Month: August 2015

Fragments In The Wind

Fragments of thoughts fluttering in the wind as I contemplate the songs and shouts of a Canadian general election campaign and the commonsense requirements for an advisor’s job in a Prime Minister’s office.

On the campaign trail, where all candidates are offering guarantees of happiness if their party forms the next government, and disaster and misery for the electorate if any party other than their own wins the keys to the kingdom, I am reminded of the words of Allan Clark a British Tory of 1990’s vintage:

“There are no friends in politics. We are all sharks circling and waiting for traces of blood to appear in the water.” An honest appraisal and not hard to accept, as we watch and listen to all the promises of improvements to our lives “if you will just give us a chance” – or the in the plea of the Conservatives “give us another chance.”

James Boswell once asked Samuel Johnson why he always laughed at schemes promising political improvements: “Because,” answered Johnson “most schemes of political improvement are very laughable things” – and so many being offered this year in Canada as the sharks circle.

On advisors to First Ministers:

As we suffered through round one of the Harper-Duffy-Senate-as-a-cash-cow event I found it painful to learn, from their own testimony, that several key advisors in the PMO appeared to be lacking in commonsense. In addition PM Stephen Harper himself appeared unaware or uncaring about the bonfire of incompetence his palace guard had built around Duffy – a fire now crackling merrily in his PMO for all to see.

Then, just as I was feeling depressed about other countries viewing with laughter our lackadaisical approach to ethics, honesty and commonsense in politics, Prime Minister David Cameron of England burst on the scene to show me Canadians are not alone in keeping political vaudeville alive.

Cameron, who led his Conservative party from minority to clear majority status a short time ago, cheerfully announced on August 26 the appointment of 45 (stay calm, don’t spill your coffee as you repeat) 45 new peers to the House of Lords. In Canadian language that reads 45 new members to the Senate. The appointments astonished the political world and roused a political storm of criticism when it was learned three of the new Lords had been had been embroiled in the great House of Commons expense scandal a few years back. One of them Doug Hogg had won unenviable international fame at the time by claiming close to $5,000 in expenses to have the moat around his Lincolnshire Mansion drained and cleaned. He subsequently resigned his seat in the Commons.

He’s been quickly named “Lord Moat” by British Media but will shortly be taking his seat in the House of Lords where he will join his wife Sarah whose been wearing the Ermine and scarlet since John Major elevated her during his term as PM. Together they bring membership in the Red Chamber to 837 – the second largest government body in the world – number one being the Chinese National People’s Congress.

The only comfort I offer: It makes the Duffy affair look minor league, and PM Harper a model of restraint – equaled only by Prime Ministers sadly lacking in commonsense.

A final fragment and change of scene, but on the same theme of commonsense:

In Friday’s (Aug.27) Times-Colonist, the daily newspaper in Victoria BC which remains understandably shy about listing David Radler as captain of the production crew, announced it had conducted a search of Ashley Madison.com (have an affair) hacked registration data. It discovered close to 200 addresses of local people who may have been looking for sexual experiences outside their marriage. But, confessed the T-C, “addresses in the file could have been entered by someone other than the person associated with it, or be bogus.” Almost with a note of sadness the story adds: “None belonged to politicians, and none originated from inside the BC Legislature.”

So – three questions: (1) What was the TC hoping to find – a rich list of high ranking politicos or well known men and women seeking entertainment in beds other than their own? (2) Had they come up with a glory list of prominent names did they intend to publish them and if so to what purpose? (3) Who gave a good reporter like Cindy Harnett such a daft – and potentially dirty – assignment?

Just asking – in the interests of transparency and commonsense.

Been There, Done That

The air raid siren had hardly finished its always welcome “all clear” wail when it started to rain. Not a violent downpour. Just a steady rain that a few hours earlier would have made a pleasant thrumming on slate roofs of row houses in a small English midlands town.

