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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Amnesty USA - Make Some Noise!

I am fortunate to be attending the Amnesty International USA annual meeting in Portland, Oregon this coming weekend. It will be a chance to get together with hundreds of American human rights activists - to learn, to celebrate and as with most activists... to get active. In addition to what you might expect at an AGM, there will be a demonstration against torture and a Make Some Noise concert for Darfur (with Incubus, Suzanne Vega, Collective Soul, The Nightwatchman (Tom Morelo) and more. I'll post a report - and if any of you will be there - let's find each other...

A major review of the death penalty around the world was recently released by Amnesty. The US is still up there with the likes of China, Iran and Saudi Arabia - these four countries account for 94% of executions worldwide. Government sponsored punitive killing is unjust and ineffective; is a cruel and unusual form of retribution and evidence has shown it doesn't have a substantial deterrent effect. Oh yeah, 121 death row inmates in the United States have been found innocent since 1973. The Supreme Court did determine that executing juvenile offenders was unconstitutional, ending the status of being the world leaders in that department. It's a step...

"Oh well, it makes us feel better!" I suppose that and religious or political justifications are at the core of capital punishment.

Ahhh... poetry and sanity - good combination

Some of you know that my 18 year old son Ryan writes poetry (and is a musician). I may be biased, but I love his work. Here's one that you might enjoy too. As with all poetry, it is best if read out loud...

W is My Only Weapon

The words don’t come
From the display shelf
I have to dig around
To the bottoms of bins
Just to produce a single
And 9 times out of 10
That letter is W
Which I have trouble
Putting to use
When under pressure by
Pretty-boy paedophiles
Who think their price-tag shirt and shoes
Sum up the worth of their
Deep asleep souls ignored
In the depths of a binge to the bottom of their bottle
And the bling bling material songs that they sing
All the while putting up walls
All around themselves and their things
So no one can reach in
With their hands or eyes
Because our doors are locked
And who knows what might happen
If we could actually see in
Even just a little bit
And to be blunt
I don’t give a shit if I appear irrational
So when you walk past me
I’ll throw handfuls of
Into your eyes
Until you realize
They’re just words after all…
And all I really want is to see you stumble and catch yourself
Turned away from where you were going
With a brand new question in your mind
And your previously hidden wings
Spread wide
So when you turn back again
All you have to do is decide
The right time
To plant yourself
To leap away and fly

- by Ryan

Monday, April 24, 2006

Vatican 'may relax condom rules'

Don't be alarmed by the headline above...it's not that the Pope is going to begin handing out condoms to priests and nuns (story here). They are, however, considering relaxing the ban on the use of condoms for people gravely ill - for example, for a married couple where one partner lives with HIV/AIDS. The compassionate Cardinals feel that using a condom will be a 'lesser sin'. How understanding.

Okay, tell me why this is progress over the Middle Ages (or Dark Ages)? True believing Catholics are not supposed to use birth control and, of course, unmarried Catholics don't have sex. So, what about this rampant wave of death and misery in the Catholic world's major recruiting ground, Africa? The Catholic Church has reinforced ignorance and denial of the problem and supported the spread of the virus through its anti-condom policy.

Who is thinking about the 80 to 90 million Africans who will die from AIDS by 2025? Who is thinking prevention? Who is thinking compassion and spending the dough that would save millions of people? (By the way, I know not all Catholics support all of the Vatican's interpretations and rules and that there are more subtle understandings available - but I do wonder why there isn't more of a groundswell from within the church - to either revolt against the boys club or to start a new branch of the church...)

It's popular in the US now to ask WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?). Many assume they know the answer and wear their WWJD with pride. Of course, Jesus would invade Iraq, bomb the hell out of Iran, tax the poor to feed the super rich, avoid universal health care and travel from school to school getting young people to sign virginity pledges. Apparently, to some, he would also write arcane laws that delve into the bedrooms of humans around the world...and one whole subsection would be on condoms. Busy man, that Jesus.

Okay, it's Monday morning, so I'll post a nice positive photo to go with my rant. That's a picture of Nelson, BC, where I live.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Haiku - to lift the spirits in a sometimes daunting time...

I love haiku, the Japanese form of poetry that is usually 3 lines - of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, then 5 again. It is also usually non-rhyming and somehow is the perfect forumula for magic in 17 syllables.

There are serious scholars of haiku, but don't let that stop you from dropping some words on this site - HAIKU R US!

Here are two samples:

First autumn morning
the mirror I stare into
shows my father's face

- Kijo Murakami (1865-1938)

Elder dog on bed
eyes fade nose dry tail yet swings
breath comes and will go

- me (2006)

Now you.....

