Blackberries and Entitlement


There is a very nice house on the corner of my street. The back yard is surrounded by a tall fence, but as you walk by, you can peep through, and see that there is a lovely garden inside, with a deck, and a nice patio seating area. It’s all very well kept and tidy.

Plants peek out through the fence, as plants will. There are some flowers, and a few weeds, and some of those long, brambly, blackberry stalks, the sort that seem to go from manageable to ‘ow! that long branch just scratched my arm!” in a matter of seconds.

blackberry bushA few months ago, the blackberries appeared. Blackberries start out red and inedible. It’s not until they turn black that they become tasty. There is usually about one week in the summer when the berries all hit peak perfection simultaneously. At my old house, I had a wall of blackberry bushes. When they were ready to pick, I would go into hyper drive, trying to get as many of the berries harvested as I possibly could, so that I could make a summer jam. I’d also offer my neighbours some of the bounty. And, inevitably, the birds, squirrels and raccoons would have a messy feast as well.

The first sighting of the blackberry plants escaping the fence on the corner house gave me a little frisson of emotion, a combination of happiness at seeing the familiar fruit, and a twinge of sadness at no longer having my little Scarborough fruit and veg garden. Planting in containers just isn’t the same.

Halfway through July, the magic moment arrived, and suddenly the branches bent low with beautiful, glossy black berries.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only passer-by that helped herself to a berry or two when I walked by the house. The branches were, after all, bordering the sidewalk, and just a tiny portion of the plants that lined the inside of the fence.

The day after the appearance of the berries, a small sign, written in crayon, and in a child’s handwriting, appeared on the fence. It said, “Please don’t pick the berries. Thank you.”

depressed personNow, perhaps my chagrin at seeing that sign stemmed from a desire to be inside the fence, gobbling down handfuls of the berries before harvesting a bushel or so for jam making.

But the first thought that crossed my mind was that someone had missed a wonderful opportunity to teach a child about sharing and responsibility. Since the home owner had allowed their plants to cross over into common ground, the berries were, ostensibly, now to be had by anyone who passed by the branches on their way down the street.

And if someone picked a berry and enjoyed it, that was a way of spreading the wealth, so to speak, without having to make any real effort. A way to allow others to enjoy a little treat, without that gift costing our benefactors any loss or stress. You  might not know who enjoyed that pleasure, and they might never know that it was you that let them have it, but there can be a strange, inner joy that comes from simply giving away some of the surplus of what you have.

Instead, the parents of that child taught her that she needed to keep a firm grip on what she ‘owned,’ even if that ‘property’ wasn’t actually contained within its bounds.  Best to assume that others will take things away from you, if you’re not stern and disciplined, and keep a firm grasp on your ‘stuff.’ And if you don’t tell them to back off, they’ll take and take and …oh!

i've got mineThat’s a weird and ugly paradigm that many live by now; the world of “I’ve got mine, and I’ll fight anyone that tries to get some for themselves!”

That’s the mindset of those who are threatened by anyone else enjoying even a sip of life’s cup, since it is a sip they feel to be taken from their own mouths. It’s what people earning a comfortable living feel like when they hear the minimum wage might be raised so that others with more menial jobs can actually afford to live. And it’s the way that many Canadians feel when they hear that there is a cost to ignoring the civil rights of other Canadians, and in the resentment they feel when the courts actually have to shell out millions to pay those costs to the victim.

It’s in the self-righteousness of the outwardly religious who piously mouth the Lord’s Prayer, but deny Christ’s preaching to love everyone as he loved them, and to treat others as they wish to be treated.  It’s in those who would put the possible cost of healthcare for transgendered people in the military over a respect for those peoples’ basic rights, as they spend their lives in the defence of their country.  It’s even in the behaviour of the driver who feels the need to be in constant touch by telephone entitles him or her to break the law and answer their cell phone while zipping down the highway at 140km an hour.

It’s a selfishness and entitlement that can be seen daily, on the streets, and in the houses of corporate and political power. The real trickle down that we’ve seen over the last few decades hasn’t been the money that the rich and powerful never did let fall on the lowly, but the examples that they’ve shown us, of how disrespect, lying, and a lack of accountability can enrich those who simply don’t care about anyone other than themselves.

