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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

It’s all right Ma, I’m only bleeding…..

Dying is easy….comedy is hard

Pagun

 

Timothy Leary

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA –Timothy Leary; Frank Zappa; Dennis Hopper. Although all were born a decade or more before I was, they all feel like my contemporaries, as I grew up with them as seminal influences in my life. Each in his own way had his influence on me and, with many reservations and caveats, there was much in each of those men that I found to admire, respect, and even envy. From time to time I even come to believe that I have something in common with each of them. Whenever I stand back and look at our lives, I realise that although perhaps we don’t share that much; we  do share one thing, however, that is indisputable. All three of those men died of prostate cancer. I have the same disease.

 

Dennis Hopper

Prostate cancer is a disease that isn’t taken as seriously as some other cancers for a number of reasons. In its most common form it is a very slow growing cancer, for one thing. If a person is diagnosed with a low-aggression, non-metastatic prostate cancer of say, a 2 to a 4 on the Gleason scale at age 75, the odds are that the patient will succumb to old age if nothing else before the cancer becomes symptomatic beyond fairly treatable urinary symptoms. And that is the most common form for the cancer to take. Some oncologists speculate that close to 100% of men over 70 or so probably have cancer of the prostate and the wisest course of action is simply to monitor it and treat as one would for BPH (benign prostate hyperplasia)…you know, that condition that makes us men over 50 have to get up several times a night to squeeze out a few drops of urine.

 

Frank Zappa

So the disease, as long as it’s confined to the prostate , if not exactly asymptomatic, displays symptoms virtually identical to a benign condition that is quite treatable. Other means of diagnosis, most reliably a PSA (prostatic specific antigen) test can also show elevated PSA levels for a variety of reasons and don’t even always become elevated when the prostate is cancerous. Although testing the PSA level involves a simple blood test and is usefully indicative, it is far from definitive.

 

Far more reliable but extremely subjective and far from definitive is the all-time favourite digital exam. That’s the one where you bend over the examining table, your urologist snaps on the latex, lathers on the lube, and inserts a finger and feels for any anomalies or hardening of the organ. Not everyone enjoys this, so apparently I’m not an anomaly.

 

(The only good thing about my digital exam was the opportunity to deploy grotesque humour during the examination….

Doctor: “Please relax, the pressure and penetration you feel is my finger…”

Me:      “So how come I feel both your hands on my shoulders?”

He had the good grace not to say that he hadn’t heard that one that week.)

Sure enough, the result was that he had detected anomalies and hard spots on the organ…next step…a biopsy. That one is all the fun of the digital exam, except that it takes a whole lot longer, a lot more people, and one hell of a lot of hardware has to do the spelunking and excavation. In this case, a director ensures that his camera  boldly goes where, unless you spent some time on Cell Block C, no man has gone before; along with this, some other technician wields a device invented by the Spanish Inquisition and probes around as directed by Orson Welles and snips out (in my case) fourteen samples of  tissue from a variety of interesting sites on an organ most of us aren’t even aware we possess and whose function remains a virtual mystery to science. When all of the hardware and tissue is removed from your Hershey Highway, you feel as though you’ve just passed a rather large rutabaga. And just to ensure that you retain good memories of the experience, both your urine and your semen are bloody for as much as weeks afterward. I’m not sure that that is a special effect the current spate of romantic vampire movies and TV series is ready to employ, although bloody, red semen is distinctly creepy.

 

They then look at these little chunks of tissue under the microscope and determine how aggressive the cancer is; it’s a complex formula, but in its simplest form 4-6 is intermediately aggressive and grows at a medium pace. 8-10 is very aggressive and grows and spread quickly; your prognosis depends on how early you caught it and whether it has metastasised beyond the prostate.

 

I came up with a 7.

 

So the next step is to do a CT scan and a bone scan. Those will tell if the cancer has spread to the surrounding soft tissue or the bones, respectively. If it has, there is probably nothing to do except treat for symptoms and wait until the cancer takes its inevitable course.

 

If it hasn’t, the normal course of action would be to insert radioactive seeds into the organ and attempt to destroy it and the cancer and surrounding tissue, or go old-school and simply lop out the offending organ, sparing as much of the surrounding tissue as feasible. Either way, the treatment is painful, undignified, leaves some very unpleasant side-effects (impotence is the most obvious, although it is usually susceptible to treatment with boner pills like Viagra), and takes a long time to recover. Until then the main downside is extreme fatigue, leaving it hard to work, let alone take care of a special needs and somewhat hyperactive four year old.

 

So there you have it. Cancer.

 

I can look squarely, if not enthusiastically, at all the unpleasantness for which I am in store. I can cope with hospitalisation, surgery, surgical recovery and after-effects, even death, should that become inevitable sooner than I had expected (of course, I expected to live forever). But it keeps occurring to me that it would have been easier if all this had come up just a little more than ten years ago.

 

I was single and wouldn’t be worried about leaving a widow whom I love deeply and is more than twenty years younger than I am.  Moreover I wouldn’t be the father of a wonderful and special little boy who loves me and depends on me for virtually everything. I would not have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on bribes and travel to get Indonesian civil servants to their jobs, because I thought there was ample time to earn that kind of money again. I would have gone to the police and  the Corruption Eradication Commission and done it the right way, albeit the harder way, instead of doing it the traditional and easier way. 

As it is, I find it hard to work because of chronic fatigue and I’m looking at my next significant birthday marking sixty years of existence on this planet (making me virtually a pariah in an industry that values youth). So, I contribute what I can when an editor buys something, I write even if my work isn’t bought by paying editors, because that’s what I do…I write. And I try to do that in between colouring with JJ, playing with his Spiderman and Super Mario action sets, taking him to preschool, on playdates with other kids, soccer games, swimming lessons and doing housework and cooking for both him and a wife who works full time while she waits for chef school to start in August. My disease progress remains unknown at this point, but I desperately want Yolanda to get started at culinary university because I want to ensure that she has a genuine career should I not be around to see JJ graduate from elementary, let alone high school. It never occurred to me that taking a few years off to care for my parents as they both succumbed to terminal illnesses would not just interrupt my career but interrupt it to an extent that when the interruption was over and they mercifully passed on, I would contract a similar disease that would possibly preclude the resumption of my own life’s work.

I never expected, after having been financially independent for as long as I can remember, to find myself virtually destitute, to be losing my house, being almost unemployable, and in grave danger of leaving a widow and an orphan with little or no financial security, after dying in poverty. Nevertheless, I am determined to maintain a sense of humour, love my wife, cherish my son and do what I can to continue as long as I can with dignity. Dying is easy….comedy is hard.

And I always strive to remember another quote from the Dylan song used for the opening title… it goes….”he not busy being born is busy dying….”

…enditem…

Miscellany and random concerns

Dispatches from Vancouver Island

Pagun

 

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Getting old isn’t for the faint of heart. I’m fifty six years old and recently I’ve been feeling every minute of it, and then some. I’ve reported elsewhere on my knee replacement and how much fun that was; these days that seems like complaining about a paper cut.

In my misspent youth, when I was ten feet tall and bullet-proof and I was in the film business, I occasionally used to do stunt work. A legacy of those days is a left shoulder that has given me problems since it first started to dislocate at the slightest provocation back when I was in my late thirties.

The Old Me

Eventually the joint became so unstable that a stiff breeze would have me trying to put it back in or, more often, going through the E.R. doors on a gurney. One hospital was so familiar with my visits that they had a designated bed and a standing order for meds; an E.R. doctor would bark out orders for “Versed, 2 ml. push with 100 mcg. Fentanyl and a drip in 3!” and someone would inevitably say, “Hey! Say hi to Patrick!” Moments later I would be coming around, a little groggy, my shoulder back in place secured by a sling. This happened three times in one day on a particularly memorable occasion, the third time right in the E.R. as I moved my left arm unadvisedly while getting off the table to leave.

