Month: July 2014

“Because Our Fathers Lied”

There’s an important story to remember as we recall the events of August 4, 1914. It’s an old story but largely ignored when stories of WW1 are told and re-told – and totally ignored when more recent battlefields are re-visited.

The hero, if that’s the right word, had celebrated his 18th birthday six weeks before a piece of shrapnel from a bursting shell struck him in the face during the second day of the 1915 Battle of Loos. A  Second Lieutenant he had arrived at the front two days earlier as part of a reserve contingent fresh from England and only few weeks from training camp and just days in France.

He was just one of the many thousands who fell in the battle (75,000 in the first week) who were told they were about to participate in “the greatest battle in the history of the world”. It was later described, too late for the dead and gravely wounded, “a bloody great balls-up.”

Second Lieutenant John Kipling should never have been at the front. He had twice been turned down when trying to join up in England, rejected because his eyesight was appalling. It was said that even with strong eyeglasses he could barely read the second line on the eye test chart.

In a 2006 reporter Jonathan Brown of the English newspaper The Independent quoted Michael Smith, a vice-president of the Kipling Society, as saying:”He (John) went at the beginning to try and enlist on his own, but was rejected. Later he tried again, this time accompanied by his father, but again he was rejected”.

The father, as I’m sure readers have gathered by now, was Rudyard Kipling and John was the son for whom he had written his still world famous poem “IF”. Rudyard, master of patriotic jingoism and strong supporter of military action, told his son not to be dismayed at the local recruiting officer’s rejection. He had friends in high places, was proud of his sons desire to serve and would use his influence to break down some barriers.

And he did. Within weeks John was enlisted in the Irish Guards and undergoing training. And after an all too brief spell was off to France. The Independent article quotes his mother Carrie waving him off across the English Channel and writing in her diary: “There is nothing else to do. The world must be saved from the German….one can’t let one’s friends and neighbours’ sons be killed in order to save us and our son.”

Brave words, strong thoughts bravely spoken – but not really believed.

Rudyard and Carrie were both distraught when they got the word John had last been seen stumbling across No Man’s Land crying for help – and had then disappeared. The Kipling’s asked if he could possibly have been captured and be in a German hospital. They had leaflets dropped across the line. But to no avail.

Then in 1962 several previously unknown bodies from the Loos battle were rechecked. One was identified as John Kipling, aged 18 and promoted from Second to full Lieutenant on the stone that marks the grave. The Independent article of 2006 places the grave at Plot 7, Row D of St. Mary’s Advanced Dressing Station Cemetery near Loos. While some still challenge the grave as that of Lieutenant John Kipling the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is convinced they’ve got it right.

Rudyard actually visited the cemetery but it was before identification and listed as “known only to God.”

But before he died in 1936 he did write an epitaph for his son. It’s one we should be thinking about on August the Fourth. It isn’t on John’s gravestone, but maybe it should be:

“IF ANY QUESTION WHY WE DIED, TELL THEM, BECAUSE OUR FATHERS LIED”

 

 

