Wednesday, December 9, 2009

EL NUMERO UNO opens 4 Feb 2010 at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People in Toronto

Ras Onelove, El Numero Uno and Compere Lapin, three characters from El Numero Uno

computer glitch... please forgive absence of accents in text

My children's play, El Numero Uno, is an original Caribbean tale about a little pig captured by greedy twin monsters who threaten his island with starvation. If he is to save the day, the Number One Pig will need big-big help from his neighbours – and a magical soup! Directed by b current's ahdri zina mandiela, with design and music in the hands of Astrid Janson and Cathy Nosaty respectively, and featuring a cast of Canadian/Caribbean actors, the play opens on Thursday February 4, with previews on Jan 31 (2:00 p.m.), February 1 (10:15 a.m.), February 2 (10:15 a.m.) and February 3 (1:00 p.m.). There's a Teacher Preview at 7:00 p.m. on February 3 as well.

The play has been some time gestating! The story was first hatched for the 25th IBBY Conference, held in Groningen, Netherlands, in August 1995. Dutch author and illustrator, Max Velthuijs, created a series of illustrations and four storytellers from various parts of the world were invited to create tales to go along with Max's images. These were projected on screen when the stories were being told to the audience at the conference. Thus was El Numero Uno, aka Le Premier Cochon, aka the Number One Pig, born.

I'm pleased to say that the original story about El Numero Uno was a big hit in Holland. (Max Velthuijs, I only just learned, died in 2005. RIP, Max.) In his comments at the conference, he said he was surprised that, though the story took place at Christmastime (it was originally set at that time, and the first song was a Christmas lullaby that I'll append to this post), Uno was frolicking outside, enjoying sunshine and seasonal flowers, red poinsettias and white euphorbia. I think he was quite serious too...

Uno went underground for the next few years, re-emerging in or around 2001 in answer to a call for treatments from LKTYP. The play was chosen for funding and by 2002, a script was in LKTYP's artistic director's hands. (Pierre Tetrault was the AD at the time.) It had a reading not long after the incoming artistic director, Allen MacInnis, came to LKTYP, and has been in workshop over the years since, intensively so in the last three years. It's been shaped and reshaped in that time under the nurturing eyes of dramaturg Stephen Colella, as well as those of the artistic director.

Some amazing people have taken part in the readings, and I thank them all, enormously. The development process was constructive, instructive, and on occasion hilariously disruptive – all in all, immensely satisfying in itself. I'll have more to say about LKTYP's wonderful staff, the play's director, designer, music director, and the cast members in my posts between now and the opening. And of course, there will be more about the play itself.

Meantime, please encourage everyone you know, especially folks in Toronto, especially teachers with classes in the 8 to 18 age group, to come to see Uno. (It's really suitable for anyone from eight to eighty!) Teachers should make their bookings now, for February fast approaches! The play is enormously funny, and though it's a fantasy, it addresses issues faced not only by children and adolescents, but by communities everywhere that are put to the test by forces over which they have no control. So though it's amusing, it's serious too. It's got songs, raps, and is a great mashup of creoles and French and Spanish and Dread Talk. It has a band of Jonkanoo masqueraders, original and traditional music, and great costumes.

El Numero Uno isn't entirely why I've been absent here on Jahworld. I was away visiting the marvelous Zoey, spent some time in Orlando collecting some sun, and was on retreat at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester-on-Sea, MA, for a week, where one morning I watched mesmerized as huge gray green waves were herded ashore under the lash of Hurricane Ida – not fifty yards from where I was sitting eating lunch. (One wall of the lunchroom is a long, uninterrupted glass window.) Earlier in the week, we'd had great weather, and enjoyed birdwatching and seal gazing. The seals drape themselves over the rocks and take sun, vanishing with the incoming tide, re-emerging when it's out.

Back in Toronto, I've been catching up, or trying to, and I've been giving the Number One Pig some attention. More on him in due course, as I've promised. And now, also as I've promised, two verses of the Christmas song, "Little Brown Jesus".

"Little Brown Jesus"

Little brown Jesus
Born in the cold
Quick Jesus’ Mommy –
Cover up him mole.

Cover up him mole quick
Before him start to sneeze
Cover him quick from
The chilly Christmas breeze.

© Pamela Mordecai 2002

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Stephen Harper's ecology; Stephen Harper's prison housing

Well, once again I managed to miss Blog Action Day, this time about climate change. I forgive myself by saying that it's one of this blog's ongoing concerns. It's like Christmas and Easter being every day of the year, rather than December 25th and whenever the calendar dictates. What I did do on that day was try to figure out MY carbon footprint, which anyone can go to Zerofootprint (link provided on this blog) and do. Some things that I/we are already doing (medium size car – looking for smaller, no air conditioning, drive or train rather than fly) come up looking good, but we still have a far way to go. The Danes and the British are good at this. Canada, I'm ashamed to say, can only be described as disgraceful, the government for its total lack of perspicacity on this matter, and us Canadians for being wanton consumers of energy.

But of course, without leaders who can 'vision' for them, the people perish. We can take that quite literally in the case of climate change. I always feel pretty bad about the climate change thing, because I'm not looking at living another 50 years. In other words, I don't think it's climate change that's going to kill me. Stephen Harper's children have many, many years before them, which is why I cannot understand the dimwitted-ness of the man on this particular matter. Surely he should wish to act out of enlightened self-interest?

But some people refuse to learn and Mr Harper is dedicated to not learning on other matters as well. One of these 'other matters' is affordable housing. It appears, as some wag in the Globe and Mail's letter-writing column has pointed out, that his notion of providing affordable housing is building prisons, for which purpose his government has just voted millions of dollars, in anticipation of an increase in the prison population as a result of "new, tough laws". For crying out loud! Doesn't he know that homelessness is a direct and indirect cause of crime? It seems to me that even a nitwit would understand that it's smarter and wiser to spend $200,000 on building one unit of housing for a family of 4, 5 or 6 (he'll only have to do it once) than to spend it to house 10 prisoners for ONE year? (A rough estimate of the cost of keeping an inmate in jail for a year is $20,000.00.) Is that so hard to grasp?

But then being 'tough on crime' plays so well to the voting fans, doesn't it? Just like banging out a Beatles song with Yo-Yo Ma! I couldn't believe that Harper's ratings climbed in the next couple days after that (SARCASM HERE, IN CASE IT'S MISSED) signal event. Have we turned into a nation of blockheads? We don't need prisons, Mr Harper. We need housing, clean water, an improved social safety net, improved health care, child care, decent schools. When we don't have these things, crime ensues. As a good fundamentalist, you know that God isn't sitting up there, making criminals and sending them down to be born. He makes babies; we turn them into criminals.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Michelle Obama's – and most black people's? – white ancestry

"Everybody have their white grandmother!" including the wife of the President of the United States. Well, it's a white male progenitor, in her case. Many of us have always assumed it to be true of black people and white ancestors, grandma or grandpa. There's an apocryphal tale of Kamau Brathwaite stopping the presses at Oxford as they were about to print The Development of Creole Society 1770-1820 because he had found enough evidence of racial intermarriage in church registries to suggest that it had been more extensive than previously thought. So he had rewriting to do, for which the venerable presses at Oxford waited.

If we accept the notion of more pervasive white ancestries than supposed, there are implications as well for all those persons who insist that people who are phenotypically black are the only true blacks in the diaspora. In other words, if your genes haven't cooperated to produce very dark skin, tings tuff wit yu. But I guess it may be a case of, "My white grandmother is okay, for she kept her genes to herself. Too bad about yours!"

There are several academics and an author (Ishmael Reed) offering comments on the matter of Mrs Obama's white ancestry in the New York Times, including one biology prof who reminds us that human beings are far more similar than they are different. According to Mark Shriver, "on the molecular level... 85-95 percent of human genetic variation is shared across all populations." This could suggest that race is only skin deep, but Shriver doesn't rush to say that. I'm not prepared to agree, since I think the history of a people finds its way into their molecular structure, so, in a sense, race may be a people's history. And there's a remark that Prof Shriver makes that is consonant with this notion: "The genome is not singular and different genes have independent evolutionary histories." Now there's an interesting discussion to pursue at another time...

And we now know that humankind began in Africa, with homo sapiens heading out from there, not north, but rather south and then across to India, the Far East and Australia, so that – presumably black skinned – folks were 'down under' before we humans made our way to Europe in a much later migration. In sum, what we really ought to be saying is, "Everybody have their black grandmother!"

Two interesting by-the-way things. As I understand it (always ready to be corrected!) studies of mitochondrial DNA in fossils have established that all human beings link back to a single female placenta, and therefore, progenitor – the original, black Eve! Why the fundamentalists haven't galloped off with this, I can't imagine. (Maybe skin colour getting in the way again?) Also, human beings are more differentiated in Africa than anywhere else on earth because humankind has been on that continent the longest.

Anyway, all of that is a long preamble to my own imagined account of forced racial intermixing, as related in the story of Great-Granny Mac. The whole poem (I've included only a part here) is to be found in The True Blue of Islands, available on amazon. It's a long narrative poem that tells the tale of Madeleine Lazare Mungo, a young girl whose family is broken up and sent to owners on different estates. Missing her sisters and brothers and mother, she's enslaved on the plantation of a black slave owner named Bellmartin. So it's not the traditional white-master-rapes-black-slave story, but it witnesses to the fact that there was coercion of all sorts in slavery times, and so plenty blood mixing. Here then begins the story of Madeleine Lazare Mungo:

Great Granny Mac

Before Bellmartin buy Great Gran
she working in the pikni gang
on a plantation that belong
to Mr Serle, a backra man.

That white man own her family –
mother, two brother, two sister
and she, Madeleine. “He was
a cruel man,” my Great-gran say.

