Month: July 2016

Is America ready to ask a woman to run the country?

United States President Barack Obama told thousands of Democrat conventioneers last Wednesday they were living in the greatest country in the world, were protected by the greatest military force in the world, and were making history by officially nominating a woman, Hillary Clinton, to replace him next January.

He can be challenged on the first two claims (although we can hope there never is a challenge on which power in the world has the most muscle on the battlefield) and on the third he’s wrong unless he meant to limit his sweeping assumption to U.S. presidential history.

On the American stage, the Democrats have somewhat grudgingly embraced a female as being capable of governing at the highest level. A new experience for America – but not for many, many other countries.

The second paragraph of the USA Declaration of Independence – learned as sacred text by children and recited with great emotion on July 4, Independence Day, in every hamlet, village, town and city – clearly lists the new country’s first priorities. Each year since 1776 that memorable vow is applauded as an achievement: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness….”

The fact is after 240 years that noble aspiration remains an objective still to be reached. The vow has never been kept and until it is the United States of America will never be the greatest nation it aspires to be and often claims it is already.

It will never be among the greatest until U.S. politicians bury foolish differences and pass laws that guarantee equality regardless of sex, colour, religious or political beliefs; laws that protect the “unalienable right” to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That would mean guaranteed health care for all and a strong step toward greater control on the sale of guns. It remains amazing to me that so many politicians  — and millions of American citizens – regard the offer of universal health care as part of a communist plot and the denial of easy access to lethal guns and ammunition as a threat to American manhood.

Was there ever a more ridiculous sight than heavily armed vigilante squads prowling the precincts of the Republican Party convention , their military-strength automatics shoulder-slung and ready for action? They were not breaking the law; the state they call home permits citizens to “carry arms” in public.

There were also regulations banning playing with tennis balls in the convention hall precinct. No tennis balls, but 30-rounds of rapid fire ready to control whatever needed controlling … okay.

During the Democratic Party convention there was a much saner approach to politics with renewed pledges to achieve the enlightened times promised by the founding fathers and repeated references to the greatness of American achievements. The massed Democrats cheered and chanted when President Obama assured them that by nominating Hillary Clinton to be their presidential candidate they had “made history” and by electing her president in November they would create an even more historic moment by electing a woman to lead a nation.

He forgot to mention – as did all the other speakers who regurgitated the same historic theme – that by electing a female president the United States would merely be playing catch-up with a world that long ago acknowledged women to be as good or better than men in high office.

I guess he’d forgotten Indira Ghandi, Prime Minister of India 1966-1977 and a second term 1980-1984 and Golda Meir, PM of Israel, 1969 -1974. But surely he couldn’t have forgotten UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” and great friend of USA President Ronald Reagan. She was the first female PM elected in Great Britain – but not in the world. Let it be noted that I have selected only three elected PMs from a much longer list.(Canada had a brief flirtation with a woman at the helm in 1993 when Brian Mulroney resigned as leader of the Conservative Party and Port Alberni’s Kim Campbell inherited the PM’s job from June to November when the Conservatives lost the right to rule in a general election and Ms. Campbell was “disinherited.)

Readers can Google “Female World Leaders” for lists of hundreds – yes, hundreds – of women who made it to prime ministerial or presidential office. It’s true that some of the elected presidents were symbolic but few were without power. And, remembering that all human beings are created equal and should be treated equally, the gay community can rejoice as well. Iceland’s Johanna Sigurdardottir (2009-2013) was the first known lesbian to reach world leader status and the first to marry a same sex partner while holding office.

So, back to Hillary. If she makes it to the White House she’ll get credit for making a little US history, but not on the world stage. “Maggie” Thatcher, although not a first at the international level, did make a bit of history in her day. Her “Iron Lady” nickname was an accolade, a tribute, not a criticism. She once campaigned on the slogan: “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman” and won respect.

I’m not sure the voters in America are ready to “ask a woman” to run their country. But if they are and she can get “something done” to fulfill the dreams of the founding fathers and today’s children, she could go down in history books as the greatest President ever elected. And America could lay claim to being the greatest of the nations.


