On Pavlovitz, Positivity, Privilege – and the Bossa Nova


by Roxanne Tellier

John Pavlovitz is a writer, pastor, and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina, who has a wonderful site called, ‘Stuff That Needs To Be Said.’

john pavlovitzMost of his posts are essentially sermons that could be just as easily spoken from a pulpit as read from your tablet. Pavlovitz asks the hard questions of those who consider themselves Christian – what kind of person does the world need right now? And what are you prepared to do to help?

His views are not radical, or at least, they weren’t radical until this current administration began to mutate the basic tenets of Christian beliefs into something unrecognizable.

golden rule

Pavlovitz is a good man, and well able to put into plain words the confusion so many feel in seeking to make sense of the ugliness that suffuses so much of the United States (and Canada) in 2019.

On ‘thoughts and prayers,‘ “As a Christian and pastor I have no aversion to prayer, but in the face of injustice and suffering, prayer without behavior change or measurable movement isn’t something I’m all that interested in. Whether religious or not, heroic people move from burden to action, from heart to hand; they evolve from simply feeling empathy to tangibly expressing compassion. The people who are the difference makers don’t wait for someone else to stand up to corrupt power or oppose unjust legislation or advocate for people who are hurting so that they can join in — they stand up and oppose and advocate regardless of the cost.”

On the rush of Evangelicals to proclaim Trump and his presidency as God’s anointed, he says, “Christians need to stop passing the buck to God, and just own the compromises and sick bedfellows they’ve been willing to make for Supreme Court seats, anti-abortion legislation, weapon stockpiling, and a rapidly assembling white Evangelical theocracy. Stop namedropping God.”

In his most recent post, he responded to many of his followers who enjoy reading his heartfelt prose, but wish he could just lighten up a little. You know – insert a few gifs of playful puppies and kittens into his discussions of how best to deal with an administration hell bent on dehumanizing anyone whom they consider less than themselves, and who dismiss any sort of bipartisan pushback with vile, toxic, rebuttals that further tear their nation apart.

Been there.

It had never occurred to me that being able to dismiss anything that disturbs your little world is a privilege. But it is. If you’re the tiny snotty-nosed kid at the border, wearing dirty diapers that you’ve had on for days, sucking on a bottle that hasn’t been washed in weeks, you don’t have a lot of time to smell the roses. And if you’re a mother who has to worry every time her black skinned son leaves the house, that you may never see him again because some white cop ‘feared for his life’ and shot him for no reason … you may get a little testy when you are told to ‘smile,’ because it makes some stranger happier.

https://johnpavlovitz.com/2019/07/06/the-privilege-of-positivity/

Positive thinking is pretty easy when you’re in the In Club, when your work is appreciated, and when you make a decent or maybe even a good buck. It’s a lot harder when you feel like the whole world is against you .. because it is.

In just two years, the trump administration has managed to completely change America’s attitude towards immigrants and refugees, and in the process, to further step up what seems to be an innate fear and loathing of people of colour.

statue of liberty

While there were always a few hard liners who hated ‘foreigners,’ most people understood that there are only three kinds of Americans on American soil – colonists, immigrants, and Native Americans. Every American’s ancestors came from somewhere else, all the way back to the first settlers, who were lucky they weren’t greeted with the same hatred and cruelty that this current crop of asylum seekers is facing.

Americans used to know that. And they used to know that the people who bagged their groceries, cooked their meals, tended their kids or their gardens, and worked in the jobs that others thought below them, were just the newest wave of those who flocked to America for the chance of a better life.

They used to know that immigrants were actually less likely to commit crimes than white male domestic citizens, and that, until they were given some kind of approved and official status, immigrants could not access any social benefits.

immigrant alternative factsImmigrants are the lifeblood of America. Without the influx of striving, determined workers, America would eventually fade away, as each generation has less children than the one before. It is immigrants who make it possible for Americans to retire – it is the taxes they pay that enable the country to prosper.

In just two years, America has gone from being the ‘shining city on the hill’ to a place where immigrant babies are caged, the Attorney General acts as a personal lawyer for the president AGAINST a Supreme Court decision, and Independence  Day is co-opted as nothing but a re-election rally for a man who spits on Constitutional norm, and needs military parades to keep his ego from sagging. 

july 4 2019

This is a process called ‘normalization.’ Every day we need to tweak our definition of ‘normal’ just enough to get thru another 24 hours without screaming or running around like our hair is on fire. We are constantly normalizing, rationalizing, bringing things down to somewhere near ordinary, just so that we can accept the new status quo and live a semi regular life.

So, I must ask you – in the face of this “new normal,” what does it mean to ignore the abuses of elected officials in our meeting places, just so that we appear to be ‘positive’ and acting in a societally approved manner?

