Another bike ride on the dikes in northern Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge

Dike and mountains in north Maple Ridge

I spent the better part of the day in the sunshine today on large portion of the Blue Heron loop trail system of northern Pitt Meadows/Maple Ridge.* I left the trail at some point for a very lengthy detour and now have a sunburn to show for my pains. It was a good ride, though.

Farmland in north Maple Ridge, BC

The image immediately above is a panoramic stitch and I recommend clicking on it for the full view. I took many pictures, but as it was the middle of a hot afternoon, very few of them turned out well at all. It’s a good excuse to go again.

Horses by stream

The image immediately below shows a beautiful line of trees and the South Alouette River:

Line of trees by river

*My last visit to the general area, if not quite the actual Blue Heron Loop–in late fall of 2013–was far more successful from a photographic perspective. One thing that I still felt this time, though, was a happy sense of wandering. I wasn’t bound to a particular agenda, and as I was alone, I was free to be with my thoughts and to choose the route as I went along.

In Defense of the Deep Space Nine Episode “Let He Who Is Without Sin”

As I work my way through my Star Trek: Deep Space Nine DVD set, I have enjoyed Jammer’s Reviews, and many of the comments of those who follow his worthy blog. After seeing the “zero stars” rating he gave “Let He Who Is Without Sin,” I decided to post a spirited defense of the episode in the comments. A slightly edited version is given here:

I have to respectfully disagree with Jammer and most of the commenters. Deep Space Nine’s “Let He Who Is Without Sin” is in fact a four-star episode. It’s not without faults, to be sure, but its ambition and execution easily make up for these.

“Cast the first stone,” completes the titular phrase, of course, and the allusion is to the New Testament. Similarly, those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones–and the repeated visual of the glass geodesic dome (Vancouver’s MacMillan Bloedel Conservatory, if I’m not mistaken) reminds us of this ourselves. Who is judging whom here? That gets to the heart of the episode.

The plot of “Without Sin” is incredibly well-structured, and this gives the episode much of its meaning. Worf is physically exuberant with Dax, and she with him–something highlighted at the beginning of the episode. Unfortunately, Worf’s traditionalism, and inner fear of losing control, make him distrust Dax’s more easygoing approach to personal relationships, and make him needlessly suspicious of her behavior and intentions, even if we can have a certain sympathy for some his misgivings. It’s very easy to see that this makes Worf vulnerable to the Essentialist movement long before Dax explicitly spells this fact out for Worf (and stubborn members of the audience).

Similarly, some of the comments here assail Worf for throwing Fullarton against a wall, as though there were something inconsistent about Worf’s action. In fact, the act of throwing Fullarton against the wall shows us the audience that Worf has just internalized a valuable lesson. He’s learned that his fear of repeating his childhood tragic accident that killed a rival soccer player has kept him hampered throughout his life. By throwing the unpleasant and criminal Fullerton against a wall (something Worf has done on many occasions to others for much less cause, e.g. a completely innocent Morn in “”Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places”), Worf is signalling the healing that has occurred within himself. We may not like this action, or approve it, but it is consistent with Worf’s portrayal in both TNG and DS9.*

Furthermore, some have objected that Worf would be too smart to follow someone like Fullarton, but this ignores Worf’s journey and struggle with matters of faith, belief, and spirituality in “Rightful Heir.” Again, Worf’s sudden attraction to Fullarton–occasioned by his trip to Risa in the context of his difficulties with his girlfriend, Dax–is consistent with his personality throughout the Star Trek canon.

Worf was unreasonably jealous of Dax, but this was because, basically, he had (a) a real lack of experience in dating and long-term relationships, and (b) a painful single experience and a world of suppressed pain inside him that rendered him vulnerable to Fullarton’s preaching and message.

Fullarton is an obvious allegory for modern evangelical Republicans and televangelists (he even has the whole tablet as a Bible-carrying action right). Fullarton sows his seeds, but if the ground hasn’t been prepared by pain, and the right combination of relationship inexperience and painful personal experience, then his seeds won’t sprout. In the context of a world of religious fundamentalists who so desperately feel the need to control the sexuality of other human beings, I think Star Trek is well within its rights to explore issues like this. But as Q might say, it’s not for the timid.