“He love a whip. The cat’ o’nine
was like a flask of wine
to him. He could get drunk
with lashing slaves. When his

“arm hoist is like you see
inebriation rise inside
his veins his muscles brain
his whole entire flesh on fire.

“He lash man, woman, pikni
too. Even his friends advise,
‘Don’t be a fool. You spoiling
your own property! You pay

good money for those blacks!’
He answer: “So – I flog them
as I please.’ One day
sudden the man take in

“with belly workings.
Doctor come but cannot
find no remedy. ‘I’d change
the cook,’ he recommend.

“ ‘Some nigger trying to poison
me? I’ll rid me of the lot
of them.’ Backra break up
our family. Sell us all bout.

“I bawling watch my brothers go
two different ways. I see one bigger sis
leave for Green Island; t’other one
they take to Annotto Bay.

“They haul my mother to the far
north shore. Me, smallest, stay
on a modest estate in town.
Mr. Bellmartin purchase me.

“The day I see him little most
I drop down from the sight. Top hat
and ruffles riding crop barouche –
this man as black as night!

“When he buy me, I was seven
years old. For days I suffer fever
in my head. Don’t rise, don’t eat,
don’t sleep. Make up my mind

“to dead. Then Ma come in
a dream and say, ‘ Best you
let go of us, Madeleine.
Put us away – inside.’

“I do as Ma say. Rise
next day. I still can hear
her whispering
my name, ‘Madeleine’.”

“At Bellmartin’s plantation
I turn cunning. More times
they catching me with book, paper
and pen. I well know if they find me

“with them things is plenty lashes
else is starve they starving me
for days. But chile, my navel string
cut on deceit, dissembly, lies.

“Tricky like Brer Anansi I
maintain ‘I only have such things
because Miss Meggie cannot bear
to play with any foolish

“darky girl.’ The little girl
is black as me but my excuse
don’t fall askew on any ear.
I go on with my tale.

“ “She say that I best learn
to read and write – and cipher too.
I try to learn, sir, though
it’s hard. I always likes to oblige.’

“Dropping a curtsy I open
my big eyes bold make four
with his — and I make sure
I learn to read like a machine.

“Poor Meggie struggling
with words dark like her own
black skin. I eat those words
like they is food.

“Time I become fourteen
I cipher well enough to help
keep books for the estate.
‘This is my smartest nigger.’

“So say Bellmartin, and he rent
me out to some small-holding
folks too poor themselves
to employ help full-time

“to render their accounts.
I never like it from the first.
I know one of them small-hold
man was going grab hold of me

and take his dim-wit purple
pen and write his seed
inside my abdomen...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Anancy; Anancyism; ways of discovering and passing on stories

This post grew like Topsy out of a response to a comment of Geoffrey Philp's. Thanks to Geoff, my friend, Ruth Minott Egglestone, FSJL, Martin, Nalo and all the folks who listen in to our conversations...


In general: I don't think we are ever 'just writers', in all the ways that signifies! Our interests and operations can never be just as writers because it's impossible for any of us to be just that. I also worry now, in my old age, about the dangers of arrogance, my own especially.

As for the case in point: I am now, as a result of our conversation, concerned not merely with the Anancy phenomenon itself, but with the procedural example it offers, the opportunity for finding out HOW TO FIND OUT about cultural tings, especially in an oral society. So for me, there IS a problem of being right, in the sense of accurate. My particular concerns are inevitably also as an old teacher, an editor, a compiler of textbooks, one who seeks to understand the culture, and especially one who is worried by those with power and access to the means of overhauling things and serving them up differently – whether on purpose or by mistake.

Those powerful people include us, you and me, and we need to care enough about our stories, our his/tories and her/stories, our myths, our conundrums, our ring games, etc., etc., to try to pass them on intact – for there will always be changes, willy-nilly, no matter how hard we try. Ruth Egglestone, for example, was correct, meticulous, scholarly, when she told us her source for that particular understanding of Anancyism, and gave us, therefore, the opportunity of asking, “Well, who is this person? What does he know?”

The stories and understandings will come in many forms, and that multiplicity, that variety, is also precious. Some of the stories will have changed over time, and we want to know about those changes and, if possible, when and why they occurred. And contemporary writers and storytellers will themselves make changes (as you, Geoff, have done in respect of Anancy, say) and that's good, too.

But I'd like to know when and who and why changes occurred, whether by accident, and, in that case, what was the nature of the accident, or whether on purpose, and in that case, what was the nature of the purpose. That's all part of the story, the history, belonging to it in the way an etymology (Cicero calls etymology the veriloquium) enriches the significance of a word. It pleases me, for example, that we can know how the word ‘chortle’ came about, that it was a conflation of chuckle and snort, coined by Lewis Carroll in THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (1871). Knowing dat likl tory is part of my pleasure in the word.

For now, that's how I'm seeing our stories, including this Anancy one.

I do know that Anancy, before the Atlantic crossing, was Creator God, and that he survives in our Anancy Stories in a diminished state, as the Trickster-Spiderman, a version of, inter alia, the Signifying Monkey, and of the orisha variously known as Exú, Esu Eleggua, Esu Elegbara, Eshu Elegbara, Elegba, Legba, Legba-Petro, Maitre Carrefour and Eleda. (For one thing, he figures prominently in my PhD dissertation!) But I’d venture to say that Legba is NOT diminished, certainly not as Anancy is, and thereby hangs a tale in which I’m interested.

Nor have I ever thought of Anancy as weak, even in his diminished state on this side... But that’s perhaps best kept for another post, for hopefully did likl chat don't done yet. Selah!

Wayne Brown and Trevor Rhone

I wrote this to a friend today about Wayne Brown and Trevor Rhone. I know she won't mind my repeating it here. There are tributes aplenty and richly deserved in the media to them both, but I wanted to say a little about what they meant to me, these men with strong personalities and views but without malice or guile – more than can be said for most of us!

"One mourns both men mostly because one will miss them. They are, after all, trite as it may be to say so, past pain, worry and distress at this point. I felt I knew Wayne well, perhaps more than our interaction justified, but he was always warm when one did see him, most recently here for Rachel[Manley]'s launch of HORSES IN HER HAIR... I was very disappointed that the online journal didn't work out. I think it would have given him such satisfaction if it had. Trevor I have known these last 50 years, though I've not seen much of him the last two-three decades! But I was part of the original Theatre 77 group, and we have always liked each other well, and I have always admired how absolutely confident he was from the beginning that he would make a big difference to theatre in Jamaica.

(I'm listening to an interview bet. Peter Nazareth and Wayne at
as I write...)"

The excerpt from my e-mail ends here, but Brown-Nazareth interview connects nicely with a piece by Nicholas Laughlin in CRB's blog from a while back which celebrates crônicas, Wayne among them.

An excerpt:’s occurred to me that some of the most interesting work by contemporary Trinidadian writers does not come in conventional fictional or poetic forms at all, but rather in the form of fragmentary, discontinuous, first-person non-fiction narratives in the periodical press — i.e., newspaper columns — which we may have some difficulty identifying as “literary” — or even identifying as “narratives” — because of the format of their publication. I’d certainly include... Wayne Brown’s “In Our Time” columns, which began appearing in the Trinidad Guardian in 1984, moved around from one Trinidadian newspaper to another, and now appear in Jamaica, where Brown has settled, in the Observer. (Many of these columns — with their supple, acrobatic prose that can swoop from high to low, exalted to demotic, in a single paragraph — were collected in The Child of the Sea in 1989 and Landscape with Heron in 2000, where Brown describes them as “stories and remembrances”; it’s clear he’s thought of these pieces as literary from the start.)

Rest in peace, bredren. We all of us would be happy to have lived lives as worthwhile and as fulfilling as yours.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is Anancyism the philosophy of taking serious ting make joke?

In note ten of a paper entitled "Anancyism in Jamaican Pantomime," scholar Ruth Minott Egglestone says:

"Anancyism is significantly more than a pattern of anti-social behaviour... it is a philosophy which enables an individual to laugh in the midst of adversity and thereby survive."

Dr Egglestone credits Carlos de la Motta of Kingston, Jamaica with this explanation, and it is the one about which I was curious. We all agree that Anancy is a survivor and his ingenuity is the means by which he survives, often in the face of great adversity. But mightn't we be undoing Anancyism when we regard it as a philosophy, with all that that implies, when we contain it, package it, give it the pretended respectability of attitude, proceeding presumably from a principle, of determinedly standing up to the oppressor and laughing defiantly in his face?

That seems so serious, whereas the essence of Anancyism, from another perspective, is the absolute avoidance of any such seriousness. Instead, Anancyism is a modus operandi, a stylee, a mode of profiling as cording to which, by means of wiles, ruses and general trickify, Anansi approaches every bad situation as an opportunity for wukking him brain and gaining advantage, often unfair advantage, over not just his opponents, but pretty much anyone in his way, ef him is in dat kinda mood. In other words, Anancyism is indeed a pattern of behaviour, though I wouldn't necessarily call it anti-social since it's often directed against downpressors who would therefore not be part of a social group to which our Sneaky Spider could reasonably be asked or be considered obliged to show allegiance.

The other thing about Anancy is of course that he is not to be tied down - and so, perhaps, certainly not to anything so predictable as a philosophy? He is a man of surprises with something forever new up his sleeve. No Cogito ergo sum for him. He doesn't think to be. Rather Cogito ergo ago. He works his brain, and then he acts, and by his willful, whimsical, me-no-care behaviour, his dedication to rambunctiousness, he not only succeeds in being, he thrives at it.

They mystics tell us that in rare moments of pure being, moments of awe, we touch eternity and glimpse God. Perhaps that is what Anancy is after? Working his way back to his original role of Creator Deity, in which all his thought was action, and all his action was creating, and every act of creation was an occasion for laughter?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Anancyism... and sluggish systems

Thanks to Geoffrey Philp for a great story in response to the last post, as well as the observation that: "There is something quintessentially Jamaican in this joke -- tragi-comedy, that Walcott says must be earned. It runs through our culture. We recognize the hard blows of life, yet affirm our dignity through humor."