But on this night the roof-slates that for decades had steered rain water into gutters and downpipes were not in place. They had been lifted roughly from their anchored spots by a near-miss bomb blast to shatter on the streets and yards below. The shuddering, slithering of slate tiles mingled with the sounds of a hundreds of windows shattering at the same time is one to be remembered for a long time.

In the aftermath of silence the rain fell and the rows of humble houses stood in the feeble light of dawn, bare roof timbers hunched against the unkindness of nature. And I remember, as clearly as I remember the sounds of roof-slates scudding and shattered glass falling into the streets, escorting my mother “home” from the garden air raid shelter where she and my sister and neighbours had spent the night.

My father had been on night security duty at a factory a few miles away. I, aged 16 and a half, had been on “go-fer” duty with a fire-watch warden. Mother was so delighted I was okay she chattered happily – with few rebukes that I should have been in the shelter with them “not running wild about the streets.”

Having checked the house earlier I warned that her always sparkling kitchen was a bit of a mess. “It won’t take long to clean up” she said. I opened the back door and she walked in, looked — and wept as steadily as the rain.

The back door opened directly onto to the kitchen-dining room, immediately to the left was a wooden staircase. And down that wooden staircase was a cascading waterfall, flooding across the always freshly scrubbed kitchen floor to form a giant sludge with decades old soot shaken from the chimney by the blast.

This wasn’t our first air raid. Our first was on August 25, 1940, for an anniversary of sorts next Tuesday; the last came two years later on July 28, 1942. It was a popgun raid with a single bomb dropping on the outskirts of town, a calling card reminder that though not a prime target my home town, Nuneaton, had been noticed. Siren free nights became rare as summer drifted into Fall with nervous pilots or poor navigators unloading their deadly cargoes without discrimination.

It was a nervous time living as we did nine miles from Coventry, 20 from Birmingham and waiting, expecting every night, the Big One. It came close on November 14-15, 1940, when Germany launched Operation Moonlight Sonata and coined the word “Coventrifide” to describe destruction. In Nuneaton we watched Coventry burn on a not so distant horizon. An estimated 30,000 incendiary bombs were dropped along with 64 flare bombs to light the way for 449 bombers which unloaded around 1,500 high explosive bombs along with 50-parachute bombs known as a block-buster. The dead totaled 568, seriously injured 862, and wounded 393.

Five days after that devastating attack we walked Nuneaton’s night streets again, this time to listen as the German Air Force launched its first major attack on Birmingham. Again 440 bombers were overhead to drop 400 tonnes of high explosives plus 18-parachute mines and kill 450 and badly injure close to 600. The following night the Luftwaffe returned with 118 tonnes of high explosives and 9,500 incendiaries to create further massive damage, deaths and injuries. A third raid followed with at one point on the night of November 21-22 some 600 fires burning in the city as water mains failed. Fire brigades drafted from across England drew their water from canals to get the fires under control but the regional commissioner for water supply warned a fourth night of fire raids “and Birmingham will burn down.” Fortunately the Luftwaffe changed targets.

In Nuneaton we watched, listened, and still waited fearfully for the Big Raid we felt doomed to receive. It came in the dark of May 17, 1941, the night the tiles flew off the roof and soot crashed down the chimney to mingle with unblessed rain from heaven.

The soot and the rain, harmless in a way, were shocking only because they were totally unexpected. Which leave me wondering what surprises my next Big One – if I live long enough to see a nature-created one and survive – will bring? My emergency bag is packed, is reasonably well supplied. I expect some miserable unexpecteds but hope a vile mix of chimney soot and rain isn’t among them.

Been there, done that – and once is enough.

People Hearing Without Listening

Close to four years ago I wrote about a lesson taught by kindly senior editor on the need to not just hear what politicians are saying but to also listen. Between now and our national government voting day on October 19 it becomes imperative that we do just that: hear the words of candidates spoken locally and nationally – and listen carefully to the message. If there is one.