Since those days, I have had three or four surgeries intended to stabilise the shoulder, each of which held for about a year. Then a new surgery was tried; something called a Weber rotation osteotomy.

The accumulated hardware:
Rebuilding in process

You don’t even want to know what that entailed but it involved a lot of bolts, screws, plates, and assorted hardware and significantly restricted my range of motion leaving me unable to raise my left arm above the horizontal plane. That worked for more than a

The New Me

decade but for a couple of years, I have been experiencing an increasing level of pain in that shoulder. A month or two ago, I had an orthoscopy and reduction (basically, a camera is inserted to take pictures and a #3 Dremel tool scrapes the bone smooth) done; the result is that I’m now scheduled to have a new shoulder put in to match my prosthetic knee joint. We can rebuild him, apparently. Piece by piece.

Meanwhile I was constantly aware of my age and gender as the result of my increasingly frequent nocturnal trips to the bathroom. Accordingly, I had my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) tested. Uh, oh! 13.7  Anything over 4 is suspicious, get up there over 10 and you have a 50/50 chance of the pesky gland being cancerous. Nevertheless, it’s usually a slow growing cancer and the recommended course of action is to monitor PSA levels for 6 months and see if they increase. I had it tested again 30 days later and POW! 15.7….. 2 points in a month….very worrisome.

Family history is no picnic either. Paternal grandfather died of prostate cancer. Father successfully treated for a particularly aggressive variety of prostate cancer. Now me, with stratospheric PSA levels and climbing. Next step – biopsy. That’s a treat; insert yet another camera and other equipment and have look around and snip out ten samples for microscopic examination. Only, this time no incision is required, as nature has provided a convenient access hatch. What with the digital palpation exam this week and all the apparatus that’s going up there soon, the old back door will be seeing as much traffic as it would have had I spent time in prison when I was 17 and cute.

Oh, well. Wait and see.

On the other side of the world I have an old friend from my undergraduate days who is teaching school in the Middle East. She mentioned today on Facebook that she is experiencing a degree of homesickness and misses things Canadian. I suggested a list of Canadian words for her to teach her students so that they would incorporate them into their vocabularies, thereby surrounding her with the sounds of home. It was interesting to note just how many words and expressions are of Canadian origin or are common here but rare elsewhere. “Eh” isn’t the only one.

The Deke

“Deke”. Purely Canadian; born here. And if you don’t know that word means,

Your basic Mickey

you just don’t play or watch enough (ice) hockey. Toque, toboggan, toonie. Okay, all are words about cold, snow, or our currency, so no big surprises. “Two-four” and “mickey,” though; these refer respectively to a case of 24 beers or a flat pocket-sized pint bottle of booze. Okay, that makes sense, too. “Duo-Tang” “double-double”, “butter tart” “Nanaimo Bar”, “fire hall” “Chinook”…in order: a soft cover three hole paper report cover, two creams and two sugars in coffee, a dessert item, another dessert item, a fire station, and a hot wind that blows through prairie towns in the spring and melts an entire winter’s snow in a couple of hours. Well, Chinook makes sense. But the rest? What’s with all that sugar and artery clogging stuff? The generic employment of a brand name in office supplies? And, frankly, I don’t believe “fire hall” is truly a Canadianism. I mean, what about the world famous Old Fire Hall Theatre? Oh, yeah. That’s in Toronto (or T.O. as the natives call it). And maybe someone can tell me if a Caesar (the breakfast vodka and Clamato juice beverage) is only available in Canada. Or beer and clam (Clamato); I’ve never seen anyone drink that outside of Canada.

Springtime here on Vancouver Island. Although Yolanda has been here in every season the country has to offer, this is the first time she has been here long enough to see it go almost full circle. We got here in August, so she saw it go from glorious summer to autumn, to a winter of discontent and now spring. She finds it fascinating; not just the colours coming back after the bleak dreariness of a wet coast winter, but the people themselves.

As the days warm up, Canadians are everywhere seen emerging from their caves, yawning, blinking, and scratching in the unaccustomed daylight and looking around for something to do. Bicycles are appearing everywhere, parks are crowded, boats are coming out from under their tarps, and playgrounds are loud and noisy until the sun goes down. Highschool girls have dug out their shortest shorts, skirts, and halter tops and are enthusiastically exposing their chalky limbs to the sunlight and intense scrutiny of their classmates. All the signs are promising for a hot summer.

These and other random thoughts on a spring day….

 

enditem…..

 

 

Come over from the dark side…

Sanity begins to dawn

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – It’s truly exhilarating to see the groundswell movement among the vast silent majority of Americans, finally demanding that something be done about the proliferation of guns in the United States. Confronted with this grassroots demand in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, President Obama is, as I write this, announcing the specifics of his intention finally to take “meaningful action” to prevent future slaughters. He has just promised to use all the power of the office of the president to bring common sense to the nearly completely unfettered gun ownership that prevails in the country.

Today there will be another 34 people killed by firearms in the United States; that is, unless another maniac brings a perfectly legally acquired arsenal of semi-automatic weapons to a school or mall or movie theatre and skews that statistic upwards. Another 30 or more will die tomorrow, and again the day after that. Meanwhile The NRA remains eerily silent and declines to comment until “all the facts are in”. But the chat rooms and news comment forums resound with the anguish of everyday people who are bewildered and frightened by what’s happening on the streets and in their children’s schools. The feeling is one of helplessness in the face of a society for whom firearm ownership is a more fundamental right than their children’s right to live.

From my cold, dead hands! Batshit crazy.

And make no mistake about it; that sentiment, that gun ownership is sacred, is expressed in those words dozens of times each minute by others in the same online forums. There is a vocal and passionate segment of American society that sees any rule, any regulation, any control or limitation on the country’s vast civilian-held arsenal to be a dangerous infringement on their liberty. These are the members of a dangerous fringe that represent themselves as the majority. They speak as though they believe that, with exception of a few panty-waist commie fags, everyone in the country recognises that the population of the United States is under the heel of a dictatorial, authoritarian, and illegitimate government bent on stripping each American of every last freedom. In their shared delusion, these deeply disturbed gun rights advocates are freedom-fighters and defenders of liberty; they are unable to see that they really are nothing more than barely literate, ignorant, heavily armed paranoiacs.

In the last few days I have seen people seriously advocating requiring grade school teachers to carry concealed firearms. I have, in the immediate aftermath of the slaughter of 20 first-graders and six of their teachers, heard people seriously suggesting that what is needed is easier accessibility to handguns – so people can defend themselves should they find themselves in a similar situation. Today an eleven year-old was sent home for carrying a loaded Glock 9.mm semi-automatic in his waistband; his father had insisted he bring it to school, “just in case”. Listen to the rhetoric:  If you disarm the criminals, only criminals will have guns. Hitler passed anti-gun laws to take over the country…Obama has an identical agenda. If the Sandy Hook principal had her own M16, she could have stopped the slaughter. You’ll get my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hand. The batshit crazies have had sane people treating them as though they were rational for far too long. The voices of sanity are starting to make themselves heard.

On the rational side of the ledger some proposed controls are being offered. What is striking about them is that they aren’t in place now; one can’t help but be astonished that they haven’t been stringently applied for years. It is hard to imagine, for example, that although everyone who drives needs a licence that ensures that the holder has a basic level of proficiency, none is needed to own and use a weapon of war. It seems unthinkable that every car must be licensed, insured, and registered, and must be reported if stolen, but a weapon that has only one purpose – to kill – carries no such requirements. Safety regulations are everywhere…construction sites, swimming pools, shopping malls, public buildings, vehicles, playgrounds… everywhere. But there are no laws that require firearms to be secured. While professionally trained firearms users – police officers, military personnel, etc. – make a habit of storing ammunition and weapons separately, even keeping the firing pins in a third secure storage area, and are advocates of trigger locks when transporting weapons, the great majority of amateurs keep their weapons in the house loaded and ready to kill.

