Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine flu? A panic stoked in order to posture and spend

people die every day from poverty, and don't get me started about the murder and slaughter of innocent animals that happens every moment of every day ... but the corporate media has created another weapon of mass distraction .....

Despite the hysteria, the risk to Britons' health is tiny - but that news won't sell papers or drugs, or justify the WHO's budget

Simon Jenkins
The Guardian, Wednesday 29 April 2009

We have gone demented. Two Britons are or were (not very) ill from flu. "This could really explode," intones a reporter for BBC News. "London warned: it's here," cries the Evening Standard. Fear is said to be spreading "like a Mexican wave". It "could affect" three-quarters of a million Britons. It "could cost" three trillion dollars. The "danger", according to the radio, is that workers who are not ill will be "worried" (perhaps by the reporter) and fail to turn up at power stations and hospitals.

Appropriately panicked, on Monday ministers plunged into their Cobra bunker beneath Whitehall to prepare for the worst. Had Tony Blair been about they would have worn germ warfare suits. British government is barking mad.

What is swine flu? It is flu, a mutation of the H1N1 virus of the sort that often occurs. It is not a pandemic, despite the media prefix, not yet. The BBC calls it a "potentially terrible virus", but any viral infection is potentially terrible. Flu makes you feel ill. You should take medicine and rest. You will then get well again, unless you are very unlucky or have some complicating condition. It is best to avoid close contact with other people, as applies to a common cold.

In Mexico, 2,000 people have been diagnosed as suffering swine flu. Some 150 of them have died, though there is said to be no pathological indication of all these deaths being linked to the new flu strain. People die all the time after catching flu, especially if not medicated.

Nobody anywhere else in the world has died from this infection and only a handful have the new strain confirmed, most in America and almost all after returning from Mexico. A couple from Airdrie who caught the flu on holiday in Cancun are getting better. That tends to happen to people who get flu, however much it may disappoint editors.

We appear to have lost all ability to judge risk. The cause may lie in the national curriculum, the decline of "news" or the rise of blogs and concomitant, unmediated hysteria, but people seem helpless in navigating the gulf that separates public information from their daily round. They cannot set a statistic in context. They cannot relate bad news from Mexico to the risk that inevitably surrounds their lives. The risk of catching swine flu must be millions to one.

Health scares are like terrorist ones. Someone somewhere has an interest in it. We depend on others with specialist knowledge to advise and warn us and assume they offer advice on a dispassionate basis, using their expertise to assess danger and communicating it in measured English. Words such as possibly, potentially, could or might should be avoided. They are unspecific qualifiers and open to exaggeration.

The World Health Organisation, always eager to push itself into the spotlight, loves to talk of the world being "ready" for a flu pandemic, apparently on the grounds that none has occurred for some time. There is no obvious justification for this scaremongering. I suppose the world is "ready" for another atomic explosion or another 9/11.

Professional expertise is now overwhelmed by professional log-rolling. Risk aversion has trounced risk judgment. An obligation on public officials not to scare people or lead them to needless expense is overridden by the yearning for a higher budget or more profit. Health scares enable media-hungry doctors, public health officials and drugs companies to benefit by manipulating fright.

On Monday the EU health commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou, advised travellers not to go to north or central America "unless it's very urgent". The British Foreign Office warned against "all but essential" travel to Mexico because of the danger of catching flu. This was outrageous. It would make more sense to proffer such a warning against the American crime rate. Yet such health-and-safety hysteria wiped millions from travel company shares.

During the BSE scare of 1995-7, grown men with medical degrees predicted doom, terrifying ministers into mad politician disease. The scientists' hysteria, that BSE "has the potential to infect up to 10 million Britons", led to tens of thousands of cattle being fed into power stations and £5bn spent on farmers' compensation. A year later, the scientists tried to maintain that BSE "might" spread to sheep because, according to one government scientist, "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". The meat industry was wrecked and an absurd ongoing cost was imposed on stock farmers with the closure and concentration of abattoirs.

This science-based insanity was repeated during the Sars outbreak of 2003, asserted by Dr Patrick Dixon, formerly of the London Business School, to have "a 25% chance of killing tens of millions". The press duly headlined a plague "worse than Aids". Not one Briton died.

The same lunacy occurred in 2006 with avian flu, erupting after a scientist named John Oxford declared that "it will be the first pandemic of the 21st century". The WHO issued a statement that "one in four Britons could die".

Epidemiologists love the word "could" because it can always assure them of a headline. During the avian flu mania, Canada geese were treated like Goering's bombers. RSPB workers were issued with protective headgear.The media went berserk, with interviewers asking why the government did not close all schools "to prevent up to 50,000 deaths". The Today programme's John Humphrys became frantic when a dead goose flopped down on an isolated Scottish beach and a hapless local official refused to confirm the BBC's hysteria. The bird might pose no threat to Scotland, but how dare he deny London journalists a good panic?

Meanwhile a real pestilence, MRSA and C difficile, was taking hold in hospitals. It was suppressed by the medical profession because it appeared that they themselves might be to blame. These diseases have played a role in thousands of deaths in British hospitals - the former a reported 1,652 and the latter 8,324 in 2007 alone. Like deaths from alcoholism, we have come to regard hospital-induced infection as an accident of life, a hazard to which we have subconsciously adjusted.

