Monday, 28 November 2011

Wi-Fi: The Failures of School Boards and the Health Protection Branch

Terence Stone

We are all currently bathing in microwave radiation; so pervasive have transmissions become from a huge range of equipment that its difficult to argue the rationale for putting the brakes on just one more source of emission—but we simply must! Since we have all been bathing in this radiation at incrementally increased levels for some time now, it really is a good analogy to being in a bath: you lie in hot water and incrementally add a little more hot water every few minutes, until you notice your skin getting red and your heart pounding in an effort to cool at the surface of the skin.

Now I bring my baby grandchild into the bath with me. He screams, but I pay no attention. I may be uncomfortable for a while after the bath; unfortunately, I’ve scalded my grandchild who needs medical attention.

So where do we draw the line? Let’s not, eh! It’s too complicated. Let's just add another bucket of boiling water to the microwave bath; we’ll get used to it—no worries; be happy.

Unfortunately, this is an ignorant attitude. It does not take into account that like the bathwater analogy, our children—yes they’re all ours!—are far more susceptible to the effects of radiation than adults. DNA fragmentation occurs at low levels and is cumulative—no less than for the people living on the margins of Fukushima’s no-go zones. So why would most of Canada’s school boards approve of Wi-Fi when they could stay with hard-wired systems? Well, it’s probably because they have departments of Innovation and Learning Technologies, which by their very raison d’etre are fundamentally interested in technologies and not children. They are in the bedrooms of Corporations whose interest is in profit and not children.

Surely, you might say, the Health Protection Branch of the Canadian Government has the health of our children as part of its mandate! Yes; but history reveals over an over how this department of government—under-resourced and subject to subtle steerage by Corporations and their Government bedfellows—has repeatedly failed in its mandate to protect. It is anathema to have the word “protection” in the name of this department, just as I’m coming to really understand that “trustee” in the title School Board Trustee is anathema to the trust we are asked to place in them.

Having once worked as a corporate liaison to the Health Protection Branch, I am aware of so many failures to protect Canadians that a researched list would quickly fill several volumes of Hustler Magazine, displacing its pornography with the pornography of wilful failure to protect our children.

Now it’s important to acknowledge that some school boards such as Saanich, here on Vancouver Island, and individual schools across Canada have embraced the precautionary principle. California has rejected the use of Wi-Fi in schools, as has most of Europe. Surely there is a little smoke being produced by the heat of microwave radiation or why would there be so many notable exceptions to Wi-Fi use in schools?

Following is a letter written by an intelligent, concerned mother, qualified professionally in the health sciences, who has taken the time to research and understand the implications of Wi-Fi as an unnecessary and dangerous exposure for her children. She wrote to her Ward Trustee and the School Board Director, Innovation and Learning Technologies. She provided express permission for me to reprint without names (and what does that say about our vaunted democracy?).

Hi [Ward Trustee],

I appreciate you getting back to me on this matter. 
In my research I have found that Health Canada's "safe level limits" are too high in comparison to many other countries, in particular European countries whose safety level limit is up to one thousand times less than Canada's. This "safe level limit" is based on the “thermal effect”, the limits where the heating of human tissues occur, which originated from naval radar military research over 40 years ago. Many physicist and biologists have demanded that this be reviewed, and think that children's exposure to wireless internet  "Wi-Fi" for long periods of time (5 days a week, 6 hours a day) is going to have major long-term consequences, and will be even fatal for many people.
I do not want my children or any other children to be "guinea pigs" to this new technology. I think that Calgary Board of Education is making a BIG mistake by installing wireless devices in schools. It is our moral responsibility as parents, teachers, trustees, and other authorities to research this issue more in depth and practice the precautionary principal; since there has been absolutely no research done on children (who are much more vulnerable to radio frequencies than adults) and the effects of “Wi-Fi”.
You might be interested to know that there is one city in France in particular whose Mayor has banned wireless internet from all schools and public places. (see 1st website below). Also other public schools in other cities have decided to independently remove “Wi-Fi” due to its unknown effects (see
Long term exposure to “Wi-FI” is going to be an epidemic. Asbestos, DDT and Lead was deemed “safe” by Government Agencies such as Health Canada and the World Health Organization, and not to mention numerous prescription drugs, including Thalidomide.
I am asking you, as a Trustee, to do your part and advocate for the children in the Calgary Board of Education School system. We all have a moral obligation, I am doing my part, will you please do yours?  It is easy to “pass the buck” and not take accountability. ”Wi-Fi” is simply a convenience, not a necessity. The risks don’t outweigh the benefits. I hope that you will research this information and are able to support me in promoting a precautionary approach for the sake of our children’s health.
You might be interested in looking at the following websites for more information:

Thank you for your time, [Trustee].

Kind Regards,
Jane Doe, RN BN

A copy of this letter was also sent to the Director, Innovation and Learning Technology, at the Board of Education. His reply follows:

Hi Jane Doe,

Thank you for the email and the attachment of the letter you composed to trustees. You have clearly spent a great deal of time doing this and I appreciate the work you put into pulling this information together. Reviewing this has been helpful in ensuring we have data which incorporates multiple perspectives.

Like you, the Calgary Board of Education takes matters pertaining to health and safety very seriously. We
also take our responsibility to fulfill our mission of preparing our students to achieve success as active and contributing participants in society very seriously as well [the latter clearly trumps the former in order of priority]. This endeavour does mean working to best leverage the learning resources ["leverage"--taken straight from the discourse of economics, that discredited "science"] and tools of our students’ time, many of which are digital in nature and accessed via networks.