Nevertheless the NRA and hard-line gun rights activists decry as an infringement on their second amendment rights any suggestion that these appalling circumstances ought to be examined. Of course, the argument that the right to bear arms is the only civil right in the USA that should have no control, no limitation, no parameters whatsoever, is nonsense; it is an obdurate negotiating position and it is reasonable to disregard that view and to consider exactly what safeguards are appropriate.

If one looks at the current situation in the United States dispassionately, there are a few steps that could be taken immediately and it would be only common sense to take them. Many of these proposals don’t, in fact, impinge on anyone’s second amendment rights, so no constitutional amendment would be required; some of these proposals could probably even be implemented administratively, not even requiring political bipartisan approval.

Among the first steps would be the creation of a national gun registry. It would be a big task, to be sure, given the number of firearms in the country, but not impossible, and one that would employ thousands of people. It would simply be a matter of a wide public campaign, giving every owner of a firearm in the country one year to bring any weapons to a local firearm registry office and have its serial number entered into a national database and test fired to take a ballistic fingerprint. This, combined with a requirement that all lost or stolen firearms be reported to the police, and zero tolerance for possession of an unregistered firearm, would result in an immediate increase in the apprehension of those who commit gun related crimes. It would give law enforcement agencies a place to start their investigation in virtually every instance of gun crime. It would also act as a deterrent, in many instances, to those who think about using a firearm that would otherwise be untraceable.

A universal background check on all those who want to buy firearms seems like an obvious safeguard. Surely the most adamant gun rights activist wouldn’t want people with dangerous mental illnesses, convicted armed robbers, or those on the terrorist watch list to be permitted to purchase firearms legally. As it is, any of those categories of people can go to a gun show and buy any weapon they see there with no questions asked; it is easier and there are fewer limitations to firearms purchases than to boarding an airline.

The Democrats are proposing an obvious bill: one that bans magazines that hold more than ten rounds. The ban on assault rifles that expired in 2004 is being rewritten and strengthened and reintroduced. Internet weapons sales are going to be looked into. Perhaps the political will actually exists, in the wake of the most recent in a long series of mass shootings, to make some reasonable laws controlling weapon access.

A comprehensive examination of the laws across the country is another obvious step in the direction of injecting some reason into the Wild West mentality that pervades the United States when it comes to guns. Federal statutes, consistently enforced across the country would go a long way to achieving some rudimentary sanity. The examination could address some truly bizarre anomalies such as the laws in Florida and Iowa which prevent a convicted felon from voting or owning a gun; the ban on voting is for life, but a felon is eligible to purchase a firearm after five years. Each state has its own gun laws, yet crossing a state line intending to break one of their laws is a federal offense. It’s a federal offense to transport a weapon across state lines for illegal purposes, yet it’s perfectly legal to order a weapon on the Internet or ship one by post or UPS. Given the ease of travel in the United States and the proliferation of weapons, it would make sense to enact a federal firearms statute that overrides any state laws; the infrastructure for enforcement already exists in the form of federal law enforcement agencies whose jobs would be greatly simplified with consistency in laws across the country.

Now is the time to move firmly in the direction of bringing rationality to the chaotic legal and enforcement structure that permeates the insidious gun culture that defines the USA. The political will exists, the public outrage still burns hot, but it won’t for long…the people of the US have a notoriously short memory when it comes to violent death, perhaps even the violent death of first grade students. Perhaps we should keep reminding ourselves that if the Sandy Hook massacre had been the act of a Muslim terrorist, nothing whatsoever would prevent even the institution of the most draconian measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

…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…

In search of the “true” spirit of Christmas

Pre-christian solstice tree

We wish you a traditional Xmas (and a Christ-free New Year)

Pagun

 VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – One of the cool things about Christmas here in the west is that, except for a rather artificial Christian veneer over the celebrations, it is still essentially a pagan rite.

Although it’s become a modern Christmas tradition to accuse everyone but fellow evangelicals of trying to “take the Christ out of Christmas”, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that Christ is a relatively new interloper into the ancient traditions. In fact, most of the more venerable traditions associated with the midwinter and new year celebrations are still pagan, and whether they like it or not, the most religious among us celebrate the holiday by performing neolithic pre-Christian pagan ceremonies. The ancient pagan traditions are so pervasive that for most people, if Christ was indeed taken out of Christmas, the holiday would scarcely change.

White Christmas, Chestnuts Roasting, Jingle Bells, Let it Snow, Silver Bells, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Deck the Halls,  all these and more would be sung by children and adults alike, with nary a mention of the bible or god. Some are modern, some are very old indeed; all celebrate the mid-winter or the winter solstice, the festive time of year to which early Christians attached their own developing mythology.

For the Christians to have tied their allegorical tales to the solstice celebrations makes sociological and anthropological sense. In the northern hemisphere, the solstice has been celebrated since prehistory as the time of the year which sees the longest, darkest night of the winter and, on the next day, the rebirth of the sun; from the moment of the solstice forward, the sun is seen to return, with spring soon to follow. A new cult that believed their leader to be the son of god who would return and usher in a halcyon period following the long winter of discontent couldn’t have asked for a better ready-made metaphor.

The return of the sun meant to the new cult: “The Resurrection of the Son”, for he was “The Light”. It slid right in there but didn’t replace the ancient traditions. timeanddate.com has this to say about the ancient Wiccan traditions and Christianity:

Christmas is also referred to as Yule, which may have derived from the Norse word jól, referring to the pre-Christian winter solstice festival. Yule is also known as Alban Arthan and was one of the “Lesser Sabbats” of the Wiccan year in a time when ancient believers celebrated the rebirth of the Sun God and days with more light. This took place annually around the time of the December solstice and lasted for 12 days. The Lesser Sabbats fall on the solstices and equinoxes. 

So today’s Christians celebrate a Wiccan “Lesser Sabbat” – the one at the winter solstice that commemorates the rebirth of the “sun god” – by throwing a birthday party for the “son of god”. They even commemorate the 12 days of the festival in songs like “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and by burning a Yule log. I wonder how many of the Christians who bleat about the modern generation and their failure to appreciate the “true spirit of Christmas” realise that they are performing ritual witchcraft rites when they hang mistletoe or put lights on their Christmas tree.

Even the ancient Egyptians had a tradition of hanging evergreen boughs at the solstice in recognition of the annual rebirth of Ra, the sun god, as far back as the Middle Kingdom and possibly even the Early Kingdom….before the pyramids were built; the late December birthday of the sun (or son) is a pagan rite that predates the birth of Christ by several thousand years.

Now THAT’S an office xmas party!

Considerably more recently, the citizens of ancient Rome started a seven-day debauch on December 17. This festival in honour of the god Saturn was called the Saturnalia. It was an empire wide party during which rules of decorum and behaviour were suspended and the good citizens of Rome exchanged gifts, elected a mock “king” (who usually ended up dead by the end of the uninhibited solstice celebration), drank, partied and usually ended the week in a city-wide orgy on December 25.

Now there’s the real “spirit of Christmas” and something genuine traditionalists ought to be taking the Christians to task for forgetting. As a public service for those who are looking for some ideas to celebrate a traditional Christmas I can offer no better advice than to look up “Saturnalia” in any reliable reference book or site and scour the entry for tips. The Saturnalia was, after all, the traditional Christmas, which the emerging and rapidly growing Christian cult adopted and adapted. They stole the “true” spirit of the holiday and turned it into a Christian observation. Nevertheless, the spirit of the season remains dormant but still viable; it still exists in the Christmas tree, the Yule log, the boughs of holly, even the exchange of gifts. So the next time you kiss someone under the mistletoe, remember that you’re paying respects to an ancient Wiccan fertility rite, a Druid rite of worship of the gods of the forest, as well as registering your vestigial connection to the ritual Roman orgy that was the original Christmas.

