Monday, December 15, 2008

Concerning Canadian politrical (sic) runnings: desperate commentary (1)

Man, I'm not sure how many peeps know what a democracy is. Guys who vote for a party that has no platform, i.e., a party that has not told voters what they will do if they are elected, do not know what a democracy is. Dolls who rush to the polls and cast their ballots for the same politrical party, all the time, regardless, do not know what it is. Guys and dolls who stay away from the polls at election time (as was the case in the last federal election in Canada) do not know what it is. The bright sparks who say that it was the will of Canadians that the Conservatives form the government last time around do not know what it is. Any dude, even if he's a Prime Minister, who's not hip to the fact that elected representatives are free to advance radical political points of views (in this case separatist or secessionist views) emphatically does not know what it is.

Ah, but surely I jest! Every jitterbugger knows that a democracy is a country in which people freely choose their leaders.

Well, okay. So what if there's only one party or person to vote for? What if the votes are deliberately miscounted or some of them get tossed (as many people believe to have been the case in the US both times that George Bush was elected)? What if voting machines don't work properly? What if more peeps in a riding vote than are registered to vote? What if some Anansi voters mark their X more than once? What if the country is divided up, for voting purposes, so that a thousand peeps in one riding (constituency, electoral district) get to elect one representative while ten thousand peeps in another riding also get to elect just one representative? And in this last case, what if the party that wins in most ridings wins with fewer than half the number of peeps who marked their Xs? Where is democracy in all of that?

Man, de ting can seriously twist up your brain!

Which is why it helps to know a little math and to be wary of politrical types, and to bear in mind a few basic things. For example, though a dude or dudess may think so, he or she doesn't in fact choose a Liberal, or a Conservative, or a member of the Bloq, or the Green Party. You, my friend, and I, choose a person to represent us. We choose her based on the party she says she belongs to or the fact that he says he owes no allegiance to any party. But the person of our choice is free to have a change of heart and switch to another party. It's known as crossing the floor, and a sitting member (that is a dude or dudess who's been elected) may so do. And indeed may cross back. Selah!

Wherefore it is wise to choose with care…

There are also various ways of arranging how the chosen representatives of the people govern. In Canada, which is one of sixteen "Commonwealth realms," we've got a "parliamentary democracy" in which – listen for it – the Head of State is not the Prime Minister but the Queen (of England, chickens). The Queen's representative on our salubrious shores is the Governor General, whom Her Britannic Majesty selects, on the advice of the Prime Minister. At the present, Canada bids to have the hottest – or coolest, if you prefer – head of state in the world. Approchez, s'il vous plaît, Madame Jean! But lest you think the GG is merely another pretty figurehead face, there do arise occasions when the GG can send the Prime Minister packing. Indeed such a time just recently arose…

But we shall save that for our desperate commentary 2.

For now, this hip minute, let's check out just how the voting chips fell in the last Canadian federal elections. Stephen's Conservatives won 143 of 308 seats, Stéphane's Liberals won 76 seats, Gilles' Bloc Québécois won 50 seats and Jack's NDP 37. There were also 2 independents elected, that is, dudes who don't take tea with any party. We can describe those results in several ways, one way being that more ridings (165) did not want the Conservatives to form the government than wanted them to, because, dudes and dudesses, as we've pointed out before, only 22.22 % of eligible voters voted for the Conservatives: 77.88% of Canadians eligible to vote did not choose Harper's party.

So what in the good queen's name have we ended up with in our parliament? The truth is we've ended up with a Motley Crew who are free, according to our Constitution, to play political musical chairs, form coalitions, bring votes of confidence, and bring down the government on any financial or other important bill. This is all perfectly legal, and guards our freedoms. Though the Conservatives want us to believe the opposite, it ensures that nobody can hijack the government when there is no clear majority in parliament. And that is well. Selah!

Looked at in that way, statements about a 'mandate' appear a little different, and the statement that, "Canadians gave the Conservatives an increased mandate..." is – right, but not so right... Get it?

The Little Row House that eats up lots of energy...

Okay. This is my fourth try. Let’s hope I don’t lose the file yet again!

I know, jdid, there’s politics here and south of the border to talk about. Actually, these days my conversations about North American politics end up being diatribes about education. How can anyone be said to participate in a democracy without having a clear idea about how one's country is governed and the nature of the inputs one can make into that process? More on this in a bit.

This post is about old Toronto houses – or an old Toronto house. It’s one of a block of row houses, and similar to many such blocks all over Toronto. It’s a lovely little house, with a deck that looks out on a long skinny backyard garden, and a parking pad at the end that connects with a lane way so a car can park inside the premises. (Hate that word!) It’s got three bedrooms, one bathroom, modest living and dining areas and a nice big kitchen. The basement is partially finished. We own it, though sadly, given the economic climate, for how much longer, I don't know.

Row houses are clever. Joined at the front, living room to living room, they tuck in on alternate sides at the back so all the rooms can have windows on at least one side. But old row houses have one big minus. They are massive consumers of energy, and that’s the real burden of my present post. I’m hoping Al Gore, or David Suzuki, or David Miller, or Jack Layton, or Oprah or Michael Lee Chin or Raymond Chang or Robert Kennedy or the TD Green Mortgage CEO, or any green fan with funding will share my concern about making these hundreds of houses more energy efficient. They need insulation for the exterior walls and roofs. They need energy efficient windows and doors. They need energy star appliances. They need solar panels (those innocent of NF3, aka nitrogen trifloride – thanks to fsjl for the note below), barrels for collecting rainwater runoff, etc., etc.

The challenge is to make them into sustainable units, even if they can’t achieve zero footprint rating. I’d love to be involved in the effort. They could be rehabilitated a block at a time, and it would be a great way to educate neighbourhoods about greening.

So this is a shout out to any person or institution who may be interested in greening the row houses of Toronto. It would be great to hear from you.

Here’s the (lightly edited) note on NF3 from

Nitrogen trifluoride, or NF3, is used for cleaning microcircuits during the manufacture of... modern electronics, including … thin-film solar panels, the latest (and cheapest) generation of solar photovoltaics. … Because industry estimates suggested that only about 2 percent of NF3 ever made it into the atmosphere, the chemical has been marketed as a cleaner alternative to other higher-emitting options. For the past decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has actively encouraged its use. NF3 also wasn’t deemed dangerous enough to be covered by the Kyoto Protocol, making it an attractive substitute for companies and signatory countries eager to lower their emissions footprints.

It turns out that NF3 might not be so green after all. “NF3 has a potential greenhouse impact larger than … even that of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants,” according to a June 2008 study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

President Obama: the Long View and the Periphrastic Moment

I listened to Barack Obama's acceptance speech – twice. Live on air, and again last night. One of the pundits commenting right afterward thought it was long. It was longer than might have been expected, at the end taking a historical view, using the story of the life of African American voter, Anne Nixon Cooper of Atlanta, aged one hundred and six, who cast her vote by "touching her finger to a screen," to trace the arc of history (as I think Senator Obama referred to it at one point) and so to show how far the USA had come in the course of her life: to demonstrate in living – as in Miss Cooper's life – historical colour the mantra of his campaign, "Yes we can!"

What I want to talk about in this post is the difference between the pundit's point of view, that a presidential acceptance speech needs to be brief, hit the high points, be done with it, and Mr Obama's choice to extend his comments, and in doing so, to look back over the previous hundred years by way of a story. (I have no doubt the gigantic crowd, hanging on his every word, would have listened to him go on all night.)

The difference turns on several things. One is that we who have had to fight our way forward are continually aware that we live in and by accretion; that today is indissolubly connected to yesterday and tomorrow; that, as I put it in one of my poems, "is hand holding hand that see we/survive these many historical years." (See “Blessed Assurance” in CERTIFIABLE, page 82, ad on this page.) That hand-holding is another image of which I am fond, a cruciform image of community: hands joined together, at present (synchronically), and hands extending backwards – and forwards – through time (diachronically), the two sets of joined hands intersecting at this moment, now. I think we in the African diaspora see ourselves living within that arc of history, forever at the periphrastic moment, always aware of what is about to happen, as we are aware of what has gone before. We cannot have an investment only in the present because it is impossible to understand ourselves that way. (I don't think we are the only people who view ourselves so, but it's us with whom I am presently concerned.)

Some people seem to have difficulty with this idea. I'll give an example. When my husband, Martin, and I were writing CULTURE & CUSTOMS OF JAMAICA (see ad), there came a point at which we had to explain that we could not usefully say anything about the culture or customs, literature, music, arts, language or indeed, geography of the island, without taking a historical view. The editors balked. They wanted us to describe the country as it is, at present – no going back into history. We held firm and they eventually gave in.

A little diversion that may provide some help. My niece, Sweet Caroline, sent me an e-mail yesterday: a photo of a black man in an all black T-shirt with the inscription in bold white caps on the back: "BLACK MAN RUNNING AND IT AIN'T FROM THE POLICE." God’s truth – that picture, colours and all, worth a thousand words! Black man running and he get where he going. And ain’t no black man never get there befo’. So the black man, he get to say his say and he get to talk as long as he want.

No doubt, too, that Mr Obama realized it was a teaching moment. (Black people see their leaders as teachers, perhaps another difference?) He knew, as I'm certain all of the Americans in Grant Park knew, that the night of November 4, 2008 was a time that had not been before and wouldn't be again; that it wasn't just itself, but it stood for far, far more than itself. (I explored this idea in a post on his speech in Berlin that I've just hung up again.) The moment was ephiphanic, and he seized it.

