Month: May 2016

How Close Is The Return To The Dark Ages?

In my short span of life I have witnessed the collapse of two powerful world empires. Until recently I never thought I would live long enough to watch a third great nation implode. Today, if I can squeeze a few more years into living, I fear I may witness the collapse of that third empire, and possibly the greatest the world has known.
I write fear because if I do live that long I don’t think I’ll want to hover for too long waiting for what some current observers of the future refer to as “a return to the dark ages.”
This is not a new theme. For years writers like Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal have led a virtual chorus of world philosophers’ warning about the ever increasing signs that United States of America – their homeland – is heading for economic and diplomatic collapse.
Readers can Google Vidal’s Requiem for the American Empire, first published in The Nation (and now being offered in a book form collection of a dozen of his essays). Chomsky’s Requiem for the American Dream” paints a similar gloomy picture of the rise to power of the USA – and its equally dramatic decline once dreams of empire replaced its original dream of liberty, prosperity and happiness for all.
Some historians and commentators insist America didn’t reach empire status until the show of arms in World War Two culminated with the detonation of two nuclear bombs over Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But Vidal and Chomsky put American desire to be number one in the world militarily much earlier.
Vidal notes that among the first ambitions of the new republic after shaking off heavy handed British Empire imperialism and defeating the British army in battle, was protection of its borders. For protection read expansion with the need to eliminate French and Spanish footholds to the south of the new republic and tame the Mexican nuisance on its southwest border. Mexican still refer to the USA borders states as “the occupied lands.”
After sporadic scraps in the Caribbean the Spanish were forced from the Philippines by USA troops and strong support by Philippine nationalists. After the war the United Sates army stayed on. Vidal writes: “….President William McKinley, after an in depth talk with God, decided we should keep the Philippines in order, he said, to Christianize them. When reminded the Filipinos were Roman Catholics, the President said, exactly. We must Christianize them.”
If Donald Trump becomes the next President of the United States he will not be the first to be a little reckless with facts.
A few writers of the day objected to the empire building. After the Philippines Mark Twain wrote it was time to replace the stars and stripes of the American flag with the skull and crossbones of piracy and warned, “We cannot maintain an empire in the Orient and maintain a republic in America.”
The building of Empire never stopped – even though it has for years been a “construction cost” even the United States of America cannot afford. The USA National Debt clock tells us that when the next President of the USA takes over in 2017 – he or she will inherit a $154 Trillion dollars debt with current (2016) interest payments ratcheting along at $15,164 a second and the debt per citizen listed $59,566 and growing by the minute.
In the 1970’s when the Watergate scandal that led to Richard Nixon’s demise as President and a colossal shattering of public faith in the presidency, San Francisco Chronicle’s columnist, the late Art Hoppe, penned a piece all readers should seek out and read. It’s about a few thousands citizens who, united in a desire for freedom, justice and equality, formed the nucleus of a small, but proudly independent nation. They were, he wrote “proud, independent, self-reliant and generally very prosperous” and above all else “they had faith; they had faith in their religion, their leaders, their country and themselves.”
Eventually, Hoppe wrote, it grew to become the “richest, mightiest nation in the whole world – admired, respected, envied and feared by one and all. It showed the world how to build good roads and super- highways; it taught the necessity of basic hygiene, the need for cleanliness and good sanitation….And for a while it even kept the peace.”
But it began to worship wealth. The rich got richer, the poor poorer with many citizens on welfare. Entertainments were offered to keep the people’s minds off life’s short comings. Festivals and circuses were arranged with highly paid athletes idolized, and morals fell to the decadence of an “eat drink and be merry materialistic society.”
Time went by and “citizens came to learn their leader were corrupt…there was fear and distrust…so it was the people lost faith in their leaders, their currency, their postal system, their religion, their country and, eventually, themselves.
“And thus, in 476 A.D Rome fell to the barbarians and the dark ages settled over western civilization.”
And the only happy thought I can find is that dark ages fell in the wake of the collapse of every empire the world has known, Greek, Roman, Spanish, British, Soviet Russia – but the world did not end. In fact in recovery it became a slightly better place.
It’s my hope and belief that all though I’ll miss the last acts of the play, it always will.

So What Have We Learned in the Past 150-Years?

