Month: August 2014

Looking for an answer

When the public school teachers of British Columbia rattle back to their classrooms I hope it’s not with a we-won-they-lost attitude. I also trust the government will not wax triumphant in the ill conceived brawl which saw both sides yelling the same battle cry “It’s not about the money ”, when from the get-go that’s all it was about.
The teachers, like poor Oliver Twist wanted more; the government like Mr. Bumble said there wasn’t any more that these were hard financial times and the bottom of porridge bowl had been scraped clean. Eventually, the unseemly public display of bad manners and attempted bullying by both sides, plus dismal TV examples of scruffy looks by some teachers, will end – if it hasn’t already – and both sides will have ample opportunity to apologize to the student body and their parents.
They should assure them, and every taxpayer in the province, that they will never again be punished when the teacher’s union and their employer clash over pay and class size.
A good start would be to create a joint committee to resolve the key cash and class size issue with the aim of getting a mutually agreed to special needs program up and running long before the next collective agreement scrap starts.
It is not fair to expect teachers to have to take care of special needs children while trying to nurture and educate a full class of more fortunate, energy rampant, same-age children.
It would be even more unfair to deny those children with special needs the right to the best instruction society can afford.
The attempt to weave the education of special needs children with those able to absorb learning at a faster pace was a worthy cause. But assimilation has never been much of a success in the field of education.
A complex problem, to be sure. But not a new one, and not a moral complexity other countries haven’t faced. Maybe not with 100 percent success, but certainly with better and more peaceful rites of passage – for teachers, special needs students and youngsters blessed with brighter minds and bodies; and the government which must finally answer too us for how the money we give them is spent.
I do not advance the example of Uffculme Special School in England as a panacea for BC problems. But I would recommend a Google of its name, a visit to its home page – a careful read of the detailed reporting on how it works. The content is far too voluminous for me to offer here but I’ll answer one question which always crops up when education is discussed: What will it cost? Is it about the money or the special needs child?
Uffculme School clearly lists its answer:”There is no charge for a place here, for admissions or for the provision of education. We will not request donations before or during the admissions process and any donations made to the school following admission are strictly voluntary.”
I’m sure Uffculme and all the other special needs schools in the UK have systemic weaknesses. But it appears to be a good sized step up from what we have in BC, and the time to start looking for a better way is now. You can fire your reaction my way via jhume@shaw.ca, this web page, or Facebook.
Maybe we can make something happen.

Winners – but in need of help

Every news outlet in Canada celebrated when their women’s rugby team won the silver medal in the August 17 World Cup contest. The celebration was still continuing a week later with a full colour, full page, congratulatory message sponsored by sporting goods supplier Under Armour, Rugby Canada and The Globe and Mail. It occupied Page 5 of the weekend edition.

It was a week of jubilant stories like the Canadian Press report published August 20 which opened with a triumphal: “With a second place finish at the Women’s Rugby World Cup, Canada showed it deserved a place among the sport’s elite teams.” And then gloomily, but justifiably warned: “Figuring out how to stay there is the next challenge, and it could be a big one.”

Canada had lost 21-9 to England in the final; had played magnificently against a more battle experienced foe, and just a few days earlier had defeated France in semi-final play. Why would such encouraging play at highest level of the game be difficult to maintain – or surpass?

Not conditioning. These young women had proved they could reach and maintain peak physical condition for as long as a world championship contest demanded. They had demonstrated they could fall behind in game but fight and rally to win. They had displayed the quality of thoroughbreds in their chosen sport, so what could possibly stand in their way as they reached for the next rung on the rugby ladder, the one that leads to first and Gold?

Coach Francois Ratier put it bluntly after the final game, televised and watched at home by millions, thrilled and proud of their team even in defeat. Ratier said he was fearful the “15 minutes” of fame and admiration might be soon forgotten.

He appreciated the boost TV had given the game but knew how fleeting praise could be if it didn’t bring in enough money to pay the bills. “Helpful as the (TV) exposure is….”.Canadian Press quoted Ratier as saying, “fundraising for the team was (is) a considerable obstacle and getting fixtures against quality teams is a challenge for Canada, but not (for) European teams.”

Identifying talent across Canada then bringing it to a central training facility in temperate year-round climate of Victoria on Vancouver Island will be the “key for the next three years” says Ratier. He then flushes into the open the shameful main obstacle to building and maintaining a national women’s rugby team of consistent quality. The young women selected for world class development will be expected, as they have always been, to “pay to play” for their country on the world stage. And that cost to individual players not yet career or sponsor enhanced, can be substantial and often too onerous to pay.