MRSA and C difficile are not like swine flu, an opportunity for public figures to scare and posture and spend money. They are diseases for which the government is to blame. They claim no headlines and no Cobra priority. Their sufferers must crawl away and die in silence.

simon.jenkins at dot uk

Nevermind their false promises ... the BC Fibberals re-introduced the Grizzly Hunt

Monday, April 27, 2009

the politics of death

the may street newz is on the streetz, and apparently some of the vendors are taking some slack about the cover photo. the theme of this month's issue is 'harm reduction,' because it's a year since the fixed site needle exchange was closed. the photo is courtesy of reuters. i have access to those because of our membership in the international street newspaper association. i could probably have gone downtown, in any major city of the world and got a more horrifying photo to suit the month's theme. harm reduction. connected to addiction. connected to poverty, hopelessness, and death.

the title of the paper is 'street newz.' it's not the 'feel-good newz,' or the 'pretend this shit isn't really happening' newz. it's the 'street' newz. the cover price on the paper is 50 cents or by donation. it's a newspaper from the streets, about the streets, for the street community. that others buy it is wonderful, and that's what keeps us alive, but ultimately the street newz is about telling the truth, sharing the reality, of street life in victoria bc canada. the street newz is keeping it real.

apparently some residents of this fair garden city, primarily oldsters from what i've heard, are not happy seeing the word 'death' on the cover of a newspaper. and they're right. 'death' isn't the word that should be on the front page of the newspaper ... the word should actually read 'MURDER.'

one interesting thing about the street community is their intimate understanding of the word 'death.' they lose family and friends on a regular basis. i don't know the actual causes of death because the statistics are not easily accessible, even the beloved reverend al of our place doesn't want to share the information he receives about the street dead. i'd wager a bet that many die from absolutely unnecessary poverty related causes such as colds and flus, infection resulting from dental abscesses, the long term consequences of malnutrition, and the more obvious hepatitis c and hiv. the may street newz focusses on the realities of hep c and aids. it's not a happy story. it's the friggin' street newz. it's real. the street community deals with this shit every single day. they are systematically ignored, abused, and harassed. people don't know the truth of their reality. maybe, if they knew, they'd actually demand some systemic changes. but they don't know. and apparently some of them don't want to know. and so nothing changes. the street community are murdered, systematically, knowingly, willfully, and without notice, by an economic system and a political structure that is corrupt beyond words.

denial is a powerful force. and i continue to be baffled by those who worship at its shrine.

we live in a society where people spend untold bazillions of dollars having their bodies reconstructed in an attempt to defy, deter, or deny death. many of them believe that this is it, that their consciousness ceases to exist when their physical body quits functioning. so they throw everything they've got into clinging to this life, rather than living and learning and preparing for whatever life, on whatever planet, might be available to them next time around.

we live in a society where people adorn themselves with the image of a dead man on a cross. many worship that image, forgetting that there were any other humans, all of them also 'god's children,' on the planet while jesus was alive, or that jesus had a life as a healer and teacher and revolutionary who did not like the roman, capitalist, invaders who murdered him. they worship his murder, and his resurrection (reincarnation?), rather than looking objectively, historically, at his life.

we live in a society where living, fully conscious beings are tortured and slaughtered and served up at every meal. when i was discussing the kerfuffle around the front page image, one friend suggested that maybe people didn't want to have that image on their kitchen table as they served up breakfast and sat down to read the paper. i thought about this, as i was cooking my own dinner (lightly sauteed leeks, joined by tempeh, chopped chard and kale ends, carrots, delicately spiced and garnished with living sprouts - all organic, all locally sourced). how is it that people would be put off by the word 'death' on a newspaper as they sat down to their breakfast, which likely consists of chicken abortions and dead pieces of pig skin, served up with a cup of third world servile oppression?

the mysteries of this world continue to baffle me.

and as long as i'm the editor of the street newz, prepare to bear witness to the truth. or buy a different newspaper.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Press release: CUPE delegates to march for ambulance paramedics

From: Darlene Nicholson
Date: Wed, 22 Apr 2009 11:56:00 -0400

For your information and distribution.

CUPE delegates to march for ambulance paramedics

VICTORIA - More than 500 CUPE BC delegates are expected to join striking ambulance paramedics and supporters Friday for a march past the B.C. Legislature.

The delegates are in Victoria for the Canadian Union of Public Employees' BC Division convention.

The march will start at the Victoria Convention Centre at 12 Noon Friday, pass by the Legislature and move on to a rally at the Best Western Hotel on Quebec Street, where the BC Ambulance Service has been housed for eight years in a "temporary" station.

The station is an example of the critical condition of the ambulance service and illustrates why the 3,500 ambulance paramedics are on strike. There is at least one more temporary station in Victoria and another station housed in a building containing asbestos. Paramedics report decrepit conditions in stations across the province.

The CUPE 873 members have been on strike since April 1. They want the government to agree to an independent mediator and get back to the bargaining table. The last (LRB) mediator booked out of the dispute weeks ago.

The paramedics are fighting for adequate ambulance staffing levels to ensure better emergency response times, wage parity with other emergency response workers and a multi-year deal for stability and public confidence. The employer, the BC Ambulance Service, offered only a one-year deal with a three-per-cent wage hike. Minister of Health Services George Abbott finally met with the paramedics last week, but refused to discuss monetary issues.

Among the speakers at the rally will be Ambulance Paramedics of BC president John Strohmaier, CUPE BC president Barry O'Neill and CUPE National president Paul Moist.


BJ Chute, Director of Public Education, Ambulance Paramedics of BC: 604.218.6169
Bush, CUPE National Communications Representative: 778.554.2234

COPE 491

Monday, April 20, 2009

You are being lied to about pirates

(thanks to angela bischoff for forwarding this)

Some are clearly just gangsters. But others are trying to stop illegal dumping and trawling.

In 1991, the government of Somalia collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it." Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply.

Click here to read the full article.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

these are the dads i know

mostly, in my life (though thankfully it wasn't shoved down my throat), i heard about a dad who has a beard and wears robes and sits on a cloud with angels. he decides, when i die, whether i go to heaven or hell. he sent his son to earth .... and we all know that story. there's the virgin mother, and the whore girlfriend, and all the miracles.

prior to that story there was the story about the the dad, and the mom, who fucked up in the garden of eden. it's really all the snake's fault, or so the story goes, because if the temptation hadn't been offered by the snake then eve (the mom) wouldn't have offered it (the temptation) to adam (the dad) and we'd all still be frolicking, naked, through paradise.

more recently there's the guy (martin luther) who pinned the theses to the door at wittenberg, denouncing the hypocrisy of the catholic interpretation of the stories. and the one (george fox) who rode around northern england telling people they don't really need the priests at all, they can listen quietly and find the voice of 'god,' perhaps interpreted as 'dad' by some, inside themselves. george, and his followers, were not particularly popular with the traditional clergy. same with martin.

