Monday, April 30, 2007

bankin' it new school

Who else gets just a little annoyed when the Red Cross decides to pull out of an area where they are needed? Ever wonder how much of your charitable donations get to the relief effort you support but are not sure how to get financial disclosures? Maybe you're like me and in awe of Muhammad Yunus for getting the Nobel Peace prize for his micro-credit work. There is now a way to get involved directly and loan small amounts of money yourself directly to entrepreneurs in developing countries. Kiva.org is offering a way of loaning money at 0% interest through their own portal to whichever business you choose on their site.

Naturally I'm waxing poetic about how amazing this is and how desirable it is to easily get money to a real person in a developing country rather than throwing cash at a charity and checking the news regularly. It is far more satisfying this way, with a more personal involvement in the lives of the people you are affecting.

Microfinancing is not a new concept. In Germany Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen began a bank that reached 2 million rural farmers by 1901. Before that in feudal economies, often farmers would associate together to rent large equipment from the landowner and then took turns using it on their fields. Desjardins also began this way here in Quebec in 1897 (long before usury laws), when Alfonse Desjardins found an impoverished man to have been loaned 150$ and then sued for 5000$. Shorebank in Chicago was the first fully-incorporated bank to provide microfinancing.

There are naysayers at the moment. Many question whether or not this type of lending is taking away from other types of charity and studies are now being conducted to determine whether or not the poor in these programs are helped more than by more formal charities and government welfares.

My more cynical right-eye tells me that this is a simple way to keep poor people in poverty by expecting them to pay back loans to wealthy people who profit (indirectly) from their subsistence. It wonders at the oversight of this money and the protocols used for debt collection when the time comes. My left-eye sees people, the majority of them women, able to work together on their own development with the participation of other economies. It sees an activation of ideas, of implementation rather than the stoppage of welfare and food distribution.

Will any of the studies currently happening gauge the emotional effect this type of program has on the people who receive the help they need? Will it measure how empowered or not, how encouraged or not these people are? How will their spiritual status be measured in the study of a project's success?

There are tiny, simple everyday ways we can choose to help each other or not and this is one more. This is no time to fear big ideas, indeed it is only through innovation of all kinds that we will survive.

the little people

These tiny beings take the most out of us. They build us to Goliath heights, they encourage and expand our character. We become bridges and they almost immediately rip our scaffolding our from under us. Who are these tiny, empty, cheap people who are able to bring us so low?

It's instantaneous. We go from puddle to pedestal and back again and finally we are left where we came from in the first place; dazed, dumbstruck, that inevitable question: why not me?

We all get dusty mouths from the escape routes of these tiny genocides committed on ourselves. Always know that your friend or your photograph, your instrument and your homestead will restore you. And the little people? I say grind them into gritty mush and let them dry as grout between the greystones we use to rebuild ourselves.

There is a low point but rest assured, these tiny people are entirely unreal.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hail Eris

Why can't I ever buy in to the conspiracy theories out there? Not only because it inherently suggests that the people in charge of big companies and governments are competent, but it forgets one of my favourite forces: Entropy. People both powerful and powerless are perfectly capable of getting together and doing terrible things, but the time their plans last is always short (even if it feels like an eternity). Whatever plan, however perfectly laid out, however particularly thought over contains the seeds of it's own destruction. We saw that with the failed response to Katrina, a direct indication that Homeland security is a useless office without a mandate to have overtaken FEMA and other offices. Our most recent military anti-terror manual included First Nations protesters as a group to be watched and treated militarily in the same way that the Taliban is. The Globe and Mail reported it and now the manual has been rescinded and our sisters who have earned an answer or two and definitely some attention from the federal government don't appear in the manual anymore.

This is why I'm not too freaked out over John Baird. He's entertaining! The sheer girth of his incompetence cannot long be girdled by the conservative PR machine. He came out in public, bless him, to talk about lightbulbs. Not tax-havens for hybrid manufacturers and the job-creation that will encourage, not implementing tidal hydro production in the east and the north to boost the economies there while the fish stocks replenish themselves, no, his message to ordinary Canadians was on lightbulbs. This is our line in the sand, we won't take it from the massive incandescent lobby anymore!

