in letters to the editor, Internet news forum commentators, conservative voters, right wing politicians, and cops. Police officers, although civil servants and paid by the public tend to see themselves as a superior life form and generally despise those whom they are paid to protect and serve. Go figure.

Despite the difficulty in accessing some of the services available to Canadian citizens, I’m constantly being surprised at some of the benefits available. We are indeed a society of compassionate and caring people. As long as one doesn’t make the mistake (as I have) that the brain damaged hate-ridden simpletons who spend their time commenting on Yahoo News stories are representative of the average Canadian, one can’t help but be aware of the decency and generosity of Canadians.

We have to fight for it; we can’t let the reactionaries force us to backslide from our progressive lifestyle; we need to ensure that the programmes remain viable and effective. It will be a struggle against the forces of backwardness and greed; it will require constant tinkering and improvement, but the notion and the reality that Canada is a country that cares about people is a precious commodity, and one well worth struggling for.

keep-calm-and-fuck-you-523

…enditem..

The cost of freedom…

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Pagun

 

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – The above quote, usually attributed to Juvenal, has been translated idiomatically as “Who watches the watchmen?” and is usually employed to express a dilemma that inevitably arises in any governmental structure.

 As human social organization progressed from small, self-sufficient family groups to clans to civic associations like villages, then towns, cities, and nations, it became apparent that there was a need to maintain law and order within the society. In order to accomplish this, certain freedoms had to be given up and authority given to certain citizens to wield over other members of that society. This was always a hard to choice to make, and vesting that kind of authority in any individual or institution is a wrenching decision and never one to be made lightly. The trade-off between individual liberty and the right to have a peaceful and orderly society is never easy and the specifics of that exchange need to be revisited regularly to ensure that the bargain continues to be the best exchange possible.

 Plato, in his Republic, clearly recognised that society would have to make that kind of deal; essentially, it was a matter of pinching one’s nose and ceding power to certain citizens to keep the rogue elements in line for the greater benefit of the responsible citizens and the society as

PLATO

a whole. But Plato was clear – that power was to be severely limited, subject to constant scrutiny and revision, and did not imply elevated status to those to whom it was (grudgingly) granted. The guardians, as he called the auxiliary/military class in his imaginary city-state, would be seen with mild disdain, treated as a necessary evil, and subject to rigorous oversight by the working citizens of the republic. They would sleep in barracks and be fed on beef to make them muscular. The military/police force members would be recognised as rather dull, unimaginative enforcers of the laws enacted by the rest of society; their status would be something like that of bouncers in a nightclub.

 In modern times, the dilemma is even more acute. We here in Canada support a democratic form of government; that means the specific regime in power changes from time to time and, unlike in the Republic, there is a lack of continuity in the top levels of civil power. A modern democracy has no “philosopher kings” (since Pierre Trudeau, at any rate) to maintain a constant and ideologically consistent political paradigm; nevertheless, the people expect that law and order will remain unvaried and that the “guardians” will wield their power in a consistent manner, no matter who sits at the top of the democratic pyramid. The result is that our “guardians” have a much higher degree of autonomy and self-regulation than is consistent with the balance between liberty and order that is desirable within a democracy.

 Here in Canada, for a variety of reasons, we are great respecters of our guardian class; we are more willing than most societies to grant them great authority at the expense of our liberty. Most Canadians are not consciously aware of the degree to which we have ceded our freedom in exchange for perceived safety from criminal action; on most days, the average Canadian is only aware of the relatively crime-free atmosphere in which he or she lives. That the guardian class has a surprising degree of power and latent control over his or her life remains below the radar as long as it isn’t overtly wielded. 

I have lived in developing countries, most recently and significantly Indonesia, where there were once dictatorships supported by a national police force. In Indonesia, at least, that police-state mindset still exists in the police and military; in many case they seem not to have received the memo that the country is now a democracy. It is estimated that 80% of people arrested are subjected to a greater or lesser degree of torture by the police. Amnesty International has rated the Indonesian police as the most corrupt government institution in one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Any…any encounter with the police in Indonesia will require, at the very least, a bribe. They are essentially well armed thugs who sell their services to the highest bidder. However, in Indonesia, the people resist the police excesses. There are constant editorials printed, despite the police taking action against members of the press; people demand that police reform be on any candidate’s agenda; there are even street protests despite the likelihood of being tortured by the police if one is arrested.

 In Canada, however, our cultural predisposition precludes even an open discussion of police excesses. Despite the RCMP’s undoubted excesses, Canadians as a whole refuse to criticise their iconic national police. Despite the constant and ongoing abuse of power, particularly with respect to aboriginal people in British Columbia, despite proven allegations of internal rot, despite their apparently growing trigger happiness, despite their killing of far too many unarmed and disturbed people or people already in custody, Canadians become enraged when one suggests that there ought to be some in depth civilian scrutiny of the Mounties. The majority of Canadians are still dazzled by the superficial glow created by such intensive public relations efforts as the Musical Ride and life sized cutouts of smiling, red tunic sporting, Sam Brown wearing police officers that are prominently displayed in consulates, embassies and other public locations. But when a native Canadian is shot in the back of the head while in custody, Canadians instantly assume that the killing is justified and express a determination not to want to hear the facts behind the death. Canadians even accuse those of us who would insist on an inquiry into the killing of being bereft of patriotism.