in other cultures they, of course, have other dads and moms. the greeks have a timeless tale about a man (oedipus) who is told that he'll end up killing his father (laius) and marrying his mother (jocasta). that's his fate, and there's nothing he can do about it. he flees his village, hoping to avoid his fate, and has a collision with a horse carriage. i don't remember the details, but he ends up killing the man who, he learns later, after marrying the man's wife, happened to be his father. damned fate!!! he pokes his eyes out with needles, and lives with his daughter (antigone) until his death.

then there's mohammed, who was married with a wife and child/ren when he heard the voice of 'god' instructing him to find solitude. while there, he scribed a doctrine that is used, in some circles, to encourage the rape and subjugation of women. i'm not sure mr. mohammed, or his wife and children, would be particularly impressed by that, or by those occupying armies that seem to encourage, rather than change, the status of women who live in the shadow of mohammed.

finally, there's the great abraham. he and sarah, his wife, waited years and years for their first child. they were considered elders by the time the boy-child was born. i'm not sure of the kid's name. abraham's miracle was about hearing the voice of 'god' instructing him to climb a mountain with his son, the one he had waited all those years for, and at the top of the mountain abraham was to 'give' his son to 'god.' by means of execution. this was abraham's intent as he climbed the mountain with his son - to kill him. climbing the mountain, thinking about killing his son. climbing, thinking, climbing, thinking. one can only imagine sarah's feelings about all this. luckily, at the last minute, 'god' told abraham that he had, in fact, changed his mind. it wasn't the child that god wanted, as it turns out, it was merely a sheep. silly abraham! luckily he got the story straight, at the last minute. abraham slaughtered the sheep, took the boy down the mountain back to sarah (who would, no doubt, have been quite relieved).

and the rest, as they say, is definitely HIStory.

there's yoga ...... and then there's tata

i wish i'd known more about tata, the tata group, the enormous indian corporation that birjoo works for, prior to last weekend's yoga workshop. actually, it's probably good that i didn't know more about it or i'd likely have voiced my concerns about the recurring car analogies more consistently, more loudly, and have ended up thrown out of the workshop.

birjoo is an amazing yoga teacher, there's no doubt. i blogged previously about some of his teachings, those that really resonated with me, the ones i could remember. i learned and remembered a lot, but information overload being what it is ...

on the final day of the four day yoga workshop, after experimenting with the chakra sounds, learning to find the centre line from the inside by imagining another face on the back of our heads and another body extending out behind us, after lots of warm up and preparation, we were encouraged to find our best back bends. birjoo offered help to those who wanted to reach for the floor from a standing position, a first time for some, and then we tried various balancing poses and learned some magic restorative healing postures for such ailments as parkinson's and asthma.

i have no regrets about attending the workshop. it left me with lots to think about .... including concerns about what's going on in capitalist india and how the corporate head space will merge with the ancient one.

a friend of mine, who lived in india for 20 years, tells me that their culture is definitely changing. young indians are now reaching for the material world, as are so many around the world who've previously been denied it. it's tempting, there's no doubt .... all the gadgets and gizmos, the best things the industrial revolution has created to help us communicate with each other and live a bit more comfortably. but there's a value system that goes along with all that fun, a value system that says we must measure our success not by how we live on the planet, or how we treat ourselves and our neighbours, but based on how much cool stuff we have.

many, here in the west, have opted out of the fast paced corporate culture. we watch as the true evils of 'anything goes' capitalism are revealed. as the planet's delicate and interconnected ecosystems take what may be their final breaths, we thank the heavens that we had the insight and wherewithal to embrace voluntary simplicity and live each day with the wisdom learned from wanting too much too fast. we shudder at the thought that the 'third world,' the 'developing world,' the 'global south' are now embracing the consumer lifestyle. we feel helpless, watching them eat up the planet as our 'western' capitalist ancestors have done, living with more than is really needed at the expense of the rest of the world who suffer because of that greed.

the question becomes, what right do we have to stop them? perhaps none. perhaps it is, as is commonly commented whenever the discussion is raised, just too egocentric and hypocritical of us to ask the rest of the world to consider the consequences of their lifestyle choices, especially after all the colonizing our governments have done. now, finally, many millions of people around the world have the ability to raise their standards of living - to own cars and enjoy the freedom those bring, to eat exotic foods shipped halfway around the world, to make movies and watch television and own ipods and all the myriad other techno gadgets. isn't it cruel to want to deny people those enjoyments?

i suppose. but the reality is that not all the people will be able to enjoy all the creature comforts, not as long as the disparity of wealth (that capitalism depends on) exists. there are people in north america, many hundreds of thousands, who are denied homes. they're not even legally able to set up a tent for themselves to survive the cold winters. they have no health care, their teeth rot inside their mouths. they are thrown away like yesterday's trash. why? because a society that values material goods above all else has little regard for human life .... especially those humans who cannot or will not play the capitalist game of accumulation.

at the yoga workshop i told birjoo i was having difficulty with the car references because i was almost killed by one. cyclists don't particularly like cars. (the last thing i'd buy, even if i were able, is a car. they're big heavy pieces of machinery that isolate us from one another. i appreciate the freedom a car brings, but i have also evolved to discover car sharing. i do not need to own a car to feel important.) birjoo didn't really understand. neither did we see eye to eye during the lunch break, when the conversation turned from vocalizing the wonders of technology to a constructive criticism of it. he didn't seem to understood why i don't "google" (google is a corporation, not a verb ... and they've agreed to censor search results in china at that government's request - my words), and he has definitely formed strong opinions about cuba based on the propaganda espoused from the corporate media (of course a dictator would want to censor information - his words). it was a confusing conversation - it's okay for google corp. to cooperate with the chinese government to censor information, but impossible to consider that the cuban government hasn't implemented widespread access to wifi or cell phones yet because they're concerned about the long term health implications of those, which are as yet unknown.

from birjoo i learned a ton about yoga - about how to observe my body to determine if i'm doing the asanas correctly, about how to integrate the ancient knowledge of chakras into my practice. and now i've learned a bit more about tata. the tata group. the massive indian corporation that's creating the nano car, among other things. and i have some concerns. some big concerns - about yama and niyama and ahimsa and satya.

you can read about tata by clicking here.

and/or you can click here to see photos from birjoo's workshop.

