November 17, 2015


Last Saturday night we went to the final Vancouver presentation of Nirbhaya at the York Theatre. The play, by the South African playwright and director, Yaël Farber, is extraordinary.

Nirbhaya weaves the story of the Delhi bus rape that shocked the world, with the personal stories of the five women on the stage, all survivors of sexual abuse and violence.

On the night of December 16, 2012, a young woman and her male friend were returning home after seeing the film, Life of Pi. They boarded an off-duty charter bus. There were only six men on the bus, including the driver. Soon after boarding, the male friend was beaten, gagged and knocked unconscious. The woman, was beaten with an iron rod, tortured and raped repeatedly by the six men.

According to the police, the young woman tried to fight off her assailants. After the rapes and beatings ended, the attackers threw both victims from the moving bus. Sixteen days later, Jyoti Singh Pandey died. She was 23 years old.

During the last days of her life, Jyoti was given the name Nirbhaya by the Indian media. Nirbhaya means fearless, and the five women who tell their stories in this play are also fearless. One of them, Pamela Mala Sinha, is a Canadian actress and writer, tells of how she was raped in Toronto twenty years ago by a stranger. Her story reminds us that this play is about women and not about India.

The men who raped and killed Jyoti Pandey were arrested, charged and convicted. As a result of her murder, and in the wake of mass demonstrations across the nation, the Indian government developed a policy of zero tolerance for violence against women. They promised to strengthen the justice system in cases involving crimes against women. However, all the men who raped and abused the women in the play remain at large.

Nirbhaya is not an easy play to watch. The stories are raw, harrowing and without happy endings. On this last night of the Vancouver run, the audience was often incredibly silent, save sniffs, sobs and tears.

Nirbhaya ends with each of the women standing up, saying her name and raising a hand in the air. They did not look like victims, instead strong, defiant and fearless.

The play forces us to look. We are called to bear witness. We cannot turn away. And silence is not an option.

Nirbhaya was presented in association with Amnesty International and its Action Network for Women's Human Rights.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

November 16, 2015

The Buzz Café & Espresso Bar

At the corner of Homer and Smithe in downtown Vancouver resides Harrison Galleries.  Established in 1958, the gallery remains family-owned and operated. It is spacious, relaxing and inviting, and a delight to wander any time, any day.

Harrison Galleries represents nationally and internationally recognized artists, including the amazing landscape photographer, Steven Friedman.

The gallery is also home to a unique café called The Buzz. Fine coffees from 49th Parallel are blended with the ambience of outstanding Canadian art. Panini, wraps, bakery items, soup and several gluten-free and vegan items. are available for lunch.

Seating is available in the café itself, but the gallery beckons and provides a simple pleasure unavailable in other coffee shops.

This place is wonderful.

Photos by Jeem
(except photo above by Marc Smith). 
Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

The Buzz Cafe & Espresso Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

November 14, 2015

Je suis parisien

The terrorists did not target symbols of the French state, nor of the republic's military might. They did not even target tourist spots.

The terrorists attacked places where ordinary people, mainly young and anti-racist, come together to enjoy themselves, to laugh, drink and eat.

The terrorists also targeted the Stade de France, the amazing football stadium in the north of Paris. The Stade is home to the national team, Les Bleus, and the team's noir, blanc et beur players are a reflection and proud symbol of modern French multiculturalism.

Charles, Jeem, Anne-Kim. Leila et Sherry on our last night.

When I heard the news of yesterday's attacks in Paris, I thought of our month-long sojourn in Paris earlier this year, and especially of our friends at Le Brio, the café at the end of our street. Almost every morning for a month, I started my day with un café et un pastis s'il vous plaît

At night we often stopped there for a digestif before heading home. In a sense, as best can happen when one spends a month in a neighbourhood, we came to know the regulars of Le Brio. The owners, Fabian and Leila rarely took a day off; Fabian worked the days and Leila worked the evenings. The teen-aged bartender, Charles, always greeted us with a smile. We talked of things Canadian with Anne-Kim, the young student from Quebec, who worked at Le Brio while continuing her studies in Paris. In the mornings we were greeted with café, often without asking, by Camille or Aurélie.

When I think of what happened yesterday in Paris, I think of Le Brio, and how the attacks could have happened just as easily there, in the 18e arrondisement, or anywhere else in the city. These were not attacks with political designs, but of terror as an end in itself. These were despicable attacks against the values of pluralism, diversity and communauté.

Je suis Charlie. Je suis Ahmed. Je suis parisien.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

October 28, 2015

Destroying a village for the 90th time. The insanity of Israel.

Sometimes the news of the day is hard to fathom. Stephen Harper campaigning with the Ford brothers would be an example, or the recent announcement that neo-Nazi groups in the Excited States are now endorsing Donald Trump. The cartoon craziness in those two images is almost unbelievable.

And then there is a news item from Israel that completely boggles the mind.

Israeli authorities have demolished a small Bedouin village in the Negev. As it stands this story is not out of the ordinary in the apartheid state of Israel. The catch in today's news is that they demolished the village of al-Araqib for the 90th time since 2010.

Al-Araqib is one of more than 40 "unrecognised" villages scattered across the Negev in Israel's south. The inhabitants are all Israeli citizens and most are Bedouin Palestinians. The villages are usually denied state services, including water, electricity and education, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. In the case of al-Araqib, the village is made up of about 22 families of just over 110 citizens. Israeli citizens remember.

The destruction of this particular village has become so routine that today, only two police officers and two bulldozer crews did the job of levelling the shacks and lean-tos. Five years ago the authorities destroyed the brick homes the villagers had built after the previous demolition. There isn't much point to building anything substantial because it will be destroyed again, if not this week, perhaps next.

