Friday, September 14, 2007


Rights, rights! Who can regard them seriously? Take the right to life. I translate that as the right to food, shelter, clothes, clean water, clean air. No mention of health care or education – I'm staying with the basic five. How many of us have these things? And liberty? How many of us can freely choose our leaders? Our way of life? Move unhindered beyond our borders? To make it worse, eexercising our supposed rights can get mighty complicated. Are you, gentle reader, vigilant for your health, exercising your freedom to betake yourself to the supermarket so that you might purchase bottled water and avoid the deadly microbes in the stuff out of the tap, thus preserving that life to which you imagine you have a right? Well, turns out that the plastic bottle won't leach dioxins into the water as that alarmist e-mail has warned. That's an "urban legend". Rolf Halden of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and the Centre for Water and Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has, however, advised that "city water is much more highly regulated and monitored for quality... [while] Bottled water... can legally contain many things we would not tolerate in municipal drinking water." Stay with me on this. Freedom to choose the water we drink, and our right to clean water are tangled up here, and furthermore, intertwined with a host of other things, like simple literacy, and less simple access to cyberspace. The moral of the story is that lots of us, rich and poor, are drinking lousy water: some, because there are fewer and fewer clean springs, rivers and uncontaminated aquifers; some because where there is water, those whose business it is to see that it's potable fail to do that job (remember Walkerton?), and some because they go off hunting for clean water in a plastic bottle, which may just be a bad place. In sum, it seems to me that too few people throughout history have had the most basic rights, and so few people nowadays exercise even the palest resemblances of them, that I just don't believe. Relative privilege, though, is another matter, and that I'll tackle soon., if God spare life.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Land We Love

I went to Jamaica for my sister-in-law's funeral on the third of September – Election Day, as it happened. I probably made my booking before the date was announced – I can't remember at this point, for it came as a surprise when someone pointed out to me that we went to the polls on 3 September. (Affected by the same blissful unawareness, I made a booking to return to Canada on the 9th of September.) President Carter didn't come to watch the elections this time, nor the Commonwealth Secretariat. They were confident the polls would proceed peacefully and fairly, which, by and large they did. A few people died, but given the mayhem that might have obtained, things proceeded pretty well – except for the fact that only 60% of the electorate turned out to vote! Perhaps we should make it a criminal offense not to exercise one's franchise, as the Australians do. The low turnout is bad enough, but far worse was the silliness put forward by some as an excuse for their failure to vote. There were people who could not bring themselves to go to the polls because they were "born and bred in X party", and if they couldn't vote for that party, they weren't going to vote at all! It makes nonsense of the business of choosing public officials. Voting is a complex business, and in a country with many cultural groups and many languages, it's a challenge to ensure that everyone understands the issues. In a tiny country where people speak the same language, it is easier for them to have a grasp of things. Most candidates are well-known and priorities stare the voter in the face. Whatever the size of the state, there are many bases according to which one can make a choice. Does the candidate have a solid record of work in the constituency, whether as sitting member or caretaker? How good is their attendance record in Parliament? Their participation in debate? If there's a really good candidate running in my neck of the woods, regardless of party, that's a good reason to support the person. Unless there is an overriding big issue – a party soft on the environment, or inclined to wantonly commit the country's troops abroad, or proposing a significant increase in consumption or income tax. These bigger issues may override voting for the better candidate in my constituency, especially if the election looks to be a close one. But where one puts one's vote must be a reasoned business, done after due consideration of what is best for community, country and planet. If one's vote is a way of maintaining membership in a particular political group, then we are back in the business of reichs, and that is a dangerous business indeed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Peace on Earth

I have to believe in God. Jah. Allah. Nyame Nankopon, according to the Ashanti. Yocahu Vagua Maorocoti, according to the Taino. The Supreme Being of the Hindus. The God of Gods of so many belief systems. Outside of such a Being, things fail to make sense to me. I believe that this Supreme Being is a Personal God, though I am painfully aware as I set this down that my conception of Divine Person does not begin to approach the nature of this God, this "I Am Who Am". I do know some things about I Am Who Am, however, and those things are well summed up in the Rastafarian greeting, "Peace and love". I Am Who Am is a God of Peace and a God of Love. I Am Who Am is not a God of War, nor a God of Hate. People who make war, who kill, maim and murder, and people who inculcate hate, do not do so in the name of, nor with the approval of I Am Who Am. Regardless of the circumstances. I Am Who Am is also a God of Power – not Anybody I, for one, would want to provoke. We were made by this Divinity so we could love one another, and help one another. Earth was made by this Divinity so that we might take care of it, and it might sustain us. None of us have any entitlements. Indeed, I don't believe we really have any rights. (More on this in due course.) What we have are relative privileges and concomitant responsibilities. And there is no way around any of this. As Martin Luther King Jr. so famously said, "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools." The slaves sang it for us. The gospel singers and the folk singers have kept it firmly in our face. "God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water but the fire next time." Read the news. Seems to me the fires have started. If we don't wake up soon, sell our SUVs, exercise our franchise (more on this soon as well) and choose leaders who know the value of Kyoto, then we all best get accustomed to the smell of roasting human flesh. I'm ending with As-Salāmu `Alaykum (السلام عليكم). It is an Arabic language greeting used by both Muslims and Christians and it means "Peace be upon you." I am reminded of what the angels sang at the birth of Jesus, Jesus being a prophet revered in Islam as well as the Messiah of Christian belief. They didn't sing, "All Hail the Messiah!" They didn't sing, "Behold the Son of God!" THIS is what they sang: "Peace on earth. Good will to human beings." Selah.