Housing March 2009 Vancouver: Renters at Risk and WERA

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Confessions of a Rough Sleeper

Thanks to Chris Johnson for forwarding this .... It's from a website called Homeless Tales, written by TVParksdale.

Confessions of a Rough Sleeper

Ask the poverty-ridden and homeless in a conventional group what they want and they will tell you exactly what they think the public wants to hear. We’ve all been nicely trained to parrot the party lines.

You’ll hear about addictions, mental illness and system scamming. You’ll hear about the need for “supportive housing”, more shelters and better social work services. You will hear exactly what you expect to hear. I refuse to go to any more conventions to hear the same shit that’s shoveled to the tune of no real results. Billions of dollars wasted to say, “Homelessness is a problem.” With a unionized construction crew, we could have housed every homeless person in this country on far less money.***

Ask those same de-housed people what they want behind closed doors, without any coordinator class, social workers or political influence peddlers and listen to the difference.

The story is very, very different.

Behind closed doors, with our own, we hear about how the system is so broken it leads to chronic frustration, clinical depression, increased emotional crisis’, feelings of complete inadequacy and mental breakdowns. You’ll hear how some clients have to have 2-10 workers/lawyers/doctors just to negotiate the paperwork of Ontario Works, ODSP, medical care and housing. You’ll hear the self-hating guilt about having to accept handouts, leftovers and government support from people that could support themselves on token jobs if they didn’t have to pay huge rent or stay in subsidized housing or because we need to obtain the necessary drug/dental/health benefits of government hand-outs that we can’t get unless we succumb to OW/ODSP.

You’ll see the tears over homes we’ve had and loved that weren’t “acceptable” to the outside world. “They took our freedom. They destroyed our community,” are statements I hear frequently.

Squats, camps near train tracks, under the bridges, street crews.

Our dreams of something better—shattered. People we’ve loved, people who helped us survive that we must turn away from our doors on a freezing winter’s night because “housing” doesn’t allow us to have overnight guests that stay too long or make too much noise. Of how many of us have been evicted because we’ve let the very people who insured our survival crash on the floor. Oh yes, it’s pleasant to be warm, the toilet flushes and there’s a sense of gratitude corrupted with survivor guilt because for everyone who is housed, we leave dozens behind, abandoned. We go to their funerals to mourn and feel more shame for being alive. We don’t talk about that to “outsiders”.

Behind closed doors, we talk about the isolation. About knowing that if one of us died today, our body might not be found for weeks.. If we are ill, no one will bring a street nurse from the clinic, warm a can of soup or call the ambulance. These aren’t counted as “homeless deaths”. Yet, no street crew would not scream for assistance should they see a member so ill s/he cannot function. The streets are a stern taskmaster. Yet the reality of poverty housing is that death happens frequently because “the worker wasn’t available” or “the neighbours didn’t notice anything until it started to smell.” Then the closest social service agency will throw some sort of memorial that has little to do with anything we might have actually wanted or believed.

Behind my brown door you’ll hear about the stunning invasions of privacy by social services, housing workers, case managers, supervisors, means-testers—none qualified to do intensive therapy yet digging into the painful pasts of those they claim to serve. Tearing apart the pieces without the skill of putting such a complex puzzle of a disrupted life back together.

There’s the $20 research studies that carry on endlessly around this city. Go to a conference, or research study get the $20-40 for your input, let someone shred your shame apart and analyze your personal tragedy then send you home with the honorarium for saying what you know they wanted to hear. Tell them all about your destruction, recall it, flashback by flashback and spend days swirling helplessly in traumatic memories with no supports. You’re just another research number. The twenty dollars can buy a bottle, or maybe a chicken dinner and chips to comfort you so you can pick your pieces up again. Maybe an old street crew friend will be around to share your woes but it certainly won’t be the paid worker who spends hours stitching up the emotional razor slashes.

The poor live with a chronic invasion of privacy, the likes of which no middle/upper class person would tolerate for an instant. Their life stories are passed from worker to worker, team to team, medical practitioners, psychiatrists, housing workers, social workers, bureaucrats, pharmacists, drop-in staffs, government officials all in the name of “help”.

Sign the dozens of consent forms, please, right here, at the “X”. Just in case, of course, that someone scams a nickel’s worth of taxpayer’s money, that although they might really need it, they are not legally entitled to have it. Then the “help” that has stomped on every shred of dignity that a poor person might possess complain that, “these clients have boundary issues.”

Of course we have no “boundaries” left. We bleed publicly to receive our pittances so often we can’t help but hate those we perceive, as ever-present paid-love, inconsistently abusive foster parents. We aren’t allowed to tell them, “Fuck off. I don’t want to talk about it.” or, “Fuck off. You know fuck all about housing the poor, my history, what I wanted for my life, or anything else, you clueless twit.”

Then we blame the poor for a “lack of willpower”.

Well, what creates “willpower”?

Willpower is belief that since we experienced effecting change in the past, we are capable of effecting change in the future.

If you have little experience with seeing change effected, why would you have any willpower to see something new through? The poor are up against the most powerful forces in the world. Most aren’t blinded by false hopes that buoy the middle class. Someone controls their money supply, controls their children, controls their housing, controls what employment that can have, controls their health-care, controls what medications they can access, controls their food supply, controls where they can live, controls what they are entitled to receive in education and on and on.

When the poor come up with a real solution, they are ruthlessly stomped on by the so-called left and right as well as the media unless being portrayed as pitiful victims with “mental health issues”.

Great ideas that the poor promote are stolen from their brains to be sanitized then utilized by the “professionals” as newfangled programs while agencies weasel out more funding by claiming it was a “client led idea”. The same client who showed up at the meeting because s/he needed the proffered free meal. No permanent pay-cheque to be had for the “client” who came up with the concept, of course. S/he is ‘not a qualified professional’. I stopped counting how many friends I’ve watched explode from injustice because some professional collected a pay-cheque after said friend instituted a great little inexpensive and much-needed program as an unpaid volunteer. How much “willpower” can one have left after that experience?