Ratier estimates the players on Rugby Team Canada 2014 paid “about $10,000 out of their own pockets” to bring honour to their country. “When you see the French, paid $175 a week when they are away, it’s not big but at least they can survive. For us, some of the girls had to resign from their job to go to this World Cup.”

So why do they do it? Montreal’s Magali Harvey, who thrilled not just Canada but the rugby world with her penalty kicking and a spectacular 100 meter run to score the semi-final win against France and was named women’s rugby player of the year after the final game, answered for the team: “I do it for the love. I do it for the passion, and I do it because I love representing Canada.”

I don’t think Canada’s federal and provincial governments have that same pride and passion for athletes competing at the world level in any sport. And I don’t think Rugby Canada, despite its Women’s World Cup rejoicing, has yet come to full understanding of what “equality in funding” means when it comes to the sport they govern.

From those who control the purse strings we need the same “love and passion” for the game the women took to so many fields on the way to the world final in France.

It’s long overdue.

 

 

 

Addendum

When British General James Wolfe took his fatal wound on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 it wasn’t the first time he’d engaged in mass conflict with rebellious citizens. Some 10-years earlier he had been an officer in the English Army facing “Bonnie Prince” Charles (Stuart) in the decisive battle of Culloden to decide who would rule Scotland.

His role in the decisive English victory over Prince Charles in the Jacobite Rising was the last bloody battlefield confrontation between England and Scotland for the right to govern Scotland. The last major battlefield, but not the end of the war. That is scheduled to end next month when Scottish voters from the age of 16 decide whether they want to remain united with England or go it alone on the world stage.

Whichever way that vote goes we should remember the winners of wars – or referendums – do not always bring truth, justice and a better way of life in their wake. And they certainly didn’t when the English thrashed the Scots at Culloden and drove the “Bonnie Prince” not just from Scotland but from the British Isles.

Little more than a year after that triumph the English dominated parliament in London brought into law The Act of Proscription “for the more effectual securing of the peace” and the “more effectual disarming of the highlands in Scotland.” Peace and disarmament, the most worthy of objectives, until we read the boldly pronounced directives England thought necessary to calm the still restive Scots and integrate the northern ruffians with the gentlemanly English.

The Proscription Act of 1747 ordered that as of August 1 of that year the use of highland dress would be “restrained.” For “restrained” read “banned entirely.” It stated any man or boy in “that part of Great Britain called Scotland” would be fined, jailed or worse for the repeated offence of wearing any clothes “commonly called Highland Clothes” like the “plaid, philibeg, or little kilt, trowse, shoulder belts or any part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the highland garb, and that no tartan or partly coloured plaid shall be used for greatcoats.”

The penalty for wearing anything resembling “Highland Clothes’’ – six months in jail without bail. For a second offence: “To be transported to any of His Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for a space of seven years.” Significantly Scottish military regiments sworn to fight for Great Britain were allowed to retain kilts and bagpipes.

To aid the push to peace through assimilation Gaelic became a forbidden language with schools, private and public, registered and monitored to make sure Gaelic was never heard. Students caught conversing in their naïve Gaelic were punished as viciously as 200 years later were students in Indian Residential Schools in Canada.

Breaking school curriculum rules brought teachers six months in jail for a first offence; a second transportation “to some of his Majesty’s plantations in America for life.”

The end result of such a depressing formula for peace and the re-shaping of a culture? Well, whisper if softly, but it wasn’t all bad. It was in the years after James VI of Scotland became King James the First of England and united the two kingdoms that Scotsmen blossomed in the arts, literature, the world of science and invention. They were quick learners, and rapidly made their mark well beyond the boundaries of the United Kingdom.

By the late 1800’s, in love with the English language they needed for success beyond their borders, they allowed native Gaelic to fall into virtual disuse. A century later in the 1980’s the old love for the old language found new support and in Scotland today road signs read in English and Gaelic; there are theatre productions in both languages; new Gaelic literature, and growing use of Gaelic place names.

In 2005 the still new (Devolution) Scottish Parliament passed The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act to once more formally recognize Scotland’s First national language.

On Thursday, September 18, registered voters will answer “yes” or “no” on a simple referendum question: Should Scotland be an independent country?