I appreciate your perspectives and feel the information you have forwarded clearly indicates that continued research
[pre- or post-mortem?] in relation to wireless is necessary to remove some of the ambiguity that exists regarding RF radiation emitted by wireless technology. In relation to the matter of safety of wireless, I believe this underscores the importance of us taking our guidance from the authoritative government body, Health Canada, whose role it is to establish public health policy and set safety standards. Clearly setting safety standards is not a core part of our business [there you go, it's a "business", not a public trust with our children]. As a result, our system policies and procedures relating to the installation and operation of wireless networking infrastructure must based upon and comply with standards set by Health Canada. At present, emissions from the wireless technology used by the Calgary Board of Education is well below the safe limits identified. Should Health Canada change the safe exposure limits and guidance regarding wireless networking technology at any point in the future the Calgary Board of Education would take measures to re-align our use of wireless networking technology so as to be consistent with these new standards.

You make a very good point about how specific health standards have changed over time as new scientific evidence comes to light. It is my hope that Health Canada will support conducting research that will further investigate the appropriateness of current standards.
I hope you can appreciate that it would be inappropriate for the Calgary Board of Education to be setting or imposing health-related guidelines that are inconsistent with those established by Health Canada [No. It would be kinda like...errrrr...leadership, since you already acknowledge that there is a history of Health Canada getting things very wrong!]

Again, I appreciate you taking the time and for being proactive in relation to the use of wireless. You are welcome to contact me if you wish to discuss this matter more fully.

Best regards,
Director, Innovation and Learning Technologies

[Square-bracketed comments mine, the blogger]

Friday, 25 November 2011

Nycole Turmel Letter and My Reply


Thank you for copying my office on your email highlighting several area of importance for Canada to take a leadership role at the upcoming United Nations Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa.

First, New Democrats were surprised and dismayed to learn from the Environment Minister that opposition MPs were not included in the Canadian delegation to COP17 later this month. For decades, Canadian delegations to international conferences have been understood to represent Canada - not merely the governing party. We strongly oppose this attempt to block opposition voices.

Canada is one of the world's top ten greenhouse gas emitters and we know this is due largely to the Harper government's promotion of oil sands development. Already, going into this conference the Environment Minister has declared that Canada won't be swayed by "opponents" into changing policies.

In contrast, New Democrats strongly believe that good environmental policy and economic well-being are not in conflict - rather they depend on each other. Canada should invest in solar, wind, wave, and geothermal sources; work with provinces and territories to share clean energy; and ensure energy conservation in transportation and building methods. Not only will this have a long-term impact in terms of creating high-quality, permanent jobs, but it will also ensure that we build a clean and sustainable country for the benefit of future generations.

You may also be familiar with the NDP Climate Change Accountability Act, which legislates long-term targets to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions - ensuring that Canada meets many of its international obligations. The bill twice passed in the House of Commons, and both times the legislative process was stopped by unelected senators. We continue to promote this legislation which was recently re-introduced by NDP Environment critic Megan Leslie.

You can read more about our party's ideas here:

Again, thank you for writing. Rest assured that our team will continue to speak out on this matter. The government must take action for future generations -- it's time for leadership that will move Canada forward.

Best regards,

Nycole Turmel, M.P.
Interim Leader of the Official Opposition New Democratic Party of Canada

Hello Nycole,

I know you and your party are working on in the spirit of Jack Layton, and I appreciate that. From your perspective I imagine that is a strength the party draws on and will continue to draw on. He was an incredibly principled man for mainstream politics.

For me, the problems we face have crossed a line somewhere and I can't tell you where it was. Tinkering will no longer work. I believe the ideas you have set out in your email are very important, but they do not address the larger systemic issues embedded in systems domestic that are inseparable from foreign policy: NAFTA has to go; WTO agreements need to be torn up in the face of the multi-nationals that benefit at the expense of communities, biodiversity and local solutions across the globe; the World Bank is morally bankrupt; the IMF remains the henchman of the WB. All of this is behind US imperialism and its claim to manifest destiny.

My wife and I recently returned from a one year trip to South-and South-East Asia; brutalized by, primarily, the British, French and more recently the Americans, one would have to be blind to not see the destruction that has been left behind, not least of which are the many millions of innocents murdered in the name of "defense" or "strategic interests". The corruption of both has been internalized so that the political elite have merely assumed the mantle of their erstwhile imperial masters.

Canada needs to uncouple itself from its incestuous partnerships with private industry: health-care; education; public transport; power generation (including new initiatives); water supply; the fossil-fuel industry--all these and more should be nationalized--brought back firmly and irrevocably into the public domain.

Please, Nycole, this is a time for visionary thinking and action. The NDP along with the other political parties has to step way outside the box and slam the lid shut if it is to have any relevance ten or twenty years from now, or forego a legacy of moral rectitude in the diseased eyes of my grandchildren.