What is being missed by the misguided patriots is that it is far more patriotic to want the RCMP to live up to their image than it is to tolerate them breaking Canadian law and brutalizing and killing Canadians – or anyone else –  with utter impunity. Moreover, police must be held to a higher standard of behaviour and adherence to law than the general public; it is far wiser to presume that the police are at fault in any controversial incident than it is to presume them guiltless. The former leads to much more intensive civilian oversight of police activities while the latter carries the risk of supporting a move toward fascism and a police state.

 

At the moment, the police in Canada, starting but not ending with the RCMP, are feeling their oats. Stories of police excesses are becoming a daily occurrence. People are being shot and killed in routine traffic stops. Troubled teenagers shot to death then Tasered while surrounded by dozens of heavily armed tactical police officers, panicking unarmed visitors to Canada killed in the airport, native women reporting having been raped in police custody…the list goes on.

 But check the news discussion forums. Those who describe themselves as patriotic will immediately shout down and hurl abuse at anyone who comments that steps need to be taken to curb the high handed behaviour of our guardians. The Canadian predilection for submission to authority is alive and well, and yet it seems that virtually anyone who has an encounter with Canada’s police forces comes away disillusioned and inclined to demand a higher level of scrutiny of their actions. That is, if they are alive and able to demand anything. It is clearly time for a thorough housecleaning in all of Canada’s police forces, indeed in of all of Canada’s criminal justice system. It is time the people realized once again that the authority the police have derives directly from us and that they continue to wield it at our pleasure. That is, if we still have the power as a sovereign people to rein them in.

  If we, the people, are not going to watch the watchmen, who will?

 …enditem…

 

 

Wedding bells are breaking up that old gang of mine…

Marriage equality

Pagun

 VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – If you’re a Canadian, as I am, it’s fascinating to watch the United States struggling with the question of marriage equality; if you’re a liberal, as I am, it’s bewildering to realise that the US, which sees itself as “the most free country on earth”, still can’t get solidly behind a basic human rights issue that the rest of the developed world sees as essentially a no-brainer. Progress is being made, but marriage equality – the right of people to marry the person they love, regardless of their genders – is still a profoundly contentious issue south of this border.

Family Values? Whose family…The Manson Family?

The US Supreme court has just agreed to hear two cases that deal with the issue, so a decision as to the constitutionality of same sex marriage will be forthcoming. Meanwhile, Canada was the fourth country in the world and the first outside of Europe to enshrine marriage equality in national laws. It was done without fanfare or even much discussion; after all, since the last century, Canadian same sex couples have been legally entitled to all the legal benefits enjoyed by traditionally married couples, so it was only a question of formally acknowledging the relationships as marriage in every other sense. But then Canada and the US have always had different outlooks on human rights.

Canada never had slavery, never had segregation, never even had to pass civil rights legislation to redress an uneven treatment of people of different skin pigmentation. It is odd, but the United States, which prides itself on its own mythology of rugged individualism, is far more inclined to impose the will of the majority on the minority; is far more inclined to ferret out “deviant” behaviour; is far more inclined to demand conformity in lifestyle, religion, and politics than are Canadians. Non-conformity and individuality are far more readily tolerated, even celebrated here in bland, homogeneous Canada than they are in the “freest country on earth”. Canada’s paradigm is that of a mosaic; the United States is a melting pot. Canada, far more than the United States of America, nurtures a live-and-let-live social contract.

This is the threat we must defend against!

It is therefore bemusing to Canadians that so many citizens of the United States become so exercised at the very thought of a gay or lesbian couple having their union described as “marriage”.  It’s even more bewildering when one considers that the desire for gay and lesbian couples to legalise their unions as marriages is not merely an attempt to find acceptance or to proclaim their love publicly – both perfectly reasonable desires – but to become eligible for the approximately one thousand legal benefits from tax breaks to veterans’ compensation available to married partners in the United States. The wish to have their marriages legally recognised is not a frivolous desire nor is it a demand for intangible advantages; moreover it does not impinge in any way on those who are already married, or intend to be married to a partner of a different sex.

Nevertheless, some people actually claim that to allow loving couples of the same sex to enjoy the legal status of “married” is to destroy the institution of marriage. This homophobic faction has attempted to pass federal legislation under the name “Defence of Marriage Act” (DOMA) that would declare same sex marriage unconstitutional and therefore illegal even in that handful of states that have embraced marriage equality. That is one of the cases the Supreme Court will hear. Rationally, one would expect the decision to be favourable to freedom and equality, but given the preponderance of conservative justices, that is by no means a foregone conclusion.