Every plan carries the seeds of it's own destruction. The people involved in the Project for a New American Century have already begun to leave the white house in shame, no doubt to move on to other private nefariousness, but so what? Each time some backwards hypocritical right wing maniac gets a foothold anywhere, artists and local municipalities galvanize together as people who live and observe.

Eris will always, at the perfect moment, drop her golden apple in front of the avid, desperate greedheads. They will immediately see it for whatever they most desire and kill each other in a desperate attempt to get at it. We signed an agreement to monitor detainees in Afghanistan, without the knowledge of the PM! and now the cons are deep in damage control, trying to get ahead of the torture debate. Our arts budgets have been slashed as have our women's programs. This is the time for golden apple pies. Make in front of you the thing you want most. And if you're anything like me, you'll hit John Baird squarely in the face with it.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Send Me Off to Bed Forever More...

I remember hearing about the daylight savings time eco-plan at work and adjusting accordingly. I remember bitching about the fact that we are blindly following the US in the name of "business continuity". I remember as well working for an international office where we here in the east had to deal with people in the west, where a time-differential is constant and we worked it out.

I remember also explaining the plan to one of my close friends. We were on the phone and she asked what the whole purpose was of this sooner-than-later mentality. I explained that in america, the people in charge of the energy policy decided that people would use fewer lights if there was "more daylight". There was silence on the phone while I had time to consider the offices that are open late and always lit, the traffic lights, the 24-hour security systems, and the regular people who have to live and work in this constant state of inescapable energy use and then in the next moment, we laughed and laughed and laughed. This was the best that they could come up with in the american congress, and like good neighbors, we were letting them run with their plan.

It was made very clear at the time that if certain goals were not met, if certain benchmarks were not passed, they weren't going to do it next year. They meant business! The results are in, there has been no change in the energy consumption, although gas prices did rise substantially. Forcing the manufacturers of major appliances to market energy-saving devices was not on the list, nor was a substantial tax-cut for owners or lessors of hybrid cars (including companies who offer company cars as perks). I think it may have slipped past the executive branch that when the earth tilts away from the sun for a period of months, it gets colder and we use machines to create localized heat. We also have only certain amounts of light within the daylight hours period. In the winter it's between 9am and 4pm, changing that to 10am and 5pm makes only for an increase in lighting use in the dark morning hours and continual use at the same level of refrigerators, stoves, washers and dryers and dishwashers.

My only question, since this is the most anyone in power is willing to do about the climate crisis, is it official? Can I sleep in next March? I still haven't adjusted to the change this year, it fucked me up for months. I would argue it's a women's issue, the bureaucracy of two governments telling me what to do with my body, ie: get it out of bed an hour earlier so they won't have to truly go green.

I'd think of something clever to end with, but I'm too sleepy. Time for bed!

only in kentucky





I couldn't resist! Miss America 1944 shot the tires out from a trespasser on her farm. She had to balance on her walker to take aim and then flag down a passing motorist to call 911. It kind of says it all doesn't it? But does it say it about gun control, the state of Kentucky or Miss America? You decide.

not belleville, Belle Ville

One of the reasons I love living here so so very much is the choice. It's not insurmountable to choose between options of workplace, clothing and food if you are not satisfied with what there is immediately to offer. You don't have to drive forever to get somewhere else and the selection is amazing.

To that end, and because I've been such a downer lately, I feel it necessary to wax poetic about our local markets. There are four major ones in the city, (one desperately close to chez moi!) where you can buy local produce, flowers and meat. That's right, meat. If like me, you don't agree with agribusiness practices both humanistic and environmental, but you're not at all willing to go vegetarian, I strongly suggest the local market. It is this way that not only can you be sure that your money isn't going into some meat-marketing conglomerate that I swear is working with the fashion industry to convince us meat is sexy, but more importantly, you can meet the farmer.

Don't get me wrong, you're not going to run into a rancher that hustles his own cattle and butchers the meat himself. Most modern farms are replete with equipment, clean rooms and websites, but it's smaller and more accessible. Before it becomes meat, the live cattle can actually roam around, eat grains not necessarily made from other cattle or sheep, and enjoy the view of other cows, they can get clean. Cows are not my favourite creatures. They smell funny, they trigger my allergies and frankly are not cute. I still don't feel they need to be kept in concrete pens and piled on top of each other when they're killed just so I can have a hamburger. I really want that hamburger though, I love barbecuing and I make a kickass spring lamb stew.