Unmarked Graves for Child Bride and Daughter


The graves are unmarked in Ross Bay Cemetery. Mother and daughter lie side by side under turf made tough by winds and rain sweeping across from the nearby ocean. An ancient Yew stands guard.

If marker stones had ever recorded the names of Blanche Eliza Davie and her daughter Eliza Blanche when they were buried a few months apart in the 1800s, they disappeared long ago. The daughter died on November 20, 1875. She was 10-months-old. Her mother was 16 when she followed on April 17, 1876.

Neither rates much attention in provincial history. S.W. Jackman in his Portraits of the Premiers of British Columbia devotes little more than a paragraph to what he calls a “love laughs at the locksmith” romance between a lawyer in his early 20s and the 14-year-old girl the lawyer married “after a certain amount of opposition.”

He doesn’t source where the opposition came from. He just notes the couple “set up housekeeping in James Bay (but) the domestic establishment hardly lasted … for some twenty months after the marriage the young bride died … and was buried near her father … (and) Theodore Davie was a widower at twenty four.”

Jackman goes on to write about a grief stricken Davie taking his wife’s death stoically and burying himself in work to overcome “the loss obviously felt deeply.” He says Davie “remained loyal to the memory of ‘dear Blanche’ until he remarried in1884.”

Again he quotes no source, but then neither does he provide a mention, not a word, about the 14-year-old who gave birth to her daughter seven months after her wedding day. In the context of the times marrying a 14-year-old would not have been as shocking as it would be today, but it would be a tough.

And, it must have been a frightening time for Blanche’s mother, Louisa Celia Baker, a widow, whose husband Thomas Joseph Baker died at 42 in May 1873, three years before his daughter. His grave, as barren of signage as his daughter’s and granddaughter’s, lies maybe 50 yards away

One can only imagine the anguish and the fear a low income widow would suffer as she hoped for some support from Theodore of the well-respected, relatively-wealthy Davie family of lawyers and medical doctors with money and societal rank. And what a relief, tinged with shame, she must have felt when Theodore, to his credit, agreed to marry her daughter and she, perhaps, began to dream of better times.

Theodore was already making a name for himself in legal circles and his courtroom successes helped steer him to political victories from MLA to various cabinet posts and eventually into the Premier’s Office from 1892 to 1895. He was following his brother Alexander who had been Premier for two years, 1887 to ‘89.

But it was all to come too late to profit the Baker family, financially or socially. The Davie clan must have seemed, despite the welcome but hurried marriage, an all-powerful force.

Theodore’s older brother John was a medical doctor. He had an office on Langley Street at Fort Street as did Theodore with “residence in James Bay.” It was John who signed baby Blanche’s death certificate. It was a terse document stating name, date of death, sex, age, rank or profession –“Infant” and with “cause of death” left blank. The space left for “signature, description and residence of informant” is signed “Theodore Davie, 20 December, 1875. Father and occupant of house,” but no address.

The young mother’s “cause of death – Bright’s disease” (kidney disease) is also signed by Theodore’s brother Dr. J.C. Davie, but with the added authority of renowned Victoria medical man “Dr. Helmcken.”

There are other curious notes on official documents, enough to give an enterprising writer with time for research and ambition to write the great Canadian novel, all the material he wants for a blockbuster with movie rights to follow.

On the marriage certificate of Blanche and Theodore the first letter – or number – of the age of the groom is scratched out or written over. Instead of a simple “21” it reads “full” as though trying to avoid the charring comparison between the ages of “bridegroom 21, bride 14”.

In the “name of bride’s parents” slot the names Thomas Joseph Baker – Louisa Celia Baker are entered which is accurate, although Thomas was dead and buried.

And, there’s a touch of religious mystery. In answer to “By whom married” there is an indecipherable name followed by clearly written “rector of St. Paul’s, Esquimalt” with the ceremony held at “south Saanich church.”

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, just curious.