We want to celebrate those who have stood on the shoulders of giants, but instead we are too often and too loudly confronted by those with feet of clay, who prefer to stand on the throats of the weak.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton.

baby crying over statue removalNowhere was the inevitable down slide of perverted entitlement seen more clearly than in this weekend’s parades, protests, and riots in Charlottesville, Virginia. Far-right activists descended upon the city for a Unite the Right rally against the removal of a statue of Confederate leader, Robert E. Lee.

In April, the Charlottesville City Council voted to sell the bronze statue that stands in downtown Charlottesville. The city council also unanimously voted to rename Lee Park. However, two members of the five-member city council still voted against removing the statue. In May, a judge halted that removal for six months.

For those playing along at home, Lee was the general who lead the charge of the Confederate Army, in defence of slavery, against the prevailing American forces of the time. The Confederacy lost. The statue was commissioned in 1917, 52 years after the war ended, and was finally erected in 1924, 59 years after the war ended.

The march of the alt-right was composed primarily of young, white, decently dressed young men, who seemed to feel that their lack of melanin outweighed their concurrent lack of anything remotely special about themselves. Just having been born white and American has lead them to believe that they should have everything they feel they deserve in life – even if it means taking from others less fortunate.

Some are equating this all-white/alt-right protest to the Black Lives Matter protests. I would unequivocally disagree. One is a group seeking to elevate themselves socially by denying the rights of others, while the other is a traditionally oppressed group seeking their civil rights. Violent protests are wrong no matter who participates, but the messages are in no way equivalent.

“[…] I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

A state’s leader that would qualify his objection to ‘hatred, bigotry and violence‘ by adding “on many sides” is no leader at all, but rather a fool who dog whistles to his bigoted and racist followers, egging them on to further violence, in a game of false equivalency.

“… there was strong reaction to Trump’s refusal to denounce far-right extremists who had marched through the streets carrying flaming torches, screaming racial epithets and setting upon their opponents.

The clashes started after white nationalists planned a rally around a statue of the Confederate general Robert E Lee that is slated to be removed, and culminated in a car being deliberately driven into a group of people peacefully protesting the far right rally, killing one person and injuring at least 19.”

Even those within his own party disapproved of Trump’s lukewarm response.

The Republican senator Cory Gardner of Colorado tweeted: “Mr President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.” This was echoed by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah who lost a brother in the second world war. “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” ”  (The Guardian)

Despite the public disavowal of those who committed these offences, there were still many on social media who defended their racism by claiming that their protests are a reaction to what they see (the removal of a statue of a Confederate general) as a ‘direct assault against white people.”

Essentially, they are saying they’ll go to civil war to protect the past in an effort to avoid moving forward. The lives of those they harm are of no consequence; their actions say that their traditions and history are more important than the lives of other human beings.

charlottesville carThe Rebel staffer, Faith Goldy, was complaining about left-wing protesters not being inclusive, when she was interrupted by the killing of one of them, preserved on video as it happened.

The truth that must be said, that must be shouted and proclaimed, by not only the President of the United States but by all of his followers and sycophants, is that there is no equivalency between those who marched for their white rights, and those who had finally had enough of those who believe they can only be ‘equal’ if they are allowed to be superior to others through oppression. This was domestic terrorism, as deadly and frightening as any other sort of terrorism. The difference here is that this terrorism is being nurtured by other Americans.

White Americans, and especially young, white, male Americans, aren’t oppressed in the least. No one is trying to take their guns or Christmas away from them. Their churches are not being burned, and there are no burning crosses on the lawns of ‘whitey.’ No one is trying to take away their right to marry the person of their choice. They are under no worse of a travel ban than the need to remove their shoes before being allowed entry onto an airplane. No one feels so threatened by their very presence and colour that even the murder of a child walking home from school can be justified because someone ‘feared for their life.’ And there are no political groups so threatened by ‘the white demographic’ that they have to jury rig districts to ensure the right/white candidate is elected.

They don’t have grandparents and great-grandparents who lived through slavery and systemic racism that took from them even the hope of the prosperity of the average white American. Their parents weren’t imprisoned for marrying someone of a different colour, or for merely being mistaken for an actual criminal because ‘they all look alike to me.’