Terence Stone

Sunday, 20 November 2011

“From the Republic of Conscience” by Seamus Heaney—A poem for our times

When I landed in the republic of conscience
it was so noiseless when the engines stopped
I could hear a curlew high above the runway
At immigration, the clerk was an old man
who produced a wallet from his homespun coat
and showed me a photograph of my grandfather
The woman in customs asked me to declare
the words of our traditional cures and charms
to heal dumbness and avert the evil eye
No porters. No interpreter. No taxi.
You carried your own burden and very soon
your symptoms of creeping privilege disappeared

Fog is a dreaded omen there, but lightning
spells universal good and parents hang
swaddled infants in trees during thunder storms
Salt is their precious mineral. And seashells
are held to the ear during births and funerals.
The base of all inks and pigments is seawater
Their sacred symbol is a stylized boat
The sail is an ear, the mast a sloping pen,
The hull a mouth-shape, the keel an open eye.
At their inauguration, public leaders
must swear to uphold unwritten law and weep
to atone for their presumption to hold office
and to affirm their faith that all life sprang
from salt in tears which the sky-god wept
after he dreamt his solitude was endless

I came back from that frugal republic
with my two arms the one length, the customs woman
having insisted my allowance was myself
The old man rose and gazed into my face
and said that was official recognition
that I was now a dual citizen
He therefore desired me when I got home
to consider myself a representative
and to speak on their behalf in my own tongue
Their embassies, he said, were everywhere
but operated independently
and no ambassador would ever be relieved

Friday, 18 November 2011

Wasps: A Parable of Global Survival

In central Sri Lanka there is a tiny village called Sigiriya. It’s claim to fame is a mammoth magma plug, Sigirya Rock, which rises to the sky. Here the palimpsest of time’s pages and contradictory history leaves scholars floundering for something that can be definitively claimed about the purposes to which the rock, its deserted gardens and city have been put throughout the millennia.

I suppose the best analogy I can find is to suggest that somehow we can know about the pre-historical purposes and meanings beneath the foundations of European Gothic Cathedrals left by Saxons, Celts, or other prehistoric pagans. Certainly hubris is a great destroyer that constantly seeks to erase or co-opt and transform previous realities into the dominant cultural ego of any age; and so we tell each other newly edited stories which, when taken too literally, detract from the impressions in our own blood, bone and sinew—in our hearts and the spirit of our intuitive nature—the simple, but not easy act of listening to the rock out of which the images are shaped; the ground beneath our feet that bore the weight of lives lived in pain, and grief, and hope, and joy, and victory and oppression.

Much of the literature foregrounds the features of the rock as primarily a Therevada Buddhist site in its function. One Buddhist scholar I met on the way up the rock suggested that it was an early Mahayana Buddhist site, which would account for some of the grandeur, in contrast to the greater austerity of early Theravada Buddhism.

Fewer opinions foreground its function as Monarchical; although the paws of a great lion one would have had to pass beneath halfway up the rock is one of the ostentatiously palatial structures favouring the notion of a great kingdom. This is supported by popular local myth that Sigirya was configured as the rock fortress of King Kassapa (477-495 AD) after the patricide of his father, the king of Anuradhapura a little to the north.

However, there is no ignoring many signs of religious accommodation; consequently the either/or debate doesn’t do a thing for me. I’d much rather read the this and that of all I saw, particularly in view of how the kingdoms of Sri Lanka have been founded on a patronage of Buddhism which, reciprocally, has been used to reinforce imperial power. On the other hand, through the ebb and flow of influence and utility, there may have been times when a largely monastic function superseded its imperial role, and vice versa

There are suggestions that the rock was inhabited in pre-historic times, something highly likely given the natural caves, crevices and overhangs that are to be found everywhere over the surface of this magma plug from an extinct volcano; for unless this land was completely uninhabited by human life, it would only be a branch of hominid headed for extinction that could not see the many benefits of dwelling here. Why the civilization fell, whatever its form was, must also remain shrouded in mystery, since the rock at several levels would have been unassailable to sheer military tactics and might.

After all of this contentious speculation, I became more intrigued by the incredibly beautiful and well preserved murals on the rock face half way up, and inaccessible without the aid of modern steel scaffolding. A stretch of steel walkway along the rock face opens onto a natural courtyard where the great lions paws mark the pathway to the final ascent to the summit. It’s in this courtyard that several signs warn visitors to remain silent to prevent wasp attacks. A large, finely meshed cage is available as a citadel should an attack occur; and they do on average about once per year.

Pressure had been mounting for several years to exterminate the wasps for the safety of the tourists. Conservationists resisted. The locals protested based on their belief that these wasps were the reincarnated army of King Kassapa and that they were here to protect the remains of the kingdom.

Business is business and the extermination lobby won; all the nests were destroyed four or five years ago. The following year a curious thing happened. One of the custodians noticed an infestation of insects beginning to eat away at the beautiful murals that had survived two-thousand years. It didn’t take long for experts to realize that the natural predators of the insects were the wasps that had become such a threat to noisy tourists. King Kassapa’s reincarnated army protecting the old kingdom? Mmmmm! The wasps have now returned and the murals are safe again, as is the peace of Sigirya; and if noisy tourists don’t respect it? Well, you can count on the wasps.

It’s a lovely little story of equilibrium as a natural principle; and it informs for me the correction of global destruction by unbridled greed—like the money grubbers at the gates of Sigirya—that needs to take place if civilizations are to survive. It seems to me that the revolutionary hordes of the Arab Spring and the Occupy protesters in the West are like the wasps of Sigirya. There has been a persistent effort at exterminating the spirit of the masses, but equilibrium will out. It seems a natural correction.

Could it be that we—the 99%—are a reincarnation of a collective-unconscious, acting as a single organism, like the wasps of Sigirya, that has at last been awakened by the noise and destruction of Capitalists behaving as if they are merely privileged tourists objectifying the globe, rather than being of it? We are now attending to the simple, but not easy act of listening to the earth out of which images are shaped; the ground beneath our feet that bore the weight of lives lived in pain, and grief, and hope, and joy, and victory and oppression. It’s an interesting thought as we all huddle and then swarm from our hives of activity.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The "Occupy" Movement Before the Rising Tide: "Witnessing"

Terence Stone

The Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement are about social justice; but even before anybody seems ready to call for the specifics of change, we talk, reflect and find periods of stillness. It’s not inertia or lack of specific purpose that characterizes the Movement's activity at this time. The people who have mobilized are, at the same time as they are protesting, doing intuitively what functional cultures have done forever—"witnessing". The unspoken call to “witness”—to witness all we have become so wilfully blind to know—precedes the real rising of the tide.