Incidentally, one of the of the things I like about Worf is just how honestly his character shows his struggles, and frankly, it’s a journey I share as someone who came to dating and relationships very late, and as someone who left the path of religious fundamentalism, with all its jealousy and fears of the human body, and its fanaticism about interpersonal relationships. I know I’ve been, for example, suspicious in the past when the sole basis of that suspicion was nothing more than my own fear of getting hurt and losing control of a situation. When I see Worf’s struggles with need for belief in Kahless, or his attraction to the Essentialist movement, I see myself at a younger age. And having had these experiences, I am so glad that Dax didn’t let Worf control her every movement even as she communicated her love for him. In the real world, they would have broken up, but DS9 gives us here a happy ending.

The episode does have some room for the Essentialist critique of the Federation as too soft and pleasure-loving, and it gives it a fair hearing. At the same time, the episode is a stirring defense of something some would consider an indulgence: vacations. Time off, time to let the body rest and the mind wander. Time to enjoy the company of loved ones and the smiles of strangers. The closing sunset may be a little cheesy, but after all the sterility of TNG and so much else in Trek, the ending of the ambitious “Without Sin” was both touching and well-earned.

*It should be noted that Worf is fully capable of restraining himself. He’s had a lifetime of practice in physical combat, and knows how to keep his opponent safe in a fight. Incidentally, to be properly consistent, the same commenters who blame Worf here should also be speaking out against what he did to Morn just a few episodes ago, and that was far worse.

Some Thoughts on “The Ship”–A Deep Space Nine Episode

Somewhat edited posting of a long comment I left on Jammer’s Reviews just now:

Unlike the worthy Jammer, I thought “The Ship” was a phenomenally good episode. I’d give it five stars out of four, and nothing less! Somehow, the rising tension, the riveting plot, the low-lighting, and the great character work of the actors and scriptwriters combined to make “The Ship” feel not like a TV episode, but like an epic movie.

“The Ship” puts our heroes in a desperate, desperate situation, and it gives them their humanity (or Klinon-ness, in the case of Worf) in that situation. That’s character work at its best, and DS9 is the best Star Trek franchise at character work. Contra some, Sisko is not overwrought, either with the Vorta at the climax, or later with Dax. He’s grieving, and he feels responsible for the deaths of his people.

And well he should. Sisko’s claim to Dominion property on the sole (and incredibly childish) basis of “I found it first” is obviously morally wrong and intellectually laughable. His logic is as flimsy as cardboard.

Of course, Sisko is doing as the Federation would like, but this is a vastly overconfident Federation that continues to antagonize the Dominion by expanding into the Gamma Quadrant like old Rome expanding into its neighbours’ space. The Federation has been clearly told to stay out of the Gamma Quadrant, and yet it keeps going back in–to colonize, to mine, to claim. And now, to steal.

Think about how Americans felt when the Serbs made American stealth fighter technology from a Yugoslavian crash site available to the Chinese. Now, imagine that US troops had showed up to secure the crash site within minutes only to find the Chinese were saying “finders keepers, losers weepers.” Now imagine that the crash site was not in Yugoslavia, but in Mexico, close to the US border. Not an American alive would say the Chinese had the better claim simply because they happened to have local agents on the ground who found it first.

The Federation in this episode and the ones leading up to it is behaving as an amoral expansionist power increasingly prepared to sacrifice its principles for power….not unlike, in many ways, the modern US of A, which has bases in countries around the world in defense not of world peace but of its own “strategic interests”; a country that sacrifices rights and freedoms on the altar of domestic security. (DS9 touched on that, too.)

That’s what makes “The Ship” so prescient and poignant. Those deaths that Sisko grieves were completely avoidable, and they were the result of salivating greed at the highest levels of the Federation at the mere prospect of rummaging through a salvaged Jem’Hadar ship. This is not your father’s Federation. Picard would have been absolutely appalled.

The DS9 Starfleet officers on our mission give their lives to the service of Starfleet and the Federation, just as the Jem’Hadar give their lives to the service of the Founders. And just for once, the Jem’Hadar come off looking much the more honourable.

Now of course, it would be quite correct to point out that this interest in the Jem’Hadar ship does not occur in a vacuum. Starfleet has already seen significant losses due to Dominion actions, from the destruction of an Enterprise look-alike to the gutting of its traditional alliance with the Klingon Empire. Whatever else can be said, there is much to support the thesis that the Dominion is far more expansionist and dangerous to the Federation than the Federation is to the Dominion.