My family

If we look at the state of human rights in America 150 years ago, we are appalled. But it was less than fifty years ago – within my lifetime – that the seminal civil rights battles were fought in the southern US. Rosa Parks, the freedom riders, the march on Selma; all these resulted in the elimination of the Jim Crow laws and, in theory at any rate, cleared up any question that people of all skin intonations have the same rights under the law. Nevertheless, miscegenation (a crime of which I am proudly guilty) was illegal in many states while I was in school, and the laws against mixed race marriages were enforced until relatively recently. The idea of legal segregation or systemic racial discrimination is horrifying today (perhaps more to Canadians than to people from a country that had historically accepted it).

Without doubt, the denial to gay and lesbian couples of the right to marry will be seen as a similar travesty at some future time, and everyone will be similarly congratulating themselves for having eliminated another human rights abuse. The question that remains is: why don’t the homophobes, if they can’t actually get behind this obviously reasonable and just redress of historical abuse, just stop fighting it? Just shut up and save their energy for a serious battle? Although they might score a few small victories, it’s not a war they can ultimately win; theirs is a mean-spirited, bigoted position; and the longer they drag this on, the more they hurt others and diminish the already tarnished respect in which the US is held by the civilised world.

…enditem…

Education should be a right

Student Debt

Patrick Guntensperger

Jakarta, Indonesia

 

As getting JJ back to Canada within the next few months becomes more and more of a likelihood, the usual parental worries start to replace the more immediate ones of ensuring that his adoption is ironclad, and his Canadian citizenship is unassailable. Those worries are being incrementally replaced by worries about his long-term future; his education, his choice of métier as he reaches and passes through the horrors of adolescence, and ultimately his security and happiness as an adult.

 I recently got an email from a very good friend in Canada. To put things in perspective, she is, shall we say, of an age to have two young adult sons from a first marriage, neither of whom had a teenaged mother. She is now married to a terrific and very successful guy, runs her own thriving business and does some consulting on the side. She and her second husband know how to have fun (I met up with them on their honeymoon in Bali a few years ago and can testify to this), enjoy life, and seek out opportunities to live it to the hilt.

 Nevertheless, there is a fly in the ointment. You see, almost two decades ago, my friend D hit a rough patch on the path her life was taking. She was pregnant with a toddler to care for; she had just been licensed and was starting a career in a highly competitive business and going through an acrimonious and very messy divorce. She, like many Canadians, and more every year, was faithfully paying off a student loan. As a result of some dirty pool that was being played in her divorce proceedings, she had her personal assets frozen, her income attached, and she ended up on welfare for a brief period. During that time she defaulted on her student loan.

 The student loan system in Canada, despite being well-intentioned, or at least politically correct, is an appalling boondoggle. Its very conception and fundamental structure are guaranteed to make the system inefficient, an immense burden on those who can least carry it, and an absolutely risk-free vast fortune for those who need it the least.

 Neither Canada (nor the provinces, which run a supplementary, parallel system) actually lends students money. Not for tuition, books, learning materials, research or living expenses, or anything else. What the government does is send the bright-eyed promising young scholar off to its favourite Canadian – not a citizen, but a corporation – and tell the student to ask for money. Meanwhile, the government has told that corporation, one of Canada’s chartered banks, to go ahead and lend the kid a pile of money. Meanwhile the bank is told not to take payments on the loan until six months after the studente has ceased to be enrolled full-time in an approved institution of tertiary education. After that….they’re all yours.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that, even in the ideal scenario, this system is a profoundly flawed one. The ideal scenario, of course, is that the six months referred to above are the first six months of work in the student’s chosen profession after having successfully completed a course of study that has qualified that young person for full-time employment in his chosen field. Six months of steady paycheques, a chance to settle into life as an adult, and then monthly payments to the bank to compensate for all those years of education at their expense.

 Yeah, right.

 What should be apparent to anyone with the intelligence of a doorstop is that the banks have a vested interest in seeing the student default on their payments. These loans, let’s not forget, are guaranteed by the government; principal and interest. These loans are absolute government gifts in the event that a student doesn’t graduate and therefore can’t get a high paying job, or can’t get a job in their chosen profession within six months of graduation, or runs into any one of an infinite number of financial obstacles. They’re way better than mortgages or any loan secured by assets of any sort.

 If a mortgage or other secured loan goes south, we all know that the bank can and will foreclose or seize assets; they’ll take ownership of the property and sell it for as little as the court will let them get away with and pocket the money plus costs plus interest. But all this, in financial terminology, is a pain in the ass. Banks don’t want an inventory of 3 bedroom bungalows, nor do they want warehouses full of RVs and motorboats, all of which need to be sold before they can make their profit; they’re neither realtors nor used car salesmen….they have neither the ethics nor the consciences of either, much less the skill sets required.