Never hide behind a computer

In early July Kate Reardon, editor of the high-society glossy magazine Tatler, gave a speech to 200 female students at Westonbirt (Private) School in Gloucestershire, England – and touched off a storm of criticism in the penny-dreadful press.
It seems they – the tabloids and would-be tabloids – were upset because Reardon advised the students as they prepared to enter a university or the work force that good manners could be more important than good marks. “It doesn’t matter how many A-levels you have, what kind of degree you have – if you have good manners people will like you. And if they like you they will help you.”
Ridiculous, chorused the popular press. It was anti-feminist to try and persuade teenage girls that politeness and good manners should take precedence over high exam marks and university degrees. Reardon’s message, they claimed, was out-dated. Good manners were out in 2014, overwhelmed by the twittering classes and abandoned long ago.
Anyone reading the full text of Reardon’s speech will wonder how critics could arrive at that conclusion because she emphatically stressed throughout her speech that success in any endeavour could only be obtained via disciplined hard work – enhanced by good manners.
She listed three ingredients for success in life and at work: Manners. Tidiness; Communication.
“I’m not talking about manners in some weird way about using the right spoon for soup or eating asparagus with your left hand,” she said. I’m talking about being polite and respectful and making the people you interact with feel valued.”
On tidiness: “Be tidy and organized. Being chaotic isn’t cute. Being shambolic isn’t endearing. Life is tough enough already, the competition for anywhere you lot want to go is unbelievably tough. Why would you want make the process any harder than it has to be? Being organized isn’t some divine gift, it’s just a muscle, and it’s entirely up to you whether you want to develop it.
“Once you have an actual job, being kick-ass efficient and organized will get you promotion and earn you more money.”
Her appeal for more attention to good manners, decency and fairness when dealing with others is one to which we should all pay heed. It is a vanishing commodity in all levels of modern society where even most modest courtesies have disappeared; where being polite is too often regarded as weakness rather than strength.
Reardon found a way from her late teens to the editor’s chair at Tatler with a successful blending of hard work and good manners. It wasn’t an easy ride to the top. (The full text of her speech can be found on the Tatler.com web page) She saved her toughest recommendation for success – the one today’s young people will find the hardest to control –until the end. It was third on her list of three vital ingredients for success:
“Communication. I would argue that confident, verbal self-expression – the ability to express yourself with confidence and self-awareness – is now more important than it has ever been. You (students) have all grown up with so many digital ways of avoiding face to face eyeball to eyeball interaction. Never hide behind a computer or mobile phone if you want to communicate your truth – they need to know who you are, and they need to understand you.”
Any teenagers stumbling across this advice while wandering the Internet should read it again, slowly, and consider Kate Reardon’s wisdom. And any parent reading this far and having teenage children willing to consider the viewpoints and advice of others should steer them to Tatler.com or persuade them this digest is worth a glance.
And before I forget: Any reader wishing to contact me personally will get a reply from jhume@shaw.ca

One word at a time

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Notice board at Dravuni Primary School, Kadavu, Fiji. Class size nine girls, seven boys. The central theme for the week – Politeness

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Each week teacher Jokaveti Qerea changes the theme word; and each week the emphasis is on good manners. Not just in the classroom but in every facet of life. Every week throughout the school year children at the earliest age learn the meaning of courtesy, kindness, caring, and respect – for parents, the elderly and infirm, and each other.

Dravuni Primary is located on a small Island, one the many forming Fiji in the vast reaches of the South Pacific. On my brief visit there year ago I couldn’t help but wonder how our crowded western world, with it’s multitude of blessings, would be if our children graduated from primary, elementary, middle school, senior secondary and college and university and entered adulthood with understanding of, and belief in, the Dravuni code of conduct?

We could start with one word – courtesy. And overnight our world would be a better place.

