Rebuilding media from Canwest’s ashes


It was just over two years ago that, along with a network of organizations and individuals, I launched what would be the first of many public campaigns to keep Canada’s media open and democratic.

The “Stop the Big Media Takeover” campaign was focused on the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) media ownership hearing “Diversity of Voices.” The danger was that, despite a slew of big media mergers, the CRTC was poised to weaken cross-ownership and basic media market concentration rules. In the end, the CRTC actually strengthened the rules and agreed to look into funding for community TV.

This appeared to be a victory for people across Canada, however, in reality, the rules did not go far enough to safeguard diversity of voices in local broadcast markets. Nor did it require any divestment on the part of Canadian media companies.

That the CRTC’s new rules seemed to be deliberately crafted to avoid challenging the current level of media ownership concentration in Canada was of little surprise. During the CRTC’s deliberation over ownership rules, it approved the Canwest Global/Goldman Sachs $2.3-billion takeover of Alliance Atlantis. Clearly, these decisions, coupled with the CRTC’s general propensity to favour big industry players over the public interest, are at the heart of the current crisis in traditional media. Recent news of Canwest’s insolvency is further evidence of the effects of bad public policy combined with the greed of big media.

On October 6, Canwest filed for Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) protection for some of its operations. Canwest’s broadcasting assets, including Global Television, along with the National Post, have been awarded court protection from their creditors under the CCAA. The company has missed interest payments to bond holders and is said to have a debt load of nearly $4 billion.

Certainly, big media’s profit-first model was bound to lead to a crisis in journalism and media production. But the CRTC could have kept many media workers and consumers safe from big media’s race to the bottom had it actually taken serious action to maintain a “diversity of voices.”

The Canwest takeover of Alliance Atlantis in 2007 was based on debt and equity financing from Goldman Sachs. Canwest must earn enough profit on its existing media businesses and the AAC specialty channels by 2011 in order to take a controlling equity interest in the merged company. If not, foreign investor Goldman Sachs will own the lion’s share of the company. The danger now is that Canwest’s debt crisis could be used for a government bailout of some sort, or worse, that policy makers could lift foreign ownership rules in order to keep Canwest afloat.

Lifting foreign ownership rules will surely make a bad situation worse. Instead of having to deal with an unaccountable Canadian big media conglomerate, we’ll have an international big media conglomerate with even less democratic responsibility.

The good news is that journalism and media production in general are not unsustainable; it’s the big media model that is unsustainable. In looking at Canwest’s job losses, the blame can be placed squarely on corporate mismanagement. The question is who is going to fill the vacuum where big media once was?

The crisis in the traditional media industry, combined with the proliferation of the most open medium in history, the Internet, has produced an historic opportunity to make media and journalism serve our communities once again. We should seize this opportunity before the same big media that got us into this crisis have the opportunity to re-establish their concentration of journalism and media resources.

Now, more than ever, we need to support independent, community and public media so they can step into the void left by big media. We need creative and independent experiments with both journalism practice and finance.

On November 7, Vancouverites will discuss how to make a new media system at the Media Democracy Day event. Visit

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He contributed to Censored 2008 and Battleground: The Media, and has written for The TyeeToronto Star, Epoch Times and Adbusters. Reach him at:

Compassionate Choices

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.

– Sir Paul McCartney

It baffles me that so many ‘animal lovers’ can chow down on a chunk of animal flesh. People attribute human emotions to their pets and take their beloved pup, cat or bird to an animal clinic when medical care is needed and then proceed to eat another animal that is equally intelligent and capable of feeling.

For example, pigs are easily as smart as dogs and have shown capabilities comparable to those of chimps in playing computer games, problem solving and using computers to control the environment in their pens. All ‘food animals’ can feel pain, fear and distress.

Time-saving tacos

makes 4

For an instant meal, one of the fastest, nutritionally balanced combinations you can serve is the well-loved taco. Allow for one or two per person. If you prefer burritos, replace the taco shells with soft, flour tortillas.