 Student loans, on the other hand, are an effort-free goldmine. If a recent graduate misses a single payment, the bank holding the loan does two things at the same time: it cracks open the champagne and it sends in a demand note to the government for the entire principal plus interest on the loan and payment of the default penalties. This can amount to a hundred thousand or more dollars. At the moment student debt greatly exceeds credit card debt. We’re talking real money here. And in the event of a default, they don’t have to do a damn thing to suck it in.

 But it gets better. Now the debt is transferred to the government; it becomes a Crown Debt. And most people who aren’t going through the system aren’t aware that Crown Debts have certain very nice features – for The Crown. Unlike other consumer debt, there is generally no statute of limitations on a Crown Debt. If you are a bank that is owed a thousand dollars past due on a credit card, you have six years (minus one day, for some reason) to attempt to collect it or sue. If any payments are made or the debt acknowledged in any way during that period, the debt recovery game goes on, and includes the possibility of a lawsuit. If no acknowledgement or payment is made and no suit is filed by the bank, the statute of limitations kicks in; the debt must be written off as uncollectable and it is barred from litigation. But not a Crown Debt. Like a diamond, a Crown debt is forever.

 But it gets still better. The bankruptcy procedure is one that all civilised countries have as part of the system of laws that govern financial matters. In a nutshell, it provides that if a person or corporation gets so deep in debt that, after all reasonable attempts to negotiate and restructure the debts, there is no serious likelihood that the debts can ever be repaid in full, bankruptcy is a remedy that can be utilised. It allows for a court to supervise the disposal of all that corporation’s or, in a personal bankruptcy, that person’s assets, leaving only the necessities to live with a degree of dignity. The court will also attach a portion of the bankrupt’s income until the bankruptcy is discharged…usually six months to a year or two. After that, the spoils are divided proportionally among the creditors and the debts are wiped clean. The bankrupt person starts over with a lousy credit rating but can turn all that round in a few years of careful financial management.

 But guess what? That student loan doesn’t usually get included in the bankruptcy. That’s right, folks; even after the pain, loss, and humiliation of a personal bankruptcy, you probably still have to pay back that debt….the one that was risk free to the bank. You don’t start clean, a financial pariah, but a debt-free pariah; you still owe the money…you suffer all the pain, and you still emerge with the debt that probably drove you to bankruptcy in the first place.

 And here’s the cool part. The government outsources the collection of these student debts. They are given to a collection agency if their first phone call doesn’t end with an acceptable repayment schedule. And believe me, collection agencies are homes for sociopaths. You would rather be stalked by Jason Voorhees.

 Bill collectors, by and large, are the bottom feeders of uneducated, otherwise unemployable social misfits: junkies, drunks, aged whores who have lost any looks they might have had, retards, bullies, and other dregs of the human race. Their training consists of being told that every debtor assigned to them can make payments on the debt, but is simply being stubborn; that their function as collectors is to make life more uncomfortable to owe the money than it would be to pay it. Then they are told that the collector with the lowest numbers on the board at the end of the month is fired. Now go get’em.

Pay up, bitch!

Your friendly neghbourhood debt collector

They’ll try to get the welfare mother, the terminal cancer victim with two infant children, or the sole caregiver to dying parents but no income, to commit to a payment schedule that will either be impossible to meet or make their already crushing existences even more miserable. If they can’t do that, if they can’t collect from someone so impoverished that they worry constantly about feeding themselves and their children, they send it to an even lower form of humanity…they send it to a lawyer to sue.

 There are law firms whose entire income is based on the prosecution of these lawsuits. They work for the government and they work in bulk. These firms are the scum of the earth, the most appallingly distasteful bottom feeding slime that ever stepped into a civil courtroom; and they thrive. They’ll sue and they’ll get their judgements. And now they can ensure that not only is the once bright-eyed and hopeful student’s life unbearable now, but they can guarantee that it will never get better.

 You’ve got a student loan judgement out against you and you need a car to get to interviews? Maybe a family member gives you an old beater to help you out. The scum of the bar association will send thugs to seize it, sell it at auction, and run up costs that are more than they sell the car for, increasing your debt by the amount of the shortfall. You have a special needs child who can’t leave his bedroom for long periods? Your friends and neighbours put together their few cents from bottle returns and piggy banks and buy you a television for him at a thrift shop. If you have another TV in the apartment, those same parasitical slime bags will seize it and sell it. Two TVs is a luxury, you see.

 If you start a new job, the first thing that happens is your new employer gets served with a court order requiring him to pay a percentage of your pay (40% is fairly standard) to the law firm; a wage garnishment is not an auspicious start to a career anywhere. And no employer likes to have the extra accounting to do along with the knowledge that if they err in any way they are responsible for any shortfall. In most cases, so long, new career.

 I have personally seen each of these scenarios play out. In Canada. I have seen people sued for a few thousand dollars after having paid back over their entire career several hundred thousand…many times the amount borrowed. This costs the economy and this costs the taxpayer. This destroys lives. But the filth in suits who barely passed the bar make out like bandits, the banks always come out on top without breaking a sweat, and the government gets kudos for its dedication to educating the next generation. It’s a racket and it has to stop.