And there is the matter of ritual, which some people appreciate and others less so. A look at the faces of the crowd showed that people understood that they were witnesses, and that what was happening before them said something about themselves and their country, something crucial and good. It was a moment, an event, a circumstance that spoke about the fact of them, as a people, moving to close the gap between a great ideal – "liberty and justice for all" – and a reality that at times in their country’s history could not have been more terrible. They understood the Behold! factor: that what was being shown to them was themselves, made new. And they affirmed it.

It wasn't a moment for a short speech.

And the truth is Barack Obama can make a speech, the tradition out of which he comes being one of, as Roger Abrahams calls it, "the Man of Words and Talking Sweet". It is a tradition of proverbs and stories, aphorisms and memory gems, exhortation and warning. And however much some spoke of it with scorn, sneering as they allowed that Mr Obama could inspire with his words, people's faces plainly said they had been waiting a long time for someone who would talk to them just so – about goodness, and truth, and ideals, and justice, and unity and possibility. About hope.

Their faces said so, and their votes.

I add now my blessings on President-elect Obama and his family, blessings "...pressed down, shaken together, running over,” the blessings of the gospel chronicler, Luke, encapsulating richness in an image straight from the markets and roadsides where people measure out those staffs of life – rice, wheat, corn – and pass them on to their fellowmen so that they too might live. I pray for the Obamas' safety. I pray especially that the Senator's bold hope for his country will prevail and out of it will come new possibilities for all of us. Selah!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Barack Obama in Berlin (Originally posted July 28, 2008)

So the Democratic candidate for President of the USA, Senator Barack Obama, attracts a crowd of 200,000 people in Berlin, the largest one so far in his campaign. There is so much to say about the Senator, the manner and message of the man, the mere fact that he is the Democratic candidate – so much to say about the deep irony of his drawing his biggest crowd in Germany, of all countries. So just a couple of comments here. To begin with, having been in the USA during Civil Rights, I honestly never thought I would live to see the day. That it has indeed come says a great deal for the American people, in particular for young people in the United States. Among many other things, it says that far from being turned off, disillusioned, blasé, consumed only with celebrating themselves on Facebook and MySpace, they are alert, aware and prepared to respond to an inclusive message, a message that empowers them and advances nation building as a common cause. Whatever one's political persuasion, Senator Obama must be given credit for articulating such a view and persuading people that he means what he says. Of course, what lends credibility to his message is the fact of who he is, the fact that his life is witness to the "Yes-We-Can-ability" to which he now calls his country. Anyone who was there back then is bound to appreciate the awesomeness, the enormity of the now. What Barack Obama stands for is a great deal more than can be communicated by the simple statement that he is the first black man to run for president of the USA – as astounding a fact as that may be – even as the crowd in Berlin listening to him speak is a great deal more than a large gathering of white people in a European city listening to a black man who may well be the next leader of the most powerful country in the world. The bleakest moments in human history and our power to transform them are alive inside this man, and brood inside that crowd. And lastly – for now, for there's a great deal more to be said – the World, the one that begged America not to go to war in Iraq, the one that is frightened about whether we have so ruined the planet that it's about to heave us off its back the way a dog shakes off water, the World that's scared that it may shortly be ravaged by disease at the same time that it is bereft of resources, that World is desperate to find someone who is prepared to give it hope, to tell it that there's a way out. So mock the Senator, call him the Messiah, if you will, but know the times are critical, and admire him for having the courage to want to step into the breach.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

President Obama?

I was touched by the fact that Senator Obama's grandma voted – voted, then died. There's a woman who knows about being a good citizen! It's a lesson, really, about what we are called to do. Couldn't she hang on one more day? Maybe it wasn't so important. Maybe when she saw her grandson about the present business of his life, she felt she could give herself a pat on the back, say to herself, "I tried my best, and he hasn't let me down!" and, having made sure to vote, pushed on to some real R&R.

I've had a Joe the Plumber Day! Like him, I'm unlicensed to do the things I've been doing, but, as my Ma would say, "Necessity is the mother of invention." I'm about to go look how things are coming in the land beneath us on the map, but I wanted to share some things I've found in my little campaign to help Catholics and Evangelicals (strange bedfellows, what?) see that it's perfectly alright to vote for Obama. I found some eye-openers.

Here's a quote from a Catholic man planning to vote for Barack Obama: "Before abortion was an issue for people, the plight of the african-american was an issue. That issue has never totally been resolved, largely because radical reconstruction in the post civil war era was highjacked by scared white people who didn't like the fact that African-americans were threatening to take the majority away from the whites in southern states... The civil right's movement brought us a little bit closer to equal rights, but not quite all the way. As this issue has been one for longer than the woe v. wade issue has been in existence, I'm voting to settle the problem which has been in longer need of correction." (I've quoted him verbatim...)

I find "Woe vs Wade" a poignant slip of the fingers. ('Roe' had been raped. One needs real courage to carry a baby conceived after a rape, though I have known one woman who did it. She has a fine daughter, who now has a daughter of her own.)

I find it revealing that the voter sees casting his vote for Obama as a way of settling "the problem which has been in longer need of correction." I'm very interested in any comments on his point of view.

And now to see the future...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How can a pro-life person vote for Barack Obama?

I have had lengthy e-mail exchanges with two persons, one my Evangelical Christian niece, the other a Roman Catholic acquaintance, who are concerned that they can't vote for Obama in the US election because he is pro-choice. Because it's an important issue, I thought I'd share a slightly altered version of the letter I sent to my Roman Catholic friend. (Perhaps I'll share my notes to my niece too, in due course. We'll see.)

Before I do that, however, I'll mention an article by Connie Brook in THE NEW YORKER (November 3rd) called "Odd Man Out", about Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who is described as "a graduate of a Catholic high school, who is pro-life and supports school prayer". Brook quotes Hagel (who enjoys a good relationship with Obama and has indicated that he would serve in his cabinet if asked) thus: “There was a political party in this country called the Know-Nothings. And we’re getting on the fringe of that, with these one-issue voters—pro-choice or pro-life. Important issue, I know that. But, my goodness. The world is blowing up everywhere, and I just don’t think that is a responsible way to see the world, on that one issue." I'd like to emphasize that the 'blowing up' to which Senator Hagel refers entails loss of life as well.

Thus spake a pro-life Republican.

Here now is my [amended] response to Jennifer, whose letter to me had cited Christifideles Laici, Pope John Paul II's 1988 "Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation," as well as observations made by Mother Theresa.

Dear Jennifer:

Neither the Pope nor Mother Theresa has had a child, or lost a child, or had to face the cruel choice of terminating an ectopic pregnancy, or had a child who has been raped and is pregnant come to them, devastated. I respectfully submit that we who bear and have borne and raised children have something to say on these matters.

I don’t believe in abortion. I do believe that those who don’t "play the game” ought to be a little less arrogant, a little more respectful, a little more like Jesus when they spout the rules.

These are important issues, complex ones, that we need to talk more, and more intelligently, and more honestly, about. Take ectopic pregnancies. Up until roughly the middle of the last century, the Catholic Church forbad the termination of these pregnancies, never mind that the foetus was unquestionably doomed. Then in the 1940s the Church reinterpreted the teaching to allow the foetus to be aborted. (One wonders how many women died carrying those doomed babies before that reinterpretation?) I think the principle applied here is called the principle of double effect, according to which, in order to save the mother's life, the taking of the life of a foetus that without question will not survive is permitted. The decision admits a value that seems not to have been recognized before, which is that the mother's life is a life that counts as well.

Here's something else that is pertinent: we don’t know when conception occurs. We do know about some things that bear on the matter. We know that the zygote that forms identical twins often doesn’t split till days after the egg is fertilized. Does that mean that one human being exists when the sperm enters the ovum and that that single human person splits into two people when the fertilized egg splits at three or four or five days old? These things have ethical implications. The Catholic Church is aware of them; I certainly didn’t dream them up – it’s the rumination of (at least some) Catholic thinkers, scientists and ethicists, that I’m repeating here.

We also need to remember that if a woman does not feel that she has done wrong in having a pregnancy terminated, she has done no wrong. Sin is in the will: it occurs when a person commits an act that is evil, in the full knowledge that it is gravely wrong. It is therefore true that many of those who abort babies are not guilty of any sin. Nor are these babies shut out of heaven – also a teaching of the Catholic Church, albeit, if I'm not mistaken, a recent one.

I believe that we arrive at wisdom and discernment in our decisions by prayer, meditation, contemplation of the Word of God, and fasting, in deep humility and with a great reluctance to judge. That is what I, at any rate, feel that I am called to – a journey far more difficult than mere observation of The Law. That Old Law is, after all, fulfilled in a New One, and according to that New Law – "Thou shalt love the Lord the God with thy whole heart and thy whole soul and thy whole mind and all thy strength; and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself..." – I am very hard put to see Sarah Palin and John McCain as loving their neighbours.

And I know there’s no guarantee that what they say they will do about Roe vs Wade, they will in fact do, or be able to do. Nor is there any guarantee that, the law having been changed, women will keep their babies. People know how to get abortions, and doctors will always be found to perform them.

One needs to decide, then, what one wishes: the ‘righteous’ satisfaction of having a law enacted, or the real triumph of building a society in which men and women revere sex for the happy gift it is and have babies that they want and keep.

So I would rather pray for courage on the part of women who carry babies in these last days. I would rather pray for a media that stops reducing the relationships of men and women to mere rutting, a mating that is without context or grandeur or grace. I would rather pray for an America that does not exploit parents who wish homes of their own in which to raise their children, an America that works to supply jobs that can support families, an America that provides parents and children with adequate medical care, and the opportunity for a sound education.