And that’s what this episode is all about. It’s easy to be a saint in paradise, but the Federation in the 24th century is not in paradise. It’s got to navigate a universe in which there are very real threats to its existence. Sometimes, it will put its personnel in harm’s way and sacrifice their very lives to achieve its larger objectives. Sometimes, the way it does this will seem, or even be, very wrong and unethical, but what are the alternatives? Too often, the issues and the possibilities are unclear. Could the whole war with the Dominion have been prevented if the Federation had not squandered the little goodwill that existed between the two quadrants? It’s a valid question, and one with no easy answer. In a world of cold wars, military and economic expansionism, DS9 reminds us to ask the hard questions and attempt the harder answers.

A Not-so-very Brief Review of a Very Short Introduction on Agnosticism

There are Jews in the world.
There are Buddhists.
There are Hindus and Mormons and then
There are those that follow Mohammed,
But, I’ve never been one of them.
I’m a Roman Catholic
And have been since before I was born.
(Monty Python’s “Every Sperm is Sacred” Song.)

To take a page from Monty Python, we might say that there are theists in the world, and there are atheists. And then there are agnostics. Oxford University Press’s A Very Short Introduction series has a delightful little volume called Agnosticism, by Robin Le Poidevin, and I just finished reading it last week.

I’ve always thought of agnosticism as being half-way on a continuum between theism and atheism, but Le Poidevin argues that it is not on the continuum at all–the atheist and the theist, after all, both claim to have an answer to the God-question. But the agnostic specifically says that she has no such answer. For Le Poidevin, this locates her position off any kind of continuum entirely.

And it’s a very difficult place to be. The book opens with a short excerpt from the celebrated atheist writer Richard Dawkins:

The robust Muscular Christian haranguing us from the pulpit of my old school chapel admitted a sneaking regard for atheists. They at least at the courage of their misguided convictions. What this preacher couldn’t stand was agnostics: namby-pamby, mushy pap, weak tea, weedy, pallid fence-sitters.

With more than a little humour, Le Poidevin remarks:

Consider next the idea that agnosticism represents a failure of nerve, a refuge for the intellectually and morally infirm, for ‘weedy, pallid fence-sitters.’ It’s odd that prolonged fence-sitting should be thought an occupation for the constitutionally delicate: it is in fact an extremely uncomfortable position to hold for any length of time. Instead of a resting place, why should it not be a spur to action, a recognition of the need for further inquiry? And if, as in the case of the 19th-century agnostics, it is the result of sustained thought, and means going against the current of socially acceptable attitudes, that requires both honesty and courage.

Agnosticism begins with a very short overview of the nature of agnosticism itself, which Le Poidevin then goes on to demarcate in terms exclusive to the debate about whether or not there is a God. Le Poidevin notes the obligatory difference between what he calls “strong” and “weak” agnosticism (known to others under the terms “hard” and “soft” respectively): the “strong” position claims that we as humans cannot know if there is a God, while the “weak” position merely says that I don’t know. Agnosticism goes on to mention what “the agnostic principle”: “never to claim certainty for anything for which one does not have adequate justification.”

Le Poidevin then goes on to provide a schematic overview of the history of agnosticism, which he traces to Thomas Henry Huxley and then all the way back to the ancient Greek skeptic philosopher Pyrrho who lived roughly three thousand three hundred years ago.

Over the next thee chapters, Le Poidevin examines the atheist arguments against the existence of God, and then the theist arguments for “his” existence, and basically comes down saying that the arguments are not conclusive either way. Unfortunately, this is one of the weakest parts of the book. In each case of argument and counter-argument, his conclusion is always that no conclusion can be drawn with certainty. This ends out seeming more than a bit perfunctory, and rather too convenient. And he strains credulity when he says of the great monotheistic religious of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that “it cannot be demonstrated that the whole is a fiction.”

If Le Poidevin’s analysis of the arguments for and against the existence of God seem a bit too unengaged–or rather, too committed to not making a choice one way or other–his treatment of religions is equally bad. Part of this is simply the result of a lack of space in a tiny volume bearing the series title A Very Short Introduction. But a more significant problem is the nature of the shortcuts he takes in regards to both the nature of religion and the nature of God.