Housing squats and camps are a case in point. A “willing” crew gets together, unites and sets up house. Without legal title they are vulnerable to police raids. Social services might step in to “save” them, splitting them apart and isolating each into shelters and housing them far apart to “save problems”. Any sense of community or political influence they might hope to gain is shattered. They are given welfare or ODSP and turned from people with part-time work paying no rent into a begging citizenry. Some will not stay. They’ll find another bridge or crew. Then that community will be raided as well. Ah yes, ladies and gentlemen, these are the “hard-to-house-hardcore-homeless”.The merry-go-round goes on and on…

Social service agencies create “supportive housing”. The residents have no say in the rules, how the place is run, the level of service or intrusion into their personal space. Sometimes there are house meetings that pay lip service to the idea, but in truth, it’s just to shut the clients up, cut down on the roaches and bedbugs while it keeps the pay-cheques and status quo rocking along. If the residents “misbehave” they are told to “get into [name program] or be evicted.”

The ‘regular’ neighbours complain about the subsidized-housed ones, “They have no sense of community. They don’t care about their neighbours.” The same neighbours that sneer down their noses publicly at the “lazy bums” and complain about paying taxes for “welfare frauds.” Or perhaps, the neighbours that care realize there’s a problem but are simply ineffective at knowing what to do about it.

Jack Tafari who was a main founder of “Dignity Village” once told me, “My biggest challenge in building Dignity was convincing the de-housed they don’t have to stay in the missionary position.”

Or more crudely put by someone else, “It’s hard to stand up for anything when you’re forced on your knees to suck colonialist cock.”

So, what is the solution?

Stop blindsiding the poor with middle class social-work agendas. Face reality.

The government is never going to build enough, or adequate housing for every need. There is never going to be a 0% unemployment rate in this country. Those solutions don’t serve the politico-corporate agenda.

When the poor come up with their own communities or alternative solutions, support them. Show them that you will back solutions that are not your ideological preference. Show them that they can effect change if they fight. Fight to legalize their tent cities and their squats and their right to house themselves, work at whatever jobs they can for a little pay or jobs they can invent.

You’d be shocked at the energetic creativity some can unleash if you cut us loose.

Stop forcing us into the arms of social services because it assuages your guilt. Understand that every time a squat, trailer/van stop, or camp is crushed that you destroy our very hopes and dreams for a brighter, more independent future. Realize that you are turning your own countrymen into refugees. Fight for our right to build our own communities even if it looks like a messy eyesore to you.

Because that’s what it’s really all about.

The poor are an eyesore. We make you feel guilty when we’re hanging around under bridges, or at hobo camps, or panhandling somewhere public and political. Our visibility is proof that we as a society do NOT have enough housing and that we don’t have all the answers to poverty reduction, or unemployment, or disability or substance use or mental health struggles and we will never have perfect solutions.

Considering the economic downturn, letting people find creative alternatives is going to become even more imperative soon. We need to believe we can effect change.

Admit that the people who are considered “crazy”, or “addicted” might actually know more about dealing with other people sharing their fate than those who are profiting from their poverty. Stop blaming the poor for increasing poverty. When Harris gutted Ontario’s social programs and abolished rent controls and tenant protection laws, 100,000 de-housed people did not suddenly lose their minds in the following couple of years.

The present minimum wage will not cover the cost of rent in Toronto, or hardly anywhere else, for that matter.

Give us the support to assert our communal will, for our needs not promoted by the colonialist missionary agenda.

Support us to learn to WIN what we want, for ourselves. Wherever that might take us all.

It might even be somewhere better.

***NOTE: Want to know what it actually cost to build apx 85 cabins in Tent City Toronto that housed 115 people?

- About $1,000 in tools.
- $0 in reno scraps that we recycled.
- $200 per wood stove.
- $0 in oil barrels.
- $30 per propane heater

- and $10 per week in propane, candles and gaslights bought in by private donations.

- Second hand beds, bathtubs, furniture, all scrounged from the garbage of those better off or donated by supportive visitors.
- TDRC brought in some plastic houses that cost a few thousand each although that was not the majority of housing stock.

- TDRC and the city of Toronto supplied porta-potties. Cost unknown.
- Water was hauled from an open fire hydrant
- In short, our actual housing cost the taxpayers $0 although some residents used their $200 per month OW “street pay” or ODSP living allowance for tools and supplies which many also lent around the camp to build more housing.

The Pope Squat was in the process of being renovated compliments of the construction unions who also supplied materials. Now the new building owner has received hundreds of thousands in reno dollars from the City to produce rent-geared-to-income apartments too small for my dog to live in.

Get the picture?

Monday, April 13, 2009

earth water fire air

one more yoga day today and then it's back to the mad dash working to get the street newz to the printer on thursday.

so here's the scoop on the chakras:

the base chakra, muladhara, is associated with earth and the sound is lum with variations as vowels are added: la, li, lo etc.

the sacral chakra, svadisthana, is connected to water, and the sound we were taught for the purposes of yoga is 'wa.'

manipura is the solar plexus chakra, the fire one, and the sound is 'ra.' be careful with 'ra,' though, because fire goes everywhere and can easily be uncontrollable.

the heart chakra is anahata, and the sound is 'ya' which is the air sound. 'ya' will lift your asanas, make them light. but don't get too light, go back to 'la' to get grounded again.

and we didn't really work much with the throat (vishudda:ether) or the brow (ajna) and crown (sahasrara) chakras which are associated with something beyond, although, of course, we chant 'om' prior to each yoga session.

i remember from my reiki days that the colours of the chakras coincide with the colours of the rainbow, starting at the base chakra: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. and they're equally as magical.

a very cool thing we learned yesterday is about the power of the intelligence. if you take urdhva mukha janu sirsasana and bring your intelligence to the bent leg hip area, then take paschimottanasana and imagine your leg is bent like in the first pose ..... well, try it and see what happens. the baking bread thing from the day before is also useful - putting air into the belly area just below the diaphragm.