What are the edges of injustices we’ve come to observe through a television screen or movie lens like a gunner through a gun-sight? What are the deeper injustices filtered by the media? What does it mean to really go beyond observing and grasp firmly the edges of knowing and hence understanding?

An economist and his investment-banker wife recently argued with me that the last 50 years has been the most peaceful period globally in the entire history of the human race. They both believed it, looking as they choose through the gun-sight of targeted profitability after the bombing is done.

It’s not easy—witnessing—when we’re out of the habit. In fact most of us have become downright cowards. I’ve found too often my own inclination to turn away, but decided to take my first lesson from eleven-year-old Avjit Halder who was born into, and raised in, a Calcutta brothel (Born into Brothels, 2003). He faces a haunting photograph of a veiled woman and addresses his Western entourage: “This is a good picture. We get a good sense of how these people live; and though there is sadness in it, and though it’s hard to face, we must look at it, because it is truth.” Raised in circumstances that would be difficult for us to imagine, this child, given the opportunity to turn away does exactly the opposite—he turns to face and "witness" what he sees,“because it is truth”.

Arundhati Roy who wrote the masterpiece, The God of Small Things, shunned the cushy life that fame and fortune could have brought her. Instead, she deliberately rejected it all in favour of agitating for justice in her beloved India. She has fought the abuses of Monsanto, GE, Enron, her own government’s occupation of Kashmir, displacement of the indigenous Adivasis and Dalits (untouchables, or “those who are broken”) because it was the right thing to do. The advice she gives in this time of blindness is first of all to ritually witness: “Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget”. (“The End of Imagination”).

The Killing Tree: A Haunting

Terence Stone

I look at trees differently now, ever since Nancy, my wife, and I visited the killing fields of Cambodia. They have a life beyond the visibly statuesque form they take, immobile. Something about each one is diferent. It takes a special kind of attention we all posses to see this, but rarely use. Trees talk; they may even cry; they are custodians of memory.

Ever since our visit to the killing fields of Boeung Choeung Ek ("Crow's Feet Pond"), fifteen kilometres to the south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I've been haunted. In the two months since then I haven’t been able to shake the immanence of the killing tree against which thousands of children were slaughtered. At random moments and in fragments of dreams like shards of bone I find myself with images and thoughts of the children who died there—their last moments: the last thing their eyes saw, or ears heard, a split second before the obliteration of consciousness—and now feel increasingly compelled to know more about the killing tree itself.

In peace...

For example, I discovered that the killing tree was called the chankiri tree. At first I understood this to be Khmer for "killing", but could find no translation that would confirm it. Cumulative hours of web searching revealed little else until I came upon a reference to the chankiri tree as a cottonwood tree, common to the tropics. Somewhere else, shockingly, I found that the chankiri tree is also known as “The Tree of Life”. Since accumulating these fragments of information, I continue to search for other references that might confirm or refute my findings, but have found nothing. Why, I thought, has this become such an obsession?

More than two thousand children were brought from Tuol Sleng by truck with a parent or parents, to arrive as the last of daylight died in the west. There they were torn from the last pair of arms that would ever cling to protect them and were delivered to their executioner, a young Khmer Rouge soldier, who took each by the legs and formally laughed to demonstrate being devoid of compassion or mercy as he swung the child’s head against the trunk of the tree. I’m sure it was over quickly for most, but if it wasn’t, then the executioner would swing and laugh again until the trembling or convulsing form demonstrated appropriate obedience to this terminal law of Angkor.

The day we walked the path through Boeung Choeung Ek children were singing in a nearby school. Their sweet voices enchanting the loops and harmonies of a beautiful Khmer melody that drifted over this place of cruelty and death. I had not yet come upon the tree. When I did, I read the sign that children were beaten at the tree, but didn’t take in fully what this meant. What I did feel was a compulsion to lay my hand upon the tree and find some kind of pulse—to feel something witnessed by this tree—the only living thing retaining the memory in some form of what exactly happened to each of the children brought here. My hand inexplicably lingered; something was being communicated and I felt death palpable. Nearby, in lyrical defiance of the past, the children still sang.

It was only after stepping away and I read the information sheet that was provided on entry to the site that I understood the grisly details of the method of execution. I was horrified to realize that the very place where I laid my hand would have been the exact place of impact of the children’s heads. Numbly, I tried to take in what had happened in the square metre of ground on which I had stood and to which I now returned. The children still sang golden notes that drifted over the undulating field and through the branches of the trees, and I could neither separate nor put the two experiences together.

The children have been playing

I stared at the place where my hand had rested, expecting that it would surrender some knowledge, but nothing more came to me. My eyes drifted down to the roots at the right of the tree where six bricks were arranged at right angles to each other against the trunk; a termite hill was forming over them from which a string of prayer beads hung; articles of children’s clothing seemed to be emerging from the soil; a rose had been placed in the arrangement; a drinking straw protruded from one of the soil encrusted bricks; a candy wrapper and various leaves were set around. The bricks reminded me of the torture wing and first cell block of Tuol Sleng. After this initial shock of recognition, I remembered how the Jewish children of Auschwitz had drawn butterflies and enchanted forests in order to escape the horror of their fate before they too were slaughtered. I looked down again at the base of the tree and thought, “The children have been playing”; and nearby still the children sang.