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Chernobyl death toll will be much higher, Greenpeace says

There are about 450 nuclear power plants in the world, supplying about 17% of the world's power. Lots more are under development. Don't panic, but become informed ... and worried.

See this story to be very alarmed about there being even the slightest chance of another accident like the Chernobyl disaster (and there certainly is the chance of it). There are already an estimated 200,000 dead as a result of the meltdown (and 93,000 more now predicted). Millions more were affected.

If you want any more convincing about why we need to move away from nuclear, see this paper by David Suzuki.

On a cheerier note (but related to our huge energy consumption), when there were major power outages in both New York and Los Angeles in the past - people were amazed to see the stars at night. Apparently some even phoned the authorities asking about certain bright stars that they believed had to be new.

It might be interesting to have to spend a few days without cars, electricity, television etc. (in summer of course).


Monday, April 17, 2006

John Irving's Latest - UNTIL I FIND YOU

I know some of my regular blogging friends are John Irving fans, so thought I'd put a blurb in about his latest novel, Until I Find You (since I finally read it).

It's a big book, coming in at 824 pages and with a small typeface. It's also so heavy that I had to adjust my position a lot while reading in bed - the best position being lying on my back with the book propped on my chest and my glasses propped on the end of my nose. I prefer a sideways read, but my arm was becoming as numb as Elizabeth Green's (see Out of the Blue). The bathtub was out of the question.

As I read along, I was undecided about whether this was Irving's best novel - his masterpiece, or the weakest he's written. At the end, I am inclined to the first judgement. The ending brought me to tears (and it wasn't just the weight off my chest).

It's the life story of Jack Burns and the narration wanders around the planet to places many of you are familiar with - Amsterdam, Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Toronto, New York, Maine (of course) Los Angeles and so on.

About page 500 or so I began to wonder why John has included penises and vaginas so frequently in the book. Not that I mind these things particularly (they have their place one could say), but what's going on? It also includes the worlds of tattoos, wrestling, classical organ music (not the penis and vagina organs in this case), acting, porn stars, plot twists and turns, fantastic characters and for you diehard Irving fans... yes there are novels within this novel (and movies of the novels within the novel). At its heart, there is a mystery which I will not ruin for you.

If you like John Irving, you have to read it. If you're thinking of exploring him, I might suggest Ciderhouse Rules or A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Libya concert marks US bomb raids

Here's a story about a concert in Libya commemorating the US bombing 20 years ago (which killed about 40 people, including Gaddafi's daughter Hanna). Lionel Ritchie performed for heaven's sake - detente or what!

I was living in neighboring Sudan during that time and it heated up once it was learned that the Sudanese Embassy had also been bombed. The US said it was a mistake (good old collateral damage), but the people of Khartoum hit the streets and there was a little shooting.

In order to consider my own safety (and many others I worked with) I decided to seek advice from both a CIA agent at the US embassy and the British Ambassador. You'll love the two replies:

CIA Agent - "Wellll Gary, I'd say you and anyone from the US, Canada or Europe should get the hell out of this country as soon as you can. If you want to know about some routes being developed, I can give you coordinates for data." (That's CIA talk for setting up a clandestine meeting).

British Ambassador - "It's the Queen's 60th birthday this Saturday and our chaps are going ahead with the party. You're more than welcome to join us. I'm sure this fuss will all settle down in a week or so. Carry on with your good work sir!"

I stayed... we even toasted the secret CIA buses (with illicit Ethiopian gin), as they drove by our house in the middle of the night - to put US citizens and others on secret planes.

And yes, the do the Brits put on was fabulous.

God save the queeen!

Graffiti of the week

Julian Beever is a UK chalk artist, famous for giving his drawings a 3D look - what do you think?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Northern BC again

This week I'm working in places called Prince Rupert, Terrace and Kitimat. These are small towns that are much closer to Alaska than they are to most of BC. It's a very mystical feeling place - with rainforests, wide river valleys between snow covered peaks and ancient rivers winding down to misty ocean inlets. About 25% of the people are First Nations and their presence is strong. There are beautiful longhouse buildings, old and new totem poles, imagry of bear, salmon, eagle and raven everywhere. I wish I was a tourist rather than working.
Here is an interesting site if you'd like to learn about the Tsimshian people.
It seems far away from the rats ass of world events yet I do hear the war drums around Iran on the nightly news. I'm disheartened by men and their beliefs (and I don't mean humankind...I mean men). Whether religious, nationalistic, tribal or the modern versions of consumerism and conservatisim...these beliefs are walls between humans and feed the inclination to make the other less-than-human, to demonize a group, to live in fear, to think that fighting is the only way forward.
Ahhh, I'm going to take a walk and watch some eagles.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Gentlemens Cruise A Palooza 2007

If that's me mixing martinis in the galley - hey, it must be 4:30ish!