Specifically, Le Poidevin is biased against all the eastern religions. There is no sense in the book that Le Poidevin has even heard of Hinduism, for example, much less Buddhism. Neither religion warrants even a single mention, and then there is the passage where Le Poidevin specifically and offhandedly confines himself to the “great” monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Then, too, there is the whole issue of what constitutes a religion. As I’ve written many times on this blog, the term for any religion–say, for instance, “Christianity,” is highly problematic. Mystics and fundamentalists exist in each of the religions of the world, and I submit that they have more in common with their counterparts in the other religions than they have with their fellow co-religionists.

These questions regarding religion have great bearing on the question of God, and it is here that I find Le Poidevin’s book most disappointing. He routinely refers to God as “he,” without any nod at all to feminist discourse, or to the fact that Hindus and Buddhists would not refer to God as “he” at all. God is held to be above our understanding, but is somehow defined as Love, and is referred to in the third masculine singular pronoun. In short, the frames of reference seem to be entirely within traditional Protestant and Catholic Christianity.

I believe the whole atheistic-theistic debate needs new terms, new frames of reference, new talking points. That’s because the world is a far larger place than it was in Europe some several hundred years ago. I rub shoulders with Taoists, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Baha’is, Mahayana Buddhists, and Theravadan Buddhists, as well as those who practice “cafeteria spirituality.” All of these people will have their own answers to the regular existence-of-God questions, and in some cases the traditional western questions, based on monotheistic understandings of God, will have no meaning for them at all. Le Poidevin’s complete omission of these other points of view is fatal.

But the book is redeemed by a fascinating, and intellectually very brave venture that revolves around a single question: how should an agnostic live? Pascale’s Wager makes its inevitable appearance, but Le Poidevin then brings up the objection that if one doesn’t believe in religion, won’t going through the motions be simply a tentative, false life? His answer is that it doesn’t have to be: one can have a fully religious life by treating the doctrines and ceremonies of religion in the same manner that a reader does while reading fiction, or in the same way that a member of an audience watches a play: i.e., by suspending disbelief. Just as good, literary fiction and drama can greatly move us, so, too, can religion move the agnostic. And then Le Poidevin takes the whole thing a step further:

Now let’s take a further step, and suppose that, while engaged in the fiction, we realize that we don’t know whether it is fictional or not. Or rather, although we are pretty sure that some elements might be fictional, there are other, perhaps more central, elements that may not be.

Le Poidevin argues that just as in fiction, the reader accepts the whole as he suspends his disbelief, so too, the agnostic could accept the whole of his religion, including the parts he knows to be false, and in so doing, orient his emotions to the full religion. He concludes:

A religious life, then, is possible for the agnostic, and not simply as a cautious, experimental, and ultimately detached affair. But of course, it is not obligatory. Many agnostics find that they are psychologically unable to take this imaginative and emotional step.

As an atheist on the conventional presentations of God from the Abrahamic religions, I felt positively teased by those few sentences. The way they are written makes it sound almost like I am simply not brave enough for marriage–in this case, to a faith.

But for me, the practical way to live as agnostic on the other possibilities that Godhood might take, is the way of atheism, and unfortunately, Le Poidevin never gives any reason why an agnostic would choose to have a religious life. (And he doesn’t seem to take Pascale’s Wager seriously.)

The chapter on how agnostics should live, then, is ultimately of limited value, apart from being a fun kind of intellectual sport. The following chapter, “How should agnosticism be taught?” is on much firmer ground, arguing that the chief approach to education should be to include tolerance for other viewpoints. As I look outside my window today, it would seem hard to argue with that, though I would submit that agnostics and atheists have a remarkably high tolerance for the world’s religions; it is the religious who need to have more tolerance–for each other, as well as for agnostics and atheists. And that is why I have been coming, slowly to a place where I believe that private, religious education is fundamentally at odds with the necessary secularism of our society. Private, religious education in the context of a multi-cultural society leads to a kind of Balkanization of the young, and they are the mothers and fathers of the future. If I had my way, there would be only non-religious, public school systems, but that is probably best left as a topic for another blog post.