I now think that all this has since been the measure of my obsession about the tree. I remember the thousands of photographs we’d seen earlier that day of the prisoners at Tuol Sleng. Few of them were of children unless they were sitting beside mothers as they had their mug shots taken, holding name and number in front. In some of the photographs, the children were mere infants in their mothers’ arms. What were missing were their names—all of them denied even basic identity as each truckload of the condemned brought each of these invisible children closer to obscene sacrifice and perhaps some perverse mercy against the trunk of the killing tree—and the children at the nearby school still sang.

Numbered mother with her anonymous baby

At the very least I want to know the names of the children who were broken on this tree. I want to read each name out loud. I want to struggle with the pronunciations and repeat each name exactly as it was uttered by a loving mother who smiled at her infant for the first time she took it to her breast. This has been my obsession—Naming! But because this is impossible, I turn to the killing tree which still stands and holds an essential part of each child in its memory. It is the only thing that can be known: Chankiri tree; family of the great tropical cottonwood; "Tree of Life" that refuses to give up the spirit of each child that was broken against it and whose blood fed the soil in which it stands and grows year after year after year—and where Khmer children nearby still sing hauntingly beautiful melodies.

Tamils: "They Must All Be Punished!"

Terence Stone

In the aftermath of the twenty-seven year civil war in Sri Lanka, Nancy and I had hoped to volunteer with Sri Lankan Tamils of Jaffna in the devastated far north of the country; but the Sri Lankan Government refuses permits for foreigners to visit—it has much to hide. Consequently, we decided to spend time in a largely Tamil town close to tea plantations in the hill country of the south where Tamils still work in serfdom under a framework of rules established by the British 200 years ago. And so we landed in spectacular Haputale and spent close to two weeks getting to know the people and children of a Tamil school at which we volunteered. We were sad to leave, but were enriched in understanding by our experiences, not least of which was on leaving.

We boarded the bus from Haputale to Colombo early enough so that the six-hour journey would get us in to our guest house with time enough to nap before dinner. Our time in Haputale was one of the most interesting and transformative experiences we've had. Both of us declared that we would need a long time and some physical distance from the town to process it all; so we thought we were free and clear to begin the work once we’d boarded the bus; but then we hadn’t counted on the power of synchronicity to turn up in the guise of an ostensibly sweet older man in whom the experiences of the previous ten days began a process of rapid distillation that left us spinning with the fumes of noxious brew that I can still taste at the back of my throat.

"Hello! Where you from?" The dapper older man issued the usual greeting with the perennially linked question that most Sri Lankans ask in meeting any English speaking person for the first time.

The bus pulled away: “Canada”, I replied.

“Ahhh! Canada”, he beamed a glittering smile that can only be delivered under the sun of this blooming paradise. “Nice country!” He added, with the subtlest shift in emphasis, as if a sliver of tissue paper had been tossed onto one side of the scale of equanimity. “Lots of Tamils there in Toronto”, he noted, still holding his smile behind a wisp of cloud.

“Yes”, I affirmed, “Lots”.

The sun broke through the trace of cloud and the dapper man redirected its beams through a magnifying glass, so that his smile became an ugly distortion of courtesy: “New Zealand is a very good country; so beautiful! A very, very good country! Lots and lots of Sri Lankans there too—Sinhalese! Not many Tamils”, he wagged his head. “So much trouble here in Sri Lanka”, he became grave. “The Tamils bring so much trouble”.

Now I knew his agenda and began the verbal and body-language detachment that signals the end of a conversation; but like an evangelist on a mission, he was blind and deaf to anything but himself and his own opinions.

We were beginning the long descent of the Colombo Road from Haputale. He gestured with his hand outstretched, palm upturned toward the magnificent hills where his fingers seemed to reverently caress Lipton’s Seat, that high vantage point from where Sir Henry Lipton would go to capture in a single view all he owned, land and labour; our fellow traveller swept his arm in one great arc that passed over the plantation valleys where insignificant points of colour slaved under the sun along the lush terraces of green--all below the horizon of his limited vision.

“This is their land too! Beautiful! And they want to destroy it! And we are so good to them!" He looked hurt. "But okay now; fighting is over”, he smiled with a look of victorious satisfaction. He paused, as if to assemble the rank and file of forces in his imagination: “I’m a police officer”, he declared, putting his authority to speak in no doubt. “They must be punished! All of them! There must be discipline!” Toxicity leached from his skin.

I recalled a conversation I had the previous day with a lovely Tamil man of great intellect and capacity for empathy. Although I don’t have many men friends because of too many betrayals, this was one man, I thought, in whose hands I would joyfully place myself in the full trust of friendship. He talked with great restraint about the daily plight of the Tamils who work the plantations: rudimentary housing; low wages; impaired earnings during the dry season; the hopelessness that pervades the community; and the structures of authority that holds it all together—the Tamil Kagani, or field boss, who is hired out of his own hopelessness into a position of betrayal, to strut and threaten with his presence, and sometimes his violence, workers that are not producing to his satisfaction. I met the man’s aunt, a tea picker, who showed me her lacerated and calloused hands; she permitted me to touch them and I was moved. The Tamil man who would be my friend does not believe in violence.

“They must all be punished!”

Nancy had moved to a more comfortable seat behind the driver. I excused myself from conversation with the officer, gesturing to my hearing aids and the roar of the engine from under the engine cowling that separated us, on the fore and aft bench-seat, from the driver. The officer sat against the windshield—we might say in Canada that he was riding shotgun—a position of power. I swung across the aisle to sit beside Nancy just as she let out a yell of surprise at a sprawling, irregular line of about two hundred Sinhalese soldiers doubling (running) up the long, daunting hill in full uniform under the tropical sun, and carrying rifles in any manner that would relieve the agony of their terrible ordeal.