Racism and bigotry – that’s America’s real history and legacy. Great strides toward a more equal and civilized society have been made in the last several decades, but the actions of those who would ‘make America great again’ by ‘making America white again’ threaten to halt that progress, and tear the nation apart. It is only by accepting the ugly past, and learning from it, that a better future can be attained.

The willfully ignorant, those who are armed and dangerous to anyone who disagrees with their bigoted beliefs, who create their own echo chamber filled with half-truths and lies, are the cancer that will bring America to it’s knees.

America’s president has been very bold in denouncing global terrorism. It is apparently only domestic terrorism that keeps him silent.

Inaction and Consequences


There are risks and costs to action…But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.          John F. Kennedy – 1917-1963, 35th U.S. President

Somewhere along the line – was it in the disco 70s? The ‘Me” decade of the 80’s? The Naughty 90’s? The despair of the Noughties?

Somewhere in there, we lost our way.rox-1964-5th-grade-lacademie-assomption

In the 1950s, we were all shook up, and in the sixties, we tuned in, turned on, and changed the world. We believed in ourselves and that our actions had global impact. And we were right.

But all that action was exhausting.  We couldn’t keep it up, and we were busy patting ourselves on the back for being so hip and cool and groovy. We had used our flower power to launch a civil rights movement, and to stop an unjust war! The U.S. landed a man on the moon! Now we dance!

civil rights 60s protest.jpgRetribution for the changes we had wrought came swiftly. Those who hate change targeted those who encouraged change. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr, Bobby Kennedy – all assassinated for daring to dream of a better world.

Racism and ignorance tore the bright and shiny dreams of peace and equality of the sixties into shreds, and now, it threatens to do so again. The way forward is not paved with bullets and brutality. The raised voice and fist of dictatorship enslaves;  it does not elevate a people or a culture, it tramples them into the ground.

Our years of ‘comfortable inaction’ have birthed some of the worst, most self-indulgent, and reprehensible political representatives of all time. Around the world, and at every level of government, the choices are dismal, with little to discern one corrupt, manipulative and greedy candidate from another.

Before you point the finger – know that you did this to yourselves. Know that wanting our own well-being at any cost, opting for indulgences as we decimated the middle class, slotting anyone who didn’t look or act like us into the reject pile of life … all of these ‘inactions,’  in the name of comfort, created the monsters we now see before us.

walle_interactionThe years of focusing on what made us happy; on choosing the cheap over the well-made (and in that group, I include the ‘heroes’ we pedestaled;) the crude and ugly brutality of racism and bigotry whipped up by leaders who chose fear of others as their platforms; the laziness of passionate if largely uninformed opinion over fact and reason; the years of “too long: didn’t read”  – all of those   combined – have given us the governments we deserve.

govt-we-deserveWe lost belief in ourselves, and demanded less of our leaders. We lost sight of the fact that every action we take has global impact. We refused responsibility. We chose comfort for ourselves over the welfare of the planet.

The actions we could have, and should have, taken in controlling our voracious greed for wealth and power, never happened.

And now we are reaping the long range risks of comfortable inaction.

An Immodest Proposal (with apologies to Jonathan Swift)


swift Modest proposalIn 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal  (for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick.)” His answer to the “Irish’ problem was to advise the poor to sell their children as ‘food for rich gentlemen and ladies’, and came complete with techniques for slaughter and mouth-watering recipes.

His satirical essay was meant to mock society’s lack of empathy towards the unfortunate, and in particular, to make clear the contemptuous attitude the British aristocracy held of the Irish people.

As outrageous as Swift’s essay may seem, his point must be taken; when people are overwhelmingly seen as commodities – be they the poor, the disabled, the elderly, migrants or refugees – it’s only a small step to conceiving of humans as being little more than meat, which then, logically,  becomes only worth what the market will bear, per pound.

While the idea of cannibalizing the poor may seem shocking, in truth, we’re little different now, three centuries later. Our media is filled with assaults, deaths, and murders being committed every day, all around the globe, most of which rarely elicit more than a few seconds of our disapproval, before our thoughts move on to something less disturbing.

Hence, my proposal, which I hope will interest those questioning how society should deal with the physical assault or murder of its citizens.

