Month: August 2016

We Should Be Weeping For Ourselves

You may have forgotten his name but you will never forget the face of five year old Omran Dagneesh as he sat covered with grime and blood, eyes wide but uncomprehending, waiting for medical care in Aleppo, Syria.

Tentatively, his left hand touched his savaged left cheek. There was no life in the child’s eyes as his gaze fell on the blood on his fingers and he hesitated, as though aware he shouldn’t be doing this, before gently wiping his hand on the seat of the ambulance where he sat waiting for a doctor who had more urgent calls to answer.

The news agency bringing that heart-breaking tragedy to my safe, comfortable TV room informed me the pictures had “gone viral” when posted on the Internet. What’s left of a decent world wept for Omran, even though 24 hours later many would not remember his name.

Unfortunately, there is no logical reason why this little victim should ever be singled out for lasting memory. He is but one of the 10,000 or more children smashed or slaughtered in Syria since the current war broke out in March 2011. My numbers from the United Nations are estimates the esteemed organization admits can never be precise and are usually conservatively low.

Susan Bissell, head of UNICEF Child Protection Programs, reported two years ago that far too many children around the world are caught in situations of conflict where they are killed, maimed and subjected to untold horrors: “We are saying at present, though I suspect this is an underestimation, that about one billion children live in countries and territories affected by conflict. It sort of feels like the world is falling apart for children.”

Yes, indeed, but it isn’t news that the world is falling apart. It has been doing that for children – indeed, all civilians – in times of conflict for centuries. It is just that the velocity of disintegration has increased since science and invention made old “battle fields” universal. Once fought as set-pieces, today’s wars have no boundaries and there’s no safe place to hide.

In The New Yorker two years ago Robin Wright wrote of the new ways of war and the killing of children. The killing ground was Rwanda in 1994 where “in less than four months an estimated three hundred thousand children were slashed, hacked, gunned or burned to death. Among the dead were newborns.” He added the sadly true and chilling line: “The Rwandan slaughter was not unique.”

One of the more frightening statistics compiled by the United Nations tells us when military and civilian casualties were tallied for the duration of WW2, civilians accounted for two-thirds of the dead. By the end of the 20th Century the ratio had shifted to 90 per cent. And a large proportion were children 12 years old or younger,

In our advanced state of intelligence we can now boast that when we go to war we lose more civilians than we do soldiers, sailors and airmen.

Since the end of WW2 we have heard endless stories of the Holocaust but we can still be shocked when we try to absorb the fact that six million Jews were executed in a decade of unbelievable madness in Germany. We do not hear so often that the Nazis and their acolytes also killed 1.5 million children. Tens of thousands of them were Romani (gypsy) children. Also on the execution lists were many, many German children with physical and mental problems. They were executed because they consumed food, but contributed nothing to the Nazi war machine.

At the United Nations, past and present brutalities are discussed and condemned and the world is informed that those who commit “war crimes” will be punished. And occasionally when opposing forces collapse as though exhausted by killing, leaders are brought to justice, tried, and sentenced to long terms in jail or to death. But there is no end to the terror.

From our safe places we weep for Omran Dagneesh and the million other children who, every day, are battered, bruised, and killed by malice, intolerance, hatred or religious madness.

We should be weeping for ourselves. Mankind has triumphed over many once incurable diseases and will conquer even more. We have ventured to the edge of the stars and invented miracles beyond belief. But, we have failed to grasp and hold the one quality of life so free to obtain, so hard to hold … the ability to love and respect our neighbours, near and far, as we love ourselves.


The Power of the Press Undiminished

“By all means let us have clean politics. This paper has long been laboring to keep Provincial politics clean. But with little success.”

The appeal was the lead editorial in the Daily Colonist on Tuesday, August 22, 1916, as the British Columbia moved into the final weeks of a general election campaign with voting day set for September 14. It was a two party fight with the Conservatives favoured to defeat the Liberals in a canter.

The Liberals were under the leadership of Harland Carey Brewster who was making a second attempt to get least a foot inside the Legislative Chamber. Brewster’s first shot for the brass ring was in the election of 1912 when he waged verbal war against Richard McBride’s Tories – and suffered wipe-out.

Of the 42 seats in the 1912 house McBride’s Conservatives won 39, the Social Democrats and the Socialist Party of Canada managed one each with the final seat going to an Independent Conservative. No Liberals. Two years later McBride resigned after being appointed British Columbia’s Agent General in London, England. He was replaced by his right hand man William John Bowser. Brewster was ready for the re-match.

