Month: October 2015

Sounds Of Silence

It is the silence that bothers me. The silence of once feisty newspaper editors to challenge what they feel are unwise commands from their corporate owners, the men – and women – who live in far-away places, have little or no knowledge of the communities or even the country in which their assets are published, and judge the quality of the publications they “own” more by profit than content.

Thus it was that when Postmedia, which owns most of Canada’s major newspapers, ordered its stable of editors to run lead editorials urging voters to rally to the Conservative cause on October 19, all but a few obediently tugged their forelocks and complied. One or two protested, ran the theme of the editorial as ordered, informed their readers as to why the action was taken and hoped the “we were just obeying orders” excuse would quickly disappear.

All but one of the political columnists writing for Postmedia remained silent as ordered by their owners. The single exception was Andrew Coyne, editor of editorials and comment for The National Post. Coyne did not challenge the right of the owners to endorse the Conservatives – or any other political party it preferred to see in power. He simply informed the proprietors he would be writing a column disagreeing with their editorial choice.

But the company was having none of that – and denied Coyne the right to dissent. Coyne reported in a Twitter post the company had felt a dissenting column “would have confused readers and embarrassed the paper.” He also said in his online comment: “To be clear, the owners and managers of a newspaper have a perfect right to set the newspaper’s editorial line as they wish (but) I don’t see public disagreement as confusing. I see it as honest. Readers, in my view, are adults and understand that adults can disagree.”

As a result of the “professional disagreement” Coyne resigned as editor of editorials and comments but remains with the newspaper as a columnist. It will be an interesting media watch to see how that turns out, but I forecast when differences arise between the columnist and the people who understand balance sheets but have little or no understanding of the need for opposing opinions – the moneymen will triumph.

It’s been going on for quite some time now as the printed word in newspaper form has faltered in the accelerated world of communications. In a world full of swirling untested theories and unconfirmed stories newspaper owners, thirsty for ever greater profit, and fearful editors have gradually conceded the once treasured values of vigorous but reasoned debate and the accuracy of reported news.

It has not happened overnight. It started as Alfred Tennyson said it could, as a “pitted speck in garnered fruit that rotting inward slowly moulders all….the little rift within the lute that by and by will make the music mute and ever widening slowly silence all.” When I used that quote a year or so ago I used it as a “canary in the mine” warning that most of us over recent years had offered little resistance to declining standards in just about everything from dress to good manners and, respect for each other.

We all stand guilty to some measure of indifference and neglect. But none more so than those who once brought us accurate reports of news both local and from far away and free-of-anger opinions to which wise publishers would invite and publish with pride. I fear their silence, muted by order, lack of editorial conscience or fear of reprisal and economic distress.

And I’m glad I lived and worked in what an unknown Irish writer once described as a “more spacious world.”

(For an excellent detailed analysis of the Postmedia affair check http:the tyee.ca/Mediacheck/2015/10/19/Postmedia-Election-E for Paul Willcocks “Who, or What, is Behind Post Media’s Election Endorsements?)

“alea iacta est!” – the Die is cast

Well, that’s it then. We still  have to wait for Monday night for the official count for General Election 2015, but the experts tell us the die is already cast. A few last minute decisions may be made in the voting booth, but not enough to change mind-sets formed earlier.

I have no last minute advice on whom to vote for or which cause to support, other than suggesting you decide which person and party you think best equipped to run our country and represent us on the world stage, and boldly make your mark. Do not listen to silly people who suggest if you don’t vote for a winner you have wasted your vote. In a society where we freely select our governors from a variety of candidates, there will always be losers – but never lost causes, never wasted votes.

Having discovered long ago the perils of trying to steer readers to my choice of candidate and party, I again resist the temptation. I have told before the story of my disastrous attempt to instruct voters how they should vote, but it bears repeating. It involved a fellow named Charles Oliver, son of former B.C. Premier “Honest” John Oliver, the premier who planted the now magnificent Copper Beech tree at the rear of the Legislature.