I confess to some disenchantment with the old Davie family that built permanent memorials for their “famous” kin in Ross Bay Cemetery, but left two children and possibly a third in unmarked graves.

A third? Cemetery records list a 15-month-old Alex W. Davie as buried with 16-year-old Blanche. He is also listed as Alex N. Davie. Another mystery. As I wrote a few paragraphs back it’s a story readymade for a grand and mysterious historic bestseller.

And, I’m available to help with the script.


“Needs Must When The Devil Drives”

“Needs must when the devil drives,” is a phrase coined around 1420. In modern language “needs most” would read “necessity compels” and it delivers the message that evil times often command responses we would rather not consider, let alone make.
That’s the way it was 76 years ago when Great Britain remained the only challenge in the world to the juggernaut of Hitler’s Nazi Germany under orders to crush by air power the tiny fortress.
British historians mark July 10, 1940 as the day the battle started, September 30 as the day it finished. German historians agree on the start date but say it didn’t end until the autumn of 1941.
I remember a summer day in 1940 watching as tiny specks of metal wove inter-twining contrails in a clear blue sky. Once in a while one of the white trails would change to black and the speck of metal would be converted to an aircraft losing height at accelerated speed, sometimes in a shallow dive as a pilot struggled for control; sometimes in fluttering spiral the pilot already dead.
Along with thousands of other civilians scattered across the southern counties of England I was bearing witness to the first great aerial clash in the history of the world with the fate of our country hanging in precarious balance. And we were losing that battle although we never knew that until long after it ended.
In the first nine days of the battle the Royal Air Force (RAF) lost 118 aircraft and almost as many pilots – including 80 Squadron and Flight Commanders – and teetered on the brink of collapse. Not that we who watched from the safety of green fields knew anything about such danger.
If we saw a plane and pilot fall to their death we assumed they were German and the British Broadcasting Corporation confirmed our assumptions each day on the news as it reported the daily losses like cricket scores – and always with the RAF slightly ahead.
We were never told how many replacement pilots were failing to return from first missions after being sent into battle with only 20 hours experience in Hurrricane or Spitfire fighters to combat battle-tested German pilots with skills honed in Spain or the blitzkrieg from Poland to Dunkirk.
Only after it was long over did we realize that close to 20 per cent of the “The Few” who eventually turned the tide from near disaster to victory were foreigners. Some were from Commonwealth countries, many more from countries already occupied by Germany.
Among the first non-Brits to join “The Few” was Josef Frantisek, a Czechoslovakian who had been a fighter pilot since 1938. When Germany occupied his home country in early 1939 he fled to Poland, moved again when Germany conquered Poland, first to France then to England.
He was by all accounts an undisciplined pilot and a danger to his colleagues when flying in formation. He would peel off from the set formation to find his own battles. His first confirmed victory was on September 2, 1940. Before the month ended he had shot down 17 German aircraft. His last “kill” was September 30, 1940. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFC).
Eight days later he was killed as he crashed while attempting to land after a routine patrol. Some say he was doing show off aerobatics to impress his girlfriend; kinder voices say he finally succumbed to battle fatigue. He was one of 87 Czechs who flew with “The Few.”
A total of 147 Polish pilots – 30 of them killed in combat – were with “The Few.” It is estimated that of the 520 RAF pilots killed in the battle, 102 were non-Brits.
More than 100 Canadians fought in the battle, 23 died, three were honoured with the Distinguished Flying Cross. I name just one for no other reason than Flight Lieutenant Howard Peter “Cowboy” Blatchford was the first Canadian of “The Few” to register what historians call “a battle victory.”
From Edmonton, Alberta, he was an “old man” in the squadron when he won his DFC. The citation tells us he was “the leader of a squadron which destroyed eight and damaged a further five enemy aircraft in one day. In the course of the combat he rammed and damaged a hostile fighter when his ammunition was expended, and then made two determined head-on feint attacks on enemy fighters, which drove them off.”
He was shot down and killed on his second “tour of duty” on May 3, 1943 while flying fighter escort to bombers on a mission over Holland.
Most Commonwealth countries plus Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Belgium, Ireland and single pilots from Palestine and Jamaica joined “The Few” – and New Zealand sent a best and a worst from down under.
Air Vice-Marshall Keith Park, a Kiwi, controlled the vital Number 11 Group with responsibility for defending South East England. So was Flying Officer B.J.G. Carbury who was named one of the top guns with 12 enemy aircraft shot down including five during one day. He was awarded the DFC in September, 1940, and won an additional bar a month later.
A year later, alas, in November 1941, it was reported in the Evening Post newspaper that “Flying Officer B.J.G.Carbury – DFC and bar – has been dismissed from the RAF. He was found guilty by a court martial of desertion, of wearing badges of the rank of flight lieutenant to which he was not entitled and of ‘behaving in a scandalous manner’ by presenting cheques knowing he had insufficient funds in the bank to meet them. The court-martial recommended he should be cashiered, but this was commuted to dismissal by the King.”
In 1940 “The Few” had room for everybody on a “necessity compels or needs must when the devil drives” basis. And we should be thankful they did and that the occasional rogue was not entirely without honour.
We are grateful to them all – 76 years later.