I feel strongly about supporting local business and since Quebec pork is known as some of the best worldwide, where better to get it than here? There is an anti-protectionist streak in me that twinges a little when I discuss this, but I can drown it out with a smoked-meat sandwich. I like the fact that the meat I'm buying hasn't spent weeks getting here. I like the fact that I can ask how the meat is packaged and choose something else if I'm not happy unlike at the grocery store where it's all basically the same dyed-red meat wrapped in ugly plastic, graying at the edges.

It's spring in the city and Walmart is opening a traffic-inducing, labour-intensive, union-busting super-centre in Vaudreuil shortly, so I'm promotonizing as much as possible. Buy local, get out of the house and walk around the beautiful architecture, meet local florists and gardeners, get acquainted with the cheese and dairy merchants. All of these places have pre-made meals just like the grocery store, sans grubbies and those pesky human rights questions floating around.

I promise you, as someone who has sampled each, this meat tastes better, comes from a more pleasant shopping experience and won't cost you any gas to get.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Fathers of the Purse Strings

I just saw the televised memorial service at Virginia Tech. I can't imagine how much the students and other teachers and families need to turn now to their respective faiths and spiritualities. There were speakers from the Jewish, Buddhist and Christian communities to offer their own brand of condolences. What surprised me were the governors.

They were up there talking about the spiritual aftermath of the killings, as though they were spiritual leaders. Not just addressing the spiritual side of their constituents, but discussing the bible, the trials of Job, the meaning of the holy scriptures. I wonder at their willingness to do this in the face of past exercises. I wonder at how much importance they place on the tangibles of the people who remain.

Who honestly do they think they are, and why do they think we are all like them?

scoreboard

Presidential visits after National Emergencies:

NY: 1 following day
VA: 1 same day
NOLA: flyover,then 1 a week later.

Happy Anniversary

Today is the 25th Anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Schedule B, Part 1 of the Constitution Act of 1982. Our former PM, Jean Chretien was the Justice Minister at the time that Pierre Elliot Trudeau signed the act into law. Today he will speak at a conference at the university of Ottawa where the current PM, the current Justice Minister and the current Heritage Minister all refused the invitation to speak.

I spend lots of time ranting about how much the current government sucks and what we need to do to improve our overall quality of life, so today I thought in celebration I would take out some of my favourite excerpts from our most fundamental law. Please bear in mind upon reading this that most of these freedoms are not currently enforceable given the nature of our relationship with the US and the terror culture. Let us also not forget that First Nation peoples are totally exempt from any freedoms
relating to standard of living and self-preservation.

1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

This first one screams out at me. I love that they put this at the beginning. Before anyone gets started on reinterpreting anything, it is clearly stated that in restricting these freedoms, the onus is on the restrictor to prove reasonable limitation. It's not up to us to demonstrate rights have been denied, it's up to the deniers to prove that what they did is reasonable. Usually they can't.

Fundamental Freedoms (I love this too. The rest all come under headings, these ones are out there for anyone interested in anything)

2. Every citizen of Canada has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion (they put conscience FIRST I love you Pierre)
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression including freedom of the press and other media of communication
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association (that one's been a little strained in mosques and sugar-shacks everywhere these days)

Included in the Democratic Rights section is voting rights, the right to run with no mention made of monetary standing or media buys. There are also special terms set out to hold over the sitting parliament in a time of war in order to not force the public to vote during an election. No House of Commons or Legislative Assembly shall sit for more than five years otherwise. I know there's a reason Harper is trying to change this to four, but I can't put my finger on it.

Mobility Rights: in these are specifically how the mobility rights may be limited. For what reason? The rights specify that any citizen or permanent resident of Canada may move and seek the gaining of a livelihood in any province or territory. They may be limited by existing laws save for those who discriminate among persons primarily on the basis of province of present or previous residence. They also preclude affirmative action plans from being subject to this exception as they are in place to improve the conditions of socially and economically disadvantaged people in a low-employment province. Of course, this doesn't count if you are Acadian, or if you are an Indian living away from a reserve.