birjoo's really focussed on teaching us how to use our own bodies to learn sequencing. it's always about the base, it seems. and finding where the breath is quiet - then you know you're doing it correctly. he's got us looking at the area(s) that might be closed or tight in one pose, then thinking about other poses where that area is open. the idea is to do the pose where the area is open and then, while the consciousness is alerted to the feeling of openness, moving to an asana where the same area is closed and, if required, envisioning the previous pose. it's incredible, the power of mind over matter!

what else did we learn .... something about buying a television and taking your family with you to make that decision, and then buying a car ... i think i lost the learning of that because i couldn't get beyond the car reference. i cycle and mostly hate cars ... a car almost killed me and then there's all the toxic crap and the oil and gas industry and the wars ...

and i also learned that not enough time in savasana makes me feel angry.

but there was an analogy i could relate to about going to a market with lots of stalls. we often practice whimsically, birjoo said, adjusting our postures continually without any real purpose. this is like going to a market and going in and out of the stalls unsure what you want. he encouraged us to take supta padangusthasana imagining that we were only allowed to go into one stall and we had to stay there for an hour. we'll be more careful about which market stall we'll go into, right? and so it is with asanas. using supta padangusthasana we were encouraged to make adjustments and we could stay with the adjustments if we were happy with them. but if we made an adjustment that wasn't correct, that didn't result in quiet mind and slowed breathing, then we had to come out of the pose and try the other leg. i've had really good foundational training so this wasn't much of a challenge for me, though i did learn that if i move my foot inwards my hip lifted. i hadn't noticed that before.

so it's really about going inside and, if you've had training that gives you a good solid foundation so you know how the poses are correctly aligned, then trying to feel why that's so. birjoo encourages us to try and do things wrong, and see what happens. i think we all have a greater appreciation for the insistence on alignment that mr iyengar's method follows, and especially a greater understanding of why we have all those adjustment instructions. and that's still important for beginners, birjoo said, they need to know intellectually what each asana requires. they're building their database. but once that database is established, it's not enough to just do the asanas mechanically, using only the mind, because then yoga becomes stale and we might find we're stuck in bad patterns. we've got to awaken the consciousness, through pranayama, and then apply the intelligence to our poses, use the chakra sounds and other techniques birjoo has shared with us, to understand at a cellular level what the asana is.

it's rather a huge investment, this yoga stuff, but ultimately i feel i'm investing in my own health. if only our rather stale health care system would incorporate such teachings, so we can all be healthier beings infused with the universal energies, feeling empowered and participants in our own lives! ironically, i sit in the yoga room looking across at view towers, one of the biggest, probably the biggest, relatively low income buildings in victoria. i wonder about those people over there, how their lives might change if they had the opportunity of yoga. i think about how this distinction between mind and intelligence can influence people trying to relieve themselves of their addictions, if only they knew the power inside. if only they knew the joy that yoga can bring! i think of mr. iyengar's humble beginnings, of all the years he lived in poverty, even raising his children, and of the school his book sales have built.

i'm thankful to the yoga centre for their bursaries and scholarships that enable me to participate and learn and grow and stay sane.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

pranayama and the sound of chakras

in day two of birjoo's day yoga intensive we learned about pranayama and the influence of the chakras on our asanas.

pranayama is about engaging with the life force - the prana. some refer to this as the ch'i. if you've experienced reiki, or other energy work, you'll understand. it's the universal life force that infuses everything with its energy. it's different from the breath, though it's accessible through the breath.

birjoo explained that the difference between asanas and pranayama is like the difference between doing carpentry and cooking. with carpentry you're constantly interacting with the piece of wood, chipping at it or sawing it or nailing it until you get the desired result. with cooking you do all the preparation, chopping the vegetables and soaking the rice and making sure the stove is at the right heat, but the actual cooking is beyond your control. lifting the lid off the pot or turning the heat up or down will not help the cooking process. so it is with pranayama - all you can do is create the appropriate environment and then let the universal energy do its thing.

in order to connect with our innermost selves, birjoo had us lay in two different poses - one with our back flat on the floor and our feet raised (on whatever height will ensure the back is flat) with knees spread open (supta baddha konasana), and one with our sacrum resting on blocks or bolsters with shoulders and feet on the floor (setubanda sarvangasana). we were asked to observe our breathing in both postures, to determine whether the will was invoked in the exhale or the inhale on both. normally, our will is required for the inhale, but the exhale just happens on its own. we discovered this to be the case in supta baddha, but in setubanda it was reversed - it was the exhale that required the will, and the inhale happened quite naturally.

we also observed where, in the body, the breath occurred. in supta baddha the breath happened in the periphery of the body, and in setubanda it was in the core.

then we did a seated pranayama, sitting either in padmasana (lotus) or with a simple cross legged position.

aside: one of the things people love about mr. iyengar's way of teaching is that it incorporates props - blocks, belts, bolsters, blankets, ropes, walls, all sorts of benches and aids to help people achieve the asanas. birjoo explained that it's our consciousness that keeps us balanced, or that props us up, but we can also use a prop to accomplish that. this is especially wonderful for beginners, so they can get the feel of an asana without straining or hurting themselves. as we proceed we remove the props, which is a very satisfactory feeling. but there's no pressure to do all the poses without props immediately. mr. iyengar was a sick child himself, born into extreme poverty from a mother who carried influenza. he had a very stern teacher and forced his body to do things to the point of pain, in order to please his teacher. later in life, after travelling to europe and africa (where he wasn't allowed to leave his hotel because of apartheid, i learned while watching a film about his life during the break), he realized people are not all accustomed to yoga, and are all shapes and sizes and abilities, and he introduced props into his teachings. i understand this is one of the main differences between the iyengar style of teaching, and others (and it's just one reason we love him so much!).

back to pranayama .... after we brought our intelligence to our breath, and observed it, we were instructed to remember what it felt like to breathe from the core. often we breathe from the periphery. but if we focus, we can move the breath from the core outwards. in the pause, between the inhale and the exhale, the consciousness moves to the periphery and basically pushes the breath back towards the core. then it moves into the core, and 'pushes' the breath to the periphery. birjoo demonstrated this with blocks, repeatedly, until we understood it. then we practiced it for 20 minutes or so. and after that we lay in savasana and let the prana do its magic, healing and awakening and infusing our bodies with its universal energy.