So the Colonist, which had revered McBride along with most of the province, quickly reaffirmed its support with its demure request for a good clean fight especially from “the Opposition (which) has poured forth such a flood of vileness.”

Having waxed hard and long for “clean politics,” the newspaper dropped the gloves for a little editorial bare knuckles seemingly unaware that Brewster without a seat in the Legislature was not and never had been leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

“The truth is,” it roared, “that the Liberals have no other weapon at their command than misrepresentation and vituperation.”

That was just for openers. The Colonist declared that the Liberals in the two years they were wandering the political wilderness with no voice in the Legislature had swamped British Columbia and Canada in “the dirtiest mess ever disclosed in provincial politics for absolute, needless, nastiness. It is without parallel in the history of the Dominion.”

It named M. A. Macdonald, a Liberal candidate in Vancouver, and the Provincial Liberal Association as the active authors of unpleasant words and accusations claiming private detectives had been employed “to snoop” on the Conservatives.

The newspaper strongly hinted some of the vigilantes were from south of the 49th Parallel. “One of the snoopers was afterwards jailed for perjury … another is in jail in Seattle for some offence and, as far as we have seen, has not denied that he has been guilty of bigamy.”

If the Colonist editor was alive today Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton would be making offers for service as a speech writer. He – and we can be sure that in 1916 it was a “he” – could work either side of the fence. Who could deny the appeal of: “Let us by all means have clean politics; (it would) begin by ceasing to allude, as the Liberals do, that every Conservative minister is the incarnation of dishonesty and either engaged in stealing public money or else planning to do so.”

The Colonist writer saved one final broadside for the Liberal power brokers whose blind support for Liberals “is enough to make one ill …and yet it is to put such men in power that Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper is lending all the weight of his distinguished name and such influence as he has been able to acquire. Clean politics; political purity. Doesn’t it jar you?”

Yes, and it still does. As do editorial writers, columnists and twitters who cite assumptions as facts.

(In 1916, voters noted the Colonist rhetoric, ignored it and elected 36 Liberals. Only nine Conservatives and two Independents survived. So much for the power of the press which remains undiminished and unchanged a century later.)


Will Trump Have the Courage To Quit?

There is a flicker of hope for the United States of America sparkling in the dark shadows of the current campaign to elect a new president.

It’s not much of a flicker but it’s there. It started with this whispered question: “Will Donald Trump quit before the November voting day?” Then it became a legitimate topic for discussion in many major U.S. newspapers and magazines, amongst prominent TV and radio commentators and amongst folks who talk about such things in bars and coffee houses or over the chatter fences of the Internet.

Newspapers from coast to coast have posed the question in articles, editorials and opinion pieces. A consistent theme is the demand that Trump abandon his bombastic rude and ignorant arrogance, or quit the race to save the Republican Party and spare the country further embarrassments from his careless tongue.

Heavyweights like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times have tried to assure their readers that while sudden departure would create a need for expert crisis management, the end result would be a plus for America and a world that’s looking for calmer heads of state.

The racier New York Daily News has been bolder. It gave Trump a full front page with a photograph and a six word statement. THIS ISN’T A JOKE ANY MORE. On its inside pages it strongly suggested Trump was long past his best before date and the time had come for him to quit.

It was all enough for the Republican National Convention Committee to wake up to the problems its presidential choice was creating and check the party rule book to see if it offered a way out. The problem is without precedent in the United States. A nominated candidate has never been changed between nomination day and voting day.

They didn’t have to look far. The authors of the rules appear to have anticipated a Trump scenario as the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out: “Rule 9 – Filling Vacancies in Nominations: “The Republican Party Committee is hereby authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President of the United States or the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States as nominated by the National convention…”  It goes on to outline procedures to nominate a replacement.

In the preamble just quoted the choice of the word “declination” is most interesting. The prophetic common usage when applied to the Republican’s Trump dilemma is: “A sloping or bending down; a falling off as in deterioration; a deviation, as from a specific direction or standard; a refusal to accept.”

Sounds like an easy decision for the Republicans currently lining up to say they will not vote for their duly nominated candidate. However, while Trump’s procession of outrageous statements shocks many, the man retains a strong following. Not least among his supporters is the National Rifle Association, the powerful, often intimidating, gun lobby that makes the right to bear arms a holy cause.

From their ranks come the armed citizen militia groups existing in almost every state. Rarely does a year pass without one or more of these groups seeking confrontation with civic, state or federal authorities. Republican Party leaders know all too well that the spark of hope that Trump will be forced to quit could also be the spark that touches off a major gun-cult challenge. Civilian militia groups love any excuse to exercise their gun carrying rights.