Charles, or “Charlie” as he was fondly known, was Reeve of Penticton from 1931-35 and Mayor from 1957-61. He was a little eccentric and not above arbitrarily adjourning council meetings if decisions were not going his way. I think it was in the civic election of 1959 that Penticton Herald publisher Grev Rowland, and the wielder of the not-so-mighty editorial sword, yours truly, decided the city couldn’t stand another two or three years of Charlie.

On voting day we ran a jointly written thundering front page editorial about vaudeville being dead and telling readers it was time to end “this sorry circus of civic administration.” Our reader’s response to the imperious command that Charlie be dumped was dramatic. On the final count that lesson-learning night Charles Oliver had a close to 3 to 1 vote victory over his nearest rival.

The scars still itch on election eves. The temptation is there to not just tell you to vote, but suggest how you should. These days I just scratch the itch and urge only that you vote in good conscience, thoughtfully, proudly, for a cause or candidate in which or whom you believe. And if your chosen cause or candidate should fail to qualify for the brass ring, take comfort in the fact that when things go wrong in Ottawa – as they surely will – you will be able to say “now you know why I voted for ……..”

There are a few things we can be sure of as our newest political universe unfolds as dictated by the people: Whether we elect a minority government or a majority government, and of whatever political stripe, we shall send to Ottawa a majority of good men and women dedicated to public service.

True we shall, unfortunately, also elect with them a few avaricious men and women seeking power for self-gratification, a quick route to the pork barrel and every dollar they can grab to pad personal bank accounts.

Like the “Big One” waited for us on Canada’s West Coast, a major scandal involving the party taking power Tuesday morning is not an “if” but a “when”. It will come – and the pity is that when it does media will launch another corruption in government feeding frenzy, and the majority of Canadians will nod their heads in agreement with hardly a thought for the majority of MP’s who have never snitched a penny from the taxpayers – and never will.

Come Tuesday morning, whichever party gets the public nod, I shall not be fearful for the future of Canada. The good guys will, I am sure, always outnumber the bad ones. And to those good guys, whether blue ribbon major-names backed by millions in advertising, or money-short minors; whether winners or losers, I say, well done for having the conscience and courage to “light a candle (rather) than curse the darkness”. For that they can be proud – and we “sit at homes” who are quick to criticize but slow to offer public service of any kind, should be thankful.

Thanksgiving – We Should Be

On October 9, 2005, I wrote a column for my local newspaper suggesting Thanksgiving weekend should be more important in our lives than Christmas, Easter, Labour Day, family birthdays and wedding anniversaries. I wrote: “Thanksgiving should be all our grateful celebrations rolled into one.

A decade later I see no reason to change that thought.

For centuries Thanksgiving marked the festival of harvest, a celebration born when the first farmers on earth had their crops safely stored for winter. Ninety years ago and throughout my childhood to celebrate, schools, churches, chapels, display windows in stores, would be decorated with sheaves of wheat, field crops, baskets of fruit and fresh baked “cottage” loaves – unsliced. Choirs and congregations would lift their voices across the land to sing “Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home; all is safely gathered in ‘ere the winter’s storms begin.”

I understand some churches still maintain the old tradition but as the years rolled by Thanksgiving became more than a harvest prayer of gratitude for a good crop, although the farm roots remain with the turkey and all the trimmings, fresh baked bread and pumpkin pie. Today we offer a broader prayer, a thank you not just for the food and shelter most of us enjoy, but an expanded appreciation for the many other blessings harvested over the past year, and hopefully stored for remembering on any bleak days yet to come.

Ten years ago I wrote (“I wander into Thanksgiving 2005 after a year of flirtations with health care and the health care system, thankful that I have no serious problems – yet! Just a creaky 80 plus wheel, squeaking a little as it rattles through “the Golden Age”, and requiring a little high-tech fine-tuning now and then. The only change I would make today is that the 80-plus wheel continues to creak at 90-plus and I am genuinely thankful that it does.