Is it being cynical to believe that those in power have only their own best interests at heart? To see that those who cannot “afford” to give immigrant children soap or toothpaste can somehow find $102 million under the couch cushions to spend on weekly golf vacations, and another $92 million to throw a parade/party to celebrate their own selves?

Or is it perhaps far more cynical to believe that the marginalized, the homeless, the asylum seekers … those who are being hurt, demonized, or treated unfairly because of their birth place, sexuality, or lack of money ….. have ‘only themselves to blame’?

Do those who victim blame really believe that the victims have done something – intentionally or not – to deserve the pain?

If a kneejerk reaction to hearing about cruelty, unfairness, inequality, and the abuse of power is to instinctively blame the victim, who is the real cynic? Is it the one who rails against brutality, or the one who believes that some people are just not born as equal or worthy as others?

ostrich syndrome

I know that the world seems brighter and happier when we all put on a happy face, but hiding our heads in the sand to avoid the reality of a world heading in a precipitously downward motion doesn’t stop the fall; it just makes the landing a lot more of a painful surprise when the ride inevitably ends.

always take sides

 

………………………………………………….

” João Gilberto Prado Pereira de Oliveira, known as João Gilberto; (10 June 1931 – 6 July 2019), was a Brazilian singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He pioneered the musical genre of bossa nova in the late 1950s, as such, he is sometimes known as the “father of bossa nova”.”

girl from ipanemaJoão Gilberto, 88, pioneered the bossa nova genre, and in so doing, brought a little bit of ‘strange’ to North America that it didn’t know it had been waiting for.

He had an extraordinary life. In 1955, after releasing his first few recordings, his father, who could not grasp his son’s style, and refusal to get a ‘real’ job, had him committed to a mental hospital. He was released after a week, but not before some memorable psychological interviews there.

“Gilberto stared out of the window and remarked “Look at the wind depilating the trees.” The psychologist replied “but trees have no hair, João”, to which Gilberto responded: “and there are people who have no poetry.”

Gilberto soon teamed up with Antonio Carlos Jobim, a composer, producer and arranger with Odeon Records. But is was with his hit single, “Girl from Ipanema,” sung by Astrud Gilberto (his wife at the time,) that he became known in America. His 1964 album Getz/Gilberto with the American saxophone player Stan Getz, sold millions of copies, won several Grammy awards and popularised bossa nova around the world.

Just this morning I read about the meaning of the word, ‘saudade.’ which can be roughly translated as, “a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament.”

chega de saudade

“It is a yearning for one’s childhood, when the days would merge into one another and the passing of time was of no consequence. It is the sense of being loved in a way that will never come again. It is a unique experience of abandon. It is everything that words cannot capture. “ Nina George, The Little Paris Bookshop

“Gilberto began singing at 18. After moving to Rio de Janeiro, he released the record Chega de Saudade in 1959, which marked the beginning of the world-famous bossa nova music style. ” (The Guardian)

And the rest became history. Rest in Peace, Senor Gilberto.

 

Temptation Redux


Much as I have tried to pull together at least a preview of a project that I’m working on to share with you, it is not to be; there is much back burner simmering to be done before that column is ready to be savoured.

Hmmm… back burner simmering … sounds like something good to eat! Speaking of eating … here’s something I wrote in the Spring of 2013, and have revised and updated for your dining and dancing entertainment. Bon Appetit!

The Last Temptation

Mmm … food. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. For some, food is a sensual pleasure, as delicious and desirable as sex. To others, feeding themselves is a chore; if they could, they would be content to fill their nutritional needs by swallowing a tablet.

Gourmet or gourmand? That is the question. I believe the essence of human sensuality is embodied in one who not only enjoys good food, but revels in all its glories; heaven on the palate, a visual treat, and a tactile experience. To me, there is little as delightful as a feast for both the eyes and the stomach. Good food, in all of its 3D wonderment, warms the cockles of my heart, quickens my breath, and eases the tensions of life.

Oh yes, I know. Everything in moderation, and if I ever figure out how to do that, I’ll get right on it! But the warring culinary DNA factors in my blood and heart crave lashings of French cooking, with a shanty Irish reliance on carbohydrates swimming in butter, and a British sensibility that encourages such brutal delicacies as steak and kidney pudding. I love food. pomegranateNo – I am in lust with good, honest, fresh, beautifully prepared, delicately seasoned, lovingly plated and brilliantly presented food.