I would prefer to pray for an America that doesn’t incarcerate young black men in disproportionate numbers, depriving so many children of their fathers.

And I remember Jesus who knew when he was here that invoking laws never drew anyone to holiness. He rarely threatened people with the law – most markedly the merchants in the temple and the Pharisees. He told stories instead, and called people that way to the great challenges of virtue.

Prayerfully and pro-Obama,


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If you don’t laugh you will cry: two 'jokes' about the upcoming American election

In a comment on my last post, “Why imagination is necessary for governance,” jdid said, referring to the recent Canadian election: “lol, all I can do is laugh.” When I remarked that he must be “a man of extraordinary courage for [he was] clearly… laughing in the face of enormous adversity…” his response was “Clarabella, if I don’t laugh I would cry.” I owe him an apology. I should have recognized the backdrop of sobriety, the typical Caribbean modus operandi of “taking serious ting make joke”. I should have twigged to it because it’s the MO I employ in my own writing, whether prose or poetry. I've more than once explained that it’s not just possible but necessary for me to infuse humour into serious subjects because this is what we do in the Caribbean. “If we doan laff, we haffi bawl!” Since Whappy was a bwoy, laughter has been our strategy of survival in the midst of grief, pain, devastation, ruin.

That brings me to two ‘jokes’. I owe the first to fsjl, who passed it on:

So a canvasser goes to a woman's door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she's planning to vote for. She isn't sure, has to ask her husband who she's voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, "We're votin' for the nigger!" Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: "We're voting for the nigger."

I can’t remember where I saw the second, and so reproduce it from memory.

Obama is at the pearly gates, and St Peter says to him, “What makes you think you deserve to enter here? What did you do on earth to distinguish yourself?” Obama replies: “Well, I was the first black President of the United States.” “Oh!” replies St Peter. “And when did this take place?” Obama replies, “About twenty minutes ago.”

I have to admit that these are ‘jokes’ in the tradition of – what? Black humour? Dark comedy? (The ironies here are so numerous that I’m finding it hard to breathe.) “Black humour” according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “often uses farce and low comedy to make clear that individuals are helpless victims of fate and character.” [In the case of joke number one, character, and joke number two, fate?] We should remember that it was traditionally the clown in the king’s court, the one playing the ‘fool’, whose job it was to “speak truth to power,” as the popular lingo now puts it, and that clowns and their comedian progeny have always been serious folk, tellers of unpalatable truths – witness, in modern times, Pryor, Gregory, Goldberg, Carlin, among many others.

The Democratic presidential candidate and those who surround and advise him, and see to his security, are obviously well aware of these truths.

Consider the second matter first. Senator Obama was given a heavy security detail very early in the campaign and Christian prayer warriors – another kind of security detail, if you will – ‘cover him with the blood of Jesus,’ both groups acting out of the recognition that what he is doing is something that puts his person at risk. Coming to terms with this must require a deep, continued and abiding courage on the part of himself and his family, knowing as they do that throughout American history, harbingers of change, both white and black, have paid the ultimate price.

And consider the first tale, a slice of life so convincing, I think it’s precious – a promise of willy-nilly perception so madly possible, it’s exhilarating! If those who conceive of black people as niggers will nevertheless vote for a nigger as president, then there must be a means by which understanding can well up in people, never mind that their attitudes are confused and conflicted and wrong-headed and deeply offensive. Believers would say it’s the Spirit Wind, blowing “where it listeth.”

So I do not find either 'joke' offensive. They present boldly and baldly contemporary realities that the American public ignores at their peril. By having them presented as jokes, people are jolted into facing what is, terrible as that prospect may be. And Americans, many of them, perhaps most of them, either won’t be able to laugh, or won’t be able to stop laughing, for fear of being overwhelmed by tears that leave them beyond being comforted.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why imagination is necessary for governance

It seems that disenchanted Canadian voters could not even bother to go to the polls on Tuesday. A mere 59.1 percent of voters cast their votes – the smallest number of electors to vote in any election in Canada, ever. (There is a letter from someone who did not go to the polls in today's Toronto Star. It explains that, in the absence of any clearly articulated platform for which to vote – as distinct from a host of reasons as to why an opponent did not deserve to be elected – the writer's abstaining was a deliberate, considered choice.) Of the people who went to the polls, only 37.63% voted for Stephen Harper's Conservative Party. Using the figures on the net, that means that just over five million out of almost twenty-three million voters elected the Conservatives – in other words, not even a quarter of eligible Canadian voters. Thus Mr Harper broke his own fixed-date-for-voting legislation and spent some $300 million dollars of taxpayers' money on an election that has left us, effectively (never mind the Conservative 'gains') exactly where we were in the first place, with a minority government with which, according to the Prime Minister, it is impossible to run the country. It ought to keep the Conservatives humble. We'll see. The good news is that many first time voters turned up at the polls! Good for you, first time voters! You will have a vested interest in the country for longer than any of the rest of us, so BIG UPS for turning up to have your say! As I contemplate the distressing fact that our system of (mis)representation makes it possible for a government to take office when so few of those who voted actually chose it, it occurs to me that a little Bible might not be amiss. According to Proverbs 29:18, "Without vision, the people perish." In this context, "vision" probably refers to the gift of prophecy, at least according to the notes in my copy of The Jerusalem Bible – for information (especially fsjl's), a text in large part translated from the original Hebrew and Greek. We'll come back some other time to the matter of just what prophecy is. Suffice it to say that it is part of Jewish, Islamic and Christian traditions. Let's for the moment agree that a country (read 'people' in the phrase from Proverbs) needs wise leadership ('vision'). Despite a lot of recent talk about leadership based on experience, the truth is, in this highly complex, swift-moving modern world, no politician can have all the experience necessary to deal with the social, political, economic, industrial, agricultural, environmental, fiscal, health, educational, immigration, security, defense, etc., etc., issues. And in the absence of experience, one faculty and only one will serve, and it's the faculty of imagination, the seat of understandings based on empathy, analogy, the ability to conjure the evidence of "things not seen," to quote some more scripture. It is for this reason that I shudder at our prospects under the Conservatives, a party who have by their actions demonstrated that they are against the arts, against the life of the imagination. In that respect I would have been glad to have Stéphane Dion as head of the ship of state, or Bloc Québécois leader, Gilles Duceppe, or Elizabeth May. (I am not so sure of Jack Layton in his new Car Salesman guise.) They strike me as people who can envision things. Perhaps they will see the virtue of imagining the rapid downfall of this new minority Conservative government and of engineering an election that will address the real issues – and they are many, and formidable.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

More notes on spin...

It’s said that there are youngsters who think that you can shoot somebody dead and the person will be able to get up and walk away. This apparently explains some incidents of shooting by kids. They don't really understand what guns do. If, after all, a movie star dies in a movie, and is very much alive on TV or in the newspapers the next day or the next week, then obviously shooting doesn't make the person dead. Alarming, to say the least!

We really do not know enough (never mind that there have been so many studies) about what TV, movies and electronic media do to the way people perceive, to how they mediate what they see and hear on film and television. (Might this explain why people in Jamaica, despite being constantly warned, still drive their vehicles into overflowing gullies and get swept away and drowned?) Nevertheless, what we do know makes it clear that the combination of images and the spoken word has an enormous and immediate effect on people and certainly provides a sufficient basis for the spin doctors to spin things very effectively, so that, as jdid says, “…it’s not even about the real message anymore; its about who spins it better.” When jdid expresses concern about people still being convinced that Barack Obama is a Muslim despite the brouhaha about his going to the church pastored by Rev Jeremiah Wright, a Christian minister of religion, he's pointing to an example of how people can – what? Uncomprehend? Perskewceive?

The first 'academic' article I ever published discussed strategies for English teachers who were trying to teach students to mediate TV and film. (It's less of a problem with radio, since images, which are very powerful things, aren't part of the message there.) This discernment skill has to be taught, especially as media become more and more pervasive. Determining bias in written material is hard enough! Never mind how bright we are, we will have difficulty construing what's in the newspapers, what's on TV, what's on the net, what's in the movies, unless we have somehow learned how to deconstruct these things. And I don't mean that word in any highfalutin sense. I mean literally pull these things apart so that we can see how they are made, and so understand how they work.

Stephen Harper's baby blue sweater may have persuaded many people that he is a warm family man. However, many others have been made aware – by all the talk about the blue sweater and what it was intended to do – of how images are used in the attempt to sway their opinions. Two days ago, Mr Harper (having finally, one week before the election, deigned to present the Conservative platform) suggested that the devastated stock markets were an opportunity for people to snap up good investments! So much for the warm fuzzy family man!

So it’s a problem that’s serious and needs to be addressed. I suspect that there hasn't been enough of an attempt at teaching these – as Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner called them – 'crap detection' skills to students in junior and high schools. Because that's where it has to begin – indeed, starting earlier wouldn't be a bad idea. So, yes, fsjl, Caribou Barbie and her "Hiya solja!" and "Drill, baby, drill!" acts represent a real threat. God bless us with a spirit of discernment – in Canada over the next week, in the US over the next month!

PINK ICING on's list of 100 top African-American titles!