I confess to daily grumbles about various aches and pains, about slower, shorter, strides and the need to gauge the length an afternoon walk by the number of benches available for brief recovery periods, but they are minor complaints. I am sincerely thankful that I can still go “walk about” even as “walk” comes closer to “shuffle” and walking stick or snowless ski-poles become welcome companions.

I’m thankful because I know I’m one of the fortunate ones. I may need to touch a handrail when walking up and down stairs; I may need something to push on when I stand after sitting in an easy chair; names sometimes take a minute or two to recall, but my problems are trivial when compared with others.

I admit to being be impressed by modern technology but while appreciative of the many benefits and comforts it brings my way, I am thankful I grew up before its explosion changed the world for ever, but not always for the better. As another old survivor once wrote I am thankful that I grew up in an age when a stud was something that held a collar to a shirt, when a joint was what we roasted for Sunday dinner, and going all the way meant riding the street car to the end of the line. I can remember when a micro-chip was a small slice of fried potato offered with deep-fried fish, sprinkled with salt and vinegar, ideally served in a newspaper wrapper and enjoyed, as all life’s pleasures should be, with sincere Thanksgiving

The Niqab – And Respect For Others

The call to prayer came at five o’clock in the morning. The minaret, from which the chanted reminder that good Muslims start their day with a prayer echoes just across the street from our hotel room. Four more times during the day Muslim faithful and multi-faith tourists will hear a similar call to prayer – and even lapsed Christians will be moved.

It was in  2002 in Istanbul, the great crossroads city lying between Europe and Asia since shortly after time began – and one of the few able to live up to its postcard and publicity image. Almost every street corner in the Sultanahmet – the old city – carries a piece of ancient history. Mosques great and small dominate the landscape, some with multiple minarets others, like the one across the street, a single tower reaching for heaven.

Each morning the city seems to lie in light mist drifting from the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus and the Golden Horn. It is on such a morning that with my son Andrew I set forth on a tour of exploration with the towering minarets and dome of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul’s largest, our target.

At the entrance to this magnificent place of worship we are requested to remove our shoes in respect for Muslim traditional beliefs. And we do, without hesitation. We are visitors and we willingly observe the standards of good behavior our courteous hosts ask us to observe – as a mark of respect. The Muslims of Istanbul did not dictate our form of dress, tell us what we could or could not wear, or make any unreasonable demands. They just asked us to observe what was to them an important, traditional, facet of their faith. We did not find it a difficult decision to make.

And it seems to me that a similar decision, to ask a woman to refrain from wearing a niqab out of respect for ceremonial traditions of the Canadian family she wished to join, is a reasonable request and easily adhered to without her breaking faith with religious or gender-equality principles.

I don’t expect to win too many converts to my point of view because the niqab debate has been going on for years and is still creating calls for national debates on the other side of the Atlantic. In England recently a lone female Muslim told a crown court judge she intended to wear the niqab while testifying at a trial in which she was charged with intimidating a witness. The judge ruled the full-face veil would not be worn while she was testifying – but could be worn in the courtroom before or after she testified. On the witness stand justice demanded she remained unveiled.

Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy has this suggestion for future debate in the UK: “What does need to happen,” she says, “is an internal debate within Muslim communities, questioning people who push the rhetoric that the veil is obligatory in Islam – or even those who say it’s recommended.” These conversations are necessary, she says, but when talk turns at a national level (as it has in the UK), to a call for a state ban on full-face veils – a measure passed into French law in 2010 – “it’s completely counter-productive.”

Our political leaders – all five of them – Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, Tom Mulcair, Elizabeth May and Gilles Duceppe – would do well to take note and get the Canadian debate on the niqab off the election agenda, where it has no place, and into the hands of the Muslim community.

And before you snort in derision at asking Canadians of Muslim faith for unbiased guidance on such a touchy subject consider this: the vast majority of Muslim women in Canada – in all the western democracies for that matter – do not wear the niqab. It would, as Tehmina Kazi says, be interesting to hear what Muslims who “push the rhetoric that the veil is obligatory” say to justify their implacable position, and how most Muslim women (and their men-folk) insist it is only a “recommended” form of attire – and a recommendation they choose not to follow.