The Invasion Canada Refused To Join

In 2003 the USA, with strong United Kingdom support, invaded Iraq to destroy, the world was told, that nations’ stock of weapons of mass destruction.We were assured Iraq was capable of launching death by loathsome diseases or instant cremation in nuclear fire in 48 hours from a standing start. Saddam Hussein, the dictatorial leader of Iraq with acknowledged record of brutality and ruthless use of chemical weapons against civilians was a monster, a threat to the rest of the world.
It was not Hussein’s first battle with a multi-nation army led by the United States. In 1990 Iraq had invaded and occupied neighbouring Kuwait, and threatened Saudi Arabia. The “free world” responded to Kuwait’s plight with military force. Canada, under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was part of the mission launched from bases in Saudi Arabia. The liberation was swift, Iraq retreated, shattered – but with Hussein still in power, his nation battered but intact.
The First Gulf War was over but the seeds for a second were already being planted to germinate little more than a decade later with different politicians in lead roles. In the USA Bill Clinton had replaced George H.W.Bush as President. In the UK John Major had passed the keys to 10 Downing Street to Labour’s Tony Blair. In Iraq in 1995 Saddam Hussein calmly called a leadership referendum and to nobody’s surprise a large majority asked him to remain as President for another seven years.
Two years before the referendum there had been an alleged Iraqi attempt to assassinate President George H.W. Bush during a visit to Kuwait to accept that nation’s thanks for restoring its independence. Although the senior Bush appeared to take the attempt in his stride his son George W., inaugurated as Presidentin January 2003 – never forgot or forgave.
During his election campaign in 2002 George W. constantly targeted Hussein as the power behind the growing terrorist threat of El Qaeda referring to him on the hustings as “the man who tried to kill my dad.” He reminded the United Nations Security Council of the assassination attempt during a speech calling for tougher regulatory programs and embargoes on Iraq to bring Hussein to heel.
President George W. continued to warn at every opportunity of “the grave and gathering danger” of Hussein with his alleged arsenal of mass destruction weapons (WMDs) including chemical and nuclear bombs. Hussein had used chemical warfare in his old war with Iran. In 1981 Israel had destroyed his burgeoning nuclear plant (with a reactor bought from France) with a single strike air raid.
The plant was never re-built but President Bush was convinced it had been. United Nations inspectors were allowed in Iraq to search for WMDs but were ordered out of the country before anything could be discovered. In 2002 they were allowed back in with a stronger UN mandate threatening Hussein with “serious consequences” if WMDs were found.
They never did find WMDs so in March 2003 the USA with strong UK support but lacking UN approval decided to invade Iraq to find their own proof of the “dangerous threat.” Like the UN inspectors they found no MDWs.
It was the war Canada’s Prime Minister Jean Chretien had refused to support. He was rebuked by Bush and Blair – and by leading Conservatives in Canada for letting down the side. Chretien stood firm: Canada would always support a United Nations cause but not an unwarranted Unites States invasion.
On July 6 this year Sir John Chilcot made public the judgments of an investigation, demanded by the British Parliament and the people, on Britain’s role in the events and reasons that led to invasion of Iraq. Seven years in the making his 12 volume, 2.6 million word report is three times the length of the bible. It will take years to digest its many findings. For today I list just five to be read with PM Jean Chretien’s and Canada’s 2003 stand in mind. The Chilcot reports states clearly:
1) British and USA intelligence was badly flawed and subsequent assumptions went unchallenged. Their assumptions on WMDs were “presented with a certainty that was not justified.”
2) Iraq was not a threat at the time and could have been “contained” without military action.
3) (A major and telling under-statement): British Prime Minister Blair “overestimated his ability to influence” US decisions.
4) The war and occupation of Iraq was poorly planned and managed. “The evidence is there for all to see. It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day.”
5) And most damaging of the pre-war deceits: “(It)… has produced a damaging legacy, including undermining trust and confidence in government statements.”
Toward the end of 2003 they captured Saddam Hussein, tried him on charges of crimes against humanity carried out before the war, found him guilty, and just before Christmas hanged him.
Other than the many rebukes in the Chilcot report – which hasn’t attracted much attention in the USA – no further action appears to be planned. In one of his initial notes to President Bush when the war in Iraq started to lurch from crisis to crisis Prime Minister Blair wrote:”If we win quickly, everyone will be our friend, if we don’t…. recriminations will start fast.”
We shall have to wait and see if that’s one prophecy he got right.