I am told Paul Simon was 17 years old when he wrote the lyrics for The Sounds of Silence and with his partner Art Garfunkel sang of “people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening”. I think about the wisdom of those words often these days as political promises flood all media outlets. I hear the words and listen, often in vain, for a measure of reality and sincerity.

And I get to wondering what happened to those baby boom singers who wrote rhymes of challenge, put them to music and sang them clearly above the music as quiet exhortations to work for a better world? As a young father I heard their songs, listened, and understood their message. I don’t hear the likes to day, although I try to listen .But all  I hear are  sounds, which I think are  human, shouting insults or challenges which I cannot  comprehend however carefully I listen.

I miss the “sounds of silence” the singers of my children’s youth urged me to observe as they eloquently protested against wars and injustice. I hear them and listened. So did the world.

I know Paul Simon’s lyrics can be interpreted as individual listeners see fit. I admit I may be listening to a message I want to hear. But I think Simon and Garfunkel voiced remarkably accurate  prophecies made in the Sixties about life in 2015.They saw “ Ten thousand people, maybe more,/ People talking without speaking/ People hearing without listening/ People writing songs that voices never share/ And no one dared/ Disturb the sounds of silence.” Ah, those troublesome  “sounds of silence”, to be treasured when used to listen to what we have heard from songster or politician – and misused when we wrap ourselves in the comfort blanket of the “silent majority” not daring to disturb the silences often  imposed by political correctness.

As for those lines about thousand talking without speaking and people hearing without listening, isn’t that what we see today on the street, in pubs, in coffee shops, at bus stops, on the buses. Everywhere, people walking heads down, bumping into others, striding unaware across highways, or stupidly driving while talking  or texting – but obviously not listening..

Thoreau wrote that he had three chairs in his home “one for solitude, two for friendship and all three for society”? He added later that while he appreciated spells when the friendship chairs were in use “I never found the companion that was as companionable as solitude….” He could have added “or as valuable” when seeking time and space to listen to what politicians are really saying during an election campaign.

In a Moment in the Twinkling of an Eye

It was 9.20 a.m., August 9, 1945, when a flight of Corsairs came in over the hills surrounding Onagawa Bay, Honshu, Japan. Flying off the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable the Corsairs broke formation at 10,000 feet then followed the hillside down to 50-feet above sea level where each aircraft selected targets from Japanese vessels assembled in the bay.

Leading the flight was Lt. Robert Hampton “Hammy” Gray, a 27-year-old from Trail. For his target he chose the largest ship in the mini-fleet, and the most dangerous to attack – the Japanese navy destroyer Amakusa. His wingmen picked targets from minesweepers, small sub-chasers and supply ships.

Three days earlier the world’s first atomic bomb had exploded over Hiroshima. “Hammy” Gray and the men flying with him had been briefed on the atomic destruction. They were advised, while it probably spelled the end of the war with Japan, pilots should not take “undue risks” on pending missions. Unfortunately “undue risks” tend to disappear in the adrenalin rush of a bombing run at screaming speed and mere 50-feet above the waves.

“Hammy” Gray’s Corsair took heavy fire as he roared toward his target. One of the two bombs he carried, shaken loose by the ferocity of the flack, fell harmlessly into the sea. Lt. Gray held his course and released his second bomb precisely on target. It struck the Amakusa just below the second gun platform, ripped through to the engine room and exploded to blow a huge hole in her starboard side. In minutes the Amakusa rolled to starboard and sank taking 71 crew members with her.

As Lt. Gray pulled away his aircraft exploded in a ball of flame and pin-wheeled into the ocean, not far from where the Amakusa was settling in her final resting place. Not distant as warplanes fly, and little more than two hours after Lt. Gray’s triumphant but fatal last charge, the United States Air force dropped its second atomic bomb on a Japanese city.

It was two minutes after noon, August 9, three days after Hiroshima, when an estimated 40,000 died in Nagasaki in what became known as “the second sunrise”. Other thousands succumbed to radiation – some within hours, others after years of agony.