Just thought I'd share some news with you. My first book of short fiction, Pink Icing: stories (see ad on this page) published by Insomniac Press in 2006, was enthusiastically reviewed in US journals like Callaloo and The Literary Review, in the Caribbean Review of Books, as well as in newspapers like the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Observer and the Jamaica Gleaner. Reviews don't necessarily translate into sales, so it's with much delight that I discovered today that it's on's list of the top 100 titles in the category "African-American Studies"! (It may well not stay there, but it is there as of now!) I'm hoping that means it's got onto courses in high school, college, and university. That's not just because it will mean improved book sales, though I won't deny this is important since I earn my living exclusively from writing. It's because I think it's a book anyone can enjoy, in particular anyone from the Caribbean. It's a book of simple (deceptively simple, some reviews said) stories about old people and youngsters and all the ages in between. One of the most satisfying reports about it came from an alumna of my high school, a Chinese Jamaican who told me how much her mother, who was ill, and so in bed, was enjoying having it keep her company. That was a review that pleased me for true.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Is the Pope Catholic? Some notes on 'spin'

You know that joke, "Is the Pope Catholic?" It's a phrase used to archly refer to something that's self-evident. Except that what's self-evident to me, is often not self-evident to the next person. I'd have thought, for example, that there was no question about whether a Catholic is a Christian. Catholics, after all, think that they are members of the "one true" Church: they believe that the heads (those same popes) of that Church descend in a straight line from Saint Peter. However, fsjl informs me that, for black folk where he lives, a Christian is a Baptist or an Evangelical, and most certainly not a Catholic. (I hope I'm not misrepresenting what you said, fragano!) I don't know what that makes of all the churches, other than the Baptists and Evangelicals, that believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Redeemer of humankind, but there you have it. In Jamaica, it was once held by some that a woman who was a Christian would not straighten her hair – another, and very interesting, definition of 'Christian'! This isn't really a post about religion. It's a post about packaging, propaganda – what's nowadays called 'spin'. 'Spin' is by its nature invidious, that is, meant to cause resentment and hatred. It’s a good word for the activity it describes. It means that admen, political handlers, biased journalists and packagers turn us round and round so fast with their false or carefully slanted information and carefully concocted images that we believe what they say because we’re so dizzy with being turned round and round! As they do their jobs, spinners are having a laugh at those for whose consumption they are 'spinning' things. They know that the purpose of spin is to set us at one another's throats, Democrats against Republicans, blues against reds, Left against Right, meat eaters against vegetarians, creationists against evolutionists, free marketers against regulators, capitalists against – well, once it was communists, but that one has kind of broken down, hasn't it? We really should not allow our intelligences to be violated in this way. Here’s an example: the admen for the Conservatives in Canada put Stephen Harper in a blue sweater and film him sitting comfortably in a homey place and the public for whom he is being 'spun' are supposed to think he is a warm and fuzzy family man. Well, he may well be, but I, for one, am insulted to think that I could be persuaded to this point of view by a picture of him in a baby blue sweater! Stéphane Dion, the Liberal leader, is less easily spun. I don't know if he is a hockey player, but that picture of him wouldn't convince me about anything other than what I already believe: that he's a decent man who likes kids and with whom I'd leave mine, confident that they'd be safe. Spin isn't anything new either. Down through history, it's been used, perhaps most devastatingly in the arena of religion, to whip up one set of human beings so they'd go out and do injury, sometimes mortal injury, to others: crusaders against infidels, Jews against Christians, Muslims against Christians, Catholics against Protestants, Muslims against Hindus, and so on, and so on. Nowadays, we're packaging war in much the same way: "Support our troops!" doesn't mean that we should be anxious that the men and women injured in war should have adequate care for their bodies and their minds. It doesn't mean that we should agitate for veterans to get education and other benefits. It doesn't mean that we should be concerned that armored carriers for the troops are the safest they can be, nor about the psychological health of pilots who are fed uppers and downers so that they can fly as many missions as required and as often as the army requires them. It doesn't mean that we should take any interest in their welfare at all. What it means is, "Don't you dare suggest that these brave young men and women aren't fighting for God and their country!" What it means is, "Don't you dare protest against the battles they are sent into in defense of freedom and democracy!" And what do the words 'freedom' and 'democracy' mean? They are probably the words that have been spun to humankind's greatest detriment. I've already gone on too long, and so cannot tackle that ‘spin’ now. Suffice it to say that if we are free in the supposed “First World," then some are clearly much more free than others, as the present fiscal crisis in the US so amply demonstrates. Some people were 'free' to manage other people's money, were 'free' to do so without regulations or controls, and so were ‘free' to plunge an entire country's economy into ruin. We need to get out from under the spin and start to examine what words, images, information really mean – that is if we are to preserve what really is ‘democracy' and ‘freedom’.

Monday, October 6, 2008 A pro-environment website to help Canadians make their votes count...

People have to make choices, and making good choices takes courage – sometimes a lot of courage. There's an argument being pushed by Conservatives in North America that we can't afford to go green, subscribe to Kyoto, etc., because it would upset the economy, deprive people of jobs, alter our quality of life, etc. etc.. (I'm tempted to go into the implications of the current economic situation in the US for that argument, but I won't right now.) In Canada, Stéphane Dion has tried hard to reassure people that this is a false argument, that there are thousands of jobs to be created if we do go green, and that the economy will benefit when we change our dependence on increasingly expensive fossil fuels. What we need to understand, however, is that this isn't a Liberal Party matter. It has to do with all of us, every Canadian who wants Canada to be a healthy place for its citizens – now, and for the next generation, and the one after that. The great news is that there's a website where people who care about the environment can make their votes count, whether they vote Liberal, Green Party or NDP. The url: I won't try to explain how it works here, but the idea is to garner votes to defeat Conservative candidates in close ridings and at the same time enable NDP, Liberal and Green candidates to vote their party by arranging a switching of votes. A note for Bible believers like myself. There's a lot of talk about the don't care attitude of Evangelical Christians who believe these are the last days. I think the Bible makes it clear that Christians continue to have a responsibility to take care of the Earth, right up until Jesus comes, whenever that is. The New Testament is full of parables that talk about good stewardship. I don't see anywhere that we're excused from doing this. It bothers me that Stephen Harper can claim to espouse family values and not see that if he loves his children, he needs to choose well for them. That sacrifice may have to include having less now so that they can have much more later, like clean water and clean air, and food that they can safely eat when they are grown up and when they have children themselves. I've been saying again and again that it's important for voters here and in the US to make their votes count. Here's a really good way to do it. Go to Tell your friends about it. Vote for your children and your grandchildren. Vote wisely. Above all, vote! Selah.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The American Public

I have for a long time had a theory about the role of media in the way the worst kind of capitalism works – all capitalism not being by any means bad. I'm not an economist, nor a political scientist, nor a sociologist, but I have my own little theories. jdid says I overestimate the intelligence of the American public. I've known the American public since I went to college in the US, at age seventeen, and I respectfully submit that the Democratic Party would not have a black man named Barack Obama running for president in the upcoming US election if the American public of now, this day and time in October 2008, were stupid people. I've already written about this. As I’ve said, I never thought I would live to see a black person as a viable candidate for president of the US. That it has happened in my lifetime says a lot of very positive things about our neighbours to the south and I rejoice in that. But being a victim of Bad Capitalism can leave a person open to manipulation. Here’s how it works. Bad Capitalism is rapacious. It has no conscience and its greed is limitless. Bad Capitalism wants to control not just the economy, but also the political system, the educational and health care systems, the transport system, the media, the entertainment systems, and so on, and so on. Once it controls all those systems, it ensures that they work together to achieve one purpose: making Bad Capitalists richer and more powerful. The Bad Capitalist system makes everything really hard for all but the privileged few: hard for a person to get a good education unless they have parents who can afford private schools or afford to live in areas where there are good public schools, so many middle and lower income folk have to make do with schools that aren't so good, and getting from those to college or university isn’t easy. It’s hard to find a job anyhow, and a not-so-well-qualified person must fight to get one, and must often work two or three jobs to make ends meet. The two- or three-job person gets caught up in a daily grind where work dominates and takes up all their time, and stress affects their health. Because this person is working so many hours, it’s hard to find time to spend with family, much less find time for reading books and newspapers to keep abreast with what is going on. Now, here's where some of the Bad Capitalist owned media come in on behalf of the greedy Bad Capitalists: they offer the public, not serious analysis and solid facts, but sound bits-and-bites and biased packaging of information. (jdid, you are absolutely right in this regard.) Television becomes a place where an exhausted person can sit and be diverted – by almost any foolishness. (I'm telling you. I know. I've been diverted in this way more hours than I care to count, especially if I'm depressed and frightened about how to meet the next month's mortgage payment.) And there is mostly foolishness on the Boob Tube. So the tired overworked person ends up picking up information where and when he can, and doing the best with it that he can, with two consequences. (1) He or she can end up reading and trusting only some kinds of programs, newspapers and magazines, and end up under-informed or misinformed. (For example, there’s an article on John McCain in Rolling Stone by Tim Dickinson (online, posted October 19th) that’s worth reading, whatever your politics. But it’s long, and though it’s well worth reading, many people will just not stick it out.) (2) People can end up thinking that such a person is stupid, because they are pressed and stressed by a difficult life. The amazing thing is, this overworked average Joe or Jemima in America really has not been fooled in recent elections. Let’s ignore for a moment that George Bush may well not have been elected President in either of the last two elections. (Lots of evidence for this, for anyone who is interested.) But if one takes the number of voters who voted for George W. Bush in 2004 and calculates it as a percentage of voters eligible to vote (estimates say between 55 and 60% of voters actually did vote in the 2004 election) then President Bush was most certainly NOT elected by the majority of the American people. Gallup polls distinguish between eligible voters and likely voters in their polls. Give thanks, that never mind things are so hard for so many people, never mind that their lives may be squeezed into very narrow spaces, they manage to find the truth. which means, for me, that the Spirit is alive and well and blows where it wishes. I have one plea this fall. Say your prayers, if you pray, fast if you fast, and for the sake of God and good citizenship – be a likely voter! Go out and vote. Once more, your life may depend on it… Selah!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lying politicians, and elections...