I Love the PoCo Trail! (Cycled and Photoblogged with the Offspring, Father’s Day, 2015)

Pitt River from the Pitt River Bridge

I grew up in Port Coquitlam, on the north side of the tracks. When I was in grade four, I used to cycle from my home on the shorter Westminster Ave. to Birchland Elementary. When I got a little older, I cycled down the road from Birchland to Cedar Drive Elementary. I got to George Pearkes Junior High School, when I really started to go biking on parts of the “PoCo” trail. I kept cycling on parts of the PoCo Trail while at the old location of Terry Fox Senior Secondary School on Wellington Ave. and Patricia. I remember that I used to listen to the music of Loreena McKennitt on my walkman while cycling. Even today, when I hear Loreena McKennitt’s voice, I think the Deboville Slough, and when I cycle through the Deboville Slough and other parts of the trail, I still hear her voice, even though I have left my music at home.

The PoCo Trail as it is now is largely the culmination of the work of the late Mayor Len Traboulay. Traboulay clearly understood the benefits of considering the happiness of a people and making the goal of happiness a part of public policy. (There’s a great talk by Daniel Kauffman that mentions happiness and public policy, by the way.)

I no longer live in Port Coquitlam, but from where I live to the east, the PoCo Trail, like other wonderful biking routes, is not far away. The above image shows where I begin the trail, on the west bank of the Pitt River just north of Lougheed Highway. On a previous trip there last summer, I and my son saw deer. No deer this time, but my son was along for the ride, which was great!

PoCo Trail #1 -North of Lougheed Highway

Above: the beginning of the PoCo Trail for me, on the east just north of Lougheed Highway

I’ve always loved biking on the dikes by the Pitt River:

PoCo Trail NE along dike

The view from the northeastern part of the trail is always breathtakingly beautiful…

PoCo Trail #3 - The Mountains to the North of the Pitt River

The Trail then winds through the peaceful Deboville Slough, which I’ve always considered one of my favourite places on Earth:

PoCo Trail #4 - The Deboville Slough and Burke Mountain

PoCo Trail #4C - Pretty flowers in the Deboville Slough

Pretty flowers in the beautiful Deboville Slough

The Trail emerges from the Deboville Slough at the head of Cedar Drive. By one of my favourite old corner stores, the trail goes under tree cover on a path that leads to the Hyde Creek recreation facility, and just beyond it, the old George Pearkes Junior Secondary School, now Minnekhada Middle School. I had good years in George Pearkes, even if it was buried in the “deep” part of PoCo. Looking back, I realize how fortunate I was to get along with most of my fellow students, even those who were very different from me. It’s too bad I was too religious at the time, though.

PoCo Trail #5 - Behind the old George Pearkes Junior Secondary School

PoCo Trail #6 - A bridge and a branching trail

The above picture shows a walking bridge that was not there when I was a student. The trails that seemed so wild back when I was a kid have all been tamed by new bridges, wider gravel, and other improvements. As a cyclist, I can’t say that I mind any of the improvements!

I managed to capture a shot of the Offspring in this next shot:

PoCo Trail #7 - The Offspring in the Mirror

The next picture shows the dry riverbed of Hyde Creek, one of my favourite streams anywhere. Each year, salmon come here to spawn.

PoCo Trail #8 - Hyde Creek is dry

PoCo Trail #9 - Go that way

Go that way

The trail emerges on Coast Meridian at Patricia:

PoCo Trail #9B - Patricia and Coast Meridian

PoCo Trail #10 - Yes, that's the trail

Yes, the above picture shows part of a trail

The brief bit on Patricia is perhaps the most prosaic part of the Trail, but it is very short. Passing by the old Terry Fox Senior Secondary School had me feeling a bit nostalgic. I loved that school, and the teachers there, just as I loved the teachers at George Pearkes.

The next two pictures show some of the views one can have when one looks up:

PoCo Trail #11 - Tall trees at Wellington Park

PoCo Trail #12B - Spring Maple Canopy

I’ve crossed the old northside walking bridge far more times than I can count, ever since I was old enough to go biking…

PoCo Trail #12 - Under the north walking bridge

Just beyond the walking bridge, turning south now, is Lougheed Highway. When you’re on Lougheed Highway, you see suburban sprawl, and traffic jams. But the PoCo Trail takes you right under the bridge, and you hardly realize there’s a highway around at all. The entire trail is an oasis of tranquility made all the more valuable by its proximity to ordinary locations such as roads, highways, gas stations, and factories.