all you need is la

after a short break we began a 2.5 hour asana practice. birjoo again spent a lot of time explaining some ancient wisdom. i think we only did about 5 different asanas, but we did them repeatedly using the instructions he gave us. today we were instructed in the magic of the chakras.

the chakras are essentially centres of energy located along the centre cortex of the body. acupuncturists and other alternative healers know about chakras. some profess an ability to see colours associated with them, and they carry sound. birjoo began to introduce us to their sounds, and we were encouraged to say the sound he suggested, silently, as we practiced each asana.

so we began, with adho mukha savasana (downward facing dog) saying, to ourselves, the sound 'la.' 'la' is associated with the base chakra, the muladhara. 'la' offers stability. we were encouraged to think of nothing else except 'la' while practicing the asana. 'la' is good for a number of poses that require stability. we were also instructed to experiment with 'wa' and 'ya', associated with water and air respectively, but to be careful with 'ra' - the fire energy. off the top of my head i don't remember which chakras those other sounds are related to, though 'om' is the sound of the chakra at the top of the head (sahasrara), but i can tell you that the effect of saying those sounds, silently, while practicing, is remarkable. it's some kinda crazy magic.

in full arm balance we were instructed to direct our breath to the space underneath our diaphragm and fill it with air. the analogy used was bread -- it's as if you are baking bread and suddenly the yeast begins to react and creates space there. amazingly, the legs automatically go up the wall! we've all been taught to use our muscles and our will to do things like get our legs up the wall, but birjoo showed us how to do it simply using our breath.

there's just no end to this yoga path of learning ....

Saturday, April 11, 2009

21st century meets ancient yoga philosophy

it's "21st century meets ancient yoga philosophy" with birjoo mehta. according to the trusty interweb, "Sri Birjoo Mehta is a long-standing disciple of Sri B.K.S. Iyengar as well as the managing trustee of the Light on Yoga Research Trust. He has been a student of Iyengar since 1975 and since 1984 has accompanied him on many tours in India and abroad. Birjoo had been teaching Iyengar Yoga in Mumbai (Bombay) for 18 years." Apparently he is also trained and works as an engineer.

i've never had the concept of consciousness, the distinction between mind, intelligence, and ego explained using analogies drawn from the worlds of computer technology and business, but it makes perfect sense. i think i'm actually beginning to understand the sutras that refer to the 'seer' and the 'seeing.'

if i'm remembering correctly, here's how birjoo explained it: the body is like the hardware of a computer, the actual physical metal and glass and silicon and wire components. the intelligence is like the software - the word processor, the spreadsheet, the email program, the publish
ing applications you use to create whatever work you're doing. the mind is like the operating system, the interpretor that goes back and forth between the software and the hardware so that the software's instructions are actually understood by the machine. all these three components are complete on their own, but none of them can really accomplish anything without the other two.

in india businesses employ "runners" (i can't remember the specific term birjoo used, but he did refer to them as male) who greet visitors to a company. visitors give the 'runner' a busi
ness card and ask to see the boss. the runner takes the business card to the boss and then return to the visitor with whatever message. if there's a person the boss really doesn't want to see, it doesn't take the runner long to figure out that it's not necessary to go to the boss with that person's business card, he can just say the boss isn't in. this is how the mind works. when something's new, some new emotion or sensation or encounter, the mind registers it and then goes to the intelligence to determine how to proceed. with children everything's new, there is no database of information to draw upon so they're constantly consulting the intelligence. they're very conscious and aware of everything. as we evolve and grow, our ego fills up like the database, full of memories and their associated prejudices. so after a while, after the database starts to compile data, the mind doesn't need to go to the intelligence every time it encounters something - some person or sensation. the mind can say "i recognize this, i know how to handle this" and sends its instructions to the body to speak or move or whatever.

so it is with yoga. when we perform an asana repetitively, in the same way over and over day after day, without introducing anything new, our mind says "i recognize this, i know how to do this" and sends instructions (which may not necessarily be correct) to the body. this is wh
y it's so easy to get into bad habits with asanas. we're so focussed on completing the asana that we don't consciously think about every little movement that gets us to that completion.

so birjoo taught us how to look differently, in a very new way (for many if not all of us) at our asanas. he actually brought to life mr. iyengar's teachings which, for me who hasn't had the experience of being in his presence, have always been in written form and therefore somewhat inaccessible to my full understanding. birjoo is showing us how to awaken the consciousness, how to observe the mind and see what messages it takes, and what messages it brings, so we can reintroduce intelligence into the asanas. the intelligence is in our bodies and we know when we've found it because our minds quieten. for example, in tadasana (mountain pose), if you focus on expanding your foot from the metatarsal forward and back, the breathing actually slows and deepens, and the mind quietens. it's quite remarkable in its simplicity. rather than letting the mind just tell the body how to do these simple poses, birjoo is encouraging us to first observe our mind as we do each pose, then look very carefully at the foundation of the poses, to awaken our consciousness and bring intelligence and find that quiet. inside each cell, he says, there's an on and off switch (again, like the ones and zeros of the computer) and when we engage with yoga in this way we're activating those cells and that is how we not only avoid injury, but heal ourselves.

maybe we can even find eternal life! look at mr. iyengar, at 90 years old .... he's certainly inspiring!

i suppose it's not surprising that the human being functions like a computer ..... i mean, that the computer functions like a being. everything in creation, as i was reminded last weekend, is constructed from the same materials that were present at the 'beginning' of our universe 13.6 billion years ago (though i still wonder when scientists will discover whatever existed before that particular sperm/egg like collision). and it's the same 13.6 billion year old minds doing the creation. while some beings reflect their inner selves through military equipment and now robotic drones, that kill and murder and destroy, many others prefer to honour the ancient processes that re-awaken intelligence, to marvel at the complexity of life, to do the work of healing and sustaining life.

Monday, April 6, 2009

I care about housing, and I vote - rally April 4th in Vancouver

Act Your Age

Friday ... it seems a lifetime ago. I've got another workshop next weekend, and a ton of work to do these next four days, but I feel compelled to record, document, unravel my feelings about the amazing incredible journey that was the weekend.