Our vessel in a favourite one-boat bay on Kootenay Lake, British Columbia

Every summer for 9 years now, I've gone out on Kootenay Lake for 3 or 4 days with a group of men (10 of us usually). We rent these fantastic vessels from Kaslo Shipyards and head off with no plan and no worries.

What we do have is a lot of food, frothy beverages, herbal remedies (for those with special needs) and we do things like hike, fish, swim, yoga (well, not me), play cards, read, gaze at the stars, sing (sort of) around the fire and ... some of us do a lot of nothing too. This August will be the 10th cruise.

Ask me about the time we got stuck on the bottom during a storm or the time we sailed all night into huge waves to avoid being driven to shore. Ask about the exploding lasagna and the only woman we've ever permitted on board (not that many ask). But don't copy the Kaslo Shipyard Admiralty on your emails please....

You get what you vote for... Harper on the move

Two Amigos Looking Like World Leaders (lost the vest Stevie...)

When Canadian voters held their noses and sent the scandal-ridden Liberals to their rooms for a time-out, they may or may not have really wanted to give the Conservatives (also known as Harper's Bizarre) a free hand.

Here are a few of the goodies quietly released in Halifax, of all places (I love Halifax, but it's a great place to not get attention).

1. Missile defense: didn't we say 'non, merci' to King Bush and his court? An expensive, weapon-escalating, unproven system in (or near) outer space is not wanted by most Canadians. We certainly don't want to join the fun ... and are ready to ride the rough seas that might result from not playing with our friends. But Harper says it's time to re-think it and maybe we will sign on after all.

Kyoto Accord: he's scrapped the Canadian emission targets, closed down the One Ton Challenge and is more or less making the petro-chemical and manufacturing industry happy as a fossil-fuel-wet-dream (can a wet dream be happy... you know what I mean).

3. Same sex marriage - legal across the land... and equal too. He will wait a while, then put the question back to Parliament and see if they'd like to define marriage as between a man and a woman. I suspect he'd just as soon let this go, but many of his supporters love the Christian right stuff (probably love to put on garter belts and make-up too... the guys I mean).

4. I like things in groups of 3, but this one is important too. First Nations people signed an accord with the last government in August. It would put a lot of money and effort into reducing some of the unbelievable conditions that many indigenous people in Canada live in. It would support housing, education, self government and a number of other areas. Harper says his government will honour the 'spirit' of the agreement, but not the agreement (or the money no doubt).

Okay, that's it for Canadian Politics 101 for our visitors. No one said it would be fun! As for you Canucks reading this - there should be an election within a couple of years. Maybe we can let the other guys out of their room ... or even give the NDP a chance at the steering wheel for a change. Meanwhile, it's time to be alert, to ask questions, to write letters and to speak out.

Now your turn bloggers!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Grafitti of the week (instead of a sign this time)

I like this one...

Amnesty Accuses US on Rendition of Prisoners

This is not really new news (story)- it's been known for some time that the US is routinely abducting people and flying them in unmarked jets to locations where they can be imprisoned and interrogated (with torture frequently used). No charges, no due process, no information to family or anyone else... and no admission of this practice.

Amnesty traced the movement of 4 of the 26 CIA unmarked planes. Many countries appear to be allowing the flights to use them as refuelling stops (including Canada and the UK).

This is an example of using the 'war on terror' to abuse human rights (that are legally established). It really bankrupts all the statements to other nations about 'freedom, democracy, fighting for what's right' and the rest of the self-interested and hypocritical rhetoric.


Blogger Buddies Meet for Coffee

I just got back from work in Toronto and Ottawa - a busy week.It was summer one day in Ottawa and winter the next - weird. (And of course, it's really spring.)

While in Toronto last week, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my blogger friends for coffee. Vee was nice enough to join me even though she was suffering from a bad cold.

To make it easier to visit for the first time, we simply took turns 'posting' an idea and waited to see if the other would then follow by posting a 'comment'. Okay, just kidding about that part...

In fact, it was very reassuring to learn that blogging friendship and communications can be just as pleasant in person. A young woman in the Second Cup kindly took a photo for us.

Thanks for coffee Vee! (Now I'm ready for Oslo, Amsterdam, Melbourne, St. Louis, Horsebite and more...)

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