Legal Rights: to be honest I don't really like talking about this stuff after Maher Arar. It just doesn't sit well. Number 9. in the Charter itself reads that Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained. I don't know what we're supposed to do with the "loophole" inherent in permitting another country to deport a citizen attempting to come home. Also number 12. reads that Everyone has the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. Everyone. In both of these cases, we do not specify Canadians, we say everyone. So many refugees attempt to come here for mostly this reason. If you commit a crime we will punish you for it. But you will not be subjected to torture, that's for our allies and friends. According to what I've seen so far, we won't try to stop them.

The next rights outlined are those of equality, I can't mention those until the promises in the Kelowna Accord have been kept, as it makes me gag violently.

We then discuss official languages, thanks to Quebec for making our children smarter and our standard of living better by lobbying to elevate French to one of two official languages in Canada. By doing so we respect our cultural heritage and improve education, provoke learning and thoughtfulness. Who knew?

We've now hit up on Minority Language Educational Rights. Educational rights? Wait, doesn't that imply that we all have the right to an education? Hmm...

Enforcement Rights, more about search and seizure and whether or not evidence improperly obtained can be used.

General: the next two lay out areas of previous First Nations treaties that may not be broken by using the Charter. Don't worry, we found other ways to break them without impinging on our constitution.

Mulitcultural Heritage:

27. This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians. Kind of says it all doesn't it? Hijabs for everyone! Tiny flags for those who don't want them.

Rights Guaranteed to Both Sexes

28. I love this, we've got 15 already, Equality Under the Law, but since pay equity was still an issue in 1982, they brought it home with 27 just as a reminder that the rights in the Charter are guaranteed equally to women and men.

Legislative Powers Not Extended
31. Nothing in this Charter extends the legislative powers of any body or authority.

The rest are all exceptions including the famous Notwithstanding Clause that pretty much allows the government to do whatever they wish in the face of gross opposition or constitutional unlawfulness. It has been used infrequently and mostly causes drawn breath when threatened. It is still seen as a last resort of the hopeless to out themselves out of their constitutional obligations.

There it is. Where do we stand today 25 years later? Do we have a handle on this? Do we know what this is or who it is supposed to represent? Where do these laws apply when corporate theft on a massive scale affects the economy, literally the value of the currency in developing nations? What laws do we have in place to ensure a reasonable standard of living for every First Nations person? Every soldier? We just had a huge celebration of Vimy, the origin of the "shock and awe" tactic. And the mission in Afghanistan will extend. The RCMP acceded to a request by the DEA to arrest a Canadian citizen who had not broken laws under our criminal code. Harper caved on softwood, and water treaties in Nafta include provisions to continue selling to the US whether there is enough for us or not. I ask constantly who are we. I cannot help but demand better from what we have to give. We are not usually given to cheapness or ignorance, yet these last years have led us down a dangerous path towards willful ignorance and apathy.

Happy Anniversary, it's been 25 years. Shall we re-write or continue to learn?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Fries by the truckload

Of all times in history, this is not the time to fear big ideas. Indeed, it is only innovation of all kinds that will save us.

Katrina opened up another question for me, this time about supply chaining. I was desperate to know why anyone would take so long to get supplies to the immediate crisis and the thought did occur to me that perhaps no-one knew how. The resource that mostly seemed to be missing was brain and will power rather than tangible aid. I couldn't understand why steve jobs and bill gates and the ceo of general electric weren't at ground zero with generators and laptops and teams of people with digital cameras funding a website called wearehere.com for people who had been separated from their families or who's families lived elsewhere and might want to check up on them. I couldn't understand why wal-mart who changed supply-chain management worldwide didn't divert trucks of clothing and hygiene necessities. I boggled at how food wholesalers didn't immediately partner with the Red-Cross to avert starvation in the desperation of a deadly hot summer. I can't picture these things. I can only see the PR strategy inherent in actively doing good things. These are all companies who have public relations problems due mostly to monopolistic sales practices. I can't imagine people with a handle on a resource who don't stop and help.