PoCo Trail #13 - That thing is Lougheed Highway

Yes, that thing is Lougheed Highway!

The next picture shows the Offspring taking advantage of the sprinklers in Gates Park on a hot summer day:

PoCo Trail #14 - Cooling down in Gates Park

Remember the old Bailey Bridge? It ended up getting replaced by the Red Bridge. Drivers from Coquitlam find themselves welcomed with this sign at that point:

PoCo Trail #15 - Welcome to Port Coquitlam

Welcome to Port Coquitlam!

The next part of the trail is the one I took the longest to reach when I was young: the First Nations reserve. I still remember the first time my friend Marcos and I biked on the dike through the reserve. It’s very beautiful there.

PoCo Trail #15B - On First Nations land

PoCo Trail #15C - On First Nations lands

PoCo Trail #16 - On First Nations land

Every kid born and raised in Port Coquitlam is familiar with our twin hero and anti-hero: Terry Fox and Clifford Olsen, respectively. Clifford Olsen was at one point briefly incarcerated in Colony Farm, where there is a facility for the criminally insane. He was deemed sane, and spent the rest of his life in prison back east. Colony Farm is situated on some incredibly beautiful lands that are now connected to the park on the east side of the river. I believe that parts of both sides of the river belong to the Kwikwetlem First Nation. In my heart, I have always thanked its members for allowing local residents to use the PoCo Trail that runs through their reserve lands. I am also grateful for the political muscle now being flexed by local First Nations all over BC as they seek justice for their people and preservation of their lands in the face of corporate greed (yes, that’s you, Enbridge!).

The next picture shows the new bridge to Colony Farm. When I first saw this area, there was a bridge here, but it was falling apart, and was not passable. I always wanted to go over it…

PoCo Trail #17 - The bridge to Colony Farm

And of course, nowadays I do often go on the bridge, just to take a picture if nothing else!

PoCo Trail #18 - The Coquitlam River by Colony Farm

I remember when I first came to the meadow at the bottom of Citadel Heights. In those days, the “trail” was about two inches wide, and the grass was often nearly as tall as me. The entire area has been made so much more accessible now. Some of the adventure is gone, but the contentment is still very much to be found there.

PoCo Trail #18 - In the meadow

PoCo Trail #19 - In the meadow and under the trees

After emerging at the bottom of Citadel Heights, the PoCo Trail crosses the Mary Hill Bypass, and then runs through a tony residential area that I once knew as the site of a gravel mining operation. Below, Mount Baker looms in the distance from a bench by the path:

PoCo Trail #20 - Mount Baker

PoCo Trail #22 - Almost there

Almost there–the whole circle of the trail–we’re back by the Pitt River again

PoCo Trail #22 - Mouth and tentacles

Always impressive, every time!

An important part of the Len Traboulay  PoCo Trail

The above image might not seem inspiring, but it is. Before this underpass was built, the north and south halves of the PoCo Trail were separated from each other by the CPR tracks. The late Mayor Len Traboulay didn’t want that to last, and so this underpass was made. I’m not sure if it was made after Traboulay was succeeded as major, but Traboulay was instrumental in giving the entire trail the contiguous quality that it now has. The entire trail is now one large unbroken circle, safely traversable thanks to signage, traffic lights (only two), and separated sidewalks. It’s public policy set by values, including the importance of happiness. One of the sources of happiness is nature, and the ability to enjoy nature is one of the most important rights we can have has human beings. Remember that, dear reader, particularly this fall, when we finally have a chance to vote out the rapacious Conservative Party and elect a government that recognizes the fragility of nature, and the value of it to human happiness! I’m endorsing the New Democratic Party of Tom Mulcair, and I invite you to vote NDP along with me this election. But regardless of how you vote, I hope you enjoyed this post on the PoCo Trail.

This post is affectionately dedicated to the members of the graduating class of 1996 at Terry Fox Secondary, and the graduating class at George Pearkes Junior Secondary in 1994, and to the teachers in both schools, as well as to my son, who while still under the age of ten, has biked the entirety of the trail with me twice!