I agree that 'taking serious tings make joke' is characteristic of our culture and should certainly (in some degree) be part of the stories that come out of it. Anancyism, as articulated and operated by our folk hero, Anancy, the original Spider Man, is perhaps another marker.

That brings me to a question. I'd like to know what folks understand the term "Anancyism" to mean. I've encountered some definitions that disagree (I'll come back to them in due course) and I know how I've always understood the term. Because there's lack of consensus, I'd be glad for wider feedback.

So to another, and quite different matter. There are some who say that one of the signs of impending apocalypse is the collapse of world communication systems. Seems that in some parts of the world, broadband, touted as the solution to 'super-fast' delivery of data, is failing to live up to its big promise. According to today's BBC World News:

"... in South Africa it seems the web is still no faster than a humble pigeon.

A Durban IT company pitted an 11-month-old bird armed with a 4GB memory stick against the ADSL service from the country's biggest web firm, Telkom.

Winston the pigeon took two hours to carry the data 60 miles - in the same time the ADSL had sent 4% of the data.

Telkom said it was not responsible for the firm's slow internet speeds."

Not entirely sure why Winston should be characterized as 'humble'... Seems the epithet in this case might better apply to the web firm's lackadaisical service; certainly it would not be inappropriate for the firm's attitude, in the face of its poor performance. (Vain hope!) But it's worth bearing in mind that old ways are worth preserving. After all, birds flew before planes and messages crossed distances before there were fibre-optic cables. Selah.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Writing Out of the Culture…

It’s Martin’s proposition. Some Caribbean and Latin American authors write 'out of the culture.' So yesterday we spend a chunk of driving time (between South Hadley, MA and Toronto) batting this around. He clarifies: what he means is that they write from within the culture. ‘How can a reader recognize that kind of writing,’ I ask him. ‘What are its features? Does it perhaps have to do with language? Do those writers prefer vernacular languages? Is the extent to which they use those languages indicative of how deep into the culture they are, how far down they are dipping for the story?’

We agree that language would certainly be a marker. In colonized countries or countries where there has been an imperial presence, even if there’s been no formal ownership, the writer would privilege the vernacular, not the imperial 'standard' code. The local dialect would occur in dialogue as well as in the narrative, the reportage. We mention Samuel Selvon – someone who quintessentially wrote from inside Trini culture. In addition to language, the characters, the humour, the bad behave, the liming, mamaguying, masquerading, mauvais langue are all from this Caribbean root.

So we know the story must also have history, characters and mores, ways of ‘carrying on’ that are recognizably indigenous. Earl Lovelace is the first Caribbean author he names as an example. Right away I think that it’s not only writing from within the culture that he’s noticing. I don’t tell him yet, but I know that’s not all there is to it.

I talk about fable-like qualities in story, a particular style of narrative, one different from the customary ways, so that if, say, Anansi stories are the original Jamaican way of telling tales, the writer departs from them but still devises a mode that’s recognizably local. I know this native-but-something-more-than is what occasioned the mention of Earl at the start; I’m more sure when he mentions Gisele Pineau. I suspect this is in fact going beyond the cultural root to an artistic signature, something more mannered, author-pinned, though I'm just now saying so.

We talk about the ‘tale of the telling’ and the ‘telling of the tale’. If any one knows the source of these terms, I’d be glad to hear it. I’ve forgotten and haven’t succeeded in finding them on the Internet so far. We agree that there may be something about how the tale is told that can also mark its birth inside the culture, even when the approach to storytelling is innovative. So we’re not just talking language now: this is something else, of which language is a part, but isn’t it itself.

I think there is room for debate here, as to where the author starts observably, in a calling-attention way, to mould the matter from the cultural mud.

I tell him that some of the great Latin American male writers irritate me on this score. I feel rebellious, I suppose, because the manner of the narrative is so often macho, and, never mind they woo so well, I fight to resist their mighty pens. 'Get away from me!' I say. 'Go stick them into someone else… Invade some other mind; capture some other imagination.’

That makes him laugh.

We don’t really finish the conversation.

Certainly there are many writers, men and women, that fit the ‘culture-based’ bill, some more than others, but the women that come to my mind first, as I come back now to the subject, are Erna Brodber, Olive Senior and Nalo Hopkinson. Nalo is of course a special case and does something remarkable as she spins new, fantastic language complexes and cultural forms out of the regional warp and woof. Brodber and Senior pull from their deep down acquaintance with rural Jamaica – its city life as well. What we probably need to do is study Caribbean works under this lens, maybe devise a matrix that will help us talk with greater specificity about the manifestation of the cultural wellspring in literary works.

Any and all thoughts are most welcome. It’s just a little start on a big, intractable subject.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Catholic Bishops and Obama's Health Plan

Comments in this post refer to the article, “Despite Church’s Push on Issue, Some Bishops Assail Health Plan” in the New York Times, Friday August 28, 2009, pages A1 and A12

I begin at the end of the article, with a quote from Bishop Nickless (oh, that divine sense of humour!) of Sioux City who wrote "The Catholic Church does not teach that government should provide health care..." adding that "Any legislation that undermines the vitality of the private sector is suspect."

I will talk about each of these statements in turn, but his Lordship should know up front that, Jamaican ginnal that I am, I long time spot what him up to.

If it is true that “The Catholic Church does not teach that government should provide health care..." then equally, “The Church does not teach that the government should not provide health care.” B cancels A. As I say, a likl Anansi business there. As for the second statement, his Lordship (I bet you he’s known among his friends as “tricky Nicky”) puts it beside the first to make us think that it too has the force of Church teaching (or Church not-teaching). I know, just as he knows, and just as you know: that is merely his Lordship’s opinion, nothing more or less!

But let's presume for a moment that the Bishop is correct and that "The Catholic Church does not teach that government should provide health care..." then all I can say is that the Church should check the Gospel. What has Jesus to say about health care? As I was at pains in my last post to point out, Jesus not only led by example but his teaching on this matter is unequivocal. He carried his hospital in his healing hands and his prayerful faith in the power and purpose of his father: "I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly." I can't think of a better description of a health program -- "Life more abundant"!

Jesus always fed and healed people first, and then he taught them. And among the things he taught them was their responsibility for one another’s physical, economic, social and spiritual welfare. [Please see my last post, and my exchange there with FSJL.] So I don't know which Catholic Church Bishop Nickless is talking about, but if any such Church exists, it needs to go back to reading the Gospel as well as revisit Catechism class.

As for his Lordship’s comment about legislation and the private sector, surely he jests? If he doesn't, then I can only say the good Bishop has a lot of nerve, given a world economy callously, carelessly and utterly shattered by the very private sector that he's concerned that legislation shouldn't undermine! Who's been doing the undermining here? I remind his Lordship too of a furious Jesus chasing the buyers and sellers (the ‘private sector’ of the day) out of his house of prayer, accusing them of making it into a den of thieves. It’s the only time Jesus is portrayed as angry in the Gospels, isn’t it?

The New York Times article also reports that Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia calls the proposed division of government funds (according to which funds are segregated to ensure that federal money does not finance abortions) "an illusion," insisting that taxpayers' money would still indirectly help cover abortions. I respectfully submit, Your Eminence, that there is lots of evidence that taxpayers' money has gone and still goes to cover sins every bit as heinous as abortion. What kinds of sins? What about unjust war that takes the lives of innocent non-combatants as well as of those young men and women in the army who are ordered to do that dirty work? [Please see, for example, my post of April 28 2009.] What about all those secret service activities designated as 'covert operations'? Does the Cardinal imagine for one moment that they do not include murder from time to time?

My Granny, that wise lady, would say that, in this case, the Church "making argument to suit itself". How well I remember being told as a child that we could give donations to 'non-Catholic' churches (after all, they supported our raffles and church fairs and festivals, so we had to do our bit for them in return), if we made the intention that the money we donated was to go to any 'tearing down' that those churches did, so that we could not be said to be supporting their misguided non-Catholic efforts.

Why don't we just make the intention that any money that goes to abortions is not from taxpayers?

It's specious, really, and has to do with the letter of the Law and not the spirit. Kudos then to Bishop Murphy of Rockville Centre who went on record as opposing inclusion of abortion as part of the national health care plan but emphasized the priority that the church placed on coverage for the poor and called health care, “not a privilege but a right”. Plaudits too for Catholic Charities and the Catholic Health Association who endorsed the President’s plan without reservation.

I come now, finally, to FSJL’s remarks in the post before this one. This health care plan benefits two groups of American people: those who have no health care and those whose health care is inadequate. (I don’t think the President and his family are underprovided in this regard.) Whatever people’s qualms – and the concern about abortion is an important issue – a solution can be found if well-meaning, serious people work together to find one. President Obama has hit a serious roadblock on a matter upon which all Americans with conscience should be agreed. It saddens me to think that the so-called ‘religious right’, waving the flag of Christianity and Jesus’s concerns, may at heart be motivated by the fact that this is the proposal of an uppity black man, already far too big for his britches, and that he needs to be put in his place.

Is prejudice still the engine that drives America, never mind the Black Man in the White House?

Americans need to examine their consciences and their motivations on this issue. It is almost autumn. There are resistant strains of H1N1 and we have no idea of what they may bring, nor of what else awaits us in North America and the world. Jesus’s teachings on this matter are clear. It would be wise not to provoke him and his father, for God is merciful but he can also be very severe. Selah!

Christianity and Racism... comments by FSJL

On 4 August FSJL posted the comments below in response to my blog post on July 30th entitled "Nervous (in one case) notes". I publish them (very lightly edited, first paragraph omitted) here with thanks, and of course, his permission, since they seem as good a lead in as any to my promised reflections on the remarks of conservative Catholic bishops cited in last week Friday's front page article in the New York Times. Anyone interested in his complete comments need only go to my post of July 30th.

