November 05, 2014

Denise Balkissoon: It's all crap

In a special to today's Globe and Mail, Denise Balkissoon provides a stark and personal reminder of the years of inaction, neglect and indifference women in our country have faced when violent acts are committed against them by men. Over and over again we reach "watershed" moments and nothing is ever actually done. Now we have another one of those "watershed" moments with the story of yet another predator of women in Jian Ghomeshi, and she's right: it's all crap. His story, or rather the story of the women he attacked, prompted her comment piece, reprinted here:

One icy January morning around 3 a.m., I did call the police. My then-boyfriend was arrested and charged with one count of assault and two counts of assault with a weapon.

The next day, one of my oldest (and strongest) friends, the director of a women’s shelter, asked whether photos had been taken of my injuries when I made a statement. They hadn’t, so I called Toronto’s 14 Division station and asked the investigating detective why not. He said because I had been drinking.
A very long time later, my ex got two years probation and had to pay me $1,000 for time I took off of work. A few weeks after that, his probation officer called me to pass on a message that my ex wanted to apologize so that we could be friends. I didn't report that. I smoked a lot of cigarettes instead.
I haven’t written about this before because violence is, in its own insidious way, an intensely personal experience. I also didn't know what difference it would make. I am writing it now because of those asking why shamed CBC host Jian Ghomeshi’s alleged victims didn't call the police. It’s because it’s essentially useless, and thoroughly disappointing.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the allegations of violence currently facing Mr. Ghomeshi and I didn’t feel like I had an especially unvoiced opinion. Now I do. My opinion is this: you’re all full of crap.
By “you,” I mean the people who are remotely shocked by this story. The ones who are saying that this, right now, is a watershed moment. That some collective “we” has finally had enough of violence, done by men, against women, and will no longer allow for it to be swept under the rug.
Why is now that moment? Why wasn't it when Robert Pickton dismembered dozens of women’s bodies in Port Coquitlam, B.C., and fed them to his pigs? During the investigation into that horror, RCMP officer Catherine Galliford was told by a male colleague that he fantasized that she was one of the victims. I wonder why she didn't just call the police.
If only there had been other opportunities: hundreds of indigenous women in this country are missing, going back decades. Don’t be fooled, their lost bodies aren't lying in nice coffins in proper graves with their hands crossed peacefully over their chests. Unlike Mr. Ghomeshi’s alleged victims as described by the Toronto Star, these dozens and dozens and dozens of women generally weren't “educated and employed.” That’s why they can’t ignite change, I guess.
So, this is the time to act? What was wrong last year, when Ottawa’s Mark Hutt was finally found guilty of murdering his wife, Donna Jones, in 2009? After years of obscene physical and emotional abuse, Mr. Hutt threw a pot of boiling water on Ms. Jones, then locked her in the basement. It took her three days to die. The autopsy found that she had nine fractured ribs and 29 air gun pellets in her body. Not dramatic enough to rally around, it seems.
I don’t get it. I don’t get what is known now that was a mystery yesterday – or why what was ignored yesterday is now so urgent to address. All that’s different now is that we know one guy’s name, and that guy happens to be famous.
We’ve already learned how at least one journalism instructor kept his female students from interning with Mr. Ghomeshi, slapping a Band-Aid on a festering sore. As the story grows, I’m sure we’ll hear how star power and fearful bureaucracy let this open secret grow into an open wound: be advised that this broken system is not the CBC, or journalism, or Canada – but the whole world.
One of the women who came forward about Mr. Ghomeshi is my friend Reva Seth. I met Reva when we were about eight years old, but neither one of us shared these experiences before. Think about two eight-year-olds, and then two grown women carrying their histories of violence. It should drive you to wild grief, but it’s not a secret, or a mystery.
I’m not swayed by the newly enlightened, standing with outstretched, protective arms, advising victims of violence that there's no longer a need to be ashamed or afraid of coming forward. Let me tell you what too many have heard, and will continue to hear, perhaps forever.
I don’t believe you.
I don’t believe you.
I don’t believe you.
Denise Balkissoon's piece was titled: 
Sorry, we haven't reached a watershed on violence against women 
It appeared as a special to the Globe and Mail and was published, November 5, 2014.
Balkissoon is a Toronto writer and Editor-in-chief of The Ethnic Aisle.