If I’ve made any expats now living far from PoCo nostalgic or homesick: good! And please consider hitting the tip jar. Your donation helps to offset my dire poverty, or at least, the costs involved in keeping this website up and running. Thank you! 😉

I never thought I’d say this, but…

…it’s past time to free Omar Khadr. Khadr, who was kept in Guantanamo after killing an American soldier in Afghanistan at the age of 15, had the misfortune to be born to a horrible, terrorist family, but by all accounts he has been a model prisoner for many years. Even Corrections Canada wants him out of the prison system. The Harper government wants him in, with media access to him curtailed to the point of non-existence.

I’ve always supported jailing terrorists, but at some point, Omar Khadr just looks less like a terrorist, and more like a malleable young man victimized first by the evil ideology of his family, and then by the evil prejudices of his captors, who were not above torturing him. He should probably have been considered a child soldier under international conventions.

The lawyers for the government claim that releasing Khadr on bail would damage our relationship with the US–even though the US State Department has explicitly said the opposite. Obama tried to get Khadr out of Cuba and into Canada years ago, but the Tories in Ottawa engaged in stonewalling and foot-dragging until forced to accept his return to Canada by the Supreme Court of our country. The government says Khadr is dangerous, but Corrections Canada, of all things, says otherwise–and wants him out of prison entirely.

Eventually, the government’s position ends out looking like a series of false narratives. In other words: lies.

I do not believe that Khadr is a serious threat to Canadian security. He has spent many years in prison, and has developed into someone who is by all accounts a good and gentle person, despite the fact that he was tortured. Indeed, it’s starting to look like he never really belonged in prison in the first place. After having read the Millennium Trilogy, by Stieg Larrson, I’m very much reminded of the endless efforts by the fictitious selfish men in the Swedish intelligence community to keep the character Lisbeth Salander incarcerated solely to protect their jobs and their influence. I believe it is more than likely that such is the case here, too.

An open letter to the judge, then: spring Khadr free on his bail application pending his appeal in the US court system. Let him tell his story. I think the likeliest situation involves him becoming an instrument of healing rather than division.

UPDATE, May 7: Khadr is free and speaking!

My Official Conversion, or: Go, Rachel, Go!

On Sunday in a small community hall packed with senior citizens, I got religion, or sort of. I became a dues-paid member of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada. Two days later, the the NDP trounces the conservatives in, of all places, Alberta!*

About the politics: this is very momentous news for the federal NDP. It’s a momentum builder that gives the NDP a chance to remind Canadians that it is the NDP, and not Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, that are the closest of the Opposition parties to achieving power in Ottawa. Tiny PEI just reelected a Liberal government after the NDP lost all power in the small Atlantic provinces. But who cares? Alberta has been making headlines for weeks with polls projecting a NDP majority or minority. But everyone remembered the last two times polls predicted things–in BC and in Alberta–only to find that the public had other ideas. This time, the polls were right, and if anything, under-predicted the scale of the NDP achievement under Rachel Notley. I hope the NDP can find a way to use Notley on the campaign trail federally, if her honeymoon period hasn’t worn off by October.

About the personal journey: in fact, I’ve been voting NDP for several elections. At some point, I realized that the NDP was the party that cared the most about social justice. It’s more diligent than the Liberals on the use of the armed forces, on the protection of individual liberties, and on the powers granted to CSIS and CSEC**. It’s thanks to the NDP’s previous iteration, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, that Canadians have a healthcare system that is the envy of the world, behind only the Scandinavian countries, and perhaps Japan. I hated the federal Liberals under Chretien, though I very much liked Paul Martin, and I would have dearly loved the party under Bob Rae. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Despite his baby-face and lovely hair locks, and despite his capital-L Liberalism, Justin Trudeau is in fact merely Harper Lite. Only the party of Thomas Mulcair stands up for people in my income bracket–everything under $44,000, which is where Trudeau’s tax platform begins to try to “assist” people.

I suppose I was hoping to find a community to belong to when I converted to NDP religion, even as I converted to Catholicism from Protestantism many years ago–before I became an atheist. I was a bit afraid, though, of too much community. Actually, I’m frightened of too much community. I remember the hurt caused by all those years of hatred in the Baptist church I grew up in, and I recognized the same tendencies even at in the secular Landmark organization when I attended a meeting by invitation. That is why I would never go to an atheist church, even if there was one near me, which there isn’t. As it happens, I was not welcomed in evangelical style, which was good. Rather, I sensed the maturity and politeness of a high Anglican-type welcome. And that was not unwelcome.