North American racism has traditionally been deeply associated with Christianity, and relied on the Bible for justification. No surprise there, the Bible, after all, endorsed slavery and commanded slaves to obey their masters. In the aftermath of slavery in the United States, organisations which emerged to sustain white supremacy did so in the context of the prevailing ideological system, which was Christian.

Thus, every Klan Klavern in the US had a chaplain called a Kludd, who would lead the sheetheads in prayer. This was a requirement of the Klan Klonstitution. That's what it was klalled, er, called. The heartland of the Klan in its heyday was not where it was founded, down here in Georgia, but Indiana, by the way.

There have, not at all by the bye, been a couple of studies on the role of Klan women in promoting the cause of women and raising issues germane to (white) women back in the 1920s.

More germane to the link you cite. I've seen this argument for the past fifteen years or so. It's a reflection of a deep-seated fear by a significant segment of white working class and middle class and middle class men as they face competition for opportunities that had in previous decades been reserved only for them. That's seen as the fault of threatening women/Jews/blacks/Asians/Latinos who are taking away jobs/manhood. The solution is to go back to the good old days when [white] men had everything their own way [or so they thought].

As my father once said, "I'm not going to talk about 'the good old days' -- dem was neva good".

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Obama Health Plan

It's such a very small world now. You get on a plane in Miami and by the time you land in Toronto, you've ingested the germs of every passenger on board. Ditto for the subway, the city bus, country bus, the school bus. Go to church, or to the movies, the supermarket, the store or indeed the hospital (often the worst offender!) and you are in intimate contact with a world of germs. There is no homeland security, army, navy, air force or marine corps that can protect you from them. Either you hide in a sterile bubble, or you are at risk.

Your best recourse in this hazardous world of lethal microbes? A community that is in good physical and mental shape, a society whose citizens are cared for by diligent and committed professionals who continually remind it about how best to preserve its health. Folks with good health and good sanitary habits won't get sick so easily and will know how to avoid spreading their sicknesses if they do.

I am glad to be a Canadian for this reason. That is not to say that health care in Canada is perfect, but at its best it is as good as health care anywhere. Also, all of us who live in Canada have access to it, the poorest pay nothing at all for it, and what the rest of us pay is not very much and is directly related to what we earn. It is time intelligent, thoughtful citizens of the USA recognize that it's not a good thing that all Americans don't have decent health care. In fact, in these times, it is a very dangerous thing.

Seems some religious folks, some bishops of my own (Catholic) church included, have reservations about the plan Mr Obama has put forward. So let's clear up one thing. There's no dispute as to where Jesus stood on this issue. He spent the three years of his ministry feeding people, healing the sick, performing miracles to restore deformed, dysfunctional bodies, driving out demons that disturbed the mental wholeness of many. He even raised the dead. His health care policy is in the Gospels and the Acts for anyone who cares to read it.

I'm proceeding slowly on this one, taking thought before addressing what some bishops in the Catholic Church had to say, as quoted in a front page article in Friday's New York Times. Their statements had one member of our family threatening never to set foot into a Catholic Church again! So it's a matter about which people have very strong, not just opinions, but convictions.

As for abortion, which appears to be a sticking point for some - do we cut off people's hands so that they don't steal? As I've said before, I don't believe in abortion, but I understand that it is a complex issue and that if it touched me, I might find my attitude affected. Very few women take this step lightly, witness the many teenagers who continue to have babies, a choice that's easy for me to understand and one I use to help make the present argument. If we truly want women not to have abortions, what we must do is create a social, economic, and moral context that will encourage them to keep their babies. By moral I mean the morality of Jesus, he who enjoined us, in the Great Commandment of the New Law, to love our neighbours as ourselves - not threaten those whom we perceive as sinners with damnation.

My sister recently told me the story of a woman who was read out of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, to which she was devoted, when she went to live with a man to whom she was not married. She had been married prior to that time, and had two children for her husband whom she was now raising alone. She was not afraid to confront the church elders. "Are you helping me with my children?" she asked them. "Are you concerned about their welfare, or about mine?"

Do we really want women not to have abortions? What if we tried supporting the women of childbearing age in our communities? Insisting that all jobs make generous provision for maternity and paternity leave? Ensuring the availability of affordable child care, good schools, free school meals? What about providing these women with quality health care? Might it make a difference? Or could it be that it's easier to condemn, to shake our fists and call down fire and brimstone? To feel righteous, better than our neighbours?

More on the statements from those Catholic bishops shortly. Meanwhile, remember those microbes!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Where's the lake? Lindsay, Ontario, and Bob Dylan and the cops

Didn't make it with a post on the weekend, and off to a likl cruise up the Trent-Severn waterway this afternoon. I don't normally do this, since pretty much everything I hang up here is drafted, edited, and so on, but time's more and more precious, so today I shall be daring.

We've had a few days' break in the country, courtesy of our good friend, Steph, and have been doing a little driving about, getting to know our province better. Day before yesterday we set out, map in hand, to drive around Clear Lake and Stony Lake. Routes 6 and 56 seemed, from the map, to rim the lakes and we looked forward to some great lake views. Imagine our distress to find that, apart from a couple of glimpses (at Burleigh Falls, for instance), there was precious little lake to be seen. Vacation properties of various sizes occupy much of the perimeter, and though in many places we were separated from the water by not much distance, lake views were hidden by buildings or forest.

Nothing to be gained by complaining, but we did feel cheated. For the car-touring visitor, this is no drive to take!

Yesterday we did a short tour of a pretty city - Lindsay, Ontario. We drove through, looking at houses, enjoying the main street. It's quite flat, unlike Peterborough, which we like for its hills and valleys, and its waterways. We were in Lindsay for two hours or so - during which time we saw no more than three persons of mixed race! That was a surprise. Demographics tell all kinds of stories, don't they? Lindsay is less than two hours' drive from Toronto, a city that's now as brown as it is white, to put it crudely. But us brown folks seem to have stayed away from Lindsay. I look forward to learning more about a charming small city that has, in this respect, wittingly or no, preserved, shall we say, a certain distance.

Finally a lovely story about Bob Dylan, who managed to get himself questioned by a couple of young cops in the environs of Long Branch, New Jersey. He was, God help him, walking around looking at houses, and someone called the authorities. (Doesn't seem to have been an upscale neighbourhood either.) He identified himself, but Dylan is an old fellow, now, and so the youngsters weren't to be satisfied till they drove him along to where he said the tour buses were, and where he could be vouched for. (Dylan was waiting to perform with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp in a gig later that day.) Bob was cool and went along with the cops, who, once satisfied that he was who he said he was, were happy to let him go.

Of course, there have been the inevitable comparisons with the incident with Prof Gates, and the inevitable comments about the 'correct way' to deal with cops. It would be lovely to get Dylan's view on both incidents, and I shall in due course put in my piece on this, but what certainly deserves noticing is how terrified Americans now are of their fellow citizens, even when they are old, distinguished (true in both cases) and unarmed - well, I guess Prof Gates had his cane!

Now I wonder what the reasons might be for that?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Three Rhymes for Skipping Rope

Right. So we're two weeks into August, I've put nothing up since the end of July, and I've folks to reply to that I've left hanging! Wai-oh! The thing is I've been working on a big project and whenever I do that, everything else goes by the board. This is not a good thing. I can multi-task, I tell myself.

To no avail.

So, to make up for my delinquency and buy myself a little more time, here are three rhymes for skipping rope. Summer is skipping rope time, so maybe you know some young people who’ll have fun with them. All three are riffs on rhymes we skipped to as children.

(For those who don't know, the rope went faster as the condiments in "Salt, Vinegar..." got hotter.)

So, beg you hol dat fe now! With luck (plenty luck) more on the weekend.

Room for rent

Room for rent
Apply within.
When you come out
I come in.

Look how bad
you leave this place!
Trash everywhere!
It is a disgrace!

Room for rent
Apply within.
When I come out
You come in.

I don’t leave no dirt!
Not even a trace...
The floor so shine
You can see your face.

So if you want
To rent my room
You best arrive
With your mop and broom.

© Pamela Mordecai 2009

Hurricane housing

I need to find
a room to rent.
I tired to live
in this hurricane tent.

I living here since
the last breeze-blow
and I long to leave
but the government slow.

If things keep on
at this drag-foot pace
I going to die
in this very same place!

So I need to find
a room to rent.
before I drop down dead
in this leaky tent.

© Pamela Mordecai 2009

Salt Vinegar Mustard Pepper

Salt vinegar
mustard pepper
spin the rope
for this high stepper.

Pepper mustard
vinegar salt
slow him down
till him come to a halt.

© Pamela Mordecai 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nervous (in one case) notes

Okay, following my own advice about keeping the blog going, voilà!

Concerning poetry, a couple of websites to check out, if you haven’t before.

I saw on facebook that “Rock Steady: the Roots of Reggae” has been held over at the Carlton Cinema. It was on yesterday but I don’t know if it’s on today. Klive Walker, author of Dubwise: Reasoning from the reggae underground, published by Insomniac Press recently sent me a review of the film. Perhaps he’ll agree to let me publish it or perhaps I'll be able to make the film myself.

Go to the website, anyway. That alone is worth the visit.

Finally (the scariest for the last), on a website advertising itself as “Christian Assemblies International,” I commenced reading an article called “Multiculturalism – The Canadian Experience”. Nazi, Proto-Nazi and race hate websites I know about, but this took me aback. Have a read for yourself. These people speak about "the White World!" No! They do not mean the Arctic and Antarctic! No! Their tongues are not in their cheeks! I really think Jesus had better come soon, and set things straight himself. For one thing, they may stunned to learn that he's a Jew. Meanwhile, I’m thinking of saying that I’m a follower of Jesus in future. No wonder so many people despise “Christians”! Here's the website. Keep your righteous cool! Selah!