October 26, 2014

After the rains, a walk in the park... and mushrooms

Our wonderful autumn weather ended abruptly it seems. Heavy rains, dark days and cold winds all bringing the dread of  the winter yet to come.

Still, on this day, a bit of sun and a walk through the park. Winter isn't here just yet.

Photos by Jim Murray.
Copyright 2014.

October 25, 2014

Tabitha Southey voices a nation's thanks for Peter Mansbridge and the CBC

The terrible events of the week still haunt our nation. Many of us, probably most of us, tuned to the national broadcaster for the news. Tabitha Southey, thoughtful columnist for the Globe and Mail offered her thanks for the CBC's coverage and for its chief correspondent:
Is it too much to ask that Peter Mansbridge follow me around every day periodically saying, “This is what we know for certain right now …”?
Then, I’d like him to just go over the verified facts: “You have a bowl of that good Scottish oatmeal close to ready but your milk has gone off,” he might say. “This has been confirmed by the yogurt-like film that’s formed on the top of your cup of tea.”
There’d be no agenda-ridden speculation about who might have failed by leaving the fridge open, thus causing the spoilage. Mr. Mansbridge would not opine on how that oversight, perhaps cast as malfeasance by a loud partisan pundit brought into my kitchen, might affect the culprit’s chances in an upcoming election.
There’d be no alarming conjecture about the condition of the soft cheeses in my refrigerator. Not at least while the oatmeal was reaching its thick-bubble boil stage and we had a situation on our hands.
My ideal, after the terrible events of this past Wednesday, is that Mr. Mansbridge just come along with me through my week, reporting on events as they happen, saying through much of it that things are “tense and unclear” before listing off the knowns and then detailing how it is they came to be known.

Together, Mr. Mansbridge and I would, as he’d say from time to time, “await further developments.”
Is that too much for me to ask?
That’s pretty much the service Mr. Mansbridge performed on Wednesday during the terrible shooting in Ottawa. He performed it for the nation on CBC television, of course, but it was noticed around the world, where it was written up by several media outlets in a tone of wonder generally used only when describing a Canadian who has done something on figure skates.
Outsiders, mostly accustomed to U.S. television news, were impressed that no one at the CBC coined a catchy name for the presence of what turned out, after agonizing hours, to be a lone gunman on Parliament Hill. It was noted with surprise that no snazzy graphic rolled in and out of view as a part of an effort to brand the event.
The lack of a dramatic music score suggesting through its tone that – on top of everything else the country was going through – Jaws might be about to attack was gaped at internationally as if it were several straight hours of triple axels.
No Web or text-message polls were conducted on CBC television while our nation’s capital was still under lockdown. It was as if the network assumed the nation’s affairs were intrinsically of interest to the nation.
I was struck while following the story by how personally fond many Canadians clearly are of the Hill itself. Those buildings on that much-used lawn do feel a bit like a community centre – almost as if anyone could just go into the Library of Parliament and take out a book. I never imagined such a thought would cross my mind, but watching Wednesday’s tragedy unfold and knowing what it could mean for the openness of that place, I’m sure I wasn’t the only Canadian to think, without irony, “Oh, Ottawa, don’t ever change.”
As if to make that thought slightly less ridiculous, politicians of all parties behaved with grace in the immediate aftermath of the tragic death of a man who served his country, Corporal Nathan Cirillo.
Was the coverage flawless? Of course not. As is inevitable during such an event, some errors were made. Was it only the CBC that rose to the occasion? Not at all. Journalists from many news outlets, many of them stuck in lockdown themselves, reported the story as it unfolded, some at personal risk, mostly without hysteria or conjecture.
However, it was the CBC, our public broadcaster, that set and maintained the tone, and set it so well, that I think many other Canadians now also want Peter Mansbridge’s voice narrating their crises, or at least as a ring tone. “This is what we know for certain right now …”
So when I think of things changing, about losing subtle aspects, unquantifiable perks of life in Canada that we may take for granted, like the Frisbees that fly on the lawn of our Parliament, I think a bit of the immeasurable benefits of a credible national broadcaster.
I hope it can be arranged that, in the words of Peter Mansbridge this past Wednesday, the CBC can always “continue to be on the lookout … until somebody blows the all-clear” – that they will indeed “continue to stay on top of it and watch as the events unfold.”
From The Globe and Mail 
Published Friday, October 24, 2014
Titled: Mr. Mansbridge, can you please narrate my life?