I grew up when food was only available in season, and then just in the grocers for a very small window of time. Pomegranates, black cherries, tangerines … gifts from the gods! We snapped up these delicacies, pressed them to our breasts, and rushed them home to be enjoyed in the loving spirit in which they had been grown.

dragonfruitTimes have changed, and for the most part, I applaud the growers of the world, who now bring old favourites and new sensations to our tables and taste buds all year ’round. I approached my first Dragon Fruit with apprehension, but fell to its creamy goodness. I still have yet to cook an artichoke, so fearful am I of bruising its delicate heart. I weep for the people of South America, whose primary staple grain and protein, quinoa, has fallen afoul of North American foodies and vegans – their lust for this important protein supplement is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in Brazil.

Oh brave new world that has such wonders in it!

The flip side of this global food consciousness is, of course, the prolific rise of fast food – an abomination in my eyes – and the voraciousness of the gaping maws of people who apparently no longer have an OFF switch on their hunger. shopping nightmareA visit to the grocer the day before a holiday will have you convinced that we’ve just been alerted to an impending weather disaster, zombie apocalypse or nuclear holocaust. Carts crashing into each other, shoppers strip the aisles clean of all available food stuff like piranha. It is to weep.

Food has always been woven into our culture, enshrined in art, music and literature.

Today, trained and novice chefs compete for our attention in an orgy of food porn on their own television channels. From the likeable Jamie Oliver, intense and so well meaning, to the scatological ravings of kitchen madman Gordon Ramsey, to the ‘en garde!’ insanity of Iron Chef, or the folksy drawlings of now diabetic Paula Deen, you can scarcely spend an hour in the 500 channel universe without being reminded that you’ve not eaten in at least fifteen minutes.

nigella lawsonNigella Lawson is embraced and acknowledged as the courtesan of TV food; although neither a trained chef nor cook, her softly curving figure and clearly erotic attention to the food she prepares seduces the viewer into a relaxed and loving appreciation of goose fat and Riesling.

But it is in classic film that the connection between food and sensuality is best exhibited, in a veritable moveable feast.

In 1963, a lascivious dining scene in Tom Jones, of Albert Finney and Joyce Redman devouring a chicken, left movie goers gasping.

Or consider … Alan Bates describing the best way to eat a ripe fig in Women in Love (1969). Phew! “Like a prostitute, the bursting fig makes a show of her secret.”

In 9 ½ Weeks, Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke played sensually with jello, pasta, grapes, cherries and strawberries and the surprise of an jalapeno until her face was sticky with juices and she begs, with mouth agape, for more. Not very subtle, but very effective.

Babette’s Feast, (1987,) a film based on a story written by Isaak Dinesen, showed the healing properties of glorious, delicious food on a religious community divided by fear of strangers. Big Night, (1996,) Stanley Tucci’s film about a New Jersey restaurant, exalted in the remarkable healing powers of a shared meal.

Is there a right way to eat ramen, that glorious noodle soup? Why yes – and Tampopo (1985) showed us how to give respect to the ingredients. “Appreciate its gestalt. Savor the aromas. Jewels of fat glimmering on the surface. Schinachiku roots shining. Seaweed slowly sinking. …” More than a haiku to the food, it is total appreciation. There’s also a nod to drink, with the sipping of sake from a woman’s navel.

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” Goodfellas –  a celebration of food! “Pauly … had this wonderful system for doing the garlic. He used a razor, and he used to slice it so thin that it used to liquefy in the pan.”

La Grande Bouffe is nothing more than a story of four friends who set out to eat and screw themselves to death in the French countryside. I’ll spare you the visuals on that one. Nor will I include scenes from the shocking waste of butter in Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider’s romp in Last Tango in Paris. Butter aficionados will find it on their own.

No Reservations (2007), starred Catherine Zeta-Jones as a sexy chef who made her puppy dog underling sit up and beg for treats.

You’ll never feel the same about quail after watching this scene from Like Water for Chocolate (1993) Tita uses her suitor’s gift, seasoned with her blood and longing, to make quail in rose petal sauce. Her passion is communicated through the delicious food to Pedro, her potential lover, while her haughty mother dines in salty disapproval. Eventually, her heat causes an outhouse to erupt into flames.

In the similarly themed Chocolat (2000), Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche enjoyed the magic of lovingly handmade chocolate candies. In Woman on Top (2000) Penelope Cruz, playing a chef, has phallic-looking chilli peppers rubbed on her lips.

You remember the shimmering, shadowed, shower, but do you remember Jennifer Beals devouring a lobster tail in the seduction scene in Flashdance (1983) ?

A full menu of films that piqued our appetites would leave us overstuffed, so I’ll stop there.

We all hope to age gracefully and beautifully, like a fine wine. But many of us will eventually come to the point where, for health or dietary reasons, we can only look longingly at a delicious spread, and whimper into our hands.

harvest.jpgAs harvest time nears, and before political correctness, weight gain, national health, and propriety wipe these elemental pleasures from our memories, bite into a ripe strawberry, bury your nose into a bushel of fresh tomatoes, nibble at the edges of a freshly cut pastrami or hold a mouthful of champagne against your taste buds, reveling in it’s effervescence.