You could, perhaps, say that I had been getting desperate for community. And still, politics is politics–and I believe that the next election will be one of the most important, or at least could be one of the most important in my lifetime. Canada under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, and before under Chretien’s Liberals, has become a less kindly place. Housing prices are skyrocketing as foreign buyers buy up all the prime real estate in Vancouver, my city. Good, steady jobs are rapidly evaporating. The individual rights and freedoms of Canadians have been curtailed. Voters–particularly university students studying away from home–have been disenfranchised on a wide scale, deliberately. A vast class of temporary foreign workers, whose passports are practically owned by their exploitative employers, now operates from far out farmer fields to urban Tim Horton’s doughnut shops. Oversight mechanisms in government, from the environment to the tax department, have been systematically shut down. Climate scientists on government payrolls have been cut, and those left standing have been silenced in the interests of corporate greed and national pride. The trajectory the country is towards a dictatorship of corporations, and that is why I hope that the NDP will make significant gains in Ottawa in the fall.

Addendum: I noticed that as of right now, on election night, the Progressive Conservatives have nearly 28% of the popular vote, while the Wildrose Party has only 24%. But Wildrose has double the Tories’ seat count. Given that Wildrose Party is in general less mature than the Tories are, I can only wish that their positions were reversed. It really is a remarkable fall from grace, after 44 years of power, to mere third place rump status.

*Note to my US readers: the NDP, under the command of a woman, sweeping Alberta is about as shocking as the idea of someone like Elizabeth Warren leading a route of Democrats over Republicans in the capitol of the state of Texas.

**Analogous to America’s CIA and the NSA, respectively.

Just Read: Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy

Last week I finished the last two books of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. It has been a very long time since I last read any contemporary fiction, and it has been much longer since I picked up a book I simply couldn’t put down. I read all three books back-to-back in all my free time, and I delayed my bedtime until after 1:30 on two nights and after midnight on several others just so I could keep reading about Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist.

Much has been made of the violence against women in all three books. (The Swedish title of the first is “Men who Hate Women”–the English title is “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.” There’s even a critical anthology of essays about the Larsson phenomenon called “Men who Hate Women and Women who Kick Their Asses.”) At times, it does seem like Larsson had some unusual sexual hangups. Violent sex or sexual themes occur often, and at times seem unnecessary. But “by their works, you shall know them”: the saying attributed to Jesus seems appropriate for these novels. And despite the repeated violence (usually occurring “off camera,” as it were, or in flashbacks), I feel that these novels have much to say. They aren’t just incredibly thought-provoking: they provoke soul-searching. And they give the readers many strong, intelligent women who overcome the hatred of the puerile and criminal males around them.

The novels fascinate partly because of the really neat way Larsson has you thinking you’re reading crime fiction in the first novel, only to pass into something like a spy novel in the second, with courtroom drama in the third. And the novels are very political: for one thing, they say much about the need to have appropriate oversight mechanisms on spy agencies so that individuals do not lose their human rights. With Canada debating Bill C-51 right now, I think that’s a debate well worth having.

The latent (and sometimes not so latent) misogyny even in advanced Western society comes under close scrutiny, of course, and I have just mentioned the issue of oversight of spy agencies. Oversight issues involving social workers or lawyers for children are also thoughtfully explored. There are issues of free speech, and the necessary limits on free speech. There’s also the matter of how a society treats consensual sexual relationships, and here I submit that the Swedish tolerance is a very good thing. In this context, it’s how in the Vanger family, whose members never divorce and remarry, there is a veritable cornucopia of sadists, women-haters, and anti-Semites, and racists.

Technology is ever-present, and the fact that Lisbeth Salander is an expert hacker, make for continued references to the present, something I’m not used to, but which I found enjoyable. Lisbeth Salander makes the series, of course. She is a delight to watch: she’s determined, intelligent, resourceful, and, in her own very unique way, highly moral.

All in all, the trilogy is well worth reading, and I am sorry that Larsson died before he could carry his series to its planned end at ten books.