“Punishment!” The police officer exclaimed dispassionately.

We watched them all as they struggled, faces twisted in Dantesque agonies as they were cajoled and berated by their tormenters dressed in cooler running gear. Further down the hill, some stragglers appeared ready to keel over, but were tormented all the more by their senior officers. Collective punishment for the transgression by a minority is a perverse strategy of team building within the military that also works in acts of brutal repression of one’s “enemies”.

The young Sinhalese soldiers were still struggling up the hill and I wondered if any of them really knew why they were being punished, or even had the capacity at this stage of their indoctrination to delve into places of ethical introspection. How would the rage of this injustice and other training injustices become so deeply embodied, along with the immense physical strength that comes out of training, and then be directed by superior officers against others--the "enemy", whoever they might be--in mindless acts of further brutality. I thought of the police officer nearby still impassively watching the soldiers.

I knew he was still thinking, “They must all be punished!”

After going to see a number of schools in and around Haputale, I recalled a horrible scene just a few days before our departure, in which several teenage Tamil boys dressed all in white were being beaten by an enraged male teacher who towered over them. He had snatched a thick stick from a tree and was indiscriminately beating the boys about their arms, legs and bodies as they stood—dissociated--too scared to run. Other children, from 6-18 years, and women teachers looked on in obvious horror. Other images followed: Pakistani police with their lathis beating people at political rallies; Indian police with their lathis beating slum dwellers and beggars; English police beating people with their batons at political protests; American police with their nightsticks in Seattle. The pain and humiliation of the Tamil boys' beatings continued. I looked across at our friendly police officer.

“They must all be punished!”

I remembered a poster on a Sri Lankan bus I'd seen a couple of weeks earlier. It advertised, “Stop Child Abuse!” Below the caption were a police hotline phone number and a helpline number for offenders. There had been persistent efforts to tear away the poster from the edges, which had partially defaced the phone numbers and the ability of using this poster to make a successful call. At first I thought that parents, incensed that anyone would assume the right to tell them how to raise their children, were probably responsible for the defacement; and then I saw the teacher with his stick tucked under his arm, furtively picking away at the poster; our friendly police officer stepped in to help, concentrating on getting his fingernails under the edge of the police hotline phone number. I looked across at him, but he was only staring with steely eyes at everything that offends.

Constantly he thought, “They must all be punished”

At the halfway point in our journey, the bus stopped in a small town for refreshment and a toilet break. When I returned from the toilet, Nancy reported that the police officer had had ranted at her about Tamils. Repetition really. There was a lot of hubbub, so it gave Nancy and I a chance to talk. She told me that the bus had stopped at the kovil (Hindu temple) on the way out of Haputale (I hadn’t noticed). The conductor had quickly entered the kovil and returned with a quantity of holy ash with which both he and the driver had marked their foreheads and cleansed their hands for the journey. The driver used some to cleanse the steering wheel and the sun visor. Clearly they were both Tamils. Now I understood that all of the police officer’s venomous racism was being spoken openly in front of them as if they did not exist, for surely he knew they were Tamils.

Several Tamil beggars entered the bus with their own sad stories in order to earn a few rupees while at the station. He dismissed them in Sinhalese or Tamil--I’m not sure--and they shuffled on. Nancy returned with some food for our lunch; and until everyone could get organized, she sat beside the officer.

“You have beggars in Canada?” He asked her.

“No”, Nancy replied. Our officer wagged his head and smiled his approval.

Perceiving that this friendly officer was once again trying to make a political and moral point, I hurriedly interjected rather more forcefully than I would usually have done in disagreeing with Nancy publicly, but I now wanted this officer to say what was on his mind so that I could engage him directly..

“—Yes we do! We have lots of beggars—everywhere: downtown in Calgary; and Bloor Street is full of beggars!

“I only meant that the begging was not as aggressive as here”, Nancy protested; but the officer had found his cause; any conversation between Nancy and I was now irrelevant.

“What city is that!” The office exclaimed with his assumption fixed.

Toronto”, I replied.

“Ahhhh!” Declared the officer, his eyebrows lifted, his eyes widened, and his mouth opened, gaping like a striking snake with a cavernous smile of supreme triumph as he leaned forward and wagged his forefinger in my face, convinced once and for all that he had found his Tamils on the streets of Toronto.

“Yes!” I continued, “And they’re all white people”, I told a small white lie. “What’s more, the only reason they’re begging is because there is too much wealth at the top with ineffective systems for redistribution to those who are most vulnerable at the bottom”, I emphatically declared.

The officer was confused and slumped back into his seat with jaw set beneath tightly pursed lips that creased the sides of his chin. His eyes became dull, his brow furrowed. Defeated for now, he coiled up, unconvinced; but remained ready to strike at some future fragment of evidence that would confirm his venomous views that even after the war there is a sinister attitude amongst many Sinhalese that all Tamils must be punished.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The End Of "Occupation": The People's Assembly of Victoria

Terence Stone

Language freights power. Once raised to awareness, it’s obvious to most people how we use language conventionally and unconsciously, often in ways that oppresses people in the hierarchical nexus of social relationships--cultural, political and economic. The Peoples Assembly of Victoria has been sensitive to how this works in renaming itself from the colonial and martial term, “Occupy” Victoria. By doing this, unconscious facets of dominant attitudes are shifted, both personal and collective, that influence how progress is made through “peace and building” rather than “battle and ownership”.