An update... I'm behind on responses to the folk who've dropped by to visit here and who've said things to me in conversations elsewhere, and I apologize. I've been snagged by that nemesis of those of us who are keyboard-bound, stalled in tunnels of the carpel kind, so both hands are now in splints. At a terrible time too: the goings on in the world are shrieking for comment. Unbridled capitalism has finally had its comeuppance, throwing the US into chaos and crashing stock markets... Don't get me wrong. I'm not crowing. Too many ordinary folks are in real trouble, not just in the USA, but here in Canada, and no doubt elsewhere as well. As usual, the people who can least afford it are hurting while the chaps on Wall Street who caused the trouble will walk away unscathed. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the rest will be bailed out (however that is arranged) by monies that come , one way or the other, from the taxpayer's pocket. Comments on two matters, for now. First! When it was reported that mortgage giant Freddie Mac had paid an advocacy group run by Rick Davis, John McCain's campaign manager, $30,000 a month until the end of 2005, the McCain campaign denied that Davis still had ties to Freddie Mac. Davis himself told reporters that "it's been over three years since ... I had any contact with those folks." Newsweek's Mike Isikoff reports, however, that Freddie Mac paid Rick Davis's consulting and lobbying firm a consulting fee of $15,000 a month starting in 2005 and ending only last month, when the U.S. government acquired the firm. This is scandalous, and makes liars of the two Republican candidates, a big part of whose platform is that they are against those nasty lobbyists. Fact checkers (found easily online) report that Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for Vice-President, has used lobbyists as well. We all make fun of politicians – the only people who tell bigger lies than statisticians – but this barefaced lying is an insult to the intelligence of the American people and they should not put up with it. (Bible believers should also remember who Jesus ran out of his Father's temple – the moneylenders!) Second. Anyone who is thinking of voting for Stephen Harper in Canada's coming election ought to bear the American situation in mind and recognize how dangerous it is that he's emptied our coffers with his ill-advised tax cuts leaving us with no surplus, nothing to tide us over bad times. We now know clearly that hurricanes, out of whose paths God has kindly kept us, are not the only things that shatter economies and upend countries. Disease in humans or animals, collapsed infrastructure, crop failure, drought, floods, a nuclear meltdown in one of those old reactors, underhand dealing in our fiscal sector, any of these can suddenly arrive, and if they come now we have no nest egg to dip into, thanks to Mr Harper. Quite apart from the environment, quite apart from the divisive tactics according to which he's encouraging people who do needlepoint, sew, quilt and make handcrafted canoes to think they are somehow different from people who write and paint and carve, if you are thinking of voting Conservative in the upcoming Canadian election, remember America, a nation with empty coffers. These are critical times, requiring good government, and Conservatives aren't big on government: they think, the less of it, the better. But when the skies fall, as in times of war, disaster and famine, good government can make all the difference. So put you vote where it counts this election... Your life may depend on it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How can it be that it is good for Bristol Palin's baby to live and good for Troy Davis to die?

rethabile has asked us to write an American sentence for Troy Davis. This is my American sentence.

To kill Troy Davis is to kill a foetus that has been fulfilled.

America applauds Bristol Palin for keeping her baby then its courts turn around and kill a man, indeed a man about whom there is doubt as to his guilt for the crime for which he has been sentenced. How come it's immoral to kill a foetus, but moral to kill a foetus that has grown and become the person it was meant to be? That seems somehow perverse, having less to do with ethics and more to do with some kind of ethereal, romantic notion about the helplessness of babes in the womb. If to kill in cold blood is wrong, then it matters not whom we kill. (We won't get into the issues of war and self-defense here.) Or does "pro-life" mean pro-foetal life? How can the same morality that is served when a foetus is preserved, also be served when a full-grown human person is killed? Isn't the argument made that it is wrong to kill a foetus because it is human life? And even if we were to agree that capital punishment is an appropriate verdict for a capital crime, must the state not pause when there is uncertainty that the person convicted is guilty? Or is there more going on here? Is this an issue that concerns race? Class? Both? It's impossible to pursue at this time all the relevant issues in this case, and we will hopefully return to at least some of them, one less obvious one being that idolatry is a subtle sin, one we commit when we purport to value "the sanctity of human life" when it is prettily wrapped up in a developing baby but regard it as disposable in grown human beings. We say, where I come from, "What go round, come round." Also, "Time longer than rope." They are interesting encapsulations of the idea of the inexorability of justice, elsewhere expressed in aphorisms like "Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind." Outside, beyond, over and above all our behaviours, individual and collective, as citizens, communities and states, the same inherent order (or Order) that sees to the rising and setting of the sun governs human behaviour. We should perhaps look to it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Everyday matters...

Never mind the gorgeous weather, I spent the day tiling a bathroom – believe me, a challenging activity for someone who has osteoarthritis! It's not really by choice. In a city short of tradespeople, it's hard to find someone who will do a small job – which this one had to be, since it's a small bathroom, or washroom, as they say here. (I hate the term, talk truth.) Even when you find someone who agrees to take the job, chances are you'll get that fatal call a day or two before the big day that tells you, "Sorry. No longer possible." An intricate job too, since the tiles (they were already there: I was replacing maybe half of them) are small white octogons interspersed with much smaller black squares. They come set out in pre-set, one foot mosaics that are attached to netting, and that helps in putting them down, but only if you are working in those large dimensions. Patching tile by tile is something else! But what to do? One does what one must, so I'm pressing on. Hopefully I'll be done tomorrow. Then we'll return to painting, and after that, cleaning. I sometimes think I might have been happier living in a cave or in a tent as a nomad – though I suppose having and raising a family in the wild or on the move would not have been any easier, or simpler. Ah well! BTW, if you need to clean carpets, ordinary soda (the white chaser that you use for drinks) works. By the same token, baking soda works too, especially for carpets with pile. There are lots of safe, environmentally friendly alternatives to chemicals. And they're easy to find online and worth trying. On a bookish note, I've just finished reading Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm. Has anyone read it? I'd love to hear what people think. And Nalo Hopkinson's New Moons Arms has won the Sunburst Award! Congrats, Nalo! Keep them coming, and keep them winning! rethabile, thanks for visiting and for the translation. "Sunflowers" now exists in French and Spanish translations. Going to go. Retiring early tonight, as I've more tiling to do tomorrow. Stay focused – and pray! They're doing crazy things with the atom in a 27 km tunnel that runs across the French-Swiss border. A (very, they say) few critics think the experiment, due in late October, might precipitate a black hole that will drag in earth and everything on the planet. Maybe more on this soon...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Sunflowers" – "Tournesols"

Something a little different this time, folks. Here's a poem from my last collection, The True Blue of Islands (Sandberry Press, 2005 – available from I've tried to translate it into French; I knew some French once, but I've forgotten much of what I knew. I'm putting both the poem and the translation up, in the hope that someone whose French and kwéyol is better than mine will make a comment. I'm especially interested in whether there's a way to 'translate' the pun (English "guest" and creole "guess") in the last word. All comments welcome


Vincent Van Gogh the sunflower man
cut off his ear when Paul Gauguin
wouldn’t stay to paint with him
in southern France.

I burnt my veil and wedding dress
scarred both my cheeks
tattooed rosettes
along my arms with cigarettes.

We both needed a man to stay.

You think that it was
loneliness? I don’t
think so. Madness
has always been my guess.

© Pamela Mordecai 2005


Vincent Van Gogh, l’homme des tournesols
s’est coupé l’oreille quand Paul Gauguin
ne voulut rester avec lui pour peindre
au sud de la France.

J’ai brulé ma voile et ma robe de mariée
je m’ai marqué des cicatrices les joues
j’ai tatué rosettes
au long de mes bras avec des cigarettes.

Nous deux avions besoin qu’un homme restât.

Tu crois que c’était
la solitude? Je ne
le crois pas. Toujours
j’avais pensé qu’il doit être la folie.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Are they ‘Christian’? Are they ‘right’?