October 18, 2014

The New Pornographers at the Commodore Ballroom

Jeem might not have been the oldest person at The New Pornographers concert last Saturday night, especially if we're calculating his age in dog years. It was, I suppose, a slightly more mature audience in attendance at the venerable Commodore Ballroom that night to hear a slightly more mature band.

The afternoon began for Sherry y Jeem with a VIFF movie, probably one of the lesser lights in our strange movie-going process, then a simple walk down the Granville strip to be greeted by an unfriendly bouncer. "No ins and outs and no smoking. Sir." Ins and outs? You mean I am to be locked in this place all night without any hope of fresh air? Or a smoke? Not that I want to smoke of course, but that's not relevant to you, bouncer Brutus. Well. In hindsight, that might not have been the right thing to say to my burly friend on steroids.

Anyway. Once finally allowed into the Commodore, after many promises to behave, at least on Jeem's behalf, we found a table of sorts and a server who offered us wine for $7.50 a glass or two for $15. Somehow the incentive for two didn't seem all that great so we ordered two glasses. And then two more. This might have continued into the night, I don't remember.

Nearby, patrons were busy looking at their phones (some for much of the night it appeared to me) and taking selfies. Why come to concert with a group of friends if all of you are going to spend much of the time looking at your screens? I even noticed one young concert goer with ear buds in his ears for much of the concert. How does that work I wonder?

The New Pornographers, based in Vancouver, have been together since 1999, or even earlier depending on your source. They have achieved significant artistic recognition and some commercial success. Sometimes compared to Arcade Fire, their music is often complex in melody and texture, featuring intricate vocals especially from Neko Case. It's a thinking band and a super group of sorts, though never having quite achieved the commercial success they truly deserve.

The Commodore Ballroom, with no ins and outs mind you, is a fine venue. It can accommodate about 900, maybe more, and most will be standing for hours on end. No ins and outs after all. There were two warm-up bands, one local and one from the Excited States. The latter, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, was actually quite good indeed. Finally, the Pornographers took the stage at 10:30p. Jeem had been yawning for two hours and the "special" on two glasses of wine wasn't helping, nor the no ins and outs policy. Not that Jeem had any reason to go in and out of course.

One hundred minutes later, after the obligatory encore, the show was over. The concert was good. Sound quality at live events is always an issue for me; sometimes a CD offers much more.

Our crowd of fellow travellers, ran the gauntlet of bouncers again, this time as they directed people out of the building, stumbled into the early morning hours of the Granville mall. My bouncer friend Brutus took one look at me and Sherry, smiled and said "Get home safe you guys." We took the SkyTrain.

Photos by Jim Murray (except exterior of Commodore and band logo). Copyright 2014.

October 10, 2014

United Way 2014 ~ we are possibility?

A year ago I was in the first half of my four month secondment to the United Way of the Lower Mainland. I was a Campaign Associate from Local 704 of the BCGEU and from my employer: KPU. It was challenging and fun. I worked with some great people and I would have done it all again this year, had it been possible. It wasn't.

Instead I find myself involved in the employee campaign at KPU and in that capacity I attended the kick-off of the Metro Vancouver Campaign. Free breakfast and networking, whatever the hell that is, and some feel-good presentations and the new campaign video.

At one point in the morning we were given pieces of a puzzle of sorts and somehow, through the confusion of several hundred humans tromping around, the puzzle became a map of the region. At the end, several pieces were missing and the presenter quickly said that was because there was much left to do. When the map was "flipped" it became the slogan for this year's campaign.

The United Way does great work in our community. It makes crucial investments in key areas to make a difference in the lives of people challenged by poverty and injustice. However.

The numbers of children and families living in poverty, of people living rough on our streets, continue to increase. A poverty rate of 20% in a province as wealthy as ours might be acceptable to Premier Christy Clark; it shouldn't be to the rest of us.

A Vancouver homelessness rate that has increased by over 300% in the past 3 years might be an inconvenience to Mayor Gregor Robertson's re-election next month; it doesn't add up in a city with houses and apartments standing empty because wealthy non-residents buy property in this city simply as a hedge.

For real change to happen we need to change our governments and that possibility can't come soon enough for those who need it most. Are we ready?

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.