I wasn't really sure what to expect, going into it. The workshop description read: "Reconnecting to Life/The Work That Reconnects workshops welcome everyone who cares about our planet and all its beings. Exploring and moving through our defenses and distractions, we will touch our true feelings about our troubled world. A safe and transformative process enables us to find refuge and renewal in our own hearts, in nature and in community." I'd been advertising it for years in the electronic events newsletter for activists I created and recently retired from, and Maggie had been offering me workshop space in return, and I figured I'd better cash in on that offer while the help I'd offered was still fresh. I'd been trying to find space in my life for this twice annual workshop for years, I never seemed to have time, but its description intrigued me and besides, one of the facilitators is partnered with the guy who wrote the song about Percy Schmeiser, so I figured it'd be a safe place for me and my 'radical' ideas.

It turns out Maggie and Jackie, and all the people I shared the weekend with, created an opportunity for a weekend I'll never forget.

Being an activist, a 'radical' environmentalist, peace and anti-poverty activist, is not always easy. It's always the right thing, to work peacefully and non-violently for the greater good of all, but it's tough to be labelled as 'radical' for doing that work and yet to continue doing the work and then to watch, day after day and week after week and year after year, the same old bullshit. Sure, there's some kind of 'green shift' going on, but whether it's enough to fend off the looming climate change apocalypse or whether it's another 'cool fad' that'll soon fade into the collective memory of a dead planet is anybody's guess. Species continue to go extinct. The hole in the ozone grows. Carbon levels rise. Forests are plundered. The oceans fill with plastic and oil. Drones and humans kill and rape and lie about it. And there are so many who deny, or ignore, or disregard, the real impact of what's happening, going about their lives as if it'll all be right again someday after the same old hierarchy, that created the mess and recently collapsed, is reconstructed to continue its dirty work. But this weekend I was surrounded with people who see it and acknowledge it and in their individual ways are working for change, and they care enough to find the time to get together for a workshop.

It wasn't easy, the workshop. Jackie and Maggie inspired us to examine and if necessary challenge the foundations of our worldviews, of ourselves, of our trust, our perceptions, our judgements. They're more than facilitators, they actively participated in many of the activities. They laughed, they cried, they expressed their anger, their rage, their deep love for the planet and all her creation. And so did we. It was exhausting. But it was also exhilarating, and inspiring, and a great opportunity to find some real solidarity with like-minded individuals and to emerge with the realization that we're in this together and, thankfully, there are some incredible beings who really truly love this planet.

It's tough, now, to begin with the big pile of work that faces me these next four days before I plunge into an intensive four day yoga workshop that will also challenge and exhaust me, leaving me also feeling refreshed and renewed and inspired with awe at the beauty of this world and our abilities to meet and rise above challenges we've never imagined. Right now I want to go somewhere else -- walk in the wilderness, swim in the ocean, plant seeds in organic soil. But I also want to stay right here, and do the work that contributes to, as Maggie and Jackie explained it, "The Great Turning ... the Ecozoic Shift."

So, here goes. Working from a place of gratitude - that I am blessed to do the work I do, that I live in such an amazingly beautiful part of the world, that I realize there is hope, there must be hope, for real and fundamental change so that we can at this last minute shift away from the dominant patriarchal capitalist structure and its focus on competition to the last man standing (the women having been pushed over first), having confronted my deep and profound grief and despair because this system is entrenched in thousands of years of social and political structures and maybe it really is too late to stop its destruction, feeling the pain of all my relations, native ancestors who realized a more profound and respectful connection with the spirits of the land, raging against the on-going rape and plundering war machine that allows and encourages men to put guns up womens' vaginas and then shoot them, acknowledging that the pain I feel for our collective loss is connected to the pain of all who suffer without letting it overcome me, wondering if the little birdies happily bathing on my balcony are the same ones I heard in the forest this weekend, remembering that I and you and everything I can see and touch and hear is created from a life process that began 13 and a half billion years ago, .... I proceed.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The NDP and the big lie about Israel: An open letter to Carole James
Publish Date: March 26, 2009

Dear Ms. James,

As Jewish British Columbians we were disappointed and angered by your treatment of newly-chosen Kensington candidate Mable Elmore regarding comments she made some years ago about the difficulty of dealing with Zionists in her union when trying to organize around peace issues. We want you to know that we are not at all offended by Mable's remarks but rather by your response to them, which we think does a disservice both to Jews and the community as a whole.

Mainstream Zionism is a political ideology that supports the creation of an exclusively Jewish state in the land of Palestine. The creation of the state of Israel and its many actions in violently repressing the indigenous Palestinian people, denying their human rights and repeatedly violating international law is a direct consequence of this Zionist ideology.

It is completely fallacious to equate the term "Zionist" with the term "Jew". There are many in the Jewish community, including ourselves, who are very critical of the policies of the Israeli state and have strong disagreement with the Zionist organizations and individuals in Canada and elsewhere who defend these policies. With the recent brutal assault on the people of Gaza by the Israeli military, and the recent election of an Israeli government which includes openly racist demagogues such as Avigdor Lieberman, more and more people within the Jewish community and within the broader community are becoming critical of Israeli policies and want to see a change in the situation which could actually lead to a just settlement and peace between the two peoples.

The real aim of the Zionist leadership in branding people like Mable who criticize Israeli policies as anti-Semites is to try to extinguish any debate, discussion and analysis of the real issues in the Middle East. It is the new McCarthyism in the current political context. This is the Big Lie—to repeat endlessly that criticism of Israel amounts to anti-Semitism.

Your response to Mable's words in that interview have helped to spread the Big Lie further and to repress any real discussion and debate over the difficult human rights issues in the Middle East. For the party of social democracy in British Columbia to take such action is shameful. We hope that you will reconsider your words and actions in this matter and attempt to set the record straight.


Sid Shniad
Marty Roth
Martha Roth
Judith Neamtan
Eva Sharell
Carl Rosenberg
Lawrence Boxall
Bob Rosen
Rick Marcuse
Stephen Aberle
Joanne Naiman
Neil Naiman
Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta
Ernie Yacub

Independent Jewish Voices B.C., a provincial chapter of Independent Jewish Voices (Canada).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009