 Years ago parents used to point out that they started out with nothing and look what they have accomplished. Yes, look! Their children start out with a debt burden that their parents couldn’t even have imagined. These young people (some of us not so young anymore…the racket has been successful for a long time now) would have loved the opportunity to start out with nothing.

 Canada needs to demonstrate a genuine commitment to education. That means that every student who makes passing grades in high school should have a first year of post-secondary education and expenses paid for by our government. Not their pet corporations, the chartered banks. Then every student who maintains a sufficiently high grade point average should continue to have government subsidised education for as long as they stay in school.

 The funny part about this is that everywhere this has been tried, it has not cost the taxpayer a single penny over the first ten years. The social benefits and the returns paid by having educated, taxpaying students in high-paying jobs has grossly outweighed the initial cost of educating them. But explaining that to parliamentarians who need to get elected is a waste of breath. Nobody in our current government will buck the tide of coattail riding neocon American wannabes. So unless you’re wealthy, you start your career with a debt burden that is unconscionable. Of course if you’re not wealthy, those that are would prefer you to know your place in society, forego higher education entirely; those who are wealthy will be needing people to drive them about, clean their homes, mow their lawns.

 Canada needs to implement a system of tertiary education subsidy. But more urgently it needs to forgive existing student debt.

 My friend D? Her email was to tell me that she thought she had retired this debt fifteen years ago; through a mistake by the scumbag Law Society member who had sued her at the depth of her once desperate life, it turns out that about one thousand dollars hadn’t been collected. Now that she’s successful, the tapeworms have woken up, tracked her down and are now placing demands upon her for payment, backed up by threats of seizure of assets, garnishments of contract payments due, and any other slimy threat they can come up with. This is great for them, because, through the miracle of compound interest, the amount demanded is now more than the initial debt. And they have the law on their side.

 It’s long since time for reason to step in.

…enditem…

A government by any other name: The harperisation of Canada

I’ve only been gone a few months and already they’re misbehaving! Don’t make me go back there! I mean it!


The politics of ego
Patrick Guntensperger

OBSOLETE?

MANADO, NORTH SULAWESI, INDONESIA – It’s disturbing to read how Stephen Harper, Canada’s Prime Minister, has changed Canada for the worse.
Stephen Harper, the leader of the Conservative party (I hesitate to remind him that his party’s former name was The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada) is the type of politician who would (and has repeatedly) refer to himself as Canada’s “head of state”. He is, of course, nothing of the sort. Like it or not, Elizabeth II, the Queen of England, is Canada’s head of state; the Prime Minister is the head of government and sits at the Queen’s pleasure, through her representative, the Governor General of Canada.
These are of course technicalities, and in no way reflect any realpolitik, but nevertheless, they are not something of which the PM should  need to be reminded. And yet Harper’s abuse of his majority government’s power makes it necessary that we who love Canada remind him from time to time that he wasn’t elected presidentof a republic, let alone a banana republic, as he insists on treating this country.
For all of his arrogance and posturing, it would be well if Harper were to remember that his elections were classic cases of there having been no viable alternatives; his current majority was brought about by millions of ex-Liberals having pinched their noses and put an X where they never would have under other circumstances. Chretien, his Liberal predecessor, had made it impossible for anyone with a conscience to vote Liberal, possibly for a generation. The NDP, the only other party of national stature has always been seen as a gadfly and, being tainted with the ‘socialist’ epithet wasn’t viable in the age of the neocon.
So, now that Harper has a solid majority and his government is relatively secure, he has followed the time honoured tradition of conservative and right wing politicians…he lies. A lot. To the people who elected him.
(As an aside, it’s hard not to notice that people here in the west seem far more tolerant of the most egregious prevarication by conservatives than we are of liberals who are caught fibbing. Bill Clinton, for example, did the honourable thing and lied about the details of his physical relationship with a young woman, which was no one’s business, and came this close to being impeached. His successor repeatedly lied to the people of the world about the casus belli of the invasion of Iraq. He led the United States into a war that has persisted for nearly a decade,  has killed tens of thousands of US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers of other nations under demonstrably false pretenses. We just shrug. Perhaps it isn’t unduly cynical to suggest that the explanation for our tolerance of barefaced lying by conservatives is that we have such a low opinion of their ethics and morals to begin with. When liberals lie, we are hurt, because in our hearts we know that the liberal worldview occupies the moral high ground.)
Six months after denying specifically and explicitly that the federal government had changed or interfered with any civil servicepolicies or practices including nomenclature, according to the Canadian Press wire service,
New documents obtainedby The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act directly contradict published claims by Stephen Harper’s chief spokesman that bureaucrats have not been directed to replace the words Government of Canada with “Harper Government” in departmental news releases and backgrounders.
Harper: Head Harper of the Harper Government

 