Perhaps we should listen to the Christians; maybe they have it right. Maybe we should call for taking the “Christ out of Christmas” and get back to the real spirit of the season and party like it’s 20AD!

Happy Saturnalia, everyone!

Joy to the world indeed!

 …enditem…

 

Christmas is coming

Starting fresh

Pagun 

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – A phenomenon that I’ve noticed as people live longer is the disappearance of family traditions. That sounds counterintuitive, but it has to do with not having developed one’s own traditions if there are some already in place.

To take Christmas as an example, many young people have maintained as their Christmas traditions, those of their childhoods. I don’t mean they replicate a tradition that was handed down from previous generations, I mean they continue to go to their parent’s home for Christmas until they are adults, even after they are parents themselves; their traditions involve Mom cooking the turkey, Dad carving, and whatever idiosyncratic family quirks that define Christmas as they know it. When Grandma and Grandpa shuffle off this mortal coil, they are particularly bereft at the first Christmas they have to spend on their own; they are at a loss as to how to proceed, and their own kids only know the traditions that they absorbed from their grandparents.

I am becoming conscious of this as Yolanda, JJ, and I prepare for our first Christmas in Canada as a family. We won’t be able to celebrate the season in any traditional Indonesian manner. Goat sate, fiery barbequed fish, squid stew, shrimp fried rice, and pineapple coconut pudding just don’t come together quite as easily here; Black Peter doesn’t come around to terrify the kids into good pre-Christmas behaviour, as he does in Manado and Ambon; and I’m not going to have a Christmas morning Pina Colada under a palm Christmas tree while JJ swims with his cousins in the surf.

I hadn’t had Christmas with my parents in a very long time, having been abroad during the holidays for many years. But we’re here now and for the foreseeable future, so we have no applicable traditions to settle comfortably into. Here in Canada, we have no family, my parents having died before they could meet JJ, and Yolanda’s family can’t make it here this year, so we’re starting from scratch.

We are keenly aware that everything we do is the first step in establishing a new family tradition. Presents on Christmas Day when he gets up in the morning? Or Christmas Eve at midnight? Presents under the tree for days before? Or does Santa deliver them all while he sleeps? Decisions, decisions.

One thing that will certainly become our family tradition was first started when Yolanda and I were here caring for my father during his first Christmas without my mother, who had died in November. That year was Yolanda’s first Canadian Christmas and it was a sad one. My father was clearly dying, we had just lost my mother, we were temporarily but painfully separated from JJ who was still stuck in Indonesia, and we had few friends here as we spent every waking moment caring for my father and settling my mother’s affairs. However in December, we made a little excursion to a tree farm and selected a Douglas fir that was the right size and shape, cut it down, and brought it home. My father, who had been a forestry engineer in his twenties and still had those memories talked to Yolanda about conifers and their characteristics, how to distinguish spruce pine, fir, cedar, and other evergreens; this was all new and exotic for someone who was more familiar with evergreens like ebony, mango, palm, and mangrove trees. It is a bittersweet memory and one that will become part of our family’s heritage as we take JJ out to the same place to choose a Christmas tree.

Amanda, Jeff, and JJ’s 3 girlfriends’ house

Some neighbours have already started to put Christmas lights out and JJ was awestruck when he saw the first stage go on at sundown (which is around 4.30pm here in the Great Green North). We have gone out for walks and he runs around from house to house, laughing and pointing, and saying, “Wow!” or “Huge!” the latest additions to his burgeoning lexicon. He has no idea how elaborate the displays will become over the coming days.

JJ has also absorbed the true spirit of Christmas and recognises the annual rites as the yearly celebration of retail sales and ritual mercantilism. He has become fascinated with catalogues and sales flyers; he can sense, with preternatural accuracy, a publication that contains even a single advertisement for any of: Disney Pixar Cars; any Toy Story figure, but especially Buzz Lightyear; Hot Wheels and related accessories. Where he picked up the ploy of clutching his hands in prayerful supplication and ardently beseeching, “Pleeeeeease?” I have no idea.

Across the street, phase 1

He seems to have lost his terror of Santa Claus. In Jakarta, perhaps because of the shopping malls’ acne and halitosis-ridden skinny teenagers draped in malodourous threadbare Santa suits and posing for photos, he ran in horror and shrieked in genuine panic when he encountered any depiction of the jolly old elf. Now he appears to have accepted that, if he expects to be showered with gifts by Saint Nick, he had better learn to tolerate him. As pragmatic as only a three year-old can be, he is starting to demonstrate a mild fondness for Santa, which as Christmas approaches appears to be evolving into a genuine affection. I expect that by Christmas Eve it will have matured into a healthy idol worship.

Next door: more coming as the day gets closer

I’ve always hated Christmas; that’s no secret. I’m a devout atheist, so I have little affection for the way that the Christians have usurped a pagan solstice celebration, and now accuse non-Christians of having lost the “real meaning” of the holiday; I have no fondness for the worship of conspicuous mercantile overconsumption and nutritional overindulgence; and I find the forced and competitive joyfulness profoundly depressing. I despise the competitiveness that surrounds the gift giving and receiving; I want to blow chunks when I hear the traditional whining about the left “taking Christ out of Christmas” where he never belonged in the first place. I am deeply saddened by the spike in domestic violence and the surge in suicides that are intrinsic realities of the “festive” season.

On the other hand, I like the fact that families spend time together. I thoroughly enjoy giving

The first box of Xmas stuff comes out of storage

presents to my loved ones and watching them as they open their gifts. I like an excuse for a pre-breakfast cognac and eggnog. I like preparing a traditional turkey dinner and taking an afternoon nap while the bird is in the oven. I am happy at any attempts people make to open their hearts to the underprivileged people they ignore for the rest of the year.

So, for perhaps the first time in my adult life I am planning to enjoy Christmas rather than merely endure it. I’m explaining to JJ that at this time of the year we increase the quality and volume of the weekly donation we make to the local food bank; besides the cans of vegetables and packages of pasta, we give some cans of ham and mincemeat as well as some candy canes and chocolates; we’ll take him to buy some toys for the firefighter’s children’s charity. Yolanda will show me how to prepare at least one traditional Indonesian dish, and I’ll prepare a turkey and all the usual trimmings (no Brussels sprouts, though; they taste like boiled Sumo wrestler’s athletic supports). JJ will open presents and dig through his stocking, which will have been hung by the chimney with care; he’ll listen to Christmas songs and practice the English versions; Yolanda and I will have raw oysters and mimosas for breakfast, On Boxing Day we’ll have friends and neighbours over and drink mulled wine and eat canapés in front of the fire while the kids show one another what Santa brought them, and I’ll actually enjoy a time that I’ve never been able to process cheerfully.

It remains to be seen how this all plays out, but one way or another we’re consciously going to begin the process of creating holiday traditions that will be eagerly anticipated as Christmas approaches in years to come. I will be delighted if JJ absorbs the idea that this time of the year is a good time to reflect on the benefits he enjoys and think about how he can contribute to raising the happiness levels of other people; I don’t want him to experience the annual cynical bitterness and depression that I always associated with Christmas. I want to share with him an inclination to charity, benevolence, and kindness to strangers; since this is the time of year at which lip service is traditionally paid to those notions; it might be a good time to begin to help him make them a part of his life.

Peace and good will to all!

…enditem…

Paying the bill

The enemy within (Part II)

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – One political assumption that really needs to be challenged is the one that suggests that a nation is analogous to a business. That assumption is one to which the Republican Party of the United States is particularly attached; they persist in nominating candidates who believe that their background as business leaders in the private sector somehow prepares them for the entirely different function of representing all of the people as their head of government and the entire country as its head of state.