Perhaps a note about the garbage strike tomorrow, when we hope and pray it will truly have come to an end.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More on the Arrest of Professor Gates

There’s been lots of comment about Professor Gates's arrest in the media, which, as far as I'm concerned, is all to the good. I can't think why anyone would want to dampen down the discussion. It's fine to have a black man in the White House, an important positive development, as I've said, but that doesn't change the facts, one, for instance, being that black and Hispanic men make up almost 60% of the jail population in the USA. And it's not because they are born wicked. I’m not suggesting that some of them don't deserve to be there (though some of them don't), but that disproportionate presence is one symptom of a lot that's amiss where matters of race in North America are concerned, especially matters that impact black men.

And not talking about it, or ratcheting down the discussion isn't going to make that set of problems go away, by any means.

It's interesting to note, in the comments that have been made on many of the articles online, that ordinary folks repeatedly say that they need to be deferential with the police, a deference that clearly arises out of fear. I learned too that a great many police officers “demand respect”, especially when they are in uniform. More on that in a bit.

A couple points have emerged to fill out our picture of the incident. Seems Sergeant James Crowley, the arresting officer, felt threatened. He mentioned being aware of having to protect himself because his wife and children needed him. I can absolutely appreciate that. But it's fair to point out that Professor Gates is an older man who uses a cane, and that he had just come back, ill, from a long and tiring trip. So, a strong, armed young man was facing an older, sick man, who uses a cane and has done for a long time. Hmmmn. There’s a picture online of Professor Gates in hand cuffs. Worth a thousand words!

Where respect is concerned, I have two observations.

I was a teacher in another life. It's my experience that respect is not to be demanded, it's to be deserved. It was my business to earn my students' respect: by my own demeanour, by how I treated them, by my insisting that the circumstance in which we all learned reflected the fact of this mutual respect – a clean classroom, no rowdy behaviour, everyone having a chance to speak and be heard, etc., etc. The person with the authority is the one who sets the tone, calibrates the nature of the interactions.

True, my life may not have been on the line (not at that time, anyway), but a cop is like a soldier, and threats to life and limb are part of the territory. It's a hazardous job, and those who take it on know that up front. That defusing of bad situations is a cop skill as much as a teacher skill. (Malcolm Gladwell has written insightfully about this.)

Secondly, those who are likely to confront the police with “disrespectful” behaviour are often the people who most need their protection. They are people who are old folks with dementia; they are people who are mentally or physically ill, or temporarily off-balance, or inebriated, or high on dope. (Yes, drunks and dope heads are citizens too, and deserve protection.) Nor are the police without recourse. They have Mylar vests, guns, billies, tasers – the latter having, in too many cases, turned out to be lethal weapons in their hands.

Sadly, the instances of police shootings of innocent people are far too many. FSJL mentions a truly alarming one in his comments on our last post. Here in Toronto, the Asian man who was mentally ill and who was shot to death on a trolley downtown, his weapon a small hammer in his hand, comes to mind. So also does the case of the African-Canadian man, clad in colourful regalia and brandishing a wooden sword, who was shot to death by police on St Clair Avenue. Both were non compos mentis; neither posed a credible threat to anyone, least of all the police, at any time. And, more recently, there is the case of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski tasered to death just 24 seconds after being confronted by police in Vancouver International Airport.

It’s not that I’m without sympathy for the job that policemen do. As a young man, my father worked in Tower Street Prison. But there’s a reason that policemen carry guns, and we trust them to do so. And that’s precisely why it’s fair to expect them to be the ones who always keep their cool: if they lose it, the results may be irreversible. Nor does respect inhere in “Yes, officer. No, officer.” That respect is transient and superficial. The real respect is a community’s continuing trust in and support of their law officers.

Unless of course we are to degenerate into a Wild West in which we are all armed and dangerous…

Friday, July 24, 2009

Henry Louis Gates Jr and Nightmare America

You’ve got to be grateful for the young Americans in Grant Park. You’ve got to believe in their upturned, eager faces. You’ve got to engage with their hope. Why? Because they are hitching their wagon to a faltering star – and I’m not talking about Barack Obama. It’s a star of longing that an America will emerge at some time in the not too distant future in which presidents, police, politicians, monarchs of the marketplace, all those who wield power will behave with basic human decency. I don’t say ‘common’ for it ain’t common no more, as the matter I am about to raise will amply demonstrate.

Michael Mechanic, a senior editor at MOTHER JONES magazine, offers this comment on the arrest of black American intellectual, Henry Louis Gates Jr, in an opinion piece carried in today’s GLOBE AND MAIL entitled “Why you never, ever get righteous on a street cop.”

You don't talk back to the police. You don't question them. And you certainly don't call them racist, even if you think they're profiling you. (And they most likely are.)

Because you will lose. It doesn't matter whether you're a prominent black Harvard prof, a white kid on his way to attend graduate school or a Hispanic high-school dropout.

True it is that Mr Mechanic bases his opinion on his own encounters with police, white though he is. What alarms me is that he should feel free to offer such an opinion, and that the GLOBE AND MAIL should elect to retail it. That, in many respects, is more shocking than the incident of Professor Gates’s arrest itself.

Let’s face it. We live – have been living for quite a while – in an age in which people with guns and knives and other lethal instruments can wreak havoc on anyone at any time they choose. We are very equal in that respect – or lack of it. John Kennedy and Emmett Till, equally dead: one was a filthy rich white President of the most powerful country on earth, the other a poor black teenager, a citizen of the same country. They were both mortal and somebody decided to let them know it.

But when anything of this kind happens we are normally outraged. We mourn the deaths, not only of the murdered but of the values, courtesies and right behaviours that would have secured the lives of the victims, had they been observed. We affirm the most basic value: that human life is precious, that each human person is unique and irreplaceable and that every one of us deserves to be treated by every other one of us in a way that demonstrates that understanding.

The police in a country that purports to be democratic aren’t supposed to be arbitrary wielders of power. They aren’t a militia. They aren’t armed thugs. They aren’t guerillas waging war in support of any cause they privately support. They are, like the Pope, servants of the servants of God, in other words, us common folks. Paid with our tax dollars, they are meant to work for us and protect us. We are not supposed to be deadly afraid of tangling with them on account of what they might choose to do to us.

That is what is chilling about Mr Mechanic’s opinion piece. It tells me – I’d be very happy to be reading him wrong – that I need to adopt just such a cowering attitude when I encounter a cop, because otherwise I “am going to lose”. I infer that what I will lose is my intactness of person or my freedom or my life, or in the worst case, all of the above. This is the wisdom, gleaned from his own experience, that he offers his readers. This is the wisdom that he chastens Professor Gates for not having. (Poor soul: the Professor thought he was a free man in a free state.)

Mr Mechanic doesn’t say this is a terrible state of affairs. He doesn’t rant and rave about things gone awry. He does not complain that it’s a sign that the country is going to hell in a hand-basket when ostensible keepers of the peace can’t find a smooth way through an incident like this one and arrive at a win-win conclusion. I put it this way because, never mind how Professor Gates may or may not have behaved, I agree with Mr Mechanic in one regard: in a situation like this one, it is the police who have the upper hand. I conclude from this that the greater onus is therefore on them.

It does not seem to upset Mr Mechanic that, as he offers us counsel, he characterizes citizen and police as combatants, fighting on opposing sides.

All of which suggests to me that he might as well have been describing any old totalitarian country, any old banana republic, any old Cold War Communist state.

Let Mr Mechanic not therefore, in future, speak of the United States of America in the same breath as he speaks of democracy, or rights, or freedoms, or the pursuit of any kind of happiness. Let him always keep his feet firmly on the ground, and tell it like it is. This is an America in which the citizen who has his wits about him had better be scared of the very people who are supposed to protect him. This is bizarre, ghoulish, monstrous, Nightmare America.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Everybody get flat – a dub"

In 2005, THE TRUE BLUE OF ISLANDS, a book dedicated to my brother Richard, murdered in Jamaica in 2004, appeared. Not long ago (on April 28), I posted the title poem, which is an account of his death. Today's post is a dub, another version of that death, to remember him because he recently had a birthday. The book of poems, never mind its subject (violence in its several manifestations) witnesses to his life. It celebrates an ordinary man. It mourns, not him alone, but all those who die brutally, as well as all those who suffer abuse in the course of their lives.

We who are left, pursuing our ambitions, hopping on planes and boats and trains about our business, have failed miserably to guard our kin – our relatives by blood, by six degrees of separation, by simple living on this planet together. I beat my breast and confess that failure. Had I invested more, and earlier, had a larger heart, been more generous with my time, more earnest in my prayers, more ready to share what I have, he might not be dead, and the person who killed him might not have been impelled to murder. The same applies to all of us, with respect to all those who have died arbitrarily and to all those who have done murder.

Mea maxima culpa.

So here is "Everybody Get Flat."

Happy Belated Birthday and Rest in Peace, my brother.

Everybody get flat – a dub

Where is the poem
that explains
what happens
to you when
they shoot your brother
and you hear
that his brains
spilled over the seat
to the back of the car
and you have to tell folks,

“No it wasn’t a war.
No, he wasn’t
caught in crossfire
No it wasn’t a fight.
Yes it happened at night
but no, not in town
out in the country
not a God soul around.

No, he didn’t launder money.
No he wasn’t into dope.
Just a man with a plan
and a fervent hope.

What was the motive?
The police can’t find
not a rhyme not a reason
why they kill the man.
Just a random execution –

So, no, we don’t have a clue
why he might have been killed.
Yes I guess you could say
God must have willed
it. What? God willed it?

No the priest said.
God don’t will
no slaughtered dead.
God allow us our own way.

So we turn into a place
with a theme song that say
“Everybody get flat –
dog coming through!”