Can’t read and will not listen

A bit of a debate in British Columbia these days on the subject of safe driving speeds in town and on Freeways.
Saintly Oak Bay has a local speed limit of 40 kph on most streets and thoroughfares – it’s raised to 50 in the Uplands where more than few prohibition (1920-33) rum runners built early stately homes. The 10 klm over normal street limits could be a hangover (pun intended) from the days when a speedy get away by land or sea was necessary.
Most other municipalities in the province permit drivers to top-out at 50 within municipal boundaries, while the new limits proposed for connecting highways will allow pedal-to-metal drivers to legally race the freeways at 120.
The capital city Victoria, which seems to lack certainty these days in many areas where clear-cut leadership is required, responded quickly to the Provincial Government edict to allow faster driving to improve traffic flows. It held public meetings then announced it would be adopting Oak Bay’s 40 click limits – but only on a few city streets where it was thought high accident rates called for enhanced control. It is thought by city council that signs reading 50 on one street and 40 on the next will be noted and observed.
As a regular driver in Oak Bay and a cautious observer of the 40 signs in most areas I feel it my duty to inform Victoria Council their two-tone speed limits in selected areas will not work as they hope. Automobile drivers in the capital city area, indeed throughout Vancouver Island and beyond to the outer-limits the province itself, cannot read. At least that’s an assumption made by me long ago, and confirmed just about every day as I drive at a sedate 40 along Beach Drive heading for Fairfield. Rare are the days when I’m not passed by angry fellow travelers, glaring or tooting as they sweep past obviously unable to read the clearly posted 40 kph signs.
It’s much worse on our lone Vancouver Island Highway where 80 invariably means 90 and 90 a 100 – and the soon be raised 120kph will mean at least 130 kph because highway drivers can’t read highway signs any better than they can read 40 kph on urban areas. These are the people who, however fast the fast lane, feel the uncontrollable urge to pass the car ahead.
They don’t see their driving habits as uncontrollable, of course. They see themselves as immortals, their driving skills supreme. Courtesy and respect for other drivers and the law is not in their driver’s manual, although there’s a chapter in every book, every lecture ever given on highway safety, headed “SPEED KILLS.”
Wasted words because I’m sure the main offenders can’t read and know for certain they don’t listen.

The sins of our fathers

The King James Version of The Bible, which I happen to think outdoes all others, tells us (Exodus 34:6) that while God can find mercy “for thousands” He also reserves the right of “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.”
I leave the debate on God and the difference between mercy for thousands and punishment for children, who can hardly be blamed for their parents’ misdemeanours, to wiser, and clearer, heads than mine. I mention the quote only because it seems to be holding good in 2014 courtesy The Supreme Court of Canada’s June 26 Tsilqot’in aboriginal land title claim.
Readers unfamiliar with history in Western Canada can Google “The Chilcotin War” for background on the Tsilhqot’in. They may be surprised to find members of that nation still hold an annual memorial gathering on October 26 to remember their leader Klatsassin, hanged on that date so long ago.
It is interesting that one of the issues of the day in 1866 was created by white immigrants claiming right of ownership of what they called the Chilcotin Plateau and therefore the right to cross it on a trade route from the Interior to the coast without permission – or even consultation with – the people who had lived there for centuries.
For more than a hundred years the Tsilhqot’in argued their aboriginal rights were being ignored. For more than a hundred years successive provincial governments denied their challenges and held fast to their belief that with what had become a huge majority of “white” citizens they had could rightfully claim ownership “for the Crown”.
It was not an “in Canada” only assumption. In Australia and New Zealand white immigrants followed similar patterns. Both countries will be watching how the June Canadian High Court decision plays out. Both have aboriginal land claim problems to resolve.
In British Columbia fears are already being expressed that international investments will look for other places to find natural resource riches to develop and export for profit. There is cause for concern – especially if the government remembers what the Tsilhqot’in fought and died for in 1866: The right to control who traversed their land and decide what they, the titled owners by right of ancient possession, considered beneficial or hazardous when natural resources were transported by whatever means across the Chilcotin Plateau.
We can only hope the Tsilhqot’ins will approach the looming problems with more understanding and generosity than our “fathers” for whose sins we must now be prepared to pay.