Among the differences between the two functions is that a corporation’s mission is to make a profit; a government’s is not. A government is there to ensure the wellbeing of all stakeholders and do things that individual citizens and profit-driven entities cannot or will not do; things like create educational standards, provide a social safety net, create and implement domestic and foreign policy, protect the citizens in time of war, support minority rights, and regulate the economy for everyone’s benefit. In none of these functions is corporate success an even vaguely appropriate resume item.

One overlooked yet crucial distinction between the corporate worldview and the perspective required of a political leader is that a corporate leader looks at a business plan that is broken down into quarterly financial statements, while a genuine statesman has to consider the impact of his decisions on many generations to come. A corporate board of directors with a long-term view looks at annual profits; a particularly visionary director might consider profits and bonuses as far into the future as the duration of his tenure. Meanwhile, his governmental counterpart has to take an historic view; the creation of national parks, for example, is a legacy for generations long after the passing of any individual leader. And nowhere is this difference between perspectives more glaring than in the creation of energy policy.

Oil company directors and CEOs have to maximise the profits of the companies they helm; that’s their duty and that duty extends to the end of their term as director. They have no vested interest in the survival of the company in the long term; today’s business paradigm is to grow fast, make windfall profits and liquidate the assets at the end of the first rush of success. In the oil business that translates into making as much money as they can while the oil lasts and then cut and run when it’s gone. Will our planet be liveable? Will society survive the collapse if there is no viable energy source to replace fossil fuels? Not their problem. The individuals will have lived their lives and died wealthy, and the corporation simply doesn’t care…it’s not human and it has no interest in human affairs.

This explains the otherwise bewildering refusal of the wealthiest and most profitable corporations in the history of civilisation to consider seriously working on the development of alternative fuels. It even explains their apparently suicidal policy of suppressing alternatives and more fuel efficient technology: keep competition down and prices up; the classic short term business paradigm. And that’s where government comes in.

Government’s function is to do what individuals and profit-motivated entities can’t or won’t do. Governments can force oil companies to develop alternative fuels that will quite literally save the world. At the moment, because of the Republican congress’s debt to the oil lobby for campaign contributions, these vastly successful corporations are the recipients of the greatest corporate welfare handouts in history. It isn’t realistic to expect politicians to stop dispensing pork to their contributors, but neither is it unreasonable to add a few strings to the roast suckling pig upon which the oil companies feast.

The handouts being given to oil companies should be tied to the development of alternative energy sources. Exxon, Shell, and the rest all have extensive R & D departments and they employ scientists and researchers of all sorts; the infrastructure for a concerted effort to develop a new non-oil-based economy is already in place. If these companies together or individually put the billions of dollars of free cash the people of the United States are handing them to work on such a project, nobody seriously doubts that they would be successful.

The effort would require some outside-of-the-box thinking on the part of the corporations; admittedly not their strong point, but if the terms of the grants include the hiring of outside consultants with a track record in alternative energy R & D, the fresh blood will inspire some new approaches. Benchmarks and success payments can also be built into the grant disbursements; those of us familiar with NGO grant work are very familiar with these not unreasonable requirements for ongoing funding.

One of the first things they’ll realise – and I’ll give them this one for free right now – is that the solution won’t be a single energy source analogous to oil. That is to say, we won’t be looking at a new paradigm in which a single energy source and its supporting infrastructure will simply replace fossil fuels. Any solution we find is going to include a mix of energy sources, all of which will pour power into the grid to be tapped into.

Naysayers point out that if you live, as I do, on North America’s wet coast, solar power isn’t the best answer to our energy crisis; winters are typically overcast, rainy, and the days are short and the nights are long. Sunshine is a precious commodity. While some passive solar collection eases the demands on the existing grid, it won’t replace non-renewables. However, the same region is located on the Pacific “ring of fire”, suggesting the exploration of geothermal energy; the ocean is right there with tidal power to be harnessed; wave power can be looked into, and this area is where some of the seminal prototypes of hydrogen engines were developed.

The prairies are ripe for wind farms, the deserts for solar arrays, the tropics for biomass harvesting; each region is suited to the exploitation of one or more alternative energy sources while the roads, airways and seas between them can be populated by vehicles burning hydrogen, who’s only by product of combustion is pure H2O. A worldwide grid would permit permanent solar arrays at both poles, each operating for half of the year, while inaccessible and hostile mountain plateaus could provide us with wind generated energy, and virtually anywhere on earth where there is volcanic activity has geothermal potential. With an investment equivalent to the amount that is just being handed to the oil corporations, we can solve the energy crisis before we run out of oil, and incidentally work on slowing, stopping, and ultimately reversing climate change.

But that takes government. That takes political will. And that takes the efficiency and ingenuity of the corporations who got us into this mess in the first place. Clearly they will never do it voluntarily; they have demonstrated that by their recalcitrance and obdurate refusal to do anything but “drill, baby, drill!” Nevertheless, they can be forced to save this planet. They are, after all, as addicted to government handouts as we are to their oil. Perhaps it’s time we applied harm reduction principles to our mutual dependencies.

I would be very grateful for your comments. I know this is just a sketch with some broad stroke ideas…this is a conversation that needs to happen.

…enditem…

Living on our children’s credit card

The enemy within

Pagun

 VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – A lot of ink and bandwidth is wasted on the fringe elements who argue that global warming or human-caused climate change is a myth. The fact is that we live in a post-environment-debate world. The Earth’s climate is changing. Every genuine climatologist acknowledges that, just as every respected and legitimate scientist agrees that the root cause of the change is human impact. Those conspiracy theorists who deny this scientific reality are buffoons who fly their ignorance like a team banner and revel in the role of village idiot; they don’t really expect to be taken seriously and they enjoy pushing the buttons of the rational people who are profoundly concerned about the condition of this planet. It’s time we stopped taking their inane claims seriously just as wise parents learn to ignore children who are being deliberately annoying in a bid for attention. 

Despite those troglodytes, tremendous strides have been made in the environmental movement.

Here in the west, to a greater or lesser extent, everyone is an environmentalist. Some of the things we do as a matter of day-to-day habit were unheard of in my parents lifetimes, and, if seen through the eyes of someone 40 years ago, would have been considered crackpot environmental extremism. Composting of kitchen waste, which is a service provided for those who don’t have backyard composters in the town where I live, was something only farmers did, and then only because they already had tons of livestock manure composting for fertiliser. When I was a child we had two garbage pickups a week and each family in our suburban Montreal neighbourhood had two or three metal garbage cans at the curb each Tuesday and Friday. Today, in my suburban Vancouver Island neighbourhood, we have one fortnightly garbage pickup and we don’t always have a full can for them. We also have a fortnightly recycling pickup for which we usually have a full blue box, and a weekly compost pickup which we use if our backyard composter is full or it’s too miserable outside to use.

Pretty much everyone recycles jars, paper, aluminum cans, cardboard, plastic, and nearly everything that isn’t compostable or used to end up in landfills. Most people diligently make a weekly trip to a recycling depot to return bottles and other containers for the deposit, and it’s not entirely for the money; our depot has a box where one can contribute their deposit refund to a local food bank, and at least half the people seem to leave their refund money there. This all seems second nature to us now, but in my childhood, those kinds of behaviours were unheard of.

It’s not just in our manner of dealing with waste that our standards have evolved.

We don’t burn leaves in our backyard as we did in years past; we actively seek out ways to reduce the amount of energy we use; we don’t litter; we reuse wherever possible and reduce our use of non-recyclables like plastics; we insulate our homes more efficiently. Smoking isn’t permitted in buses, bars, restaurants, offices, or any enclosed public space – I can remember flying across the Atlantic on a plane in which virtually every adult lit up as soon as the seatbelt/no smoking lights shut off. Today, you’d be arrested and charged with air piracy for doing that. In all of these ways, the world is much better than it used to be and getting better still every day.

Nevertheless, we are losing the fight against the climate change that we have caused because we still just don’t get it. 