In an attempt at black humour ground crew had painted the initials JANCFU on the nose of the five ton bomb known as Fat Man: It stood for – Joint-Army-Navy-Civilian-Fuckup.

And JANCFU it was for those in Nagasaki who had not been officially selected to die that day. The original victims lived in the small city of Kokuru, population 75,000, but clouds and ground haze forced an in-flight decision to find an alternative and Nagasaki was the choice.

The New Yorker magazine noted in its August 7 (The Last Bomb issue) that the U.S. military released a Nagasaki damage map in 1946. Inside the cataclysm zone (three thousand feet from ground zero) were Nagasaki Prison, Mitsubishi Hospital, Nagasaki Medical College, Chinzei High School, Shiroyama School, Urkami Cathedral, Blind and Dumb School, Yamazato School, Nagasaki University Hospital, Mitsubishi Boy’s School, Nagasaki Tuberculosis Clinic and Keiho Boy’s High School.

Two brief hours before over Onagowa Bay, little more than 1,000 klm north, Robert Hampton “Hammy” Gray died alone in equally devastating but “conventional” fire. He was the last Canadian to die in combat in the war with Japan and was posthumously award the highest award for gallantry – the Victoria Cross.

Six days later the war with Japan was over, but 70-years later in other countries the dying, some heroic, mostly senseless, continues.

Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki the weapons have remained “conventional” and it would appear, worldwide, that makes everything okay.

The Voters Will Decide, Not The Pollsters

The day before the starter’s gun was fired pollsters had Tory Stephen Harper and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair “in a close race.”

A brave call and probably the most accurate one to be made by pollsters between now and October 19 when the marathon to elect a new parliament will end. Did I write “most accurate” on the call? For sure, with all the horses still in the gate how can they be anything else but “close”?

Undeterred by dismal failure rates in a string of provincial election campaigns, with the most recent pollster debacle in Alberta still fresh in mind, the pollsters are at it again. Fearlessly they tell us how the race is going before the first steps are taken, then urgently advise us to pay close attention to them as they “track” the runners until they cross the finish line.

Past inaccuracies in their “tracking” don’t seem to faze them, and the possibility that the electorate has been fooling them with phony answers to intrusive questions is unthinkable.

But it is a fact in recent years in democratic countries around the world pollsters have “got it wrong” and electors, damn it, have made ballot box decisions based on their own thinking not on popular social network trending. My “tracking” tells me they will do the same come October 19.

They will decide whether a young Justin Trudeau could lead a strong cabinet of older Liberals into middle of the road policies with more openness, more compassion, than young Stephen Harper’s hard-line Tories.

The voters will decide, without straw poll persuaders, if Thomas Mulcair is capable of controlling his temper enough to soften intemperate statements and his inclination to voice “conspiracy theories”. He is known by many as “Angry Tom”.

Back in 2011 when Jack Layton was leader of the NDP and Mulcair his deputy, Layton with his characteristic diplomacy was required on several occasions to douse Mulcair wildfires. Two weeks ago on July 17 The Huffington Post asked in a headline “Can Canadians Trust Thomas Mulcair With The Countries Top Job?”

There is little doubt voters will be reminded, again and again, as the campaign trail strings out, of Mulcair’s response in 2012 when Elections Canada found the NDP guilty of violating political financing laws. Mulcair grumpily suggested “everybody does it”, hinted there was a conspiracy out there to gang-up on the NDP – but voiced no regrets,offered no apologies.

“Angry Jack” has already lost some support to the Green Party led by Elizabeth May. Come October 19 voters may well again thwart most pollsters by deciding to provide a few more Green voices in parliament. Not enough to form a government because I don’t think the electorate envisions Ms. May as a Prime Minister, or as Canada’s voice on the international stage. But half a dozen or so calm, rational voices, would stand out in the often vicious babble of Ottawa – and, while costly to Mulcair’s dream of glory, could well result in elevated good manners and common courtesy replacing the gutter fighting called debate “on the hill.”

And that would be a pollster free benefit we could all treasure.