And dog mean gun
and is all in fun
don’t mind people
have to run
down in the ghetto
every God-sent day
from the teeth of the dog.

But I guess we have a way
to grit our teeth
and carry on through.

Till a bullet come
and you pray
it’s not for you.

© Copyright Pamela Mordecai, author of THE TRUE BLUE OF ISLANDS and PINK ICING: STORIES.

All rights reserved.

No part of this blog may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Strategies for keeping on blogging

I have to arrive at some strategies that will enable me to avoid these hiatuses. This one's not as long as it may have seemed. I was blogging all through May (I did mention it in a previous post) at Open Book Toronto. It was a very enjoyable gig. Many thanks again, to Amy, Clelia, and OBT! And also to my inimitable, generous, joy of an editor, Gillian Rodgerson.

But I've not been here for all of June and a big chunk of July. Too long! I'm thinking that if I can't find the time to write something coherent, I'll post a poem or a part of a story, or maybe a whole story. On the subject of whole stories online, I visited Neil Gaiman's site recently. If you've never been, go have a look. Amazing!

That brings me to another strategy. I'll post interesting people and events I've come across, actually or virtually - worthwhile stuff, hopefully, as this blog won't ever be about whether or not I've been having a headache or bought a new toothbrush or had a fight with my best beloved. Not that those things are unimportant, but I'm not called to write about them, not here anyway.

So, because this has to be a quick one, here are some recent encounters.

Saw Kate Story, author of the novel BLASTED, this week. Am reading the novel, at the minute. She's funny, and funny ain't easy to write!

Saw JAMAICA FOR SALE a documentary by Esther Figueroa and Diana McCaulay at the Caribbean Tales Film Festival today. (Plaudits to Frances-Anne Solomon for the Fest, in its fourth year!) It's overwhelming. It's heartbreaking. It's how to ruin a small island with ostensible 'tourism development'! It's a formidable piece of work. And it has a ten second clip of yours truly, doing an interview for JIS-TV too long ago to even remember when. See it if you can. Support the effort to save a collapsing environment and the livelihoods of the 'small people' who depend on it.

Also if you haven't been here just GO! Listen to poets reading their work, Guillaume Apollinaire (yup!), Kamau Brathwaite and Christian Bok and endless other. No Walcott, though. Wonder why?

Heard from Rethabile Masilo, who is about to travel from Paris to this side with his family. Travel safe, and have a great time, Rethabile.

Liz Hearne, wife of the late Jamaican author, John Hearne and mother of super editor at UWI Press, Shivaun, died recently. Our condolences to her family and loved ones. We'll miss Liz.

One more big piece of news, but it'll keep till next time. Walk good meantime.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Visit to Calgary: Part Three

My last engagement in Calgary on this winter 2009 visit was at St Stephen’s Church downtown where, on Friday March 6, Howard Gallimore, Jamaican-Calgarian who had read with me on my previous visit, joined me, reprising his role of Samuel, as we read my Good Friday poem, De Man. I read Naomi. I am a Roman Catholic, as is Howard, but, as the Lord would have it, the readings of this poem in Calgary have, on both occasions, taken place in Anglican churches. We are grateful to our Anglican brethren for hosting us on both occasions.

The story of the reading was a Jamaican pumpkin vine story, running off in different directions as it put out its blossoms and then bore fruit. Dr Cecille DePass, a Professor at U of C, and a good friend and supporter, had, when she heard I was coming back this year to visit the University once more, offered to put me up once I’d fulfilled my obligations to the University. In addition, since the visit would again be in Lent, she had proposed that I do a reading of De Man, as I had done in 2007. Professor DePass is that rara avis, that endangered species, an enabler. So she undertook to find a church that would host the reading. Enter Dr Jean Springer, Rector’s Warden at St Stephen’s and a good friend of Cecille’s – and, unknown to me, an old friend of my husband’s family. In fact, his father was married in her parents’ house, the Barretts and the Mordecais having known one another from Columbus came over. Jean agreed to approach Rev. Brian Pearson, the rector at St Stephen’s, and we were delighted when we heard that he had agreed. Jean and I spoke on the phone, I discovered the family connection – I knew Jean’s sister, concert pianist, Nerine Barrett – and when I came to Calgary, Jean took to me to lunch and we got to know each other a bit better.

Which was how, on the evening of Friday March 6th, Rev. Pearson came to be welcoming Howard and me and introducing us to a small but welcoming audience at St Stephen’s. We could not have been more received more thoughtfully. We had met the associate priest, Rev. Cathy Fulton, and also Brian’s wife, Jean, beforehand. There were microphones and lecterns at the ready, the church was lit, and there was water to hand. We were promised refreshments in the Canterbury Room afterwards.

A little bit about the poem: De Man: a performance poem is my second book of poetry, and is really a verse play. A two-hander written entirely in Jamaican Creole, it is the story of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as reported by two imagined characters, Naomi, a maid in the court of Pilate’s wife, and Samuel, a disabled carpenter of Nazareth to whom Joseph taught the trade. It has been performed many times in Canada and in Jamaica.

But it is always a challenge, especially in Canada, where we, the performers, are aware that we are reading in a language that is not familiar to many in the audience. We make adjustments for this, but even then, one is never sure. It helps when, as has been the case on both occasions, there are Caribbean people in the audience. Naomi and Samuel have their own story, which unfolds as they watch Jesus on his way to Calvary. Naomi is a bit of a busybody, and a forthright speaker of her opinions, and, never mind that this is a terrible tale, there are light moments, as there must have been when the true history happened.

After the performance, we gathered in the Canterbury Room for refreshments, graciously provided by parishioners and well-wishers. Everyone I spoke to said that that it had been deeply moving, and that those who hadn’t come had missed something. English speakers found that they could understand once they became accustomed to the rhythms of the Creole. People generously purchased books, a portion of the sales having been promised to support the church’s ministry.

The reading was memorable for another reason. We discovered later that, unbeknown to us, Howard’s grandmother in Toronto had died while we were performing the poem.

Someone in the audience asked me, as we spoke afterwards, if I had seen the movie, The Passion of the Christ. I told him that I hadn’t and wondered why he had asked. He recalled Samuel’s description, as he observed the clothes being torn off of Jesus:

Dem tearing off him clothes
And scab and blood and skin
And flesh hold onto dem.
Him is a open wound.
A walking sore.

He had never seen or heard those details before – not until he’d seen the movie. I explained that I’d imagined what would have happened if a man had been whipped till he was bleeding, then had clothes put on him, then had them torn off when the blood had dried. When I returned to Toronto, my husband pointed out that the poem had been published in 1995, while the movie had been released in 2004.

I was very surprised and pleased at the invitation to have us back to repeat the performance on Good Friday! We are both – indeed all – extremely grateful to the clergy, staff and parishioners at St Stephen’s for hosting us, and in particular, to Dr Jean Springer for trusting, sight unseen, in the story of De Man. It was a great experience for both Howard and myself, I know. The plan is that we will come back for Easter next year, since it was not have possible to accept the invitation to return this Easter.

I think we all look forward to that time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Visit to Calgary Part Two

A note on my last post. It was written before I saw Nik Korpon’s review of Pink Icing, which is why I was pleased that Nik said what he did about my narrative disappearing act.

It’s my second day in Calgary. Tuesday, March 3rd.

From Aruna Srivastiva’s office, to which Robert Majzels has so kindly brought me through ice and snow and melt, I can glimpse a strange, bare landscape. It’s not just the emptiness of winter. It maybe looks as if someone has skinned the earth, as they would skin an animal, and what I’m looking at is what’s underneath. The mountains ringing the city on the low horizon are like folds of skin, pulled back from the exposed torso and piled up at the sides of the excoriated body of the beast.

I’d heard about Aruna before I met her – we had friends in common. We talked a bit before going off to her class and she told me some more about the course being done by the students with whom I’d be visiting. She’d already said via e-mail that English 492 is a course on postcolonial and globalization studies in which students look at literature in the context of cultural and political issues. They worked in groups, and so did not often meet as one large group, and they were mostly well motivated, and got on with what they had to do. I was interested, especially in the fact that they were assessed in non-traditional ways (one being that they blogged) rather than by means of tests and papers. I told Aruna that it seemed like it would be a lot of work to mark, more harassing than correcting papers, and she admitted it was.

But it would obviously be challenging for the students and would offer insights into their progress, a grasp of how well they were acquiring skills and knowledge and navigating concepts. Also, she would quickly have a handle on any problems they might encounter.

Aruna had been concerned about the student turnout and lured them with the promise of food after the class, which I subsequently told her was a lunatic thing to do, because I think every man-Jack was there! I enjoyed the session. Via an Internet hook-up, Tracy, an admin assistant, if I remember right, who would normally have been present except that she was ill, could participate. We all waved to her on camera and she waved back at us. The students were alert and interested and clearly very bright.

I was a bit angry with myself, though, for getting distracted. I found myself talking about getting published, what constituted a bestseller in Canadian and American terms, etc., etc. I wish that I’d just stayed with reading stories and poems.

Aruna treated us to dinner in the grad lounge, good food and vivid cocktails. There was lively chatter, somewhat constrained by the fact that we were at a long, thin table. Across the table from me was an Asian woman who diverted us with a tale of being thrown out of a bar by a bouncer. She never went to bars, she said, and this one time had all been a crazy mix-up. Beside me a white Canadian woman spoke of spending summers picking mushrooms that grew wild. She loved it. She told me which mushrooms – it might have been morels, which grow wild in British Columbia, but I can’t remember now.

It wasn’t a very mixed group, racially, and the evening ended with an interesting conversation – by that time everyone had left and there were only the five of us – between three white young men, one of Finnish heritage, one Danish and one of Bosnian background. They discussed racial purity, which I got the impression they all thought they had. Aruna is East Indian. I am a child of so many admixtures that they are lost in the mists of generations of miscegenation.