That they would bother to lie about something so easilyverified is testament to the habitual nature of the “Harper Government’s” fundamental duplicity. But that this is an issue that needed to be lied about in the first place is even more worrisome. We expect lying from this party, given their leader; what we don’t expect is for our Prime Minister to act as though he feels entitled to change the fundamental principles of the parliamentary democracy to which  he was elected.
It shouldn’t be necessary for analysts, pundits, and editorialists to point out in the media that the government of Canada is a government of the people Canada as a whole…it is far from being the government of a political party, much less an individual. It isn’t even appropriate in Canada, as it is in the United States, to refer to an individual’s “administration”, as in “the Kennedy Administration” or “the Bush Administration”. A Canadian Prime Minister is just that…the first minister among other cabinet members, appointed by the Governor General to form a government representing and speaking for the people of Canada, to report to parliament, and to advise the Queen and her representative.
Canada has avoided a great many of the pitfalls suffered bythe United States, in no small part because of our system of government which,in its pre-Harper form, eschews the idea of a cult of personality. Although we have had tremendously magnetic and charismatic leaders in the past – PierreTrudeau comes irresistibly to mind – power has never become centralised around an individual. This is because our system of government, that is the Government of Canada, does not encourage descent into that black hole. And yet here we have a Prime Minister, utterly bereft of charisma and singularly devoid of personal magnetism, trying to create a cult of personality by fiat. He needs a good talking to, and if he doesn’t start playing nice, a spanking.
Any Canadian who truly believes in our system and its unique strengths must necessarily cringe at the idea of being governed by a“Harper Government” as opposed to being served by the Government of Canada.








…enditem…

Vancouver Shows Her True Colours

Dr.  Jekyll’s Back

Patrick Guntensperger

 VANCOUVER, CANADA – Only hours after a hockey riot tore downtown Vancouver apart, leading to hundreds of arrests, smashed windows, looted stores, several burnt and overturned cars – including at least 2 police cars, and an uncounted number of injuries, the West Coast Canadian city has once again demonstrated why it has repeatedly been ranked among the most liveable cities in the world.
The morning after the violence, thousands of ordinary Vancouverites once again flocked to the city centre; this time they were bearing brooms, shovels, and garbage bags. Volunteers, not organised, and mostly strangers to one another worked together to put the lustre back on what was just three days ago one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Unasked and unrecruited, an estimated 15,000 people took to the streets on a workday and began the process of sweeping up the broken glass, painting over scorched and soot covered fenestration on businesses and residences, and helping merchants board over or replace their broken storefront windows.
Denise Ryan of Postmedia news reported that city maintenance workers noted the first volunteer showed up at 5 AM with a broom and some bags and simply said, “Where do you want me?” Throughout the day more and more people arrived, one woman with forty brooms to distribute to less-prepared volunteers, dozens of others, including elderly suburban residents, arrived bearing Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts for the ad hoc cleanup crew. Downtown Vancouver, being on the west coast, also saw volunteers arrive with supplies of granola and herbal tea for tired, unpaid and anonymous workers.
By the afternoon, the downtown core, which had resembled a war zone, had begun to take on a festive air; boarded up storefronts were decorated with colourful positive messages. “We love Van!” was seen swabbed in calligraphy on many of the damaged businesses that had to be boarded up pending permanent repairs. As the cleanup took on a party atmosphere, buskers began to arrive to entertain the volunteers who seemed never to take a break; they even refused the coins the volunteers tried to toss their way.
Within a single working day, most evidence of the hockey riots had disappeared or been beautified. Meanwhile several websites have been opened to help identify the hooligans responsible for the destruction. Hundreds of videos were shot of the carnage – some, unbelievably, by the rioters themselves who also had the profound intelligence to post them on the web. In dozens of cases the looters’ faces are clearly visible, giving high fives for the camera as they do their damage. Arrests are, of course, imminent.
Thanks to all those who contributed; your efforts have done much to redeem Vancouver in the wake of the damage done. Once again people can be proud of this city.
…enditem…

Vancouver Distinguishes Itself

Excuse me, may I set your car on fire?
Patrick Guntensperger
Vancouver, BC

If asked, most Canadians would tell you that hockey is Canada’s national sport. All you need to do is visit a Canadian city still in contention for the Stanley Cup playoffs in the springtime to experience the passion Canadians have for their sport. If you had been anywhere near a television when the Canadian hockey teams – both men’s and women’s – won gold at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, there would be very little question in your mind about the place hockey holds in the hearts of Canadians.
The fact that lacrosse is actually Canada’s national sport is irrelevant to the ferocity with which Canadians cling to the notion that we own hockey as a birthright. Oh, Canadians are willing to share – to a certain small extent – that notion with certain American teams. After all, the big six teams in the pre-expansion NHL included representation by only two Canadian cities: Montreal and Toronto; the other four teams were domiciled south of the border in Chicago, New York, Boston, and Detroit. Of course, as any true Canadian will hasten to tell you, the teams consisted virtually entirely of Canadian born players; players who had been brought up somewhere between Bonavista and Victoria, playing with their Dads on painstakingly watered and frozen over backyards before sunrise every morning before school.
Moreover, the “National” in National Hockey League (NHL) refers to the nation to the north of the border; everyone knows that! The greatest rivalry in hockey’s glory years was the decades long feud between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs; even those team names scream out who’s sport it is.
But what else are Canadians known for? Somewhat uncharitably, Canadians have often been described as bland. Canadians, of course, would prefer to see themselves as reserved, or even inoffensive. I’d have to admit that bland may not be too far off the mark, however. I’ve never heard, for example, of a couple who are deciding to dine adventurously spontaneously blurting out, “I know! Let’s eat Canadian!”
 