No, no, not again

It’s happening again, and its scary. At least it’s scary for taxpayers in the capital city of Victoria, British Columbia, who have been watching nervously for the past several years as their beloved, but seemingly permanently bewildered, municipal politicians tried to replace an ancient bridge with something more modern – and safer.
Vancouver Island readers will be well aware of the saga of what they once knew as “The Blue Bridge” spanning a small bottle-neck of water which links the capital (of BC) city’s Inner and Outer Harbours. Readers in far way Indonesia or Argentina or Central Europe may be able to conjure up memories of visits to Canada’s westernmost major city, its scenic Inner Harbour flanked by the provincial Parliament buildings, gracious high-rise apartment buildings limited to a 14-storey maximum height plus the stately Empress Hotel of world renown.
And, leaping a modest hundred yards or less across the watery link to the industrial Inner Harbour, the iconic “Blue Bridge” a cantilevered affair with the look of a giant Meccano set clumsily assembled.
The old bridge was declared to be rusting in its blue paint hidden vital parts and in need of replacement before it disastrously collapsed. City fathers – and mothers – listened to the reports of impending tragedy and decided to replace. The decision was not greeted with jubilation by all citizens but city council plunged bravely ahead with, in 2009, the estimated cost of $63 million. A year later the estimated cost had risen to $89 million but a “return to the drawing board” trimmed a railway connector line (the old bridge had carried road and rail traffic) and the estimated cost in 2013 was back to $62 million.
But not for long. A few weeks back the new bridge builders asked for a change in estimates saying it required an additional $7.9 million and five and half months more in time to get the bridge up and operating. Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin balked, called in a consultant at $15,000 to assess risks and review all contract documents.
On Tuesday July 15 a front page story in the local newspaper announced the replacement by the city of Victoria of the bridge project manager. He is to be replaced, wrote reporter Bill Cleverly, by the consultant hired to check “all contract documents and interview key staff.”
I have no idea how all this is going to work out next year – when the puddle-jumping bridge is scheduled to be open to traffic. And I have no idea whether the main contractor is justified or not for asking for extra time and money.
But I’m glad I’m no longer a taxpayer in Victoria where major projects seem doomed to confusion and ever spiraling expense when anything larger than recreational swings and roundabouts are required.
And I’ll bet readers in the far flung corners of the World Wide Web who get to read this do too.

One for a road to travel

If you have never driven through the Bulkley Valley in British Columbia, Western Canada – put in on your “things to do before I die” list. And mark it high priority.

I made my first trip down the Bulkley some 30 years ago driving west to east from Prince Rupert to Prince George. I wrote at the time that if the great city of London, England, was dropped in the Bulkley Valley a land-locked search party would have difficulty in finding it. And on the half dozen trips across its vastness since that first adventure I haven’t changed my views, although I’ll confess I’ve lumped more than the Bulkley into my vision of the eternal landscape between Kitwanga and Houston.

From the crest of every hill on what is now a first grade highway the majesty of BC stretches beyond the horizon.  The mountains of the coast, glorious in their own proud reach for the heavens, begin to fold their grandeur and widen their valleys east of Terrace. Then, as the old Indian fort and battleground at Kitwanga and the Hazelton’s – Hazelton, South Hazelton and New Hazelton – fall behind the highway swings into the Babine which folds into the Bulkley near Smithers, still circled by snow capped mountains but widening with every passing kilometer.

Between Smithers and Houston, then on to Burns Lake, Fraser Lake, Vanderhoof and Prince George the traveler begins to realize how insignificant prim and proper Victoria and arrogant urban Vancouver are in the grand scheme of things. They are mere midgets on the provincial map.

Today I mention only a “minor” journey – Prince Rupert to Prince George – in northern BC. Sometime in the future I’ll take my “foreign readers” – and any locals who’d like to come along – on a run through the Chilcotin and the Cariboo, real, and still, “Cowboy country.”

And just to keep the record straight, I do not work for a travel agency, a transportation company – or anyone related to the tourist industry. I’m just an old traveler happy to share – and equally happy to answer any questions (or challenges) via e-mail –  jhume@shaw.ca.

Legal rights or moral rights?