The people in charge of these long lines of supplies are also in charge of the end of the line, the basic consumer. There is a discussion happening now about American company practices in Canada due to our historical retail philosophy of "pulling" whereby we put something (hopefully) of beauty or quality or (again, hopefully) both in the window and people are attracted to come in and buy it vs. the American philosophy of "pushing" the product out the door and into the hands of largely unsuspecting customers. Companies who benefit from such practices have more tendencies to flood their own markets and cannibalize their own businesses as less focus is needed on proper product quality and necessity and more focus is placed on sales drivers and marketing.

What happens when such a philosophy is applied to food? I'm told constantly about the obesity crisis, I hear health reports, I see lawyers describe fast food companies the same was they describe tobacco companies. The counter-argument again is that if things were so bad, people would vote with their feet and leave off the purchase of the product. They would move along and buy something else to eat.

When regular people need two incomes just to stay in massive debt and barely above poverty, less time can be spent on basic necessities. Basic necessities can include such things as playing outside, quiet thought, conversation. When the office is in the middle of an industrial park, often the only option is to purchase what is available. This is a company partnered snack machine or franchise available in the building usually. Our laws are stringent enough here to require nutritional information not only be posted but constantly updated, I find generally as well, our food is slightly better. In one office where I had the misfortune to spend two years, there was nothing around. On days when I had fought with my partner the night before or was out with my friends too afraid to go home to him, there certainly was no question of being able to make lunches ahead of time. I ate a lot of fast food. Was it the food that made me depressed? The office? The relationship? How do they all fit together?

In the next office after that, there was a chef and an assistant. He knew us all, he purchased all the food with his own budget and worried if he thought we weren't eating well. We had salads and a main course daily. Generally the people there were nicer and at that time I had gotten rid of the jerk and enjoyed my homelife. Was it the food? The care? The relief of anxiety about what I would do to take care of myself?

It is one thing to say all of us should make our choices and be better educated. Fine, and who can afford fast-food all the time anyway? But when the nearest grocery store is Wal-Mart, (a brief aside, of all the culture shock I got when I went to Arkansas, definitely the creepiest feeling I got was getting groceries at Wal-mart. I was more emotionally comfortable with the glocks being sold at the price-chopper than greens from wally.) how can a proper decision be made? Perhaps the foods are available, but they are right next to the golden arches. The stickers all say Peru and Chile and I can't help but notice that local farmers are closer and should therefore be cheaper. Shall I wax furious about the environmental catastrophe happening in these places because of giant agribusiness? I will mention a caveat to anyone who has read this far: the food you get at wal-mart is from companies who partner with them. Quality it ain't.

If you need to drive 15 minutes to get there, then drive back and there is nothing in between except fast-food, how is it reasonable to ask a regular person who has just worked a full day to stop at the end of it, pick up the kids, get to the store, choose something healthy (if possible) wait forever in a line-up and then go home exhausted and cook?

There are families and communities who can start teaching by having the kids help, start learning to cook and preparing their own lunches, breakfast etc. When the child lives in the middle of a city with perhaps a minimal family, when the child is pregnant, when the child is desperate, how can she be expected to learn even with a teacher? You must be able to calm your anxiety and fear enough to take in and retain information at all.

Again, school can be the silver bullet. Many school boards are taking it upon themselves to insist on healthy food and healthy education, but currently they are few and far between. Coke and Pepsi are actually funding curricula for poor school systems. Is it only a coincidence, or something more insidious that convinces mostly republican right-wing christians that the school system is failing and incites them to homeschool their kids? Money is being deflected from schools, and so along with that goes the proper basis of education in the country. Not just on nutrition, phys ed, health class etc, but more major topics such as mathematics and engineering. No child full of sugar and not much else can retain information on that level and the exhaustion inherent in the diet is likely to make even going to class irrelevant.

We are breeding nihilists. Who would look at the foreign service in it's current condition and decide it's a noble and good idea? More and more medical students plan to be dermatologists and hygienists. why? who wants to get up at 2 in the morning on an emergency call? But more importantly, they saw dad and mum get laid off twice, maybe three times, they've been moved around the country to suburb after suburb that all look the same so that one of the parents can keep their job. When someone like that asks me why they should give a shit about their immediate diet when they know they aren't getting in to college and if they do they can't afford it. I don't have an answer, but I know that it's wrong.