I go into my little boy’s playroom and I can’t help but note that half the toys he has in there need batteries; cars, trains, his Buzz Lightyear language computer, talking Barney, even the clock on the wall. Certainly each of these things is vastly more energy efficient than comparable toys were when I was his age, but in aggregate, they use much more battery power than all of my toys did. But that’s only the beginning. I bought a pack of “AA” batteries today and was once again struck by how much packaging was necessary to enclose a few items, each smaller than my little finger; paper labels and cardboard packaging that come from trees that no longer live to scrub our atmosphere, and stiff plastic packaging that will still be somewhere, entirely unchanged when my son’s great grandchildren’ grandchildren visit him on his 200th birthday.

I was in a Boeing 777 recently and I was aware as we gained altitude that the plane I was in burned more fossil fuel and belched out more ozone-destroying emissions on takeoff than do both of my cars in an entire year. That’s right…this environmentally conscious commentator owns two cars. To be sure, both are far more fuel efficient than any family car my father had when I was a child – one is a Smart Car that runs on diesel and gets about 75 miles to the gallon – but, still, that’s two cars along with all the various fluids and replacement parts needed to maintain them. My father’s father never had a car; he travelled primarily by electric streetcar in Quebec City until he died in the 1980s. Certainly I use the more efficient fluorescent coils rather than bulbs, but I probably have ten times as many light sources in my house as my grandparents did, even when electricity replaced their kerosene lamps. Fridge, stove, freezer, two microwaves, smoke detectors, dishwasher, five light sources, and a radio all draw power in only one room of the house; some of those draw power twenty four hours a day. That’s not even mentioning the heat pump, water heater, WiFi, and night lights that perpetually draw small amounts of electricity from the grid and contribute to light and heat pollution.

And I am firmly on the conservationist side of the bell curve.

Clearly, worrying about it and doing the politically correct things – separating recyclables, going on a family bike ride in place of a Sunday drive, turning the thermostat down at night, choosing low-wattage Christmas lights – isn’t enough. The problems caused by our human footprint on Planet Earth are getting worse and they’re getting worse at an increasing rate. So where do we go from here?

Obviously we have to step up our efforts to minimise our energy consumption. Nevertheless our energy requirements will continue to grow; no matter how assiduously we try to reduce the amount of energy we use daily, the demand will continue to increase with technological advances and population growth. And this is happening at the same time as we are beginning to see the end of the oil supply coming at us with increasing velocity.

So while, as Pogo so clearly saw it, the enemy is most certainly us, there are other villains at whom we need to keep a vigilant eye squinted. The enemy is us, because we just cannot seem to wean ourselves off dependence on fossil fuels. But lurking behind our addiction is the greatest enabler of them all…our suppliers. Like all suppliers of powerfully addictive substances, oil companies have a vested interest in ensuring that we remain reliant on their product as long as they have some to sell. And bewilderingly, despite the fact that these same companies are more profitable now than they have ever been, the right wing insists on providing them with billions and billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies each year. They scoff at any attempt to address environmental issues and regard any investment in alternative energy sources to be an indulgent waste of money.

What is absolutely, unquestionably, crystal clear is that we will run out of oil. If our civilisation is to survive we must have alternative sources of clean, renewable energy; our society will collapse when the oil runs out if there is nothing to replace it, and the earth will undergo catastrophic climate disruptions if we were to continue to use a fuel as damaging to the planet as fossil fuels.

This first in a series of pieces on environmental issues will leave the topic for now with just one recommendation. Since our oil companies are as addicted to public largesse as we are to its oil, it is unlikely that the enormous grants and subsidies will end any time soon. With that in mind, what ought to happen is that those subsidies need to come with a very simple string attached: 50% of the corporate welfare must be dedicated to R & D of alternative energy sources. The oil companies could even keep all patents and profits from the results of such research and development. How could big oil object? They would create a new revenue stream to replace the old obsolescent one; they would ensure their own survival for the ages.

An alternative, and frankly one I would prefer, would be to take those same billions of dollars and fund individuals and small research groups and companies engaged in alternative energy development. With that kind of funding and the native ingenuity of the human race in the face of a crisis, I have no doubt that the race might survive. Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

More soon.

…enditem…

Class Warfare

 

The Farmer-Labor Train
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

From the high Canadian Rockies to the land of Mexico,
 City and the country, wherever you may go,
 Through the wild and windy weather, the sun and sleet and rain,
 Comes a-whistlin' through the country this Farmer-Labor train.
Listen to the jingle and the rumble and the roar,
 She's rollin' through New England to the West Pacific shore.
 It's a long time we've been waitin', now she's been whistlin' 'round the bend,
 Roll on into Congress on that Farmer-Labor train.
There's lumberjacks and teamsters and sailors from the sea,
 There's farmin' boys from Texas and the hills of Tennessee,
 There's miners from Kentucky, there's fishermen from Maine;
 Every worker in the country rides that Farmer-Labor train.
There's warehouse boys and truckers and guys that skin the cats,
 Men that run the steel mills, the furnace and the blast,
 Through the smoky factory cities, o'er the hot and dusty plains,
 And the cushions they are crowded, on this Farmer-Labor train.
Listen to the jingle and the rumble and the roar,
 She's rollin' through New England to the West Pacific shore.
 It's a long time we've been waitin', now she's been whistlin' 'round the bend,
 Ride on on into Congress on that Farmer-Labor train.
There's folks of every color and they're ridin' side by side
 Through the swamps of Louisiana and across the Great Divide,
 From the wheat fields and the orchards and the lowing cattle range,

 And they're rolling onto victory on this Farmer-Labor train.
This train pulled into Washington a bright and happy day,
 When she steamed into the station you could hear the people say:
 "There's that Farmer-Labor Special, she's full of union men
 Headin' onto White House on the Farmer-Labor train."

Union busting

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA

 It’s disturbing to see the growing tendency of big business and well-off individuals to vilify unions. The rhetorical denigration of trade unions is accompanied by a concerted effort to prevent their inception and even to undermine and destroy

Woody Guthrie

existing ones. Given the growing disparity between the rich and poor in North America and the political impetus on the part of the right wing to increase that gulf, the attempts to subvert collective bargaining rights are deeply worrying. There has been a deliberate and gradual movement away from societal support for organised labour; big business’s constant vilification and repeated empty accusations that union demands are responsible for the financial crisis have resulted in a Dickensian  hostility to any attempts to protect the worker from exploitation.

The truth is that businesses have never been more profitable than they are now, never been subject to lower taxes, and their upper management has never been better compensated, with their incomes having increased at a pace ten times that of labour. Twenty years ago, an American corporate CEO took home forty times the salary of his average employee; today that same CEO takes home four hundred times the salary of the average worker in his company. Nevertheless, unreasonable union demands are frequently cited as the cause of the current economic situation. That current economic situation, despite unprecedented corporate profitability and billions of dollars in government subsidies to the most profitable corporations on the planet, is described as anti-business – with a straight face. Big oil companies, which are not just the most profitable corporations on earth, but are the most profitable corporations in human history, enjoy billions of dollars in grants and subsidies while their obscenely wealthy CEOs accuse their out of work customers as “takers” and “parasites” if they stoop to accepting emergency unemployment insurance.

Businesses are frantically trying to find ways of outsourcing jobs to avoid paying local workers on the one hand while referring to themselves as “the job creators” on the other hand. Anyone with even a smattering of understanding of economics or even a bit of common sense knows that the most powerful driver of any economy is a middle class with more money to spend; nevertheless the top 1% demand more and more concessions, for which the burden of payment must be borne by the middle class.

The wealthy rail against any suggestion that they pay any more in taxes, even rejecting the notion that they pay taxes at the

Taxes? We don’t need no stinkin’ taxes!

same rates that were in effect during the periods when their country was at its economic peak; meanwhile they demand cuts to the benefits that save the lives of poor and middle class citizens who pay higher marginal tax rates than they do. They demand more for themselves and they demand that the rest of us get less, and they refer to any attempts to redress this absurdity as “class warfare”. In that, for once they are right; this is a war of the rich against the poor – one that they are waging and have been winning.