“There are 48 men in one ward their beds occupying dining and sitting rooms, the one corridor and exercise room. Every pipe in the building is frozen; the well (supplying drinking water) is about dry – and we have been obliged to take the top off the boiler to prevent an accident. We keep it (the boiler) supplied by buckets of water to get sufficient for kitchen purposes. Our supply of water at present consists of what we can dip up with our buckets from a ditch at the back of the yard.”
The 48 men were “in confinement” after being certified as “lunatics”, too afflicted to care for themselves and “too dangerous to the public” to leave on the streets. The description of their living conditions is from the report of a medical officer reporting to provincial authorities on conditions at the Provincial Asylum for the Insane in 1889.
“They have had their meals in the passage between the kitchen and the ward and the weather has often compelled them to take their meals in overcoats and hats. The temporary offices have been so cold that no one could stay in them longer than was absolutely necessary.” And then maybe the greatest loss in that darkest of winters: “We have not been able to have divine services for some months…..”
I mention it all here as a reminder that the problem of the mentally ill and those afflicted with addictions, which now appear to be reaching epidemic proportions in every country in the world, is not new. I observe with a sadness of spirit that we seem to be no more capable of finding a solution to the problem today than were the medically ignorant pioneers to build a caring community on the southern tip of Vancouver Island back in the 1850’s.
The first recorded case of mental illness in the tent and shack town edging its clumsy, slovenly, way beyond the wooden walls of orderly Fort Victoria, involved a young Scottish immigrant who was displaying “irrational behavior.” Several times ”confined” and eventually classified with that cruel word “maniac”, he was shipped back to Scotland. The emerging community soon realized a ticket home was not a solution to mental illness and opened a “small infirmary” for “lunatic women”. By 1872 it was over- crowded and the old quarantine station near Ogden Pont was tidied-up and reopened with slightly gentler title – the “Asylum for the Insane.”
A few months later in 1873 the Legislative Council passed The Insane Asylums Act thus acknowledging for the first time that mental illness was a provincial concern and responsibility. Within five years the Victoria asylum was over-crowded with 36 patients. With the population rising more swiftly on the mainland than on Vancouver Island the Victoria asylum was closed and a new Provincial Asylum for the Insane was built in New Westminster. It had grounds and gardens, inmates were termed “residents” and “work therapies” were introduced. It was an improvement, but it couldn’t keep up with growing demand. The overflow was being housed in general hospitals or jails.
In 1889 new construction of an expansion was underway at a budgeted cost of $50,000 – an extraordinary public expenditure. When completed it would have several wings each with a 55 bed capacity, central building for offices and “paying patients”; there would be a separate brick kitchen and laundry – and “a large concert hall” with the entire building “hot water heated and lighted by gas.” The opening paragraphs of this piece were Medical Superintendent R.I.Bentley’s description to the Legislature of the conditions staff and patients were enduring while awaiting construction of the new facility.
When staff and patients finally moved into their new home not all problems were solved as Bentley regretfully informed the legislators. White patients, probably the ones “paying” for their treatment, did not look with favour on having to share with Chinese “residents”. Bentley said he still wanted to provide services for the Chinese but was “anxious to have the Chinese accommodated with a separate building …not only on account of the feeling of the white people and their friends…but (because) I think it will be more economical for the government.”
He estimated his patient costs would be just under 65 cents per patient per day but never explained where his Chinese segregation economies would be made. At the time 100 patients were listed, 27 of Chinese descent, 62 were “white men”, 11 were “women.” Medical men of the day listed theoretical, but widely believed, causes of “insanity” as “domestic, religious excitement, adverse circumstances, love affairs, fright and nervous shock, self-abuse (the polite way of saying masturbation in the 1800’s) and alcohol.”
As a society we’ve come a long way since we confined “insane maniacs” to “insane asylums” and thought water by the bucket from a nearby ditch was adequate for mad folk, but we haven’t really travelled very far. We have a disgraceful shambles called a Tent City in the heart of Victoria inhabited by a mix of the mentally ill people, drug addicts, the most venal of law breaking human beings who prey on the mentally ill and the addicts; a handful of homeless folk who insist they prefer outdoor unsanitary living to a clean, government provided, bed, and a small core of career criminals who find willing, often young, recruits to their wastrel life style.
Watching it all with advice but no solid solutions are The Church (all inclusive); Governments junior and senior; the law enforcement arms of those governments; the courts with decisions that bewilder rather than comfort; and taxpayers in their millions who want something done to help the helpless but only after we have provided funds for better education facilities and opportunities; better transportation links; cheaper rides on public transit systems; and on and on and on.
But we must not give up hope. After all we don’t refer to mental health victims as “maniacs” any more, we don’t talk about “lunatics” or the “insane”. It was back in 1940 when the BC Mental Hospitals Act, in the cause if progress, deleted all references to lunatics and the insane, roughly 70-years after the first Insane Asylums act.
Complex issues like mental health and treatment understandably require cautious study and understanding. But should they take so long to resolve?

Hold The Lucubrations!