Israel claims the villagers' homes were built without permits, while locals say they were placed on the land after being displaced from their original towns and villages during Israel's establishment in 1948.

Today, as on other days, the residents stood helplessly as their remaining resources, lumber, canvas and tarpaulin sheets, were destroyed. This day, as on 89 other days, they rescued a few possessions; kitchen utensils, mattresses, children’s playthings and some chairs.

Then, for the 90th time, they stood back and watched the bulldozers destroy their homes. And they took photos.

Where do the people find the strength to stay and the will to rebuild yet again? How do they keep from breaking? And why does the Israeli state keep acting out this insanity?

Then again, since October 1, Israeli forces, or settlers, have killed 64 Palestinians, including unarmed protesters and bystanders, across the whole of Israel, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This is the insanity, and the apartheid, that is Israel.

First photo by Reuters. Other photos by al-Araqib resident, Aziz Alturi. 
Final photo by Mussa Issa Qawasma for Reuters. 
Text copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

October 20, 2015

Justin Trudeau has the instinct to be Prime Minister? Yeah, right.

The day after the election and the sun came up. Reading Margaret Wente's column in Tuesday's Globe and Mail summed up some of our feelings:
A moment came during the red tidal wave Monday night when a friend turned to me in awe. The CBC’s seat counter had just clicked past 180 for the Liberals. "Oh my God," she said. "What have we done?"
No one, even diehard Conservatives, doubted that Stephen Harper deserved to lose. But even diehard Liberals wonder if Justin Trudeau deserved to win a majority government on his very first try, without the customary test of having to prove himself in Opposition, or, for that matter, any other responsible post in government. It’s like giving your kid the keys to the Ferrari before he’s finished driving lessons.
"I never thought this was in the realm of possibility," one voter told the CBC. "I wanted the young son to squeak in and be supported by maybe more experienced people.”"
"Oh well," said one of my Liberal friends cheerily. "At least he’ll have adult supervision."
It came down to strategic voting. People weren't voting for something, they were voting to rid the nation of Stephen Harper.

In his acceptance speech, which sounded much like his standard campaign speech, Mr Trudeau rambled on about hope in the classic Obama style, except of course that Mr Trudeau is no Barrack Obama. Hope was a cornerstone of President Obama's first campaign. It resonated with Americans in a powerful way. The message and the man were inspirational to millions; the thought of hope actually gave people reason to hope. Alas, there was none of that in the Liberal Party's campaign. Mr Trudeau did not inspire so much as he offered, in the final days of the election campaign, the best way of throwing Mr Harper out.

Mr Trudeau was helped along in the final weeks of the election by a collapse in NDP support, especially after the niqab affair sent their polling numbers in Quebec tumbling, and then throughout the rest of Canada as the Quebec polls were interpreted to us by Mansbridge and company. That racism and Islamophobia played a part in this election is something our good nation did not discuss on election night, nor is it likely to do so in the days ahead. Once NDP polling numbers went down, voters decided to give the Liberals another chance.

So another Canadian election where we voted negatively. Against something, or more correctly: against someone.

We have elected someone who has accomplished nothing of merit or value in his life. He is not an artist, nor a successful business person, nor is he an intellectual or a humanitarian. Mr Trudeau has done nothing but live a wonderfully, comfortable life.

According to Bob Rae, elder statesman of the Liberal Party and with all the sleaze that comes from crossing the floor, Justin Trudeau simply has the instinct to be Prime Minister. Instinct. Really? We've elected a prime minister based on throwing another out, and the best we can hope for is not experience or accomplishment, but his instinct.

We have at least four years to try out Mr Trudeau before we do this election thing all over again. "Oh my God. What have we done?"

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

October 18, 2015

Why I'm opposed to strategic voting

I've heard from all kinds of people that they are going to vote in the best way possible to defeat Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. They are choosing to vote strategically.

What this means in most cases is that people who might normally align with the New Democrats, are instead voting for the Liberal or Green candidate in their riding. In some instances, I suppose there are historical Liberals, or disenchanted Conservatives, who have decided to, perish the thought, vote for the crazed socialists.

Strategic voting is a mistake.

Strategic voting promotes an us versus them attitude, in which people make a clear decision to be against something.

Surely our democracy is worthy of more than negative voting. Many Canadians are open to changing their vote from election to election, depending on local candidates, national leaders, various circumstances and new, or newly discredited, policies.

Candidates should matter and do. We elect our Member of Parliament. If we want good people to seek public office, then we should treat them with respect and that includes not discounting them out of hand simply because of their political party affiliation.

Strategic voting tends to support the winning is everything idea; that somehow, winning at all costs is a model to be emulated. That ignores the kind of discussion that elections should promote, the conversation around the policies and values we share as Canadians, and the vision we seek for our nation. If we are only voting against something, to rid ourselves of some perceived evil, then how can we be sure that we are voting for the policies and values to which we subscribe? Or in the words of Pete Townsend, Meet the new boss, same as the old boss (particularly true when one compares the history of the Liberals and Conservatives and the corporations that finance both).

To vote strategically, people have to rely on polling data, and while that might be an indicator nationally, or possibly provincially, the sampling used in individual ridings is poor at best, especially in close elections. Letting pollsters guide our voting decisions is not a good idea.

And voting strategically might just push us ever close to the American two-party system, and we all know how brilliantly that system is working. If anything, we should be encouraging even more political parties by public financing of elections and proportional representation. In the last federal election more people didn't vote, than those who actually voted Conservative. Think what might happen if each one of us took one new, never-voted-before person to the polls.

Voting strategically is a falsehood. Ultimately our nation would be better served and we would be better represented, if we just voted for the best candidate, or for the party that best represents our vision of Canada. On Monday, let's all vote, encourage others to to do the same, and see what happens.

We're all in this together.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.