I would see Aruna again before the end of the week, to share a cup of tea and a slice of Jamaican plum pudding at the house of my friend and hostess, Cecille DePass, a Prof in Education and another innovative teacher. Cecille was why I was in Calgary to begin with. She had approached the Department of English in 2007 about having me do a reading at U. of C., to wind up my mini tour of Winnipeg, Vancouver and Edmonton, and that had led to the current invitation. Louise Saldhana came with Aruna. During tea, Louise and I hatched a project concerning children’s literature.

It was a privilege to be with these women, as it had been to meet Mutriba Din, Senior Financial Analyst at the University. Mutriba had us to dinner before my reading at Pages the day before. Cecille DePass, Aruna Srivastiva, Mutriba Din, Hiromi Goto, Louise Saldhana, Larissa Lai, Nadine Chambers, Noga Gayle, Yvonne Brown, Jean Springer, Julie Hendrickson – women, most of whom I met on these two trips to the west. Dionne Brand, on a visit to Vancouver in fall 2008, described a “world beneath the world,” meaning the world that would have existed if all the dire things that have snagged it, had not. In a recent blog post, Larissa Lai referred to Dionne’s affirmation of the existence of this under-world, and observed, “There are women… actively making that other world...”

These are some of those women.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Calgary Visit - Part One

I flew to Calgary on 2 March 2009 at the invitation of the Department of English at the University of Calgary. It was a return visit. I had visited before in 2007 as part of a mini-tour of Western Canada to promote my first collection of short fiction, Pink Icing. That visit took place at just about the same time in early March, and involved a lunch time reading which went well, never mind the small audience. Christian Bok had said then that the Department would ask me back.
So I begin by saying thanks to him for making good his promise.

A bit of serendipity, though, before I go any further. Roaming the web last night I came across a review of Pink Icing posted at Outsider Writers’ Collective:

It’s a nice review that includes these comments:

"One of Pamela Mordecai’s biggest strengths as a writer is her ability to disappear. So, you’re thinking, ‘Wow, that’s the most backhanded compliment I’ve read.’ But it’s true…Her words dissolve and leave you immersed in the world of story, occupying the same patch of grass or gravel road as the characters... Her restrained prose is economical and turns many a phrase without drawing attention to the writing itself, eschewing any chance of pulling you out of the story."

You’ll see in a bit why I was glad to read that, and be reassured that I put my money where my mouth is. Thanks, Nik Korpon!

So here I was, at the end of February, being optimistic. Courtesy of a chinook, it had been relatively warm in Calgary, and Robert Majzels, poet, playwright, novelist, prize-winning translator and associate professor of the Creative Writing group in the Department of English, had sounded as though, maybe, just maybe, the weather might be persuaded to hold. But Calgary weather is mercurial, a word I have on occasion used to describe myself, so by the time I touched down, it had exercised its right to do a volte face and welcome the visiting writer with an example of her very own changeable nature. "If not, why not?" as my Granny used to say...

I'd been reading the latest Robert Majzels (say May-zels) book. The Humbugs Diet, over the previous day or two, and indeed on the flight across. I am, I confess, severely under-read, a state I tell myself I share with most of the world, so not to worry. Given the opportunity of meeting a fellow-writer, however, I usually make it my business to read his or her work. It's as good a way as any to decide on what shall be the next book I choose as I struggle valiantly with the Sisyphean task of catching up.

The Humbugs Diet, billed as a detective story, is tasty. (I won't tell you anything about the story, except that it's about old people, is not really a whodunit, and is funny. To find out more, go buy the book.) As I've said before, I dislike writing that calls attention to itself: I don't like clever that makes sure that I notice it. I'm old-fashioned, believing firmly in the celebrated "seamless unity of form and content". Ergo, "The writing is so fine!" as a statement about any book makes my antennae quiver. However fine, it should be tucked away, like a respectable lady's petticoat, at the service of the story. In this novel, Majzels uses a manner of thought, and so of writing, to create a doppelganger, an own-way, own-mind second self for his ex-detective protagonist, Rotuf Mazal. Rotuf is on the one hand not much of anybody, diffident, indecisive, letting the days go by till he can't stand to do it any more. But quirky habits of phrase and deliberation conjure his second self for us, and much of the humour in the novel derives from the interplay between Rotuf's pedestrian first self and his sardonic second self.

I have a thing about numinous quality of names (Brutus starting a spirit, and all that) so, as I told Robert, I wasn't sure about his giving the protagonist a name so similar to his own. (I wasn't to know then that the Claire of the story is also named for his partner, Claire Huot.) And this isn't a flawless work. But it was experimenting - with language, with signifying on cultures and literatures, with pushing the boundaries of a genre in an amiable, unsnooty way. Above all, it diverted me, which is what good storytelling has always been about.

If his story was wry and endearing, never mind that it concerned a murder or two, Robert, in his role as host, was equally good natured. When I found I had to postpone the visit from October 2008 to March of this year, he said, No problem - these things happen. Once we confirmed dates, I had clear indications about things that I needed to do, and what my visit would involve. The refund of my plane fare and my honorarium arrived in advance of my departure for Calgary - very reassuring for a poor writer. And Robert was always accessible and helpful.

And now, here he was on the ground, meeting me with his trusty VW steed (veteran of two cross-Canada runs, I later learned), whisking me off to the Best Western near the University, helping me with my bags to the door of my room and promising a ride to U of C the next afternoon. The next day, he arrived exactly on time, delivered me safely to the English department, never mind the treacherous, iced-over terrain, and introduced me to Aruna Srivasteva whose class I was to visit that afternoon. More on Aruna’s class in my next dispatch.

His final kindness was to introduce me the next night at a reading at Pages, a great alternative bookstore in Kensington where the own-way traffic lights must have been made in Jamaica, for dem cyaan agree. There the chairs were all occupied, the audience receptive and the owner-manager, Simone Lee, her baby son, Theo, and Martin and the rest of the staff, both gracious as well as organized - smooth as Theo's bottom. Robert and Claire saw me off at the end of the reading with good wishes for the rest of the visit.

So I'm raising my glass of sorrel in a toast to Robert Majzels, and through him, the Department of English at the University of Calgary. Thanks, Robert. Good luck with finding the house! I look forward to seeing you next year, and between now and then, walk good.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Just some notes...

I'm going to be blogging in two places in the month of May. I'll be here as much as I can, but I'll also be posting at where I'll be Writer in Residence for the month of May. So stop by there too, if you can.

I've some good news – better than good. Spouse Martin's book, Blue Mountain Trouble, has been getting great reviews. See one here

It's a crossover YA novel, about twins (a boy and a girl) who live high in the mountains of Jamaica and who encounter a magical goat. Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Press, simultaneously in the USA ($16.99) and Canada (C$21.99). ISBN9780-0-545-04156-0.

See an interview with Martin at

I haven't let go of the matter of my last post. I'm coming back to it soon, but it's time to give an account of my visit to Calgary, late though it may be. So that's what's coming up next. Traveling tomorrow, so see you on Friday – in both places. Till then enjoy the frolics of spring...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Should Andrew Buchanan send an angel with an avenging sword?

Today’s post includes a poem of mine called “The True Blue of Islands.” It is the title poem of my last collection of poetry. According to the blurb on the back cover, “The True Blue of Islands is a collection of poems exploring violence, beginning with the brutal treatment of slaves, journeying through child abuse and self-mutilation and ending with the callous murder of the poet’s brother.” Though the poem was written to remember my brother Richard, who was murdered in Jamaica on 30 May 2004, I post it today as a requiem for Andrew Buchanan. For the circumstances surrounding his death, please see “A Lesson in Social Justice” by Yvonne McCalla Sobers at

If the use of violence by the Israeli army against innocent Palestinians (see post of April 20) is despicable, so is the arbitrary use of force against the ordinary citizen by the forces, ostensibly of law and order, in Canada, the USA, Russia, China, Jamaica, or anywhere else. It seems increasingly that those who should protect us have become those whom we need to fear most.

But there is a larger question, a question about whether it is we who are conscripting young human beings and making killers of them.

MaryMapes considers, inter alia, the unfairness of political and military administrations who devise policy, impose it on ‘underlings’ and end up blameless, free as birds, while those who followed the orders (to which we now say they should have objected) are punished for their obedience. She mentions as an example Chip Frederick who, at 42 years old, having lost his wife, his military pension and his medals – and his pride – is out of prison and trying to restart his life.

“I do not think Chip Frederick – or any of the other inexperienced, poorly trained reservists at Abu Ghraib – went to Iraq full of original ideas about how to torment the locals that just happened to match the methods designed by the Pentagon…I believe he and others at the prison were fed a steady diet of these toxic tactics…And they paid dearly for their lack of protest.”

But those who do object, as Greg Mitchell reports,
do so at great personal cost, for no one likes people who rock the boat. American soldier Alyssa Peterson refused to take part in torture, and shortly thereafter took her own life. Reporter Kevin Elston of the Flagstaff radio station, KNAU, unwilling to accept the official report of Peterson’s death as having been ‘from a "non-hostile weapons discharge”,’ was stonewalled by officialdom and finally had to file a Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] request that led to startling revelations about her death. According to Mitchell, the station reported:

"Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed."

Mitchell goes on: “The official probe of her death would later note that earlier she had been ‘reprimanded’ for showing ‘empathy’ for the prisoners. One of the most moving parts of the report, in fact, is this: ‘She said that she did not know how to be two people; she ... could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire.’”

So we are now in the business of manufacturing killers – you, me, all of us. We have seen the monster enemy; indeed, we have created him. We should think on it. Selah.

The True Blue of Islands
for Richard murdered 30 May 2004 RIP, and today, for Andrew Buchanan, RIP

So here’s my friend
writing of how poets
have named the blues
of these small islands.

I see him hold his brush
testing the tones
another poet
set to name them too.