A few days ago I mentioned the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s concern that western democracies based too much concern on “the letter of the law”, too little on the morality of decisions made under the “cold and formal” banner of legality.
I was reminded of that message on July 9 when reading in Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail of a high profile gang crime trial in Vancouver, British Columbia. The story focused on “a former gang leader who defected to the Crown at the trial involving the murders of six people.” The former gang leader was one Michael Le who at the start of the trial was among the accused charged with conspiracy and one charge of first degree murder.
In the fall of 2013 he surprised court watchers by changing his plea to guilty. And there is nothing wrong with that if the change is conscience driven and sincerely made.
Crown lawyers must have felt Mr.Le sincere because as part of a plea deal he agreed to testify as a Crown witness and the Globe and Mail informs me: “In exchange the Crown dropped the murder charge and signed off on a sentence that could see Mr. Le eligible for parole by the end of this year.” It should be remembered that the Crown will not lay charges against an accused unless there is a reasonable chance of conviction. So was the original change shaky and the opportunity to withdraw welcome? Or was the offer of testimony from a former gang leader against accused executioners who were at one time under his leadership too great a temptation to ignore?
Whatever the reasons it was all done legally, carefully, and within the letter of the law. But as Solzhenitsyn warned, while the limits “of human rights and righteousness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad.” He further warned that “a society with no other scale than the legal one is not quite worthy…..A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of human possibilities…The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity paralyzing man’s noblest impulses.”
In a choice between legal rights and moral rights which would you opt for?

A voice from beyond the grave

The Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision on aboriginal title to a huge area of land claimed by the Tsilquot’in Nation came little more than 30 years after Russian intellectual Alexander Solzhenitsyn forecast it was on the way.
Not that Solzhenitsyn was thinking specifically of the Tsilquot’in claim – or any other individual First Nation claim – when he delivered the Commencement Address at Harvard University in 1978. He was warning, however, that the short period of time during which European nations had been “seizing colonies everywhere, not only without anticipating any real resistance, but also usually despising any possible values in the conquered peoples approach to life”, was coming quickly to an end.
He emphasized how “short lived and precarious” those conquests had been, whether by force of arms or “extremes of subservience” and then spoke these remarkable words of prophecy: “It is difficult yet to estimate the total size of the bill which former colonial countries will present to the West and it is difficult to predict whether the surrender not only of its last colonies, but of everything it owns, will be sufficient for the West to foot the bill.”
It is true that Solzhenitsyn was talking about global powers and comparing Eastern (Russian) values and failings with the values and failings of life in Western Democracies. His thoughts on the weaknesses of Communistic rule under Stalin resulted in years of imprisonment for him in the infamous Gulags of Siberia. His repeated criticisms of Western ways were received politely, without recrimination – and ignored.
He told his Harvard audience that while he had great respect for Western freedoms many of them weakened society rather than strengthened it. His startling example of a strength with built in weakness was the rule of law, a rule most of us believe essential to safe and happy living. As Solzhenitsyn put it in 1978, in the West “the limits of human rights and righteousness are determined by a system of laws” – but the boundaries are broad and some have “acquired considerable skill in interpreting and manipulating law.”
He makes the point that in the western democracies “if one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required.” And suggests that anyone rejecting a favorable ruling because it, although correct in law, was morally wrong, would be regarded as a strange person.
Solzhenitsyn died on August 3, 2008. in Moscow having returned to his home land in 1994 after being exiled and expelled 20-years earlier for his fearless criticism of Stalin’s governance. Readers unfamiliar with his career and ideals can find a wealth of information with a Google of his name. For the full text of his Harvard speech his name and “Harvard commencement” will get your thought buds bursting.
Look for his brief discourse on that most precious modern democratic treasure “human rights” and his challenge – repeated in other writings – that: “It is time in the West to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.” Think about it before you insist rights come before obligations.
And pay special attention to his thoughts on the boundless space and “destructive and irresponsible freedom” granted media “which can both stimulate public opinion and mis-educate it”. In his life Solzhenitsyn was never afraid to tilt at sacred cows and the sacred slogan of the press “everyone is entitled to know everything” is a favourite target.
He refers to the “shameless intrusion of privacy of well known people” under the “right to know” banner and told his Harvard audience “this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know and it is a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense and vain talk.”
Personally, with more than 60-years of journalism as a reporter, editor, columnist and now blogger, I have held the view that while publishers certainly have the right to publish what they will, they also have the far greater right and responsibility NOT to publish what they believe to be untrue, unfounded or just plain stupid.
I don’t agree with everything Solzhenitsyn said at Harvard in 1978, nor do I expect readers to agree with everything, but I hope these few excerpts – and they are just a few – will encourage readers to take a closer look on line. With Solzhenitsyn dead, I can’t thank him for his challenges to popular thought but I can, and do, thank Harvard for keeping the full text alive and making it available on line – and reader Grant Jones for reminding me where to find it.
Any other readers with thoughts or challenges deserving wider exposure can drop e-mail suggestions to jhume@shaw.ca