As noted in my earlier story on the subject, this time the issue should be without bloodshed – and with teenagers between 16 and 20 strongly affecting the answer.

(The full text of The Proscription Act 1747 can be found at http://www.electricsscotland.com/history/proscription_1747. It was repealed in 1782)

 

Sweet 16 – and Voting

On Thursday, September 18, registered voters in Scotland will go to the polls to settle a fight that’s been raging on and off for more than 500 years. And 16 year olds could be key players in a binding referendum decision on whether Scotland leaves the United Kingdom and once again, this time peacefully, becomes a nation in its own right.
There was a little bloodshed after Queen Elizabeth 1 died a childless virgin and troublesome claimants to be her hereditary successor had to be removed from contention. When that “cleansing” was finished King James VI of Scotland was proclaimed King James the First of England. Until that day – March 24, 1603 – Scotland and England had been separate states with their own parliaments, their own laws. James had been King of Scotland since July of 1567 – crowned when he was little more than a baby. He was in his Thirties when he got his second Crown and brought single royal jurisdiction to the now United Kingdom of England and Northern Ireland and Scotland.
It wasn’t the easiest of time for James who almost immediately took up residence in London, closed the Scottish parliament, transferred 20 or so members to London’s parliament, plus a few Lords and friends of the Court. James 1 is the King who was supposed to be visiting Parliament in London on the day Guy Fawkes and half a dozen other Catholics had scheduled “The Gun Powder Plot” attempt to assassinate a protestant King and his Parliament in one act of violence.
Long before that dramatic attempt to reclaim Scotland’s independence, two full scale wars had been fought between Scotland and England, the first started in 1296 and ended 1328. Both ended with “peace” treaties and Scotland retaining its independence. One battle in the first conflict is still remembered in today’s Scottish national anthem “O flower of Scotland when will we see/ your like again/That fought and died for/Your wee bit hill and glen/ And stood against him/Proud Edward’s army/ And sent him homeward/ Tae think again.”
Needless to say, Scotland had won the Battle of Bannockburn fought in June, 1314 with Robert Bruce leading an outnumbered army of Scots against the then King Edward’s invaders. They were not so victorious two hundred years later – that’s right, 200 years later – when in September, 1513, led by King James the Fourth of Scotland they clashed with England on the fields of Flodden and lost 10,000 men. The English lost 1,500. While it marked Scotland’s greatest defeat in battle it was just one of many as over the centuries English Kings; the “Great Protector” Oliver Cromwell, then more Kings, fought and defeated the Scots until they agreed to the always uneasy union of the 1700’s. Scotland retained its identity but felt it was still just a minor partner in the United Kingdom.
Following WW1 the stirrings for clear independence began again. A national Party of Scotland was formed and eventually became today’s Scottish National Party. In 1967 one Winnie Ewing won a by-election – a first seat for the Nationalists. Three years later in 1979 Harold Wilsons’ Labour Government offered Scottish voters a referendum on “devolution” – a first step toward independence. It won majority support but failed to meet a requirement of at least 40% of the vote.
Labour lost the next election. Scotland would have to wait until 1997 when Labour’s Tony Blair occupied No. 10 Downing Street and offered new devolution proposals and Scotland won the right to have its own parliament with tax raising powers.
In 2011 the SNP won a clear majority in Scotland’s general election. September’s referendum is the keeping of a promise with an unexpected twist. The vote next month will be open to all registered Scottish voters from the age of 16. And 15-year year olds can pre-register if their birthday falls on or before voting day.

Canadians aware of national murmurings about reducing voting age from 18 to 16, and always conscious of the many Quebec citizens who favour independence, will be watching Scotland’s response with interest – as should the rest of the free world.