And raise a glass and a fork to one of the most basic and natural joys of living … the enjoyment of food!

 

Who’s Sorry Now?


act first apologize laterPaying attention to the tsunami of news lately is exhausting; trying to make sense of the escalating madness involves dancing between skepticism and honest disbelief at what our fellow man is capable of in the pursuit of power, fame, and wealth.

Not all of those who wish to impose their will or image upon us actually care about what we think about them, but those that do tend to live by the adage, “Act first and apologize later.”

The impact of their apologies rests not so much upon what they’ve done, as it’s often a fairly silly infraction, but on the real and/or perceived understanding of the impact of their words or deeds.

pedestals2And many times, the public apology has little to do with the person or persons they’ve actually harmed; if a married celebrity is screwing around on his or her partner, what difference should it make to anyone but the couple involved? Are we so bound up in our perception of celebrities as representing ‘the best of us’ that we forget they are actually just like us, with all our feelings and failings? Do we depend on those we pedestaled to reflect only the beauty of our souls?

Are public apologies becoming their own art form?

In 2009, David Letterman publicly apologized to his wife and “Late Show” staffers for having affairs with female staff members, and revealed that he was the victim of an extortion plot regarding the extramarital flings. He admitted he had done wrong, saying that his wife was deeply hurt by his behaviour, but he hoped to make it up to her.

kobe_bryantLakers star Kobe Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a female hotel employee in Colorado in 2003. The charge was ultimately dropped (and a separate civil suit was settled out of court,) Bryant made a public apology to the woman, and he bought wife Vanessa, a $4million ring.

Actress Kristen Stewart got caught messing around with her married director, and then said she was really in love with then-boyfriend Robert Pattison. Result? Both the director’s and Kristen’s relationships were finished.

tiger-apologies-webWhen the former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, finally fessed up about his love child with a long-time staff member, his then-wife of 25 years Maria Shriver filed for divorce. Tiger Woods had a harem of more than a dozen women when he got caught. His marriage was destroyed, and his career has never again reached the same momentum.

And we know all of this because the media told us, and the stars felt they had to apologize to the fans.

“For an individual or a society, that capacity (to apologize) is a sign of life, of vitality, of a soul that can still be moved. There is a wisdom beyond sentimentality in the authentic apology. It has a purpose,” (Charles Krauthammer, Time Magazine, 1983.) We yearn to believe that those who’ve attained fame or fortune on our goodwill and fandom have souls that can still be moved.

i'm the bestThat’s a lot to expect of individuals whose living is made by a fanatical devotion to a talent or ability, or of skillfully pretending to be other people. Or from people who live in a completely different world where they’ve come to believe that what they think is of world-shaking importance, and that they are somehow above the strictures the plebes live under.

We may love swimming in a pool of schadenfreude at the mighty made humble, if only for a fleeting moment. The bigger picture is that what we’re seeing is what happens to anyone when everything we do, say, type, text or sexpic is scrutinized and studied.

The scrutiny ramps up daily under near constant celebrity surveillance; during the week of June 2, 2014 alone, four different stars were pilloried, and scurried to assure the public that it was all just an honest mistake. Pharrell Williams appeared on the cover of Elle magazine wearing a Native American headdress, and immediately responded through his publicist: “I respect and honour every kind of race, background and culture. I am genuinely sorry.”

jonah hillActor Jonah Hill, meanwhile, frustrated by being constantly hounded by paparazzi, was recorded yelling a homophobic slur. Hill apologized while a guest on the Tonight Show, saying that “I said the most hurtful word that I could think of at that moment. I didn’t mean this in the sense of the word. I didn’t mean it in a homophobic way… Words have weight and meaning. The word I chose was grotesque and no one deserves to say or hear words like that…I’m sorry and I don’t deserve or expect your forgiveness, but what I ask is at home, if you’re watching this and you’re a young person especially, if someone says something that hurts you or angers you, use me as an example of what not to do.”

That same week, Liam Payne of One Direction apologized for a video of some of his band mates smoking a joint, and Justin Bieber (more on him later) apologized for being racist … again. Even American Idol’s Chris Daughtry caught fire for declining to sing during a televised D-Day event.

How do you win the Tour de France seven times? Doping! Lance Armstrong’s reputation as a world-class athlete was shattered after he publicly admitted to doping in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

lance armstrong oprah“I view this situation as one big lie I repeated a lot of times. I made those decisions, they were my mistakes and I’m here to say sorry.” Armstrong also apologized to the staff of the Livestrong Foundation and stepped down as chairman of the organization. He has since been stripped of all his medals.