So, the easy decision becomes fraught with “what ifs.” The spark of hope created by the possibility of Trump retiring before voting day remains. Not as strong as many might wish, but still there.

There’s hope that very soon Donald Trump will realize his “glory is like a circle in the water which never ceases to enlarge itself … ’til by broad spreading it disperses to naught.”  His time as a potential leader in a world desperately needing peaceful times is already too long.


Sex, Deception and Politics

Victoria (Tuesday, January 12, 1897) – It was raining with a 25 km wind blowing across Victoria’s park-like Ross Bay Cemetery to give the six degrees Celsius an edge. An average West Coast winter day. Mourners around the open grave in “Block F, Plot 35” would be cold and glad when final prayers were uttered and they could go home to a hot rum or a modest sherry.

The following day the Victoria Daily Colonist made note of the event: “The infant son of Mr. and Mrs. Horace Davie of Somenos was interred yesterday at Ross Bay Cemetery. Rev Canon Beaulands officiating at Christ Church Cathedral and at graveside.”

It cleared up one mystery for me – and created several more. My July 23 blog told the story of a child bride and her 10 month old baby lying side by side in an unmarked grave in Ross Bay Cemetery. It ended with a note that buried in the same grave as Blanche Eliza Davie, the 16-year old mother, was an infant boy little more than a year old named in cemetery records as Alex W Davie.

I wondered if he was a son of Theodore Davies who had re-married in 1884 eight years after the deaths of Blanche Eliza and 10 month old daughter, Eliza Blanche – and if he was why would he be designated to share a grave with his father’s first wife who had lived and died before he was born? It didn’t make sense so on one of the brightest days of summer I was back in BC Government Archives to pick up the paper trails which are sometimes enlightening but not always accurate.

Alex’s death certificate seems simple enough: Name, Alexander Waldron Davie; died, January 11, 1897; sex, male; age 1year and 10 weeks; rank or profession, infant; where, Victoria BC; cause of death, laryngitis; name of physician; Dr.J.C.Davie (one of the Davie family brothers). Then a strange note in the box asking for the “Signature, description and residence of informant”: The response: “Chas. Hayward, undertakers, Victoria, BC.” It can be argued that the intent of the question was surely to indentify the person who reported the death – which is usually one step before the undertaker is called.

With the date of death and the age of Alex I reach back a year and 10-weeks for his birth certificate. Place of birth Somenos: Date June 11th, 1897 – which observant readers will note is about six months after his registered death in January of that year. There’s a possible clue to the error where it is noted as being filed at Somenos on “this 15th day of June, 1898” with information provided by “Alice M. Davie” of Ingleview, Somenos, maiden name Alice Mary Porter, mother of young Alex and presumed wife of Samuel Horace Davie. If June 11, 1897 should read 1896 that would mean the birth was not officially registered for two years – which was not without precedent in early days of settlement.

Horace was one of five sons of medical Doctor John Chapman Davie who settled in the Duncan area in 1862. He died in 1869. His oldest son Alexander went into law and politics and was Premier from July 1887 to August 1889. His youngest, Theodore, was Premier from July 1892 to March 1895. Second son John followed his father into medicine while William and Horace stayed with farming.

Two notes on the birth certificate of infant Alex command interest. The doctor in attendance was John the younger (who also attended the death of 16-year-old Blanche Eliza and the birth and death of her daughter 10 month old Eliza Blanche). He was assisted by “Miss Jr Jones – accoucher and nurse” which would indicate difficult birth.

The certificate notes: “Father was absent shortly after the birth of child” – which could mean heavy celebrations, serious domestic problems, or that Horace was out working on a government forest clearing or trail building contract.

There are records of him being contracted to remove all dead and fallen timber from the Cowichan Trail between “Goldstream and the Somenos Indian Ranch on the Cowichan River.” The trail was to be restored to “the full original width of 12 feet throughout” and made safe and easily passable for cattle and horsemen for the entire distance as specified.” Horace was being paid $100 on completion.

None of the above answers the original question as to why infant Alexander Waldron Davie was buried in the same grave as his Uncle Theodore’s teenage folly or how the 15-month old child’s last place of residence was the undertaker’s mortuary.

But as I wrote two weeks ago – this is a readymade outline for a budding author aspiring to write the great Canadian novel. It’s got it all … sex, intrigue, politics, questionable professional conduct, falsified or accidentally prepared official documents, power, prejudice, a little gallantry here and there and a lot of sadness.

If I had the talent I’d give it a go myself.