To use some recent examples: I don’t want to be semantically associated in any movement with the overt, brutal occupation of Iraq by the British-American axis, the occupation of Afghanistan by a broad coalition of nations, or the occupation of Palestine by Israel; I don’t want to be associated with the myriad economic occupations that brought us together across all the imposed divisions between us to call for social justice. And yet the term “Occupy” stubbornly occupies the way we talk amongst ourselves or document our activities. We do ourselves a disservice and play into the hands of those who would destroy our movement in a “counter-offensive” by a continued use of the word “Occupy”.

Our first community consciousness of how inappropriate the term “Occupy” was came by way of a recognizing the displacement of indigenous peoples from the very place—Centennial Square—where we stood together in solidarity to begin dismantling the systems of occupation that are oppressing and destroying the Earth and her Children.

On November 7, an article appeared on the home page of the People’s Assembly of Victoria website titled, “Statement of Intent and Action for Decolonizing Victoria & Memorandum of solidarity and support with Indigenous peoples”. It was centrally concerned with the word “Occupy” as the residue of colonialism. The following day, November 8, an article appeared immediately above (I couldn’t help but note this curious accident of position) the “Statement of Intent…” titled “Declaration of Re-mobilization” (note “re-mobilization” as another martial term). In the second line of the text, “Occupy” is used twice. We might be excused for naming “Occupy Wall Street”, but it was tautological and an unnecessary reiteration of the very colonial attitudes embedded in language we are attempting to purge to have written “People’s Assembly of Victoria (Occupy Victoria)”. Now I add my confession, I find myself using “Occupy Victoria” every day in conversation. I always correct myself, but it is insidious and persistent in the “occupation” of my mind. I’m working at it, as I believe we all must, for reasons beyond those already mentioned.

One of the problems is that I don’t believe that PAOV serves our purpose in the notion of the “movement” we’ve become and need to enhance as our settled days in Centennial Square become numbered. The People’s Assembly is a functional and elegant notional term of solidarity in relationship for purposes of discussion, decision-making, socializing, and fundamental change in oppressive institutions, along with a host of related roles; but it cannot convey the idea of spatial presence that the word “Occupy” imperiously provided, and I think this is the main reason we are constantly defaulting to use of the word.

Going forward, taking up space as a right is going to be essential to our movement. Unfortunately, the English language is terribly impoverished in ways of talking about doing this without using terms that convey notions of ownership, property, invasion, domination, exclusion, and so on. Why? Because for its entire history the UK and its imperial offspring have been preoccupied with wars with others and a class system that is psychologically embedded in its history and its people. By contrast, I suspect the indigenous peoples of the places we occupy could never have thought in such terms before colonization. If anything it was the other way around—the indigenous people belonged to the land and were of it in unity.

Unfortunately, we are left to muddle our way through all this using primarily English (or other Euro-centred languages) for articulating a nascent paradigm of being in the world that fully embodies social and environmental justice. I’m sure there are many ways we might progress with all this in mind, but to get the ball rolling I’d like to offer a humble suggestion. The proposed “Flash Occupations” could be called “flash actions”. The notion of occupying space could be replaced with the term “holding space”, a notion that has many powerful connotations: it asserts the right of being there; it does not convey invasion, occupation, or ownership; it carries a connotation of care and nurturing; but it firmly asserts a dignified strength. I began by saying that language freights power, but I believe we must find ways of using this power with others, rather than the colonial notion of power over others.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Murder Inc.: The Chemistry Of Death

Terence Stone

As the Peoples Assembly Of Victoria gains confidence and leverage, despite the chess game the City of Victoria plays with the complicity of mainstream media to undermine it all, I’ve thought much about my own narratives in the larger story unfolding.

I declare myself a well-educated senior citizen who has led a relatively privileged life. I’m a counsellor by profession, but began my working career serving ten years in the British military, mostly overseas. We would receive week-old newspapers from the UK with reports of our military involvement during a decade of withdrawal from colonies too difficult to hold. The reports were all white, grey, or black propaganda—lies by any standard of truth-telling. We were in fact ensuring that dictatorships we could rely on to perpetuate British interest were installed and capable of taking control of colonial systems of power that were changed in name only by the proxy despots who would reap personal benefits as colonial middle-men.

Over the past year I returned to one of the regions in which I served. With my spouse we backpacked and volunteered around India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Thailand. The devastating wreckage of colonialism is still apparent; an imperial tsunami is swamping entire cultures and ecosystems under the beneficent guise of Globalization, driven by the supercharged engine of laissez faire Capitalism. The Emperor has but changed into more lavish attire.

Oddly it was in Dharamsala that Bhopal returned to haunt me. We met an American couple who belong to The Friends of Bhopal; one of them gave me a book, It was fiveminutes after midnight in Bhopal, and it brought back the horrifying images and dreams I’ve had since that terrible December in 1984. Union Carbide’s pesticide plant failed and released clouds of methyl isocyanate into the surrounding slum communities and killed at least 3000 children, women and men—killed them even as they fled blindly from their beds at five minutes after midnight, only to fall—eyes burning and lungs froth-corrupted—in writhing agony and contorted deaths.