Will the 16 year olds be the defining factor on an issue of such great importance? And should they be – in Scotland, in Canada, or anywhere else?
On Thursday, September 18, registered voters in Scotland will go to the polls to settle a fight that’s been raging on and off for more than 500 years. And 16 year olds could be key players in a binding referendum decision on whether Scotland leaves the United Kingdom and once again, this time peacefully, becomes a nation in its own right.
There was a little bloodshed after Queen Elizabeth 1 died a childless virgin and troublesome claimants to be her hereditary successor had to be removed from contention. When that “cleansing” was finished King James VI of Scotland was proclaimed King James the First of England. Until that day – March 24, 1603 – Scotland and England had been separate states with their own parliaments, their own laws. James had been King of Scotland since July of 1567 – crowned when he was little more than a baby. He was in his Thirties when he got his second Crown and brought single royal jurisdiction to the now United Kingdom of England and Northern Ireland and Scotland.
It wasn’t the easiest of time for James who almost immediately took up residence in London, closed the Scottish parliament, transferred 20 or so members to London’s parliament, plus a few Lords and friends of the Court. James 1 is the King who was supposed to be visiting Parliament in London on the day Guy Fawkes and half a dozen other Catholics had scheduled “The Gun Powder Plot” attempt to assassinate a protestant King and his Parliament in one act of violence.
Long before that dramatic attempt to reclaim Scotland’s independence, two full scale wars had been fought between Scotland and England, the first started in 1296 and ended 1328. Both ended with “peace” treaties and Scotland retaining its independence. One battle in the first conflict is still remembered in today’s Scottish national anthem “O flower of Scotland when will we see/ your like again/That fought and died for/Your wee bit hill and glen/ And stood against him/Proud Edward’s army/ And sent him homeward/ Tae think again.”
Needless to say, Scotland had won the Battle of Bannockburn fought in June, 1314 with Robert Bruce leading an outnumbered army of Scots against the then King Edward’s invaders. They were not so victorious two hundred years later – that’s right, 200 years later – when in September, 1513, led by King James the Fourth of Scotland they clashed with England on the fields of Flodden and lost 10,000 men. The English lost 1,500. While it marked Scotland’s greatest defeat in battle it was just one of many as over the centuries English Kings; the “Great Protector” Oliver Cromwell, then more Kings, fought and defeated the Scots until they agreed to the always uneasy union of the 1700’s. Scotland retained its identity but felt it was still just a minor partner in the United Kingdom.
Following WW1 the stirrings for clear independence began again. A national Party of Scotland was formed and eventually became today’s Scottish National Party. In 1967 one Winnie Ewing won a by-election – a first seat for the Nationalists. Three years later in 1979 Harold Wilsons’ Labour Government offered Scottish voters a referendum on “devolution” – a first step toward independence. It won majority support but failed to meet a requirement of at least 40% of the vote.
Labour lost the next election. Scotland would have to wait until 1997 when Labour’s Tony Blair occupied No. 10 Downing Street and offered new devolution proposals and Scotland won the right to have its own parliament with tax raising powers.
In 2011 the SNP won a clear majority in Scotland’s general election. September’s referendum is the keeping of a promise with an unexpected twist. The vote next month will be open to all registered Scottish voters from the age of 16. And 15-year year olds can pre-register if their birthday falls on or before voting day.

Canadians aware of national murmurings about reducing voting age from 18 to 16, and always conscious of the many Quebec citizens who favour independence, will be watching Scotland’s response with interest – as should the rest of the free world.

Will the 16 year olds be the defining factor on an issue of such great importance? And should they be – in Scotland, in Canada, or anywhere else?

A Less Than Graceful Fall

The afternoon started well. Sun shining, a cloudless sky and just the whisper of a breeze across Oak Bay. The afternoon chore was simple enough, ideal for the day; just trim the dead heads from Geraniums, Marigolds and other assorted flowers adorning a back garden patio, the driveway and a pebbled concrete path flanking the north side of the house.
It was hot but easy work wandering from one huge planter pot to the next, circling the patio scissors clipping heads past their prime. Then out to the drive way for half-a-dozen more before a break for tea or something more appropriate for a labourer of 90.7 years.
With one last planter to do age and heat told me to quit early, replenish body fluids with something sensible, have a nap and finish the job in the cool of the evening. Masculine pride assured me I was quite capable of finishing what I had set out to do. And we all know what pride, especially the masculine kind, “goeth before.”
So it was that as I bent over to clip the final cluster of dead heads I became, faster than instantaneously, aware my “bend’ had become a straight line heading for the pebbled concrete and a nearby Rhododendron bush. My expletives were loud but thankfully beyond hearing by other human beings.
The joy of not being heard as I cursed my misfortune quickly turned to embarrassment with a tinge of fear as I realised that I was not only down, but down and couldn’t get up. And nobody could hear my anguished cries for help.
Anne, a for-ever “be careful” warden was watching golf on TV and my embarrassed more than painful cries went unheeded until she caught a whimper on that faint Oak Bay breeze, came out to seek its origin and ask: “Where are you?”
With as much faked dignity as I could muster I replied “I’m between my car and the Rhodo bush and I can’t get up.” To her credit she didn’t laugh at the once macho man sprawled half on the cold pebbled concrete path and half in the Rhododendrons.
After a brief but futile effort to right the sprawling hulk she raced at unseemly speed for a senior lady to seek assistance from Derick and Kathleen Woods, across the street. The Woods are the type of neighbour every street in the world deserves – the go-to people who say “call anytime you need help”, and mean it.
With the cavalry on hand it was still no easy task to haul me to my feet with Derick on one arm, Kathleen on the other and Anne pushing modestly from behind. For any professional medics reading this let it be hastily said that before any move was made to elevate the fallen flower trimmer, I was carefully questioned about broken bones. Thankfully there were none and upright once more as man is intended to be, and with human crutches in place on either side, I was limped inside and sat while Anne produced our “Big One” earthquake medical kit. Nasty gashes on my left knee, scratches down my left shoulder and upper arm and various other nicks and bruises were attended to and with a sip of Scotland’s greatest contribution to mankind, I was on my way to full recovery.
I continue to recover sufficiently to offer advice to all aging flower be-headers. Don’t choose the heat of day to mess about in the garden; if you do, listen to your body when it suggests you sit down before you fall down; make sure you have someone close to hand who can remember where you stashed “The Big One” emergency kit; and hope you have chosen to live on a street with people like the Woods across the way.