I was a little embarrassed a few days ago with the outpouring, on a CBC national news broadcast, of praise for Canada’s reaction to the Fort MacMurray disaster. Reporters were suitably solemn while reporting the tragedy while the usually acerbic Rex Murphy rasped eloquently and emotionally on how wonderful Canada was as a nation to react as it had.

He recited a brief list of other tragedies from years past, from ship explosions in confined harbours, to mine disasters, ravaging floods which had destroyed homes, ruined businesses and wrecked many lives – and how Canadians had always responded with cash and caring support to set things right.

It was evidence, he said, demonstrating how great we are as a nation when tragedy strikes fellow Canadians, sometimes thousands of miles from where we live. We respond with all the aid we can offer from cash to resources to personnel; we open hearts and often homes.

But we always have – and that’s what surprised me when CBC-TV – and many editorial writers and commentators in press and on radio – sang our praises for reacting as we – and many other nations – have always reacted when fellow citizens have been struck by disaster; with action and the best help we can afford and are capable of giving.

We don’t need the self-gratification of self-praised action. We’re family and we do what families do when troubles come. We help each other

On the West Coast of Canada I live on the edge of tectonic plates which could in a matter of minutes bring earthquake devastation to some of our cities. We call it “The Big One” and many of us have prepared as best we can for a three to seven day minimum emergency without running water, fresh food supplies or medical aid. When the day comes, as we are told it most surely will, we shall be as are all communities in the immediate wake of disaster – scared, worried because help isn’t coming as quickly as we think it should (it never does, never can), but secure in the knowledge that across the far reaches of our country fellow Canadians will react as fellow Canadians have always reacted – with aid and as much comfort as they can offer.

It’s what we do. We’re family.

We can, and should be, proud Canadians,­ but never so proud that we believe we are doing something extraordinary because we simply do what bonded families should do in time of need; we reach out to help, as we should. It’s a given. Or should be.
The jingoistic lucubrations on CBC were unnecessary. A simple “thank you and well done, again” would have been ample and more fitting for the Canadian character.
(To save you a chore:Lucubration:a scholarly work – but inclined to be pompous,pedantic,stuffy. Amen.

Parliamentary Rules Need A Touch Of Emily Post

If you live beyond the boundaries of British Columbia and could care less about spats now occupying high-priced politicians and even higher priced public servants, click your way now to a more interesting page. Today’s effort is for British Columbian’s only – unless you have an unusual interest in parliamentary procedures and believe rules of order and respect for those rules are essential for reasoned, rational, debate.
Here’s the picture: Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the fire breathing protector of unfortunate children and youth in British Columbia, recently released a report from her office before it was tabled in the Legislature.
Speaker Linda Reid, charged with the unenviable task of maintaining order in a debating chamber known more for its cacophony of sounding brass and tinkling cymbal than for common courtesies and, even more important, commonsense, took it upon herself to advise Turpel-Lafond that releasing her report to public before it was tabled in the House was a discourtesy bordering on contempt for the Legislature. Had Speaker Reid complained only about a lack of courtesy Turpel-Lafond could have had little complaint. It is a long standing practice for such reports to go first to the legislators, then to the public.
I quickly add that while it may be common courteous practice to present such reports first to Legislators it is not an embedded “privilege” that Legislators must receive such reports before anyone else. Courtesy might demand it, the rules do not.
Standing Order 26, in “the House rule book”, has a 46 page appendix dealing with “matters ruled a breach of privilege.” I assume both Turpel-Lafond and Speaker Reid are familiar with it, but both may have missed a brief advisory on the issue by George MacMinn, former Clerk to the Legislature, in his classic third edition of Parliamentary Practice in British Columbia. On Standing Order 26 he wrote: “To give a concise definition of privilege would be impossible. Erskine May, 21st edition (one of the great authorities on parliamentary rules) devotes nearly 85 pages to the subject, There are thousands of Speaker’s decisions on privilege throughout the Commonwealth and abundance of decisions on the subject in British Columbia.”
Far be it for me to attempt to wade through those “abundant BC decisions” but I will venture a few thoughts: it seems to me that before anyone can be found guilty of “contempt of the Legislature” they must first be charged and found guilty of breach of privilege. And if the Speaker is going to consider and permit debate on the issues of “privilege” MacMinn writes: “In order for a matter of privilege to succeed it must be raised at the earliest opportunity” and “the motion proposed must allege an actual breach of privilege.”
So here’s a layman’s interpretation of the current scuffle – an interpretation based entirely on news reports in print and electronic.
The opportunity for anyone to raise a breach privilege charge and ask the Speaker for a ruling on Turpel-Lafond’s action is long past its “earliest opportunity” requirement. The Speaker would only officially get into a breach of privilege issue if the matter had been immediately raised with ruling requested. The motion requesting such a ruling would have to be specific and establish at least a prima facie case of breach of privilege. If the Speaker felt that was established, a motion would then be called to “deal with the matter to determine the facts that exist in the particular case alleged or complained of”. (The quote is from a ruling by NDP Speaker Gordon Dowding on a breach of privilege issue in 1973 as noted by MacMinn)
Some final thoughts on Turpel-Lafond’s indignation to the suggestion she was getting close to contempt of the Legislature. News stories in The Sun and Time-Colonist informed me she felt “intimidated and bullied” by Speaker Reid’s unfounded criticism. I find an “intimidated and bullied” Turpel-Lafond hard to picture. She added, according to those same news reports, that there is nothing in her child watchdog legislation that prevents her from publishing a report as and when she sees fit.
She’s right. There is nothing – except standard courtesy, good manners and respect for the institution. Maybe both ladies should re-read MacMinn’s classic on the rules with care – and a gentle riffle through Emily Post wouldn’t hurt.