Nevertheless, anyone who has visited the Great White North is likely to agree that Canadians are characterised by a self-effacing, quiet reserve and general politeness. An American friend once said to me, not entirely approvingly, that Canadians actually say “Thank you,” to ATMs. Larger Canadian cities have fewer traffic problems than cities of comparable size and modernity anywhere else in the world. The reason? Canada is a charter member of the Benevolent Drivers Association. Traffic snarls are rarer in Canada simply because it is more common for a driver in Canada with the right of way to wave another driver on than it is in other countries.
Vancouver last night demonstrated that Canada’s reputation for kindness, politeness and self restraint is an easily scuffed and all too thin surface plating.
Last night was the seventh and final game in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The perennial bridesmaids, the Vancouver Canucks (Canadian enough team name?) lost that game to the Boston Bruins. The reaction in the city of Vancouver was far from the stereotypical reserved and self controlled Canadian restraint. Approximately 70,000 people congregated in the centre of the city and rioted most of the night, cars were overturned and burned, store windows smashed, and Vancouver General Hospital had to set up a triage centre in the parking lot to accommodate the intake of injured people.
The extent and violence of the riot rivalled anything seen at any soccer game or even regime change in a Third World country.
The sheer, blind, stupidity of the mouthbreathing morons who saw an opportunity for mayhem and leapt upon it is astonishing. It is humiliating to Canadians and demeaning to the sport that is part of our lifeblood. These are not hockey fans…any excuse for violent, alcohol and testosterone fueled idiocy would suffice. These are thugs and cowards who even came prepared with balaclavas so they could wreak their violence and hide from prosecution in the anonymity they sought.
You have diminished our country in our own hearts and in the eyes of the world.
…enditem…