Man’s Inhumanity To Man

A few days ago, 100 years after the war to end all wars came to a close, an Israeli missile missed an assigned target and killed several children in Gaza.
Fifty years ago, with England under fire from a flood of V1 German guided missiles, then Prime Minister Winston Churchill reported to the nation: “One landed near my home at Westerham, killing by cruel mischance, 22 homeless children and five grownups collected in a refuge made for them in the woods”.
It was late 1944 or early 1945 when the war by unseen ballistic missiles was running a six months course of silent terror, a mere 26-27 years after the 1918 end of the war to end all wars.
In June of 1944 Germany had launched its first unmanned aircraft against Belgium, Holland, France and England. Hitler named them Vergelthungswaffen – weapons of reprisal. The British called them V-1’s nicknamed “buzz-bombs” because the pulse-jet engine powering the craft carrying high explosives made a distinct, pulsating, buzzing sound as it flew.
When it reached is roughly designated target, the engine would cut-out. In the few seconds of silence that followed the bomb – with a 1,870 pound warhead would plummet to earth and explode. Those of who were there still remember the dreadful catch-breath seconds of silence.
The first V1 fell from the sky a week after June 6, D-day. It has been estimated that during the first wave of the buzz bomb campaign one fell on London every hour. Unlike aircraft used in the “blitz” of earlier years the V1’s were capable of flying in any weather, night or day – and, most important, no German pilots were lost once Allied fighter pilots discovered they could be tracked and destroyed en route the their targets.
At 11.20 on Sunday morning June 18, 1944 the home church for the Brigade of Guards on Birdcage Walk, London, was crowded with military and civilian worshipers. The choir was singing the Sung Eucharist when a V1 plunged through the roof killing 121 military and civilian worshippers and seriously injuring 141. Rescue workers were amazed to find the silver altar cross still standing and altar candles still burning.
It is estimated that more than 6,000 civilians, many of them children, were killed and 17,000 injured before the V1 threat was brought under control by Operation Crossbow. Crossbow targeted the V1 production plants and launch platforms in Europe. The operation cost the lives of 2,000 Allied airmen – but by September 1944 Germany was ready to launch its next ultimate weapon of retaliation – the V2.
The V2 was terrifying in dark of midnight or noonday sun. It was programmed to be travelling beyond the speed of sound when its 2,000 pound warhead struck earth – the first warning a V2 attack was underway.
The V2 attacks continued until the German army was pushed back from their launch sites. In their short lives as weapons of retaliation the V1 and V2 killed 9,237 civilians, many of them mothers and children, and seriously injured 23,333
I mention it all here as a reminder that while fatal missile blasts in Gaza may be shocking to today’s generations; they are not new battlefield tragedies. Nor will they be the last. As civilized human beings we gather on a multitude of memorial days to remember and a promise to never forget. And immediately do.
“Man’s inhumanity to man continues to “make countless thousands mourn” a hundred years after our fathers promised: ”No more”. In the past century we have done much to create better, more efficient, civilians be-damned, killing weapons. But nothing to eliminate them.