We don't have laws at the moment to govern the supply chain available to us. The unionized worker in a wal-mart warehouse has no connection to the worker in bangladesh who made the product being sold. But for the union to have any teeth with a company huge enough to shut down one plant and open another across the street, we need such connections. Local farmers have no voice against conglomerate assembly-lines who crudely and violently process livestock, living animals into cheeseburgers and lipstick. There is no sense of connection to the work we are doing, no personal ....personality really. You can get hired as a farmhand and hosedown cows for the summer in the same way that you can get hired in an office call-centre to do customer service.

We all get processed this way.

We won't do without fries for one day. Any mention of such a thing and the first thing we hear is economics. The employment rate of the fast food companies. But despair sets in when it is realized that those poorest among us can expect no education at even the most basic level. The only option in many places is to work for such a company for a tiny minimum wage, just enough to keep consuming at a constant level of indentured servitude. Start your life at wal-mart, end it at mcdonalds. What in between of the mind? The ambition? The hope.

We can't imagine a world without coke. We include wrigley's gum in soldiers rations to "keep up morale". We are able to deploy, we've see it, we've done it. The everyday work is dumping. We dump fries, beef, coke, sugar into the market everyday. And the invisible hand takes it in all it's wasteful glory and finds a place in our digestive tract for it to live.

It seems insurmountable because it is for one person. We need to do everything at once, walk more (but to what? It all looks the same) we need to eat less (but food is mostly our only pleasure left) we need to care more (but we do, we have been outnumbered and assimilated) we need to act more (but how?, what actions should we take?)

Huge ones. We need credit unions, artist to artist representation, farming co-ops, and massive corporate taxes. It is indeed this very spirit that founded a country who fought against a monarch that abandoned them. We need to know that leaving a city to die in the heat is less profitable, less desirable, less useful than a people of wealth and ingenuity who can and do extend their hand. We need movement, not issues to discuss.

We must learn at last to preserve and support and not to consume each other.

Friday, April 13, 2007

good morning

Shall I mention it again? The same damn thing I had to yell about yesterday? My marmalade was up all night in a personal struggle to reach the butter on a different shelf in the fridge. This morning I read that Sudanese negotiators are pushing for UN attack helicopters to help protect the UN peacekeepers in Darfur. The US is finally taking a stronger stance and my republic is nowhere to be seen. Instead of naming the genocide that is happening and going after the janjaweed, they are talking about the most archaic, brutal, nonsensical reaction to be thought up since ancient rome. Sanctions don't work. See the history of Cuba for more details. Also Iraq. How do you oppress a people with nothing? How do you suggest cutting off trade with the poorest people on the planet? What can you take from people in refugee camps? The constant threat of rape or kidnapping? We are no better. We have done nothing to convince the current government to stop killing it's own people. We have taken no lessons from the muslims and christians who lived peacefully together until the janjaweed came to slaughter them all. We have not named the genocide and Lloyd Axworthy is nowhere to be seen.

The front page of my two papers this morning showed dead soldiers returning from Afghanistan.

Not only our actions but our very spirit must change.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

us again

How is this Canada? We turn over detainees in ..wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.

The mission in Afghanistan has been longstanding. Normally a Canadian mission mostly enables security forces to keep the peace during rebuilding missions. It is our international heritage to contain and rebuild, to calm and support. Our military is not huge, and rightly so as our money is spent on infrastructure and standard of living. Our main military export therefore, is normally peace, albeit with the support of armed and trained troops.

Blue helmet missions are diminishing and have been for several years. We have argued not so publicly that the CIA should not have permission to land planes here as that makes us a party to prisoner transfer and we have no idea where these people might end up. We have at least had conversation on the subject, even if the outcome was not as I wished.

Now though, the mission has changed. Our mission is turning far more militant in Afghanistan and mainly we are supporting American troops militarily. In this fashion, we are implicit and explicit in threatening civilians and coercing the moderate. This will leave a lasting imprint in the area that Canadians are not to be trusted and cannot be seen as peaceful or supportive.