Update: in January 2015, Armstrong said on a BBC website that if he was faced with the same decisions again as back in 1995, that he would likely dope but would have treated people differently.

paula deen racismAnd then there’s celebrity chef Paula Deen, the target of a lawsuit alleging racial and sexual discrimination. In the time between the filing of the suit and the suit being dismissed, the Food network cancelled her cooking shows, publishing deals, and numerous endorsement contracts. Appearing on the Today show, the teary Georgia native apologized for using the N word, and said, “But that’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the 60’s in the south.” 

But for the biggest and best displays of arrogance, bravado, and “sorry, not sorry’ non-apologetic apologies, you really have to look to musicians.

2004 – Nipplegate. Janet Jackson has an infamous wardrobe malfunction while dueting with Justin Timberlake at the MTV produced Super Bowl halftime. CBS and MTV’s parent company Viacom essentially blacklist her, keeping her music videnipplegateos off their properties MTV, VH1, and radio stations. Eventually the blacklist spreads to include non-Viacom media entities as well. Partially acting upon that ban, a young software programmer at PayPal named Jawed Karim and some of his friends create a venue where people can easily upload and share video, and YouTube is born in 2005.

Timberlake’s response to the controversy: “Listen, I know it’s been a rough week on everybody. What occurred was unintentional and completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended.”

As Taylor Swift accepted her 2009 MTV Video Music Award, Kanye West leaped on to the stage, grabbed the mic from her and said, “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!”

He’s publicly apologized several times since, to the singer, her mother, and her fans, and then apologized twice more on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, saying “I’m not crazy y’all, I’m just real. Sorry for that!!! I really feel bad for Taylor and I’m sincerely sorry!!! Much respect!!!”

John Mayer’s 2010 interview in Playboy Magazine was ripe for commentary, as the arrogant sod shot off his mouth about his penis, Jessica Simpson and black women. He’s since plastered social media with mea culpae, and even apologized onstage to his band for being such a naughty fellow.

madonna twitsMadonna (who?) started 2014 by instagraming a photo of 13 year old son Rocco holding a gin bottle while vacationing in the Swiss Alps. The drinking age in Switzerland is 16. This was shortly after she’d posted a pic of Rocco boxing, with the message, “No one messes with Dirty Soap! Mama said knock you out!” along with the hashtag “#disni–a.”

As the story spread through the internet, she upped the ante by posting, “Ok let me start this again. #get off of my d–k haters!”

Finally the meds must have kicked in. She deleted the photo as the comments rolled in, and daintily said, “I am sorry if I offended anyone with my use of the N-word on Instagram, It was not meant as a racial slur…I am not a racist.”

And now .. for the most non-apologies by a musician … drum roll please .. the winner is … Justin Beiber!

bieber roastCanadians are famous for saying “I’m sorry,” and Bieber, at just 21, and rumoured to be worth $200 million USD, wants to take that to the tippy top. He begged Comedy Central to ‘roast’ him for years, and a roast he did get. There was no lack of material, even though most of the events that need to be atoned for happened in just the last two years.

I don’t want to be accused of picking on the kid. So I’ll just do one paragraph about some of his adventures in 2013 and 2014.

He’s been arrested numerous times, and in numerous places; he’s been videoed peeing in a nightclub’s mop bucket; he attacked an L.A. photographer trying to snap then girlfriend Selena Gomez’s pic; he stormed through at least one airport with his shirt off despite freezing temperatures; he abandoned his pet monkey Molly in Germany; was arrested in Miami accused of road racing and driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs; he angered British fans by turning up onstage almost two hours late; he suggested in a guestbook at the Anne Frank Museum that the Holocaust victim might have been “a Belieber“; he’s been flamed over illegal grafbieber harperfiti in Brazil, and was called to clean up more graffiti from a hotel wall in Australia; he disrespected the Argentine flag after he used a microphone to mop the floor with it during a concert in Buenos Aires; he allegedly egged his neighbour’s house in Los Angeles, causing extensive damage and almost injuring a 13-year-old girl; a police search of his home led to a member of his entourage being arrested for alleged cocaine possession; he nearly got himself beat up by Orlando Bloom, of all people; he posed for a Calvin Klein ad that some say has been mightily photoshopped; an infamous Scottsdale spewing became known as “Heave It To Bieber“; he was videoed spraying cleaning fluid onto a picture of former president Bill Clinton while saying “F–k Bill Clinton,”; ( he later spoke to the former U.S. president and apologized for his actions,) he met Prime Minister Stephen Harper wearing dirty farmer john jeans and a wife beater; he angered Chicago Blackhawks fans after both standing on the team’s logo in the Blackhawks locker room and getting a little too cozy with the Stanley Cup for their taste while posing for pics with the NHL‘s highest honor; at the last Grey Cup, Canadians soundly booed his image on the Jumbotron. I may have missed a few other incidents, but then, I’m not in his demographic.

bieber sorryBut – he’s posted so many videos telling us how sorry he is! And he looks so sombre and serious! “I think I was nervous because I was afraid of what people are thinking about me … I didn’t want to come off arrogant or conceited, basically how I’ve been acting the past year and a half. I’m not who I was pretending to be.”