Limping along

THE KNEE
Patrick Guntensperger
Not long ago I was living in Jakarta and frequently had to travel to Singapore on routine and business matters. The two cities, although not far apart geographically, could hardly be more different. Forests have been levelled to accommodate the published treatises on the differences between Singaporean and Jakartan traffic, signage,  law enforcement, politics, cuisine, culture, economics, education, infrastructure, domestic and foreign policies, and character; I only want to address one minor issue: the ease of walking around in these two great southeast Asian cities. And only because it relates to the real subject at hand.
In Jakarta I had a car and driver. That’s neither unusual nor arrogant conspicuous consumption in Jakarta. Virtually everyone above the poverty level, or at least virtually everyone who owns a car, also employs a driver. As a consultant, a political analyst for a number of publications, and a teacher of writing and journalism at a number of universities, I had appointments all over the city at odd hours and needed both.
Jakarta, of course, is legendary for its traffic. By some estimates a million vehicles a year are introduced to the steadily deteriorating streets of Indonesia’s capital and very little is being done to improve the crumbling roads. Combine that with an endemic utter disregard for traffic regulations, signs, and lights, along with an absolute dearth of courtesy on the roads, and you have a recipe for near-permanent gridlock.
Don’t even think about public transportation.
Unfortunately, walking to your destination is simply not an option in most cases. In those areas where there were supposed to be sidewalks, the pedestrian walkways are occupied by kiosks selling noodles, cigarettes, or pre-paid phone cards. Between them are beggars with their sarongs spread, upon which their babies sprawl looking properly emaciated. In between are breaks in the ancient stones that once formed the pedestrian surface, exposing sewers some two meters below, with reinforcing rods projecting from the shafts through which the unwary would fall.
Anyone foolhardy enough to walk in downtown Jakarta is thus forced to walk on the streets where it is always open season on pedestrians. The only upside is that traffic is so frequently at a dead standstill, that doing one’s broken-field running through the traffic is relatively safe most times; until of course a space opens up and several motorist scramble for it with utter disregard for the pedestrian running for his life. Or one of the motorcyclists (who outnumber the car drivers) decides to open yet another lane of traffic, perhaps across the lobby of a building or through and open door to a kiosk.
The result, of course, is that you tend to spend a great deal of time in your car. Time that otherwise would be spent strolling around and taking in the sights of what is arguably the most exotic city in the world is occupied by huddling in the back seat of a car, working on a laptop or reading a newspaper.
For me, this was the single most significant drawback to life in Jakarta. I have always enjoyed walking – particularly in an unfamiliar city – with a laptop or a notebook until something I want to say has achieved some cohesion and has coalesced into something that might be worth publishing. Then I’ll find a suitable bar, cafe, saloon, or lounge where I’ll find a corner where I can plug in and do my work. Somehow driving around just doesn’t work the same way. The One Tree Bar and The Front Page and Faces in Jakarta worked well. All knew me, all knew where I liked to sit and what I’d like to drink; but somehow, driving there just wasn’t the same as walking.
But then there’s Singapore.
This city-state at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, almost precisely on the equator, is only about a ninety minute flight from Jakarta. Apart from the climate, the two places couldn’t be more dissimilar. Singapore always reminds me of a science-fiction city. It’s planned, orderly, logical, spotless, regulated; it is – particularly if you step off the plane from a developing country – astonishingly wealthy, with cutting-edge technology employed by everybody in government, personal life, and business. The streets are clean and the sidewalks are broad and shaded; walking in Singapore is as pleasant and expected as it is in Paris. There are parks and green spaces, benches under shade trees to escape the tropical sun and well-thought-out cafes where one can sit and watch the city life, have a drink and even plug in a laptop,
But it’s the pedestrian-friendly aspect of Singapore that inspired the title of this article. While my life in Jakarta was essentially sedentary, with chauffeur-driven transportation everywhere, my monthly or more frequent trips to Singapore were so conducive to walking about that I eventually overdid it.
All my life I had been fairly active; from my childhood hockey through early adulthood movie stunt work, and my rather scattered later careers, I have always moved around quite a bit. So when I had a few hours to spare in Singapore, I would always walk; sometimes from Bugis Village to my hotel off Orchard Road; or from my hotel down to Chinatown or Raffles Hotel for an exorbitantly priced drink at the Long Bar where the Singapore Sling was invented. By the end of a glorious day of strolling around, I would begin to notice an ache in my left knee. Naturally I put it down to age and to the fact that I had broken that knee on more than one occasion during my stunt career.
One day after several hours of perambulatory exploration of Singapore, I noticed that not only was my knee giving me real grief, but that I had developed a limp like Walter Brennan’s in Rio Bravo. From then on my left knee was a constant source of irritation. Some days I would scarcely notice it. Other times I would wake up during the night with the joint burning like fire. But it developed that by the end of each day it was stiff and aching; it would take a few minutes every morning to loosen it up, and eventually I needed to carry a cane with me, because it had acquired a tendency to give way without warning,
Osteoarthritis, I was told. Degenerative joint disease. It turns out that as the result of some youthful trauma, probably the time I split the tibial plateau, I had developed this problem. It would not go away and it would not improve. And my life was seriously curtailed. The last thing I needed was to have my physical activities restricted to any serious degree. I had a career that required physical activity…I couldn’t chase down stories –particularly environmental ones – if I couldn’t get out into the field; I had a young wife; I had a new son – who would teach him football and hockey? I couldn’t even travel like I used to; my leg would lock up even in a first-class seat after a few hours, and some of the more esoteric modes of travel to which I was often relegated were simply out of the question.
I knew I was soon to return to Canada to care for my parents who were aged and not very healthy. The only problem was the bureaucratic nightmare in getting my son and wife out of Indonesia and on citizenship track in Canada. We were ready to go for almost a year and simply waiting for visas; our collection of household goods was packed and in storage, waiting to be shipped, and we were camped out in the house waiting for the documents. After having met one more bureaucratic roadblock, I had to go…my parents’ health was deteriorating and they needed me. I consequently left my wife and child to fight the bureaucrats, while I flew to Canada to care for my parents and to re-establish residency so I could once again qualify for Canadian Health Insurance and have my knee and another spinal problem looked at properly. My wife and child were to stay and cut through the red tape while I took care of business in Canada.
While Yolanda and JJ languished in Indonesia, I started to put in the required time in British Columbia to re-establish permanent residency. I made sure that my parents’ lives were on an even keel; I checked with their doctors and lawyer and made sure I was up to date on their physical and financial condition; I took on overseeing their medical conditions, and ensured that I was able to understand and help guide their financial situation. I made sure that they were eating well, taking their medications, getting their exercise, and that the house and yard were taken care of.
And I waited until I was eligible once again for Canadian socialised medicine. In the meantime I had new x-rays taken, so the orthopaedic surgeon would have up-to-date pictures when he examined me. Eventually the day came when I saw the specialist, an orthopaedic surgeon. He knew within 5 minutes that there wasn’t any hope for recovery short of replacing the defective joint with a metal prosthetic.
I’m now on the waiting list. Soon I’m going to have my old knee removed (I wonder if I can keep it in a jar), and a new, bionic joint installed. So, for the time being I’m hobbling around with a cane, parking in handicap-designated spots, and preparing once again to go under the knife. The one thing I keep wondering about though, is whether I ought to get both knees replaced and have them make me a couple of inches taller while they’re at it.
…enditem…
css.php