The transfer of prisoners too has become darker than our recent past. By turning detainees over the Afghan forces with no oversight or special provisions ensuring that they will be treated as they should be under the Geneva convention, we again are implicit in any subsequent torture and mistreatment of these people. Do they have information we need? Of course they do! They are Afghani people with a rich cultural heritage and a long history of civil unrest. Who better to tell us which areas need the most focus? Who better to educate our soldiers about where Taliban forces may wish to hit moderate Muslims? Who better to stand with us as we attempt to reach out to our brothers in a painful and desperate moment? But instead we turn them against each other, turn our backs towards them and reload.

I have long argued for the harnessing of a hugely powerful sustainable form of hydroelectricity, disgust. If we had the technology, I'm sure we could run at least half the country on the sheer torque of Lester Pearson spinning like a turbine in his grave.

and so another has left us

At this moment of journalistic toadying and despicable acts of inhumanity towards each other, another of our greatest commentators and challengers has left us. Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday at the age of 84. I will never be able to hear him lecture or be able to pose any questions to him in person that I might have wanted to.

It was his work along with that of Kafka, David Bowie, Tori Amos, Lewis Black and others that reminded me that although it felt at the time that I was the only one asking for something better, something more intelligent and inspiring, there were others. His books helped me to survive incomprehensible violence by allowing the incomprehensible to be funny and yet still treated seriously.

Breakfast of Champions remains one of my all time hits. My pond is just a little saltier today.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

They finally mentioned it

I just read this morning the first actual news report on the reconstruction of New Orleans and surrounding areas that I have seen in over a year. It seems the relief money still hasn't been properly allocated, sad, but not at all shocking. The reason: relief money to home-owners must go through the banks who hold the mortgages on properties. Both the state and federal government are concerned that the banks will withhold money from the people who need to rebuild, so as a solution,...they are withholding the money from the people who need to rebuild.

I know what Jesus had to say about money lenders who might suffer in an economic downturn, and I wonder how long it will be before someone figures out that bypassing the banks isn't the most insane thing a relief organization can do. How good a job is the world bank doing at relieving the suffering in war zones and refugee camps?

I would love to be angry about this. I would love to have a quick burst of energy this morning upon realizing that once again the federal and state government have found an excuse not to help suffering people renew themselves and their lives. It seems to be business as usual now. For this reason I'm certain no-one is going to bother to protest, no-one is going to write any letters, and the only mention it will get on the political level is presidential candidates who naturally will all wax appalled at the galling insanity of the situation. I wish there were some hope that someone was going to get upset enough to do something, mention something. Volunteers are working in the city right now removing debris and waterlogged furniture from houses that flooded two years ago.

I would love to be righteously angry. Instead I feel drained, I feel sad, I am exhausted. We left our people to drown in their own homes. We blamed them for becoming violent and cynical. We failed to shelter them immediately after and now two years later, the moldy, wooden memories of their homesteads are still being quietly removed board by board by volunteers.

Do we remember even who we are at all?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Big Idea # 751

Of all times in history, this is not the time to fear big ideas. Indeed, it is only innovation of all kinds that will save us.

There is a saying that education is the silver bullet. This is normally posited to emotionalize very abstract ideas, but I mean it this time in a very tangible sense. The people of New Orleans and indeed any coastal city in the gulf region need a particular brand not only of education, which we all sorely lack, but schools themselves.

One of the first and most tragic problems with the Katrina disaster is that most of the people affected were unable to get out of the city. Due to this, any suffering that came due to the levees breaching and the total failure of anyone to get people out or help in any way could have been hugely lessened if the people who couldn't leave had somewhere to go. One of the first visible rescue snafus was the simple fact that no-one had any idea where to go. As a result, when supplies finally did come (too late, oh lord how our apathy besmirches us all) many had no idea where a lot of the people were. I still don't follow their reluctance to look at the news, but that is for another conversation. Many of the people who did gather in undisputed areas of "rescue" such as the airport and the Superdome, were forcibly separated from their families. There is no argument in favour of this and only the total lack of forethought for how much family togetherness means in the wake of disaster can explain it. Since the city is likely to be hit by future storms and hurricanes, I propose a local system of gathering points. Sheltered areas with flood doors, generators, kitchens capable of small-scale stockpiling and manual communications capabilities. I'm talking about the schools.