I think this is the tenth or fiftieth time he’s said this, so it must be true! His latest video is even called “Sorry!”

But here’s the thing – apart from his enormous fan following of rabid teens, likely more titillated than shocked, no one has really been affected by the Beeb’s theatrics except himself. Some Canadians have certainly been embarrassed – check the Urban Dictionary for Justin Bieber. “7. National disgrace to Canada “ – but we lived through Rob Ford, we can live thru Bieber.

There are times when we need our public figures to own up to their faults, and publicly apologize for actions that were wrong or cruel; times when whole groups of people can be gently shown that it is neither right nor ‘cool’ to slur others beliefs, genders or colour.

And there are other times when apologies are little more than words designed to keep the public’s attention, just lip service, with no indication that the immaturity, selfishness or bigotry has actually been acknowledged as wrong, or that the individual has any real intention of changing his or her behaviour.

trust-quotes-john-harold-623

(edited copy, originally published  2015/02/08, DBAWIS)

John Baird – Bouquets and Brickbats


Political junkies were surprised and excited when rumours began that Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird would resign his position, effective immediately, and also resign as an MP, to take effect within days. Speculations as to woil prices cartoonhy, and especially as to why NOW, filled the mainstream and social media.

Was this the beginning of a Conservative meltdown, as oil prices tanked, the loonie dived, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper sabre rattled and proposed new security measures accused of restricting civil liberties?

National Post columnist John Ivison speculated that there was a rift between Baird and Harper over Canada’s sanctions on the Russian government. Some wondered if being pelted with eggs and shoes by dozens of Palestinian protesters in January 2015 had shaken his resolve. (Activists from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party earlier called for a boycott of Baird because of Canada’s Baird Palestineperceived pro-Israel stance, and its opposition to a Palestinian bid to pursue war crime charges against Israel.)

Still others noted that, by not running in 2015, Baird also qualifies for his pension, of $100,00 per year, under an old rule, at age 55. Parliament increased the qualifying age to 65 years old but that policy only covers those who are elected or re-elected in 2015.

Or maybe it was just that, after two decades in public office, he’d simply decided it was time to seek other opportunities, possibly in the private sector. He is said to be finalizing two offers.

Mohamed FahmyOn Monday, Baird reported that Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who is in jail in Cairo, would be released imminently, which would be his last diplomatic victory.

Although Baird’s stances were often provocative, even prompting Conservative colleagues to tease him of having a partisan nature, he was well liked by many in the other Parties.

“I quickly learned thoBaird resignsugh to make a difference, to really make a difference, you can’t be defined by partisanship, nor by ideology. You need instead to be defined by your values,” he said in his resignation speech.

Since being named foreign affairs minister in 2011, Baird has spoken out against controversial issues at home and abroad.

In 2012, he addressed a British audience on human rights, saying that Canada would not stand by while its “Commonwealth cousins” criminalized homosexuality and ignored other fundamental freedoms, including the rights of women, minorities, and the right to practice religion. Homosexuality is illegal in 41 of 54 Commonwealth member states.

child marriageIn 2013, Baird spoke at a United Nations session called “Too Young to Wed,” about child brides forced to marry. Baird said “It’s been felt that in some cultures, in some places, this was a social reality. And for the good of the conference, would I mind shutting up,” adding that forced marriage is “unacceptable” and can be ended within a generation.

But he’s made a few gaffes along the way – his request for gold-embossed business cards was outed and ridiculed. He was always on the move, traveled more often, and to more out of the way places than any Canadian foreign minister before him. To his credit, he traveled commercially, but some of his trips didn’t make much sense, and were thought to be a drain on taxpayer funds. He recently flew to Brazil for President Rousseff’s second term swearing in, and attended Persian Gulf conferences that were not important to Canada’s needs.

John BairdIn 2013, a scandal occurred when CTV News reported that Baird and six friends stayed for eight days at the official residence of Canada’s high commission to Great Britain, Macdonald House.

His diplomats were not fond of his frequent, high-maintenance visits. Apparently he wasn’t very fond of them either. In 2014, Baird quietly ordered his department to cut millions of dollars out of a foreign aid program and to call the cut a “surplus.” He blamed the cuts to the program on the bad performance of Canadian diplomats. Associate Deputy Minister Peter Boehm revised the figures in a May 13, 2014 memo, which read “per your instructions, $7 million was declared surplus.”

foreign aid surplusThe NDP Foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, felt the minister was being deceptive. “It’s what I would call a parlour trick, to make it appear like they’re sound fiscal managers, when in fact in this case, Minister Baird is trying to make people believe that his cut of $7 million is in fact a surplus. This is exactly the same thing that they did with regards to lapsed funding.”