While all this is going on, a growing number of business owners and CEOs have apparently decided that their authority over workers extends to controlling their vote. Plant workers and blue collar employees of several corporations across the US have given the media copies of memos they have received from their bosses telling them that it would be in their best interests to vote Republican; this is backed up by threats of layoffs or pay and benefit cuts if a Democrat is elected.

In the wake of the Obama re-election, Papa John’s Pizza and Denny’s Restaurants have publicly announced that they will be laying off employees and charging “an Obamacare surcharge” on their products and recommend that if their customers are not happy with the five percent increase in price, they ought to take it out of any gratuity they might have intended to give to the servers. Now that’s class warfare.

The six members of the Walton family, the inheritors of the WalMart stores, are collectively worth more than the bottom 30% of US families combined; they have a net worth greater than  that of most countries on Earth.

Skiing Walton Mountain

Nevertheless, there isn’t a corporation that is more fervently anti-union anywhere, having shut down stores and bankrupted entire towns upon the rumour of a union being discussed during coffee breaks. A full time WalMart employee with five years seniority with a family to support can still be below the poverty line; but this is rare, because it is a WalMart policy only to hire part-time employees in order to avoid minimum wage regulations which in many jurisdictions only apply to full time employees. Hours are being cut, benefits are non-existent, and wages have actually gone down while employees are being asked to give up more and more in a call for austerity in tough times; meanwhile executive wages and bonuses increase every year.

People tend to forget that the annual vacations and weekends and eight hour workdays that everyone takes for granted wouldn’t exist as part of our labour landscape without unions. It was the right to bargain collectively that allowed those whose product for sale is their labour to charge a reasonable price. It was the exercise of that right that created the middle class; without the labour movement we would still have a society comprised of those who own the means of production and those who labour to maintain the ruling class’s wealth. And that is precisely why the right wing and big business and Republicans loath unions with such profound bitterness.

The anti-union activists in business and industry bemoan the existence of a middle class; the good old days they pine for are the days of pre-industrial Europe where there was the elite (as they see themselves) and the working class (that would be us). They claim to want to return to a mythical 1950’s Camelot, but their efforts are to restore a two class society not of the last century but of the 17 and 1800s that actually did exist. It was period of desperate poverty, ill health, and squalor; child labour and 14 hour workdays were the order of the day.

As WalMart employees strike this week, those of us who believe in a person’s right to stand with his coworkers and bargain for a fair price for the labour they sell will stand in solidarity with them. Some of us recognise that it was the emergence of a middle class that made western society the powerful proponent of human dignity and level playing field that it was and could be again. We recognise that the union busting that has been all too common in recent years is a tremendously retrogressive move and if supported, even tolerated, by society as a whole can undermine the very foundations of our economy.

It is time that we started to recognise that the rhetoric of the right in which people are divided into “makers” and “takers” has it backwards; the makers are those who actually do things; the takers are those who live in sybaritic luxury and milk those who actually labour until there is nothing left.

 

… enditem…

 

Woodstock: A moment in time

One brief shining moment

Patrick Guntensperger

 

VANCOUVER ISLAND CANADA – People of my generation can’t help but experience mixed emotions as they survey today’s political landscape.  For those of us who look back on the 1960s with pride and affection, the predominant emotion is perhaps dismay. We who were part of history’s most important “youth generation” since the possibly apocryphal Children’s Crusade of 1212, have to feel a sense of loss, even betrayal at the current political zeitgeist. The second decade of the 21st Century sees that vanguard of democracy, the United States of America, consumed with internal struggles over such issues as equal pay for equal work, marriage equality, legal abortion, a new form of segregation, and yes, even the legality of contraception. The most liberal policies proposed or advocated by the Democrats, the more liberal of the two major parties are so conservative that Dwight Eisenhower would have been reluctant to get behind them. Even the word “liberal” has become a pejorative term.

 There was a time not so long ago when being a liberal was a good thing, when politicians elbowed their way to get farther to the left than the next guy, when conservatism was suspicious. That was a time that saw Edward Kennedy grow from a firebrand to a revered elder statesman. That was a time during which Roe V Wade was decided, when Pierre Trudeau was

and it’s one, two, three, what’re we fightin’ for?

Canada’s hippest ever PM, and the Rolling Stones did their very best work. That halcyon world can be traced back to one long summer weekend in 1969, when the world was riveted by the counterculture, when the outcasts and the iconoclasts, the far left, the hippies, the yippies, the freedom fighters, the rock ‘n roll generation, the flower children all got together and by celebrating their own culture, became the standard by which everyone was judged for a decade. That weekend is known in our collective consciousness as Woodstock.

‘scuse me while I kiss the sky

Until Woodstock the counterculture – indeed the entire under-thirty generation – was looked upon with suspicion and hostility by pretty much anyone who didn’t wear beads. The establishment saw the anti-war, peace and love movement as a joke, and hippies, the catchall term for anyone more bohemian than your schoolteacher, were the punch line. After a half million of us got together for a weekend of fun and music, and pulled off the world’s greatest and now iconic rock concert without a single arrest, no violence, and having earned the grudging respect of the small town residents of upstate New York, the coolest generation ever was given the highest form of praise there is…everyone became a citizen of Woodstock Nation. Just as everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, in the warm afterglow of Woodstock, middle class suburban housewives were wearing peasant dresses and sandals, their husbands grew their hair and eschewed ties for turtlenecks and their Oxfords were replaced by elastic-sided suede boots. Being a hippie was okay.

Don’t touch my bags, if you please…

 But the acceptance of the hippie consciousness really was absorption; it took decades until we arrived in the day of the neocon, but as sure as global warming, the counterculture became mainstream and gradually morphed into an Ayn Rand version of social paradise. In this century we are looking at a right wing reality that would have been envied by Weimar Republic;

oh lord, won’t you buy me…

where Karl Marx is considered to be a satanic monster rather than an economic historian with alternative ideas for the distribution of wealth; where women once more are being told what to do with their bodies by religious fanatics; where the US is fighting the longest war in its history with scarcely a word of protest; where being called a liberal is worse than being called a child molester or used car salesman.

 Woodstock will never – can never – happen again. Too bad. We need it now more than ever.

 But just as a public service I offer what follows. Look it over; if it brings a lump to your throat, I bet I can guess when you were born within fifteen years.

Woodstock 1969  Set list

I based this on the research of memories and records; there is no definitive list as the result of the chaotic conditions, cancellations, last minute additions, and epic ingestion of hallucinogens by everyone involved. Pete Townsend warned other performers not to drink from anything but sealed bottles, as everything was spiked and he had been dosed with some “pretty dodgy acid”; he spent much of his performance and the hours afterwards tripping.

Day 1              August 15, 1969

1. Swami Satchidananda

2. Richie Havens

The Minstrel from Gault

From the Prison

Get Together

From the Prison (Reprise)

I’m a Stranger Here

High Flying Bird

I Can’t Make It Anymore

With a Little Help from My Friends

Handsome Johnny

Strawberry Fields Forever / Hey Jude

Freedom (Motherless Child)

 

3. Country Joe McDonald

Janis

Rockin’ All Around The World

Flyin’ High All Over The World

Seen A Rocket

Fish Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixing-To-Die-Rag

 

4. John B. Sebastian

How Have You Been

Rainbows All Over Your Blues

I Had A Dream

Darlin’ Be Home Soon

Younger Generation

 

5. Sweetwater

Motherless Child

Look Out (???)

For Pete’s Sake

Day Song

What’s Wrong

My Crystal Spider

Two Worlds (???)