Who are these people who have claimed the words "Christian" and "Right" as if they have some Divine entitlement to them? And why on earth have the rest of us allowed this foolishness? It’s bizarre that they’ve been able to license themselves in this way, making “Christian Right” into a label for a group of people who are no more Christian and no more right than any of the rest of us, and some of whom are very scary indeed. Yeah, yeah. I know Conservatives are right and Liberals are left, and hence the term (i.e., to refer to the Christian bloc among conservatives) but that is also a bit of folly that we've paid dearly for. The words have a powerful subtext. They’ve facilitated these folks arrogating unto themselves the moral high ground, so that the message is not merely that they are conservative but that they are discerning, wise, enlightened. (I suspect that most people hearing ‘right’ in “Christian Right” think not ‘conservative, but ‘correct’.) Perhaps the most frightening thing is that they’ve been allowed to get away with behaving in decidedly un-Christian, not-right ways. While they insist on holding the rest of us accountable, they don’t seem to have to live according to their beliefs. As a Christian, I try to nurture my relationship with the Holy Spirit, and to listen to his guidance as I deal with what I see around me. The Holy Spirit cautions me not to judge anyone but he also reminds me that Jesus gave me a yardstick in the Sermon on the Mount: "By their fruits shall ye know them." So perhaps we should look at some fruits. For example, when it comes to staying married, these folks don’t seem to do so well. I'm quoting from a 2004 article in the New York Times (See "As researchers have noted, the areas of the country where divorce rates are highest are also frequently the areas where many conservative Christians live." Mmmn. Not such a good fruit crop there… Perhaps we should look for some other telling statistics for the "Bible belt" states. Assuredly, they do not do well in the matter of peace. Peace is paramount in the preaching of Jesus. That teaching began with the angels at his birth, when they sang, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men.” (Luke 2: 14) He himself exemplified it throughout his life – with perhaps a couple exceptions, one being when he lost his cool and drove the traders out of his father’s house (Luke 19:46), another being when he condemned the Pharisees and Scribes – at some length, it’s worth noting. (Matthew 23). Jesus extols peace making in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5: 9) and, himself faced with weapons in the garden of Gethsemane, warned his disciples against the use of force, against making aggression a way of life: “He who lives by the sword shall perish by it.” (Matthew 26:52) Indisputably the modern version of the sword is the gun. Nonetheless we have ostensible Christians (many being members of the NRA) somehow managing to square their gun toting behaviour with that caution. (I’d especially like to hear Sarah Palin on this.) Worse (for us poor members of the human race, fodder for cannon), how come these claim-to-be-Christians get to support war and take pride in their store of troops, weapons, missiles, and their vast nuclear arsenal? The trouble is that for a lot of people the Holy Spirit is a dead God locked up tight in a book rather than a Live Person who sustains, counsels, guides and comforts. I believe in the Bible as a living Word, one that I contemplate with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I know that God speaks to me, and that if I listen, I can hear him. Aha! Perhaps that's the explanation. Is it that we have not so much "pretend Christians" in the so-called "Christian Right" but deaf ones?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Is Stephen Harper's government to be trusted?

We're having an election in Canada on October 14th. In 2006 the Canadian government headed by Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, passed a law establishing a fixed date for elections. Mr Harper has now seen fit to disobey, ignore, circumvent that law – take your pick. It is beyond question that his government passed the law. It's also beyond question that he has chosen to break it. Some say it's because the polls were running in his favour, and there is indeed an Angus Reid poll in this morning's paper that has his party way ahead. I don't know about anyone else, but it makes me very nervous when a government uses the country's parliament in this whimsical kind of way. Either fixed election dates are a good idea or they aren't. If a government goes to the trouble of passing a law that says they are, I don't expect the same government to ignore the law two years later. None of the political commentary that I have read suggests that the country is in a state of crisis such that the government cannot function, which might be a circumstance in which breaking the law that fixes the election date could arguably be allowable, indeed, wise. If the election isn't being held because it's the best thing for the country at this time, then one must conclude that it must be the best thing for the governing party – in other words Mr Harper has chosen to break his own law because it suits his purposes. I don't care what the pundits say, I, plain old ordinary citizen, don't expect those entrusted with the running of my country to give me a six for a nine. Three card sharks, used car salesmen and vendors of snake oil behave in this way. Responsible governments don't. It makes me want to go find out what else he’s said that he's changed his mind about. It makes me think that when Mr Harper says he'll bring our troops home in 2011, he may well find a reason at some future time to change his mind. Makes me wonder whether I can trust anything he says. Makes me think about where I'll put my vote...

Friday, September 12, 2008

How do we read short stories?

Fsjl asks whether short stories should be perceived as novels in miniature, or as vignettes or as sketches. I'm tempted to say, well, they could be any of those. They could be all of those. They can be anything, because, after all, everything is everything these days. If Bristol Palin's breach of the sixth commandment – remember those ten rules written on the tablets that Moses struggled down the hill with? – has suddenly become the epitome of Christian virtue because she happens to be making a baby, well, who can doubt my argument? (I have to confess that I'm thinking of writing an epistemological essay called, "Everything is Everything" – footnote to Prof. Lauryn Hill whose ruminations inspired the title.) It's the age of prestidigitation, the age of virtual obeah. (I confess that I visited a few blogs this evening and they've left me a little bit high.) Everything is up here in the sky, and boy, believe me, it IS everything, double entendre intended! And in the midst of this plenty, who cares that Jamaican children don't know about Miss Lou and many have never heard an Anansi story? Who cares that there are teachers, in Jamaica and elsewhere, who can't tell the difference between a newspaper report and a story – long or short? And is there a difference? Don't both have a beginning, a middle and an end? Can't both affect you emotionally? Don't both have characters? So what makes the thing we call a short story itself and not something else? Apart from saying that a short story is by nature, short, it's not a question I plan to answer directly – not this time around anyway. Here are my reasons for not answering. We don't recognize things by applying definitions. That's an artificial activity. Indeed, definitions are, for the most part, a fiction. We imagine that because we can manipulate and describe things, we can define them. Not so. Outside the countable sciences, definitions don't hold, and once geometry gets into astrophysics and math graduates into infinity, supposed definitions in those sciences cease to hold as well. So how do you know anything? Recognize and identify it? By that same set of cognitive activities that you apply to know the difference between a duck, a turkey and a chicken! As has famously been said, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it's a duck. The above, translated, simply means that if you hear and read enough stories, you know a story when you encounter it. I invoke that set of processes that one Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky described long ago: "Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts." So you hear a tale from your Granny (an activity between people, and so interpsychological) and then it settles into you as an experience to which you apply the name, 'story' and you begin to form a concept (intrapsychological), creating a little mental hat that fits this thing-called-story. It is this earliest, most satisfying human activity that becomes the basis of our ability to appreciate history, our Holy Books, our family lore, the lays of ancient days, the Harry-Potter-length novels of now – and the short story. It is this earliest activity of storytelling in which I am now most interested, and that we all need to hustle to preserve. So, for the moment, here's my word on the short story: if it looks like one, sounds like one, affects you like one, then it's one. If at one end, it seems to be slipping into a vignette, and at the other, it's carrying on like a sketch, that's okay too. That's how things in life are. Call it a short story if you like. No harm done. So why did I say Ms Urquhart should have included only bona fide short stories in her Canadian collection? For reasons of pedagogy and practicality that we will treat of another time. Have a good weekend, be well and happy and stay dry! We'll talk again soon. Insha'Allah...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Is Sarah Palin being faithful in the small things?

Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican Vice Presidential candidate, has five children, all but the eldest under the age of eighteen. Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol, is pregnant, and a teenager. Bristol is having her baby – a good thing, for, moral issues apart, in my experience one mourns a child even if it drops out of one's belly of its own accord. Bristol's baby father, Levi Johnston, is also a teenager, a self-described "redneck" who doesn't "want kids". So here's the situation: Bristol Palin, a child, albeit a sexually active one, is having a baby for another child, Levi Johnston, who doesn't want children. That's a complex, complicated, challenging situation in any family, and one that's certainly not solved by the teenage parents getting married. There are two other daughters in the Palin family: Willow is thirteen and Piper is seven. Mrs Palin's baby, Trig, has Downs syndrome. Barack Obama may have decided that the whole matter is off limits for discussion as an issue in his campaign, which is more evidence of the decency of the man, but I'm not running for anything, and so I'm free to say my say. The Palin family is in trouble, no question. What would I do if I were the mum? Do some self-searching about why my eldest daughter is making a baby at seventeen, and for a young man who doesn't want babies. (That's a big thing. Children need to be wanted, and if Levi Johnston doesn't want babies, he probably shouldn't be marrying Bristol or anyone else likely to give him one.) I'd be wondering whether, with the challenge of a little son with Downs syndrome, and the responsibilities of an onerous job, I'll be able to devote enough time to my other two daughters, give Bristol the support she certainly needs, and continue to nurture my relationship with my husband – not to forget my eldest child, about to be deployed to Iraq, and no doubt in need of lots of reassurance and advice, never mind his age. My uncle used to say that to love a person is to act always in such a way as to ensure the well being of that person. I can't for the life of me see how accepting the Vice-Presidential nomination is the best thing for the Palin family at this time. Maybe next time around, or the time after that, but not now. And if Sarah Palin can't act in the best interests of her family, well… I am reminded of Luke 16;10 “He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much.” And, truth to tell, I don’t think by any means that Mrs Palin’s family situation is a small thing…

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"...the world in a grain of sand..."