Canada’s former Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, wrote  “The Conservative government has managed the austerity program launched in the 2012 budget with deliberate secrecy. They did not inform Parliament of the details of their spending plans…Austerity is difficult and they did not want to pay a political price for making difficult trade-offs…their strategy was to limit planning information to shut down debate and evade accountability.”

baird_IsraelDuring his time as Foreign Minister, his critics have also accused him of selling embassies and ­unflinching support for Israel, diminished backing for multi-lateral institutions and a “distinctly un-Canadian” stance on foreign policy.

However, he leaves behind many who say he played a large part in shaping Conservative foreign policy and personalizing Canada’s diplomatic relations with the international community

NDP MP Paul Dewar, his party’s foreign affairs critic, told Embassy that Mr. Baird brought the Conservative Party’s foreign policy “into the limelight.”

Canada in the world“John Baird made Foreign Affairs—for good or bad—relevant again within the Conservative government. Prior to that, it really wasn’t a portfolio that was important to the government because of the players involved. They didn’t have as much of an interest or an understanding of the role,” he said.

Harper has appointed International Trade Minister Ed Fast as the interim foreign minister.

Use Your Power – Vote!


CANADA-2030Even those amongst us, who are tired of hearing about, and arguing about, politics and the economy know, deep down, that we must take responsibility for how Canada will be governed and represented to the world. It’s no longer enough to whinge and moan about the issues that have snuck up on us while we struggled to keep up with the cost of living; Canadians need to decide what sort of Canada they want to live in. And that means we have to vote.

10.-Represents-the-peopleWe have the right and a duty to vote, but voter turnout has been steadily declining in Canada and the United States, as well as in Western Europe, Japan and Latin America. The world’s highest voting rates, at 95%, are in Belgium, which has compulsory voting, and Malta, which does not.

(Other countries with compulsory voting include Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Greece, and Luxembourg.)

Voter turnout among Canadians is at an unprecedented low, and has been declining since the late 1980s. Voter turnout in the most recent election, at 61.4%, was the third lowest in Canadian history. Young voter turnout was 39% in the 2011 federal election. Canada’s youth will often say that there is little in politics that relates to them. If an issue catches their attention, they are more likely to participate in boycotts and demonstrations, groups with like-minded views and passions.

Screen shot 2014-10-23 at 14.12.48.jpgThere’s a general malaise about voting. As much as I adore the witty and eloquent Russell Brand, I find his disdain for voting appalling and unhelpful to his more impressionable followers. Even that old reprobate Johnny Lydon of the Sex Pistols, once famed as an anti-establishment rebel, has called Brand’s refusal to vote “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” adding “You have to vote, you have to make a change. You’re given lousy options, yes, but that’s better than nothing at all.”

In 2013, Brand guest-edited Britain’s “New Statesman” and wrote at length about his views on politics, saying “I have never voted. Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics… I will never vote because, as Billy Connolly said, “It encourages them.””dont-vote

He has since moderated his words. “What I said was, ‘There’s nothing worth voting for.’ If there was someone worth voting for, I’d vote for it and I’d encourage other people if they think that there is a political party that represents their views; if they think there are politicians that are speaking on their behalf, by all means vote for them.”

We’re exhausted with the process. We’ve also lost interest in civic and social participation. Pre-1980’s, more of us were involved with our churches and schools, and we were more likely to be involved with professional or fraternal organizations. Before televisions and computers were available in every home, we met our friends and neighbours socially, to play bridge, or to pit our skills against each other physically in pickup sports and bowling leagues.

When pressed, those who can’t be bothered to vote will say that they’re just too busy. It may feel that way, but studies have consistently shown that we have the same amount of leisure time we have always had – we’re just using it differently.

Statist-voting-logicOthers will say that voting makes no difference; we’re only exchanging one self-serving politician for another. Since the early sixties, we’ve had less trust in government and in politicians in general. The rise of ‘attack ads’ and smear campaigns has left voters with a foul taste in their mouth about politics in general.

There’s an actual formula for figuring out the likelihood of someone voting.

PB + D > C.