Well Rested,Well Fed, and Happy to be Home

It was early evening on April 10 when Holland-America’s Nieuw Amsterdam slipped her lines in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and at leisurely pace set course across the Caribbean for Cartagena, Colombia. A few years ago I would have dined well and in comfort, then attached myself to the Internet via on board WiFi and reported to daily newspaper readers on a voyage in progress.
This time I just dined well and in comfort then watched the moon light its path on the ocean and the stars move with their eternal precision across a cloud free sky – and went to bed. The 25 cents a minute for the use of an extremely slow on-board cyber connection, plus the plodding of far from dexterous two finger typing, have placed the pleasures of instant communication beyond my willingness to pay.
After three nights and two days sailing we gently ease into a berth at Cartagena, a city once plagued by terrorists as brutal as ISIS and put to the torch in 1586 by Francis Drake, one of England’s greatest naval heroes. Drake savaged Spanish ships and settlements in the Caribbean and South America thus making his Queen Elizabeth 1 a very rich ruler and Drake a very rich gentleman. The Queen said “thank you” and Francis became “Sir Francis”.
The Spanish called him – and still do – “the pirate Drake” which he was at both ends of what is now the Panama Canal and where we are heading as we leave the old city to get in line to transit one of the great wonders of the world. Drake got to the Pacific side of the Panama Isthmus by weeks of sailing around South America. I made the trip on a luxury liner in a day. It’s my second trip, the first a few years ago from west to east, but the wonder remains that mankind could carve its way through jungles and mountains and create a seaway which lifts and lowers seagoing leviathans to varying ocean levels.
But even as I marvel at the miracle of engineering and ease of travel it now brings me, I remember that in the 34-years it took to build the Canal claimed the lives of 30,609 workers — mostly from malaria, yellow fever and dysentery. By coincidence it was the latter of the deadly trio that took Drake’s life in 1596. He was 56 when they buried him at sea “in a sealed lead coffin” off Portobelo, a small town of 5,000 not far from the Panama Isthmus. His coffin, though sought for many years, has never been found.
With the canal behind us we “hang a right” and begin the long, restful, no wrestling with WiFi, run for home. To be honest, and because old habits die hard, I did make one serious attempt to communicate at Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica where WiFi is offered free. I attempted to avail myself of Costa Rica hospitality. So did several hundred other passengers armed with everything from ancient laptops (me) to the latest smart phones which remain beyond my understanding. I took one look around a barn-like room jammed with people – many frustrated as they can’t get on line with a single button click – and give up. It’s quieter back on the ship with my laptop zipped up for the duration.
Silent it remains through Corinto,Nicaragua; Puerto Quetzal,Guatemala; Puerto Chiapas, Huatulco,Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; San Diego, California and then the close to three days sea-run home to Victoria’s Ogden Pont.
If you’re planning a cruise it’s one of the best if you consider flying to Fort Lauderdale and sailing home. Not all ships call at Victoria – but Seattle and Vancouver are and not too far from Victoria if it is your home base – and they are certainly easier to handle than a long tedious cross- country flight which can quickly take the edge off calm cruising benefits if you sail from west to east then fly home. If you shop around you’ll find a cruise that gently brings you all the way home.
One word of advice if you opt for the “fly east, sail home” option: Avoid any attempt by your travel agent to book you Air Canada via Toronto-to Fort Lauderdale (or other Miami starting points). USA Customs and Immigration – which you must clear with your luggage in Toronto – is a nightmare of epic proportions even if you have asked for gate to gate assistance as I’ve been doing since wobbling past 90 two years ago. Route yourself east with Alaska Air through Seattle. It’s far more efficient and easier. Believe me.
And it’s a great ride home.