A pitted speck in garnered fruit

Like millions of other people around the world I’ve been watching a lot of football these past two weeks. Day after day wasting hours of sunshine watching the best soccer-football players in the world display their talents in stadiums jammed with adoring thousands – and by multi-millions around the world. Like most I have been impressed by the spectacle of the games, and depressed by the thought of the billions of dollars spent to stage them in a country which can’t afford decent housing or safe drinking water for much of its population.
Watching the games has been like watching a large slice of life unfold. There on the sunbaked fields of Brazil I have seen men of high talent strut their stuff, sometimes with pride, sometimes with arrogance, sometimes with courage. I have watched men with authority make arbitrary decisions firmly, wisely, applying the rules of conduct for life on the pitch. And I have watched them make hasty and obviously wrong decisions bringing joyous outcome to some, distraught dismay to others; yellow cards held aloft when red was clearly called for, red cards waved when surely yellow would have sufficed.

Not unlike purveyors of justice in the wider game of life where our courts so often confuse and dismay us with bewildering judgment calls that see minor punishments for major offences, and majors for minor infractions.

And just like life in the wider sense I have watched soccer professionals with reputations for high integrity challenge for a high ball with elbows aimed for a rivals face; or for a low ball over the top with studs targeted to hit a spot where no pads protect.

These were the violent ones, the ones who played with skills they hoped would deceive the referee or at least intimidate a rival. Not unlike a workplace where the bully goes undetected at worst or only mildly reprimanded if caught.

Then there were the many “cheaters” like the chasing player who losing a race for the ball tries to place himself between his rival and the referee as he grabs a shirt to slow his rival down; or in a goal mouth scramble just to keep him from jumping for a header.

It’s only a little bit of cheating, as is the obviously faked and all too prevalent “dive.” Nothing harmful if you can get away with it. A bit like telling a “white lie”. Sure it’s deceitful, but if it doesn’t really harm anyone – and might even help someone – what’s small cheat from time to time? It’s an excuse I’ve always consoled myself with, but when I see the shirt-puller-no-real-harm-done cheats on the football field I’m not so sure of myself.

A little bit of cheating on the soccer pitch diminishes the quality of the game, just as a little bit of cheating off the pitch diminishes the quality of life in general. So, maybe watching the beautiful game made less so by the small time charlatans who cheapen it, can teach us all a lesson in the big arena in which we all play our allotted quota of time on earth.

It was in an entirely different context that Alfred, Lord Tennyson, warned of the dangers of minor offences eroding once cherished values. He was talking – or his characters were – about having faith in each other and about the need for implicit trust. And one warned the other that it took only “a little rift within the lute that by and by will make the music mute….Or little pitted speck in garnered fruit that rotting inward slowly moulders all…..”

Tennyson’s warning was for lovers who must trust each other. I unabashedly steal it as a “canary-in-the-mine” warning of pending disaster as we, in sport or our personal lives, accept ever decreasing standards in dress, good manners, respect for the rules and each other.

In professional sport the “rift” and “pitted speck” have been eating away for years. The end may still be decades away, but is inevitable.

In life? That’s something only we, each for ourselves, can answer.