In the last several years we’ve seen Justice using a sliding scale for the punishment of apparent and actual wrongdoers. A young black child alone in a snowy playground, for instance, apparently poses an enormous threat to armed officers in police cars, and is therefore executed before their fears can be realized. On the other hand, a young, armed white man who opens fire in an Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in South Carolina during a prayer meeting, can kill nine people, and still be arrested in an orderly fashion, and indeed, be treated to a Burger King meal by police officers as they chauffeur him from the church to the jail.

Or we can look to the case of the young, white male Stanford student, who, despite being caught in the act of assaulting an unconscious fellow student, received a six month sentence (now somehow dropped to three months) to be served in prison – not jail – rather than the six years the prosecutors had requested,  and despite white rape v black rapethe twelve pages of the victim’s statement, which outlined in searingly heartbreaking detail what she has gone through, during and since the rape.

Contrast that with the case histories of hundreds of young, black males serving much longer prison sentences for the same or similar offences, as in the case of Vanderbilt football player Cory Batey.

Murder and sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class, race, gender, sexuality, or other factors. Inserting prejudice and bias into the process of sentencing renders the law farcical.

Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, which gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, on the grounds that race is life or deathracism is no longer an issue, I am very aware that racism, sexism, and bigotry are enormous problems, and that pretending they do not exist is as foolish as denying gravity. This is our reality, and wishing it away demonstrates the naiveté of a child.

(And according to polls, the majority of Republicans in America believe that ‘reverse racism’ is a worse problem than racism.)

Therefore, I tender my proposal. People are citizens of their countries. Although they cannot be enslaved, they are nevertheless in many ways the ‘property’ of their country, in that they are expected, by birth or through acquired citizenship, to obey the laws, while receiving the rights and protection available. They are simultaneously a country’s asset AND liability.

bst051

So I propose that citizens of all countries be defined as what they really are – property of their governments.

There is a provision in most countries’ military agreements that outlines what constitutes abuse of government property. In the United States, that provision is Article  108 – Destruction of Government Property – which describes as criminal, “Any person subject to this chapter who, without proper authority (1) sells or otherwise disposes of; (2) wilfully or through neglect damages, destroys, or loses; or (3) willfully or through neglect suffers to be lost, damaged, destroyed, sold, or wrongfully disposed of, any military property of the United States, shall be punished as a courtarticle 108 US-martial may direct.”

And some overzealous NCOs have been known to threaten the rank and file for wilful personal damage, even going as far as issuing a letter of reprimand for the sin of getting a sunburn that prevents a soldier from going on a mission.

In Canada, Department of National Defence employees and Canadian Armed Forces members are “Crown servants.” They too are, in a sense, property of their country. Strictly speaking, any assault of a member of the armed forces is an assault of government property.

But if citizens of all countries are defined as the  property of their governments, then assault, rape, and murder can be immediately reclassified as physical damage or destruction of a country’s property. Rescind the gray areas subject to bias, and assign a punishment that fits the crime.

Strongly held beliefs of a physical or moral superiority of one race or sex over another cannot be eradicated in a generation. Indeed, the popularity of  those who consider Donald Trump merely ‘an honest guy that says what the rest of us are thinking ’ proves that there are millions in the United States alone that see themselves as superior beings , and that they see those that are not like themselves as inferior.

Rather than argue with stubborn mindsets, it seems far more sensible to deem citizens as property of their country. With this as a guideline, it then becomes a simple matter of assigning value. value of a human lifeWhat is a life worth? Should men, women, and children have separate values, or can we agree that the assault or murder of any person is grievous? Since  racism is supposedly a non-issue, do we then assign the same value to people of all colours? In a court of law, can we agree to an equality of all members of society, independent of their circumstances of birth?

Rather than the lip service of equality granted by charters and constitutions, lay out the terms of the perceived worth of citizens. What is the lifetime value of your citizen, after taking into account both the costs and benefits? If that is pro-rated over an estimated lifetime, should the potential of a child’s life, nipped in the bud, be a factor in higher penalties?  Where then does that leave legalized abortion?

If a mother can be forced to give birth, is she not then entitled to ongoing support for the child? And if we now hold that all citizens are of equal value, can we then withhold the necessities of life to those who are caught in cycles of poverty or addiction? Can we, in good conscience, subscribe to cuts to benefits to the hungry, the homeless, disabled or elderly? Property must be maintained!