“To see the world in a grain of sand…” William Blake

A little more in this post on that book of short stories edited by Jane Urquhart… Fsjl makes the point that some excerpts from longer works make excellent short stories. That's true, but I think that a collection of short stories ought to be just that. I’ll get back to this later. I think of anthologies as democratic books (demos = people; kratos = power), for want of a better word. Several people have their work presented, and, hopefully, many people are attracted by this literary buffet. I'm avoiding saying that one hopes to attract the ordinary reader because I don't know if that's every compiler's hope. Certainly, that is my hope. That’s because – and I’m going to digress a bit here – this literature business has become just that – a business, and a very elitist one at that. The whole factory of publishing, reviews, criticism, theory, the 'academy' in which students are taught how to pull the literary work to pieces, etc., etc., has turned more people off poems and stories than on to them. (So literary agents have been saying that factual works now have greater appeal and are more publishable: biographies, histories, travel books, and so on.) Not that the theorizing thing can't be great fun and discussion can’t be stimulating – if one recognizes that enterprise for what it is. My quarrel is that, at the end of it all, fewer and fewer people buy and read fiction. In the rush to secure their share of what action there is, people do bad things: writers, creative and otherwise, plagiarize – I needn't refer to several recent spectacular cases; they lie; the various parties involved form power-grabbing cliques and cadres (Russell Smith was gently suggesting this in that article in the Globe and Mail); they abuse influence. And, deliberately or no, those whose expert business it is to guide us through these tricky waters sometimes mislead us. Critics fan fires of ‘controversy’ and unpleasantness for their own ends. I've no problem with a real quarrel, but a fake fight for the sake of the flying feathers is another matter entirely. All in all, it's a set of bad behaviours that has slowly, over the past three or four decades, been throttling literature to death. But I've got far from anthologies and from the short story, haven't I? Maybe. Maybe not so far. Read The Dubliners and read the short stories in The New Yorker. Read Frank O'Connor and Olive Senior. Read Alice Munro and Thomas King. Read Timothy Findley and Mavis Gallant, Sam Selvon and Rohinton Mistry. Don't we – writers, critics, students, lecturers, common or garden readers – have something to talk about? What makes a short story a short story? (This is why I think it's better for all the choices to be stories written as stories.) What makes a short story a good story? A great one? Characters that a reader remembers? Dialogue that is riveting? Scenes and events that are striking and burn the imagination? Plots that have you on tenterhooks? A procession of unlikely versions of all the above that erodes you into loneliness, or emptiness or despair? And what makes a short story Canadian – or Caribbean? How have those artifacts changed in the last half century? What do the critics say? Should we give them half-an-ear? Are prizes useful? Are prizewinners all deserving, or is it, as has been said of awards here, there and elsewhere, a bunch of mutual admiration societies composed of people who receive awards this year and hand them out the next? It's not that Urquhart's introduction doesn't touch on some of these things – but the touch is so light as hardly to be felt at all. In particular, she avoids the obvious first question of why she hasn't been reading short stories! And she sidesteps the challenging issue "Concerning the Canadianness of the authors included in this volume" by using a quote from Margaret Atwood's introduction to a 1997 collection: "Some are born Canadian, some achieve Canadianness and some have Canadianness thrust upon them." Such a pity, for that would have made a mighty good discussion! She implies a criterion when she explains that she included a story of Gabrielle Roy's "even though it was originally written in French": there's a Pandora's box waiting to be opened. Should the book have been called The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories Written in English? So there's a lot for an editor to say, apart from pointing to themes and explaining why stories in an anthology have been collected in a particular way. There's lots of room for a good discussion with the gentle reader. Our ideal editor, having carefully said what the task has been, and how she’s approached it, digs in to her expert self for some insights. Beyond likes and dislikes. Bestowing something for the reader to hang on to, keep thinking about. For my money, where the short story is concerned, a thoughtful glimpse of a particular "world in a grain of sand…”

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Writing late, and "This long time gyal me neva see you..."

Writing, not late in life but late at night, and therefore error-prone. I just reread my last post, and apologize for the plethora of mistakes, stylistic and otherwise. I'll try not to let it happen again. Funny, the times that appear on the net as times when I post on the blog are very different from the real-time times! No matter. As someone in my just-finished novel says, "It's always six o'clock somewhere in the world." I am celebrating, hugely but very quietly, a phone call from a very good friend with whom I went to college and who vanished thereafter, lost in Africa and then Europe. I've dreamed of her, written about her, searched for her – and then suddenly, out of the blue, an e-mail, a phone call, another phone call, and there she was, talking to me from New York whither she'd come to bury her mother. Amazing! As it turns out, she's been living in Germany, and has probably been there the couple times I've visited for the Frankfurt Bookfair. She said she'd tried to find me too and had not been able to, and I said, "But I'm easy to find!" Of course, she'd not have known my married name, so I'm thinking that I may have to start going by both maiden and married names, though that's always seemed a bit pretentious to me. Better to do what many women do these days, which is to keep your 'born name'. I'm looking forward to talking to Rosario, as she was busy with bereavement business just now and we could only exchange phone numbers. It's funny. I had just about reconciled myself to dying without ever talking to her or seeing her again. She helped to keep me sane when I first came to the USA, to an almost all-white women's college, in Civil Rights time. She was a strange, remarkable little squirrel of a woman, very much her own self, and well acquainted with herself, even then. I shall be enormously happy to catch up with her.

On choosing works for an anthology

I've helped put together, or myself put together, a number of anthologies of prose and poetry from the Caribbean. None of these books was anywhere near seven hundred pages long, but size isn't really so much to the point, since one of the things one often has to do when one doesn't have lots and lots of pages is prune one's choices, and that is never an easy task. Like Jane Urquhart, I've found the task of compiling collections pleasurable because one inevitably reads wonderful work. My qualifications to select poetry and prose from the Caribbean are that I write both, I've read this body of work all my life long, and I've done some research and written critically on it as well. In addition, in three of the four anthologies I've described, I have worked as a co-compiler. This is a wonderful safeguard. As we say in Jamaica, "Two head better than one, even if one is a goat head!" It was necessary, in the case of most of these collections, to read a sizable body of work before making the final selections. In every case, there was an introduction that described the compiling task and explained why one had chosen what one had chosen. Sometimes the choice of works is limited by a parameter of time, say, for instance, poems written by Jamaican women born in the first half of the twentieth century, or poems written by Jamaicans since the country gained independence. Sometimes one chooses to present fewer writers so that one is able to showcase more of the individual writers' works. One explains that as well, and the basis according to which one selected the writers who were chosen. Sometimes one attempts to cover a specific geographic area, or the contributions of people of a particular ethnicity or religious or political persuasion. It's only polite to explain oneself, so that the reader faced with a choice of anthologies can know what she's yours contains. Certainly it wouldn't occur to me to compile the short stories of Sri Lankan writers or the poetry of Nigerians. I simply don't know enough about ieither body of work. Were I to become very, very famous, I might accept a commission to choose a body of Canadian short stories simply on the simple basis that I like them. And that would probably be fine – and I would know that I have to settle down and read for about five years before I could even begin to choose!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories: some comments

I bought a while back a copy of The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories. It is compiled by Jane Urquhart who confesses, early in her introduction (lines 5-6) to an uncertainty that began at the time of her agreeing to select the stories for the anthology – a project that seems to have taken some two years. (The book was published in 2007.) The uncertainty arose from a nagging suspicion that she wasn't the person best suited for the task, since, "both as a writer and a reader, I – along with many others – had paid more attention in recent years to...the novel". She goes on to say that she'd read stories by Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant and Alistair MacLeod, but that "when it came to younger and newer writers in Canada, it was most often their novels I had turned to..." and then she comments, "Perhaps the greatest gift given to me in my role as anthologist was my discovery of these voices." (Intro, p ix) It seems close to reckless for someone who is, by her own admission, neither an avid reader nor frequent writer of short stories, to take on so formidable a task, if only because she should have been aware that many persons would ask, "But what on earth are her qualifications?" and would have wondered why, having been bothered by the question, she had not felt the need to arrive at a satisfactory answer. Coming into the project with that sensibility, I’d not have undertaken it. Had I decided to continue, I’d certainly not have made that confession! For Jane Urquhart to equip critics with the ammunition they need to make the case against her, and in her first paragraph, seems either insouciant, or more than a trifle arrogant. Only someone with a cultivated palate would make bold to select a portfolio of fine wines, and it wouldn't occur to a connoisseur of rum or of whisky to set about making judgments on wine, on the basis that they knew about liquor. The situations seem not unlike. Nor would anyone think that it might be possible to make oneself expert in rums or wines in so short a time! Why so disdainful of the short story? (I come originally from the Caribbean: rum and short stories are among our finest exports, and neither are taken lightly.) And if one's publishers aren't vigilant enough to send around the final list of choices and canvass two or three expert opinions, one is bound to trip up! (This lack of vigilance on the part of publishers happens, these days, a great deal more often than one would think. See my posts on "Beating books" and "More beating books".) I am a relatively recent convert (just over a decade) to Canadian Literature, but a quick scan of the TOC leads one to spot some glaring omissions and odd inclusions: no stories by Olive Senior or Diane Schoemperlen, for example, and a selection by Adrienne Clarkson, who, mystifyingly, appears in the TOC and on the back cover as "Adrienne Poy", in the acknowledgments as "Adrienne Clarkson", and in the author bios as "Adrienne Poy (Clarkson)". Also why represent some authors (e.g., Wayson Choy, Michael Ondaatje, L. M. Montgomery) with excerpts from a longer work? It certainly would be preferable to have all the contributors represented by bona fide short stories if one is about assembling the "definitive anthology of this famous Canadian genre", a description I take from Russell Smith's column punnily entitled, "Short? Yes. Sweet? Not even sort of" in today's Globe and Mail Review Section. At any rate, some folks are so unhappy about this selection – I shall not call it canon – of works that they take it on in recent issues of two well-known Canadian magazines, The New Quarterly and Canadian Notes and Queries. Mr Smith refers the reader to them if she wishes to "dig in to a feast of elegant nastiness". That’s to take it rather too frivolously, though such treatments of the matter will no doubt sell the collection as well as the two journals, which is all to the good. I think, if nothing else, the compiler's defensiveness about being a reader of novels, to the neglect of the short story ("I – along with many others – had paid more attention in recent years to...the novel") should have warned her off the project. I will take up in another post whether she should be allowed to get away with not offering her readers well-argued criteria for why she has chosen what she has chosen, especially if the anthology is to take its place with other collections published by this imprint (Paula Burnett’s Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse in English, for example), which, by rigorous selection of a representative range of literary works, have stood the test of time. That’s certainly something an anthology with this much money (notice, I do not say time) invested in it is expected to do. And I will, perhaps, if Massa God spare life and gi mi courage, tackle some other issues that arise from this one. For an old teacher who feels, as I've said many times, that, having buried God, our last salvation is in song and story, it is a matter of crucial concern.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Happy Birthday DJM & "Dream" in the Park