Band Introduction

Why Oh Why

 

6. Incredible String Band

Invocation

The Letter

This Moment

When You Find Out Who You Are

 

7. Bert Sommer

Jennifer

The Road To Travel

I Wondered Where You Be

She’s Gone

Things Are Going My Way

And When It’s Over

Jeanette

America

A Note That Read

Smile

 

8. Tim Hardin

(How Can We) Hang on to a Dream

Susan

If I Were a Carpenter

Reason to Believe

You Upset the Grace of Living When You Lie

Speak Like a Child

Snow White Lady

Blues on My Ceiling

Simple Song of Freedom

Misty Roses

 

9. Ravi Shankar

Raga Puriya-Dhanashri/Gat In Sawarital

Tabla Solo In Jhaptal

Raga Manj Kmahaj

lap Jor

Dhun In Kaharwa Tal

 

10. Melanie

Close to It All

Momma Momma

Beautiful People

Animal Crackers

Mr. Tambourine Man

Tuning My Guitar

Birthday of the Sun

 

11. Arlo Guthrie

Coming into Los Angeles

Wheel of Fortune

Walking Down the Line

Arlo Speech: Exodus

Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep

Every Hand in the Land

Amazing Grace

 

12. Joan Baez

Oh Happy Day

The Last Thing On My Mind

I Shall Be Released

Joe Hill

Sweet Sir Galahad

Hickory Wind

Drug Store Truck Driving Man

I Live One Day At A Time

Sweet Sunny South

Warm and Tender Love

Swing Low Sweet Chariot

We Shall Overcome

DAY TWO – August 16, 1969

1. Quill

Driftin’

They Live the Life

BBY

Waitin’ For You

Jam

 

2. Keef Hartley Band

Spanish Fly

Believe In You

Rock Me Baby

Medley: Leavin’ Trunk, Halfbreed, Just To Cry, Sinnin’ For You

3. Santana

Waiting

Evil Ways

You Just Don’t Care

Savior

Jingo

Persuasion

Soul Sacrifice

Fried Neckbones

 

4. Canned Heat

I’m Her Man

Going Up the Country

A Change Is Gonna Come

Leaving This Town

The Bear Talks

Let’s Work Together

Too Many Drivers at the Wheel

I Know My Baby

Woodstock Boogie

On the Road Again

 

5. Grateful Dead

St. Stephen

Mama Tried

Dark Star

High Time

Turn On Your Lovelight

 

6. Mountain

Blood Of The Sun

Stormy Monday

Long Red

Who Am I But You And The Sun

Beside The Sea

For Yasgur’s Farm (then untitled)

You And Me

Theme From An Imaginary Western

Waiting To Take You Away

Dreams Of Milk And Honey

Blind Man

Blue Suede Shoes

Southbound Train

 

7. Creedence Clearwater Revival

Born On The Bayou

Green River

Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do)

Commotion

Bootleg

Bad Moon Rising

Proud Mary

I Put A Spell On You

Night Time Is The Right Time

Keep On Choogin’

Suzy Q

 

8. Sly & The Family Stone

M’Lady

Sing A Simple Song

You Can Make It If You Try

Everyday People

Dance To The Music

Music Lover

I Want To Take You Higher

Love City

Stand!

 

9. Janis Joplin

Raise Your Hand

As Good As You’ve Been To This World

To Love Somebody

Summertime

Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)

Kosmic Blues

Can’t Turn You Loose

Work Me Lord

Piece Of My Heart

Ball and Chain

 

10. The Who

Heaven And Hell

I Can’t Explain

It’s A Boy

1921

Amazing Journey

Sparks

Eyesight To The Blind

Christmas

Acid Queen

Pinball Wizard

(Abbie Hoffmann Incident) In which a tripping Abby grabbed the mic at centre stage and started a paranoid, incoherent rant. Different people have different  details, but the consensus is that the incident ended when Pete Townsend used the stock of his guitar to encourage Abby off the stage. Apparently he didn’t break the instrument  as he performed the rest of the set using it  occasionally). Abby was fine, if incoherent for hours. But that was fairly standard for Abby Hoffman on acid.

Do You Think It’s Alright?

Fiddle About

There’s A Doctor I’ve Found

Go To The Mirror Boy

Smash The Mirror

I’m Free

Tommy’s Holiday Camp

We’re Not Gonna Take It

See Me Feel Me

Summertime Blues

Shakin’ All Over

My Generation

Naked Eye

 

DAY THREE – August 17, 1969

1. Jefferson Airplane

The Other Side of This Life

Plastic Fantastic Lover

Volunteers

Won’t You Try / Saturday Afternoon

Eskimo Blue Day

Uncle Sam’s Blues

Somebody To Love

White Rabbit

3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds

 

2. Joe Cocker

Delta Lady

Some Things Goin’ On

Let’s Go Get Stoned

I Shall Be Released

With A Little Help From My Friends

 

3. Country Joe & The Fish

Barry’s Caviar Dream

Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine

Rock And Soul Music

Thing Called Love

Love Machine

Fish Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixing-To-Die-Rag

 

4. Ten Years After

Good Morning Little Schoolgirl

I Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes

I May Be Wrong, But I Won’t Be Wrong Always

Hear Me Calling

I’m Going Home

5. The Band

Chest Fever

Baby Don’t Do It

Tears Of Rage

We Can Talk

Long Black Veil

Don’t You Tell Henry

Ain’t No More Cane

Wheels On Fire

Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever

The Weight

 (After midnight – Monday Morning) – August 18, 1969

6. Blood Sweat And Tears

More And More

I Love You Baby More Than You Ever Know

Spinning Wheel

I Stand Accused

Something Coming On

God Bless The Child (Order ?)

7. Johnny Winter

Mama, Talk To Your Daughter

To Tell The Truth

Johnny B Goode

Six Feet In The Ground

Leland Mississippi Blues/Rock Me Baby

Mean Mistreater

I Can’t Stand It (With Edgar Winter)

Tobacco Road (With Edgar Winter)

Mean Town Blues

 

8. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

(Set One – Acoustic)

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

Blackbird

Helplessly Hoping

Guinnevere

Marrakesh Express

4 + 20

Mr Soul

Wonderin’

You Don’t Have To Cry

 

(Set Two – Electric)

Pre-road Downs

Long Time Gone

Bluebird

Sea Of Madness

Wooden Ships (Encore – Acoustic)

Find The Cost Of Freedom

49 bye-byes

 

9. Paul Butterfield Blues Band

Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

Driftin’

Born Under A Bad Sign

All My Love Comin’ Through To You

Love March

 

10. Sha-Na-Na

Na Na Theme

Jakety Jak

Teen Angel

Jailhouse Rock

Wipe Out

Who Wrote The Book Of Love

Duke Of Earl

At The Hop

Na Na Theme

 

11. Jimi Hendrix (The Gypsy Sun & Rainbows Band)

Message To Love

Hear My Train A Comin’

Spanish Castle Magic

Red House

Master Mind

Here Comes Your Lover Man

Foxy Lady

Beginning

Izabella

Gypsy Woman

Fire

Voodoo Child (slight return)/Stepping Stone

Star Spangled Banner

Purple Haze

Woodstock Improvisation/Villanova Junction

Hey Joe

Hendrix insisted on being the final performer and was scheduled to perform Sunday at midnight. He didn’t take the stage until 9 A.M. on Monday morning and played for 2 hours to a dwindling audience.     

 

Cancelled Acts

Jeff Beck Group (The band broke up in July, forcing cancellation)

Iron Butterfly (Stuck at the airport, their manager demanded helicopters and special arrangements just for them. Were wired back and told, as impolitely as Western Union would allow, “to get lost”, but in other ‘words’.)

Joni Mitchell (Joni’s agent put her on “The Dick Cavett Show” instead)

Lighthouse (Feared that it would be a “bad scene”.)

Ethan Brown (Arrested for LSD three days before the event.)

Gimme an “F”!!!!!

 

Peace

 

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