How much easier would it be for an aging grandparent to go a few blocks to the local school where a whole family can gather? This precludes any need to make hasty decisions about who can go and who can't because they must sit on a bus for thirty hours. This prevents as well the mental exhaustion and anxiety that comes from leaving a certain disaster site for an uncertain make-shift domicile.

How much easier would it be to get the word out? Rather than relying on someone who may or may not watch television or listen to the radio, indeed, someone who can, the kids go to school everyday, they know how to get there. Parents go to teacher meetings and talk to each other. These things are administered by a school board which means it is very simple to know where the people are in a crisis.

Most of all, families and neighbors can easily stay in touch and remind each other where they are. I know I have what feels like a small gps in my head and all of my friends and family beep quietly on it all the time. When one of them is gone, that tiny void can shake the rest of me.

Such buildings are far more costly on the outset than more traditional city school buildings, and so an influx of funds will be necessary to properly survey, render, draw and build them. This means several years of employment in the big easy for anyone who may wonder what they should come home to given the total lack of relief, funding and news coverage over the last two years of any interested party.

My right eye, the more cynical of the two, looks on and doubts that funds of a federal kind would be forthcoming for such a project. This is truly disheartening and very likely the case. My left eye tells me the world is watching. It would be difficult to persuade the international community to fund an educational program in the richest country on earth, but the levees are an arguable international cause. None of us, NONE of us are at all interested in seeing anyone left to starve in a boiling open sewer. The only word I've come up with so far is unacceptable, but that really doesn't come close to how horrifying this was. In my genetic memory is the time during the civil war when Canadians burned down the white house. Perhaps that is why I want badly to light fires when I see gross, disparate, insane, suicidal injustice. I digress.

Due to the interest of other countries as shown when Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and others all offered assistance during the disaster which the US government declined, it is not out of the question to propose international help now. These were all formal offers, many volunteers just stopped what they were doing and showed up. I propose that the Levees of New Orleans be taken under the wing of the UN, the land appropriated where necessary to build and renew, and the actual building and renewing to commence. At the very least, if the UN resolved such a proposal, the US government would have to build something at least moderately feasible in order to save face. As for the current presidential incumbents, I humbly suggest that all women, african-americans from every cultural niche, the working poor, the unemployed, and every musical artist who has the right to vote in the US contact all incumbents of any political stripe with the following instructions: Do something, mobilize something, get something done in the gulf states now or you get nothing in November 08. Talk is cheap and political promises are frankly insulting.

On the subject of mandatory evacuations, there must be something in place that can easily react to an emergency. Light rail is not only environmentally sound, it is cost effective and a boon for cities. I admit before I begin that much rides on flooding not actually happening. This is for an evacuation that needs to happen before the worst. In the midst of a storm, a train equipped with slide-away doors can easily accommodate those who are handicapped or who must bring medical equipment with them in an emergency. Such vehicles if properly built (the right eye winks nastily again) can easily bring small families to the outside of the city to waiting buses or other transport, or they can get immobile people to safe areas within the city. Get on the train, we're going to school!

Funds again remain an issue. This started as an idea about what kind of amenities a building would need to withstand a crisis, and what likely is the easiest way to save as many people as possible. And why wouldn't we?

Why aren't our schools the focal point of our community? Why are we all so sure where the nearest mall is? Is it because schools are linked to an outdated, archaic form of funding based on property taxes? Partially, more on amending that nonsense another time. I think schools are not nearly interesting enough. We should know the Cherokee names for the Smoky Mountains. Maybe if Africa had a real history here, not just jungles and desert, but true songs of the split people, of what happened after Britain and France lost interest, we would better understand the poetry coming from our cities. Too often is it mistaken for verbal violence when in fact it is an aural map spanning time and an ocean. We should know that Biology is not a threat to the Christian God, but a way of better understanding his massive creation. Maybe if we knew these things and gave these knowledges to each other our schools or hospitals or churches or rooftops would not have to be our only salvation in the the time of great rains. Perhaps under these circumstances, we would know each life, replete with it's soul and dignity, is worth saving.