All those deaths were murders. The management of Union Carbide back in the USA gloated over the money they’d saved by cutbacks in safety, ignoring repeated warnings of imminent catastrophe. A manager at the plant wrote, hopelessly, a week before the disaster that they were all going to die. Nobody has ever been punished for the crime and 50,000 people still suffer debilitating health problems. What small settlements that were grudgingly made have been whittled down by each person in the feeding chain taking their cut. We met in Dharamsala a young Indian man born just a week before the tragedy in an uncontaminated area of Bhopal who told us that he has an uncle in that city who does business buying and selling the settlements at enormous accumulated profit because they take so long to process, while the survivors desperately need what little money there is remaining right now as a means of simple survival. Dow Chemical eventually ended up buying the still unsafe plant and is one of the major producers of pesticides in India today, along with Monsanto.

India is now, after the United States, the largest producer of pesticides and herbicides in the world. Cheap labour and lax safety standards make it an ideal destination country for outsourcing the horrors of chemical accidents that kill people and destroy the environment. It’s been a boon to Monsanto pushing its Roundup-ready rice crops onto contract farmers--now serfs to industrialized agriculture. So disastrous has this project been that the four or five genetically modified rice varieties that Monsanto introduced to displace the one thousand varieties previously used in sustainable, high-yield farming for over a thousand years have become vulnerable to pesticide resistant infestations. The contract farmers, debt-buried with annual purchases of Monsanto single-season seed, commit suicide by the preferred method of drinking the pesticides foisted on them by Monsanto, Dow Chemical, et al.

Conservatively, 150,000 farmers have committed suicide in India in the past ten years. One farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes. Without social safety nets, who knows what the statistics of death and abject poverty is for the survivors?

The legacy of Monsanto and Dow Chemical is still evident in the wounded soul of Cambodia. Monsanto manufactured Agent Orange, the dioxin-laden defoliant that destroyed millions of acres of forest and rice paddy in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. 46,000,000 litres were sprayed, willfully poisoning millions of people. The carcinogenic and mutagenic properties of the chemical have had multi-generational effects—prolific birth defects continuing primarily in Vietnam, but also in Cambodia. Monsanto made a killing, so to speak, and knew the effects of the chemical even as it ramped up production and raked in the profits.

Dow Chemical’s contribution to genocide was and still is Napalm, a gelatinous gasoline that sticks to bodies of victims and burns them alive. 400,000 tons were dropped during the Vietnam War; Cambodia was merely a collaterally damage neighbourhood. “Profit without conscience” could be the motto of Dow Chemical, since it currently manufactures Napalm “B”, the cargo of the incendiary Mark 77 bomb, one weapon of mass destruction used throughout Iraq, particularly in Fallujah where many children were burned alive into merciful death, or left horribly maimed.

Here Monsanto and Dow Chemical get a moment’s reprieve as I make mention of the 62,000,000 tons of conventional, high-explosive ordnance dropped by the US Government during the Vietnam War, 300 pounds of bombs for every man, woman and child in Indo-China (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia). Cambodia took a particularly nasty pasting in the American secret bombing campaign called Operation Menu, beginning with Operation Breakfast—called so because Nixon, Kissinger and Haldeman conceived the campaign over breakfast following Church one Sunday morning—an appetite enhancer for them no doubt, or perhaps a gift—grotesque manna dropped from the American God in Heaven to feed and bleed the innocents of Cambodian villages. I know (I hear them now) millions of children screamed, froze in terror, or died with their final thought of family or friends left unspoken. Haldeman's wrote in his diary (March, 17, 1969): "Historic day. K[issinger]'s 'Operation Breakfast' finally came off at 2.00 PM ... K[issinger] really excited, as was P[resident]”. Haldeman’s entry for the following day: "K[issinger]'s 'Operation Breakfast' a great success. He came beaming in with the report, very productive."

It was Cambodians—children, women, mencrawling, traumatized, out of craters from the American bombing that fed the murderous machine that came to be known as Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. In four short years, they managed to slaughter 25% of the Cambodian population. The trickthe cynical slight of hand executed by the USAwas to have bracketed off and set aside this four year period of genocide-as societal-suicide to stand as the “official” history of Cambodian conflict.

You see, the USA, in an act of perverse revenge, manipulated support of the Khmer Rouge’s bid, as the government in exile, for the Cambodian seat at the United Nations and then supplied them with arms to continue civil (guerrilla) war after the Vietnamese liberated the country in 1975. When it eventually came to negotiations at the United Nations how crimes against humanity would be defined for redress and “Justice”, the USA forced agreement that no crimes against the Cambodian people prior to 1975 would be recognized, or prosecuted. The US Government was off the hook. What has disappeared from the public record is the 10% of the Cambodian population murdered by the US just prior to the birth of the Khmer Rouge, that monstrous child of a US imperial rape.

One of the policies of the Khmer Rouge was to destroy ownership of any kind. Consequently, all title deeds belonging to everyone, including villagers and small farms—perhaps single paddies—were burned. Now, under the Capitalist dictatorship of Hun Sen who says, “no title deed, no claim”, fishermen are being removed from ancestral coastline so that Russian Oligarchs can build luxury hotels; peasants and whole village are the victims of mass displacements for Chinese and Western Multinationals to clear-cut forests and mine the earth wherever they will. Industrial agriculture is moving in with Dow Chemical and Monsanto, amongst others, salivating over yet another catastrophe to exploit.

At this time of the year, let’s honour the White Poppy for Peace and in Remembrance of the 6 million murdered by US Imperialist/Corporatist ambitions in Indo-China, and the millions that have died since as a result of genetic mutations and unexploded munitions that blow people to pieces every single day in the region. Then as now the narrative of violence and greed continues; but the peasants and displaced of India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos—all across the Globe are fighting back. We have no other ethical choice but to fully witness their history, their suffering and their strength in struggle as we stand in solidarity with them wherever they live.