P is the probability that an individual’s vote will affect the outcome of an election; B is the perceived benefit that would be received if that person’s favoured political party or candidate were elected; D is for democracy or civic duty, or any social or personal gratification an individual gets from voting, and C is the time, effort, and financial cost involved in voting. (Wikipedia.org)

One of the issues affecting voters in Canada and the States has been a sneaky tinkering with that C; in the name of efficiency and a feigned attempt to curb ‘voter fraud,’ politicians have made it more difficult for some groups to be heard.

election-fraud-for-dummiesVoter suppression, the ‘dirty tricks’ dreamed up to intimidate, or to make it inconvenient or impossible for citizens to vote are illegal activities. After the Canadian Federal election of 2011, the Conservative Party was accused of having used live calls and robocalls to tell voters that their polling station had been changed. Voters were directed to false addresses, often several hours away from correct stations. These calls claimed, illegally, to be from Elections Canada.

A federal court was asked by The Council of Canadians to look into allegations of Conservative Party voter fraud. The court concluded that fraud had indeed occurred, probably by someone with access to the Conservatives databases, but said that there was no direct proof that the Party or any successful candidates were either directly involved or profited from the fraud. Although the Conservative were criticized for making “little effort to assist with the investigation,” the court did not annul the result in any of the six ridings where the fraud had occurred, concluding that the number of votes affected had been too small to affect the outcome. (Wikipedia)

In 2015, changes to Canada’s voter eligibility have a new requirement, that each voter prove his or her physical address on paper. The long accepted practice of having a second person vouch for a voter’s address will no longer suffice.

native voice“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to vote to every citizen in Canada who is 18 years and older. While the Fair Elections Act doesn’t trump the Charter and render the right to vote for these groups null and void, the EFFECT of the Act could be just that. The Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand reported in a CTV news article that removing vouch voting could affect over 100,000 people — particularly those who are Aboriginal and live on a reserve.

homeless votePeople who are homeless, whether on the streets, couch surfing or living somewhere temporarily, are also at risk of losing their ability to vote if voter vouching is dismantled. People who are homeless can experience theft, or sometimes misplace their personal identification because of housing instability. This shouldn’t hold them back from voting.

“Irregularities” have been noted with respect to voter vouching in the last election according to a report commissioned by Elections Canada. These irregularities are being touted by the current government as a reason to end voter vouching, however, the report actually states that these issues were ‘administrative’ and made by elections workers — not by voters themselves. In court cases that preceded the report, both the Ontario Superior Court and the Supreme Court of Canada agreed that, “there was no evidence of fraud or ineligible voters being provided ballots.” (Huffington Post Canada)

bc reserveThis change may also become a problem as physical mail delivery becomes a thing of the past. It will definitely be a problem for many First Nations people, who often do not have regular street addresses, and thus relied on vouching. Elections Canada now requires each person lacking identification that includes an address to have a different registered voter swear an oath as to the technical land description of their home or a letter from the First Nation confirming the location, along with a piece of identification with the voter’s name. Elections Canada will not accept Indian status cards alone.

voter-suppressionIn the United States, elections are locally administered, which has often been found to allow the manipulation of elections. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses were used to suppress poor and racial minorities from voting. Today, voter suppression is more subtle, but is an integral part of policy for the Republicans, who have championed voter ID laws, voter caging, and felony disenfranchisement. There is also a sad history of physical intimidation at polling stations, ranging from unauthorized security guards, to simply making voters wait for long hours in gruelling weather.

Some countries are working to improve voter turnout by increasing possible voting locations, requiring companies to give workers paid voting time off, or allowing voters to vote over several days, as they do in India. In France, voting is held on the weekend, so that most voters have no need for time off from work.

internet-voting1France, Switzerland, Estonia, Geneva and the United Kingdom also allow internet voting. The US Department of Defense has been looking into making internet voting secure, but no decisions have been made.

In Canada, federal elections still use paper ballots. There have been some efforts at the provincial level to allow internet voting, and some municipalities, including Peterborough, Markham and Halifax, provide internet voting as an option. We’re still a long way from being wired politically.

ask questionsNonetheless, and despite the best efforts of those who fear we’ll make the ‘wrong’ decision come Election Day, it’s still imperative that we use our votes to demand the changes we want to see in government. Voting is our power. By not voting, you cede that power to whomever’s voices are louder than the peoples, to further their own agendas and gain.

help wantedUnless we want a democracy in name only, we need to get involved, to seriously look at the candidates in our constituencies, and make an informed judgment on those who are seeking to work for us. Politicians are job seekers; they need to present a résumé and an outline of what they intend to do for us before being handed power. And they must be held accountable if they fail to perform up to their claims and our standards.

powerWhile they vie for their ‘job’ as your representative, you have the power. Once they’ve been elected, it’s out of your hands. So tell those who want your vote that they’ve got to work for it. Choosing not to vote, or to vote without understanding whom you’re hiring, only guarantees that Canada will find itself in the same place or worse by the next time the opportunity to make a difference comes along.

If you don’t vote, you just won’t matter. And all your complaints and demands will only be the wasted breath of the unheard and the unempowered.