Last night we went to see ahrdi zina mandiela's production of CanStage's "Dream in High Park". It’s been playing in the coliseum-type open theatre there, a comeback from last year, mandiela's rootsy, modern interpretation of the play having been immensely popular last summer when it was mounted in tribute to the 25th anniversary of CanStage's "Dream". We had a picnic first to celebrate our youngest child's birthday and then seven of us went on to see the play, duly equipped with blankets for sitting on and throws for wrapping up against the slowly creeping autumn cold. mandiela’s interpretation infused the Bard’s script with multi-layered mirthfulness (yep, I mean the mouthful) and the cast gave a fine account of themselves, with Helena and Puck turning in splendid performances. All in all, it was more than worth the suggested donation of $20.00: The cast includes Xuan Fraser as Oberon/Theseus and Jajube Mandiela as Fairy. Both Xuan and Jajube read parts in the most recent workshop of "El Numero Uno" at the Lorraine Kimsa Young People's Theatre (LKYPT). LKYPT commissioned me to write the play a few years ago, and in the past several months it has benefited from a number of workshops, with dramaturgy by LKYPT's gifted Steven Colella. I find the workshop experience very rewarding. ahdri has recently come on board to direct, and the two aforementioned as well as some other great actors have been taking part in the readings. Director, actors, dramaturg and LKTYP's Artistic Director Allen MacInnes are such a pleasure to work with that even if it never makes it to the boards, I will have thoroughly enjoyed the process of making the play. BTW, If you’re in Toronto, do go and see “Dream.” It closes on the 31st.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Meeting yourself...

I asked a friend who had been in the convent but left – one of many women who had done that at roughly the same time – why she had come out. She explained that she couldn't speak for anyone else, but what had turned her off was that the novices had been constantly encouraged to be introspective, to look at what was wrong with them in order to correct it, to see their weaknesses and faults, so much so that everywhere she turned she felt she was "meeting herself". It wasn't an experience that she liked, so she left. Not long after she got married and started a family, and could then lose herself in concern for her husband and children. That, she preferred. It reminded me of a joke that I suspect was told to me by my counselor, a wonderful old priest, now translated. A man went to a psychiatrist and poured out his problems. The shrink listened and said to him at the end of the session: "I want you to go home, lock yourself in a room, sit quietly without interruption, and stay there for a whole morning. At the next session, we'll talk about the experience." The man went off and returned for his next session a week later. "How did it go?" the shrink asked him. "Oh very well!" the man replied. I read this terrific book, and the time flew by." "That's not what I said you should do," the doctor replied. "Now I want you to go home, and do as I said. Lock yourself in a room, sit quietly without interruption, and stay there for a whole morning." So off the man went. ""How did it go?" the shrink asked him when he came the next week. "Oh very well!" the man replied. I listened to a new recording of Beethoven's fifth. It was wonderful. The time zipped by." "Those weren't my instructions," the doctor countered. "I asked you to go home, lock yourself in a room, sit quietly without interruption, doing nothing at all, and stay there for a whole morning." The man became extremely agitated. "You can't possibly mean that," he replied. "You want me to keep my own company for an entire morning? That would drive me nuts!" I empathize with my friend who left the convent. Nobody wants to have their nose rubbed in their faults. But it's how she put it that made me think: "I was meeting myself at every turn." Is that something that we ought to be able to do? How important is it that we be able to keep our own company for long periods of time? Know ourselves, faults and failings really well? Because if it is important that may well explain why we need to be on Facebook and Myspace: we can't bear to encounter ourselves.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A protest

Having celebrated, it's time to protest. A recent article on the BBC Sports website ("Jamaicans hail sprint king Bolt" by Claire Stocks, 17 August 2008) quoted Mike Fennell, head of Jamaica's National Olympic committee as follows: "Our athletes have been tested constantly. When Bolt broke the world record at the National Championships and at all the championships in which he has participated in between, he and the other Jamaican sprinters (have been tested). They have been tested more times than any other athletes around - what more can you ask?" I suppose there is no point complaining, though I would think being singled out for repeated testing, more so than other athletes, constitutes unwarranted harassment, especially when the tests keep turning up negative. If the testing is in response to the burlap covered package addressed to the Jamaican Team and sent to Beijing, someone needs to have their head examined. Who in their right mind would package and label a parcel with contents of that kind, meant to reach its destination, in that way? Someone plainly wanted to embarrass the team and the country, and so wanted the parcel intercepted and the find publicized. At any rate, having swallowed their spit and endured the multiple tests, the sprinters have the last laugh. They've worked not just hard, but harder; trained not just long, but longer; aspired not just high, but higher. And they've performed not just well, but superbly. What go round, come round. Selah.

What a flash!

Well, the Bolt struck again this morning, and what a dazzling flash! It's such a pleasure to watch him run. He's graceful, like a gazelle – natural, as if it's what he was born to do! Donovan Bailey had just finished saying that he didn't think Usain would try to break the world record when, lo and behold, Usain Bolt gave himself a wonderful birthday present with a 19.30 run that broke Michael Johnson's twelve year old record of 19.32. And what a tremendous thing for him to have the whole olympic stadium, on its feet, singing "Happy Birthday!" None of the commentators' that we heard mentioned this as it was happening, but it seemed to me to the same kind of hopeful moment for the world as when Barack Obama addressed the record crowd in Berlin. People of every nationality stood to honour a young black man from a little island who had just pushed himself to do a truly remarkable thing. Then Melaine Walker following close on Usain's heels, leapt to victory in the 400 metre women's hurdles and, having finished the race, knelt on the ground – I'm guessing to give thanks. She was delighted with her victory, and unassuming as she celebrated it. I wish for these Jamaican Olympians every possible good thing in their future careers. God bless them! They are fine examples to young people everywhere, truly rejoiced by their accomplishments, wearing their glory with grace and ease. Usain is a man with a sense of humour, a great kidder who doesn't seem to take himself too seriously, an attitude some appear to regard as irreverent. But we are different people, all of us; our temperaments differ and we have our various ways of coping. I think it's Donovan Bailey who once said that, in the last analysis, the race is in your head – an observation with which Asafa Powell would probably agree. Usain's clowning is no doubt part of his strategy for keeping himself grounded, and I can't think why anyone should find this the least bit offensive. Is it perhaps that they think he should be in awe, because he is a young black man from tiny country, of being on the world stage? Because what is awesome is his prodigious talent. And what is endearing and gracious about him is that he wears his greatness so lightly.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why blog?

No comments on other blogs just yet. Inspired in part by a blog I was reading last night that was counseling bloggers about what they do when they run out of ideas, I'm ruminating about why I'm in the business. I may say what I've said before in so doing, but indulge me, please. I guess blogs can be all things to all persons (within the law, of course) since one can pretty well do as one wishes with a blog. For some people they are strictly commercial endeavours, and there's nothing wrong with that. Earning a few dollars from ads compatible with the concerns and interests of this blog is fine by me, but that's not why I'm up here. For others, blogs are like diaries, and though in time I might add diary elements to this one, that's not my focus. It isn't a hobby blog either, or an academic one, or one with a focus like politics or sports, philately, fine art or photography. I felt called to begin it primarily because of end-of-the-world concerns, which I still have, and will continue to have for as long as we play fast and loose with the planet, and with each other and one another. Re ecological matters, I admit to having weird ideas, like the notion that earthquakes are increasingly violent because we've pumped so much oil out of the earth's crust. Those viscous masses must have been meant to do something down there, like be a buffer against the grating movements of tectonic plates. I'm no geologist, nor any other -ist, but I figure, there has to be a consequence to pumping all that stuff out. Earth, like the rest of the universe, is put together in a certain way, and we should really have tried to figure that out a bit more before we messed with it. I'm very sure that the use of atomic power, whether to make bombs or to provide energy, is a very bad idea, for the same reason. Another odd notion of mine is the fact that prayer (described as supplication to God/Allah/Jah/Supreme Spirit, or in simple terms of good will) can powerfully influence individual health, the wind and waves, the spread of disease, the height the corn grows, the way we behave individually and communally, etc., etc. I believe, as I've been saying to fsjl in comments on a recent post, that Wisdom is gracious, and reveals herself to those who seek her, humbly – and even not so humbly. So, in sum, I'm concerned in this blog with how we treat one another; how we treat the planet; how we answer our responsibility to eat bread by the sweat of our brows; how we respond to the need to share that bread; and how ready we are to deal with ordinary circumstances, as well as extraordinary ones, as they arise. I don't say "when they arise" for they've already arisen – they're all around us. After all, for the victims of the recent violent earthquakes, monsoons and tsunamis, the people who live in HIV/AIDS ravaged countries, communities torn apart by war, places where people are fighting for food, the end of the world has already come. (BTW, The 'long count' calendars of the Mayas and Aztecs end somewhere around 2012, I think. correct me, someone, if I'm wrong,) It can't hurt if we work as hard and carefully as we can, behave as well as we can, and pray the way we know how, and as earnestly as we know how. I hope the interests of this blog, as listed on the banner, reflect these matters. Aha! What about literature, Caribbean writing? Where is its place? As I've said elsewhere, literature is the first of the disciplines. After Sacred Lore came song and story. Indeed, many Sacred Books are song and story. I have always thought of the best Caribbean Song and Story as singularly inspired, and so a perfect fit for comforting us to the end of the world. Selah.