Truth is those are
fake colours.
Watch and I’ll paint
the islands’ blues for you.

Just over from
the next door bar
my brother’s
napping in his car
too tired to drag
himself to a safe place.

(Besides, this
is his island —
every place
is safe.)

Blue is the hue
of his face
starting awake.

It is the black
and bruise
of the dark hand
he wipes
across his brow
to try the truth
before his eye.

Must be a lie.

It seems he’s
looking at a gun.

Beyond his arm
the sea of night
is indigo. The wind
is warm. The stars
gleam cold as steel.

Smelt blue the shade
of this night’s
lesser lights
smelt blue this
snarling nozzle
set to bite.

His mind is fuzzy.

Didn’t he just
park his old
gas-guzzling car?
Say to his friend,

“You go on up.
I’m going to have
a smoke or two”?

He puffs.
Lavender clouds
halo his head.

He thinks of bed
yawning a grin.
That gun? He knows
it’s too much gin.

Pushes the door,
heaves out his gut
follows it with
a sandaled foot
stands up turns back
slams the door shut.

“Give me your gun.”

The voice treads air.

“Don’t have no gun.
And further to that, why
you need another one?”

My brother — fair
and reasonable
till the end.

“Too bad. No gun
mean man must dead.”

Three swift reports.

He stumbles.
Grabs his side.
Calls out
“Help me!
I’m shot…”
bleeds royally
then dies.

Electric planets
a firmament
of navy skies
spill laser
points of flame-
blue light
drill purple
worm holes
in the forehead
of the night.

While lilac drafts
of incense rise
my brother slips
his dark blue skin.

The dog-grey sea
licks at his toes
noses his corpse
looking for clues.

Like that old poet
wrestling the wind
I study shades
of island blues.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Top 100 Jamaican songs. Get it right!

I’ve got to thank Rethabile Masilo for pointing me to Reuters’ report
announcing a list of Jamaica’s top 100 songs over the 50 years between 1957 and 2007.

A panel of seven made the selections, assisted by members of the public attending a symposium at the University of the West Indies, Mona, on April 16th. The audience helped to shape the criteria for the selection, as well as vote on the compositions to be included in the top 100. Former Finance and Planning Minister Omar Davies headed the panel, which included businessman Wayne Chen, musicologist Vaughn "Bunny" Goodison, founder of the Soul Shack Disco and creator and host of the popular radio show, "Rhythms," Frankie Campbell of the Fab Five band, broadcaster Francois St. Juste, journalist Basil Walters, and musician Sly Dunbar of Sly and Robbie fame.

Bob Marley's "One Love" topped the list with "Simmer Down" coming in at No. 9. "No Woman No Cry" was picked No. 12 and "Redemption Song" No. 14. "One Love" garnered 726 points. The second placed song, "O Carolina," originally recorded by the Folkes Brothers, scored 540 points.

Reuters reported the list as follows:

The Top 10 songs and the singers were:

1. "One Love" - Bob Marley & the Wailers

2. "Oh Carolina" - The Folkes Brothers

3. "54-45" - The Maytals

4. "Got to Go Back Home" - Bob Andy

5. "My Boy Lollipop" - Millie Small

6. "Many Rivers To Cross" - Jimmy Cliff

7. "Israelites" - Desmond Dekker and the Aces

8. "Cherry Oh Baby" - Eric Donaldson

9. "Simmer Down" - Bob Marley & the Wailers

10. "Carry Go Bring Come" - Justin Hinds & the Dominos

I’m not a fan of top 10s, top 100s, Grammys, Oscars, etc., for reasons that I think are good ones, and that I won’t go into in this post. However, it’s nothing but good when people come together to weigh, discuss and celebrate their culture – in this case, their music. Give thanks and praises for that.

Three things struck me.

First, Horace Helps, the Reuters reporter, and Bob Tourtellotte, the editor, have managed to distort the title of the song in the No. 3 spot. "54-46 – That's My Number" is a song by Fred "Toots" Hibbert about the 18 months he spent in jail on a ganja charge. (Toots claimed he was arrested while helping to bail someone.) It’s not “54-45,” though there are sites on the Internet misnaming it that way.

Folks know I get upset by inaccuracies, sloppy dealing with facts, figures, events, history, the truth. This is a simple story, and the reporter and editor have easy access to media where the correct information is available. Further, it’s as if some people are perversely dedicated to getting it wrong. For example, anyone listening to the recording at
a site where the song is incorrectly advertised as “54-45 WAS MY NUMBER," will hear the musicians singing the right thing.

There was no place for comment or feedback on the Reuters site, so no chance to set the record straight.

Secondly, the fifth place song is of interest for a couple of reasons. It's the only one where the recording artiste is a woman. Also, whatever the criteria used for “Jamaican” were, “My Boy Lollipop”, unlike the other nine songs, was not written by Jamaicans. Singer Robert Spencer of The Cadillacs, a doo wop group from Harlem, and the group's manager, Johnny Roberts, are usually ascribed the writing credits. The song's first recording was by teenager Barbie Gaye in 1956. Millie Small's 1964 cover, rearranged by Ernie Ranglin and distinctive for its ska/bluebeat-style, became a huge hit in Britain, reaching the No. 2 spot. It went to No. 1 in Ireland and No. 2 in the USA, topped the charts in Australia and was the first record to help Chris Blackwell's Jamaican label, Island Records, make millions. With over seven million copies sold, it still is one of the best-selling reggae/ska hits. So it’s an important song in the history of the development and export of Jamaican music, but it’s not as completely Jamaican as the others in the top ten are.

Finally, the fact that the Department of Government at UWI are the ones who organized the symposium is either a very good or a very bad thing... One hopes it's a good thing. One worries though, when, in a release from the aforesaid department, one reads sentences like: "Its [the music's] impact on the aesthetic and ontological development and expression of global popular music is phenomenal". I have argued in a long document elsewhere that the social sciences aren't really sciences at all. Forgive the bellicose metaphors, but is this fodder for my cannon, or ammunition for my gun?

As ever, all comments, corrections, and new information are welcome.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Jewish Canadians for Decency and Righteousness

I get behind here because there’s so much to write about and many issues that deserve comment require a moral and spiritual stamina, and also a forbearance of the trivial, that I can’t always summon. So, for example, Prime Minister Harper, through his Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, erodes pay equity for women (in this case, women in the federal public service in Canada) by saying it’s a matter to be referred to the unions. Who would have thought in this day and age any government could get away with that? As for the trivial – for I cannot forbear – the media twist themselves into pretzels about Michelle Obama touching the Queen and concoct a fashion ‘war’ between herself and Carla Bruni. Good grief! Give the terrified jobless a break!

Something happened in March that, never mind it’s late, needs to be noticed. Over 160 Jewish Canadians, including persons such as Ursula Franklin O.C., Anton Kuerti O.C., and Naomi Klein, made public a signed statement voicing their concern about the campaign to suppress criticism of Israel currently being carried on in Canada. They are, they say, “concerned about all expressions of racism, anti-Semitism, and social injustice.” But they see the “Never again” for the Holocaust, as applying to all peoples. Thus, “It is a tragic turn of history that the State of Israel, with its ideals of democracy and its dream of being a safe haven for Jewish people, causes immeasurable suffering and injustice to the Palestinian people.”

It’s an extraordinary document, the full text of which is available at several internet sites, including:

The statement concludes:

'It is crucial that forums for discussion of Israel's accountability to the international community for what many have called war crimes be allowed to proceed unrestricted by specious claims of anti-Semitism.'

'We recognize that anti-Semitism is a reality in Canada as elsewhere, and we are fully committed to resisting any act of hatred against Jews. At the same time, we condemn false charges of anti-Semitism against student organizations, unions, and other groups and people exercising their democratic right to freedom of speech and association regarding legitimate criticism of the State of Israel.'

The courage of these persons must be applauded. There are, no doubt, many other Jewish Canadians, and Israelis, who feel this way, and who will be reassured to know that these persons saw fit to make public their distress over behaviour on the part of the state of Israel towards its Palestinian neighbours.

Seems the mainstream media in Canada weren’t helpful in making the statement public.

As Massa God would have it, for as we keep saying here, him don’t sleep, at much the same time, news media were reporting that Israeli troops admitted that they had killed innocent Palestinian civilians in the Gaza war. The reports are hair-raising. Here is one soldier’s account: ‘When we entered a house, we were supposed to bust down the door and start shooting inside and just go up storey by storey – I call that murder. If we identify a person, we shoot them. How is this reasonable?’

He also told of an old woman who was crossing a road when she was shot by soldiers.

‘I don’t know whether she was suspicious or not. I do know that my officer sent people to the roof to take her out. It was cold-blooded murder.’

The accounts come from Israeli soldiers at a recruits’ training course at the Rabin Academy. Danny Mazir, head of the Academy, said: ‘We expected to hold a discussion about the war. We did not expect the testimonies we heard. We were in total shock.’

Palestinians say over half of the more than 1,300 Gazans who were killed were civilians. Israel disputes the figure.

Among other things, it is evil to require men and women to slaughter their fellow human beings in a way that they themselves can recognize as evil. No civilized state abuses its citizens in this way. As for the slaughtered Palestinians, the crying out of the blood of innocents is a continuing theme in the Holy Books. Those who murder unarmed women and children flaunt not only the conventions of men, but, far more seriously, the laws of God.

The converse applies equally to the Palestinians, but it would seem, in the immediate circumstances, that they are more sinned against than sinning.

Idolatry is a convoluted sin, and all manner of worldly things may become idols, including putting the worship of the state before the worship of God. Whatever else there may be dispute about, the first commandment on the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai, as recorded in Exodus and Deuteronomy (in Hebrew, the Devarim), is indisputable: “You shall have no other gods before me.” It would be imprudent of those who lead the state of Israel to set themselves against the God who called the Jewish people His. Indeed, that is to put it very mildly.