What of the wounded veterans, who served their country in good faith, but have returned from combat, damaged physically or mentally? Should their rehabilitation – the cost of repairing damaged property –  not be considered a vital part of the calculation of the cost of continuing conflicts or new acts of aggression?

justice is conscienceIn order to purge real or perceived prejudices in the courts, each and every citizen must be first and foremost recognized as a unique and valuable entity in his or her own right. If the law, lawyers, and judges are unable to see people as such, perhaps the only solution is to tack a label upon the people, signifying ownership, with the attendant penalties enforced upon those who damage governmental property.

My immodest proposal only seeks to level the judicial playing field, and avoid judgments that strain our belief and fervent hope that “Justice is Blind. “

It’s Time To Take Back Our Canada


To those of us who are .. let’s say, pushing sixty or older. It’s a bitch. Every day, another wheel falls off, we need another new ‘script, and our everything hurts. So why are we still here, eh?

older canadians2It’s because we are needed. We have education, information, insight, perspective. We’ve seen history. We have assimilated what’s gone before, and we aren’t easily fooled.

We have the opportunity to change the direction that our current government has pursued. Canadians are a proud people, and we should be; the list of accomplishments in our history is lengthy and laudable. And yet we’ve remained modest and true to our values.

But, as Ralph Nader, a man who has seen Canada from both the inside and the outside, recently noted,

“When you’re modest, as a culture, you begin taking it for granted, and when the counter-attack comes, when the corporatists come in, and the militarists come in, you’re not ready. And I think that’s what’s happened to Canada in the last decade or so.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB7ZvVEm5XU

Canada needs us now, not to be cynical or to brush aside the value and power of our voice or vote. It’s OUR time to rally the troops, to cast a jaundiced eye on the last decade, and to say, “Enough’s enough. This is not the Canada I love. This is not the Canada I want to leave to my heirs.

I’ve felt for some time that this is the most important election of my lifetime. Canada is at a crossroads. It could go either way. We’ve jumped into a war with the Middle East that’s done little but bring us to the attention of extremists, putting our country in jeopardy for the sake of an egotist’s photo ops.

tarsands before afterOur beautiful land has been raped and pillaged, sold to the highest bidder, and left ravaged. Our First Nations people, from whom we essentially rent the land, have been threatened and silenced as they have striven to honour the Earth, and keep the land and water safe for all of us.

The Trans Pacific Partnership, which the Harper Government has been so eager to sign, “effectively subverts and substitutes commerce over democracy, in all the signatory countries. It’s not about tariffs or quotas; It is a trans national autocratic system of government, a subordination of environment, labour and consumer rights to the supremacy of commercial trade. And they call consumer protection, and environmental protection, non-tariff trade barriers, that can be reversed by secret tribunals – not Canadian courts, not U.S. courts, special secret tribunals, whose judges are really corporate lawyers. “

It’s time – right now – to call a halt to corporate interests taking precedent over the rights of citizens and tax payers. We’ve enjoyed the best this country could give us. It’s time to show our politicians what made the Baby Boomers a force to reckon with. It’s time to take back our country.

We weren’t afraid when we stuck those flowers in the muzzles of soldier’s guns. We weren’t afraid when we grew our hair long, smoked pot, went to booze cans, and stood up to the cops. We can’t be afraid now, either.

young_vote_infographicWe need to inspire our kids and our grandkids, and show them that fear, prejudice, racism, xenophobia, austerity, and inaction are NOT what we stand for. We stand for a Canada –

strong and free, and unafraid.

We, who were privileged to shared in all the benefits past prime ministers have secured for us; the social safety nets for the vulnerable, the freedom to unionize without corporate interference , a respect for the land and each other, a health system once the envy of the world, now threatened by proposed cuts … we took all of that for granted. We can’t do that anymore. We need to stand up for our country and the values that made Canada the peacekeepers, the forward thinkers, and the envy of the world.

Let’s show the kids that their world doesn’t have to look like the Hunger Games, Canadian pitted against Canadian  ..  it can look like a Canada that values every citizen, and that looks to the future, without shrinking from what’s to come.

oh canada song