The Danger of Passionate Intensity

It’s worth remembering as the world continues to sort through the entrails of Britain’s referendum decision to exit the European Union that in a democracy the majority may have the right to rule, but that doesn’t mean they are always right in the paths they choose.
As Geoffrey Robertson one of England’s leading barristers is reported to have said as the Brexit forces won the “leave or remain” contest last month:”Our democracy does not allow, much less require, decision making by referendum. Democracy has never meant the tyranny of simple majority, much less the tyranny of the mob.”
It is not a point of view in much favour with the people who, having elected a group of citizens to run their affairs then insist that all major decisions be approved – or rejected – by nation-wide votes. It doesn’t seem to matter how complicated the issue, whether dealing with macro-economics, international trade agreements or ways to resolve the refugee-immigration crisis. Referendum advocates are convinced simple “yes or no” orders from the people to the government they deny the right to govern will bring peace and prosperity to their world.
And thus it was an unwise Prime Minister David Cameron who in the heat of an election campaign promised the restless half of his people what he thought he heard them demanding – a referendum on Britain’s future in the EU. He heard the demands, was confident that though they were being made by millions he could rally even more millions to the “remain” side of a simple “yes or no, stay or leave,” vote.
He was wrong, only by couple percentage points, but enough to throw his country into political chaos and overwhelm the world with fearful uncertainty. And he was wrong because while as Prime Minister he had heard the rumbles of complaint from the masses he had failed to read the depth of the racial hatred in the hearts and minds of so many of his people. As the referendum campaign unfolded both sides resorted to the old political campaign ploy of proclaiming a few facts supporting their position while denying any that challenged.
Both sides were guilty of lies to support their cause and the atmosphere in that country once renowned for its fairness and tolerance became poisonous. It became as Shakespeare described it in the 1600’s – and I confess to cherry-picking his lines from Richard II:
“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England…..This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land, dear for her reputation in the world, is now leased out….England, bound in with the triumphant sea….Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame, with inky blots and rotten parchment bonds….That England that was wont to conquer others….Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.”
Other times, other issues, it’s true, but also a prophetic view of a world once described by the poet William Butler Yeats as a place where “everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
“Passionate intensity” – such a wonderful force when unleashed in a just cause. Such a fearsome force when fueled by the anger and racist contempt of a referendum majority.