4 hard, corn taco shells
1 cup refried beans or chili beans
1 cup shredded lettuce
1 large, ripe tomato, chopped
1/2 to 1 ripe avocado, mashed or chopped
1/2 cup salsa or taco sauce
1/2 cup sliced, pitted olives 
1/2 cup grated soy cheese (optional) 
Warm the shells and warm the beans in a skillet, vegetable steamer or microwave. Place taco shells, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, salsa, olives and cheese (if using) in serving bowls on table, allowing for individual assembly.

For interesting reading on this topic, seeWhen Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Masson (available at libraries and bookstores) andWhy We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows by Melanie Joy.

It is strange that people who are critical consumers when it comes to which jeans they buy will leave their food choices unexamined. If the possibility of choosing a plant-based diet arises, people may support their animal product choices based on outdated notions that animal protein is superior or required; that vegetarian meals necessarily take longer to cook; that they can’t change habits from childhood or that the animal had a reasonably good mlife up to the point it was sent to the slaughterhouse.

Each year, more than 55 billion pigs, cows, turkeys, chickens and other sentient land animals suffer and die in the world’s factory farms and slaughterhouses ( Loving parents, dedicated teachers, kind hearted philanthropists and even environmental activists somehow run out of compassion or look the other way when it comes to creatures that we have designated as ‘food animals.’

Children are naturally compassionate and they sense our kinship with animals. When a youngster has raised a pig or chicken, she or he recognizes the cruelty involved in sending their little friend to ‘market.’ That child must be convinced, through a flood of tears, that a sudden switching off of sentiment is required and that such lack of concern for the animal’s plight is the norm in our culture.

Certainly, we have no dietary requirement for any animal products. “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life-cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence and for athletes.” For the latest version of the Association’s position on vegetarian diets, see Readers may also find an earlier Canada/US version on my website.

In addition to giving us tons of fattening foods and increased risk of the major chronic diseases, factory-farming operations are breeding grounds that have provided us with swine flu and avian flu.

There are appetizing alternatives to all animal products. One that I look forward to trying is a cheap, healthy, 100 percent non-dairy ‘cheese’ for pizzas and other prepared dishes that was recently launched by Cargill. Apparently, it is an improvement over earlier cheese alternatives.

Vesanto Melina is a registered dietitian and author of a number of nutrition classics, including Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, Raising Vegetarian Children and the Food Allergy Survival Guide. To book a personal consultation with Vesanto in Langley, call

Preserving your tomatoes

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

Warning: this article will make your mouth water. Every year, I tell myself to cut down on the number of tomato varieties I grow. I still ended up with 35 different varieties this fall and it was a bumper year. You may know I’m an avid seed saver, so I’ve been busy saving the seeds from multitudes of ripe tomatoes. I hate to waste the tomatoes once the seeds are removed so consequently I’ve been up to my ears in ripe tomatoes.

As time passed, I decided I needed a system to cope with bowlfuls of tomatoes and I think my system must have worked as I didn’t waste any and we now have tomatoes coming out of our ears for winter eating. I thought I’d share what I did with all these tomatoes in case you ever find yourself blessed enough to be in the same predicament.

Separating tomatoes into cherries, salad and paste varieties was the best way to start. I discovered that the smaller cherry tomatoes make great salsa fresca. I simply whirled them in the food processor for a few spins, added the ingredients noted in the recipe below and left the mixture to marinate. I then strained off the liquid and froze in portions perfect for the winter munchies.

The big paste tomatoes got thrown into a large stainless steel saucepan and were slowly cooked down on low heat with no lid, until the water evaporated and all that was left was a thick tomato paste. This was frozen in tubs for use in sauces, casseroles or as a cream of tomato soup base.

Meaty heirloom paste tomatoes make a mean tomato sauce, which involves adding garlic, onions, squash or peppers, a bay leaf, parsley and fresh basil while the tomatoes cook down. This scrummy sauce makes a 10-minute pasta that we adore as a taste of the garden in midwinter.

With salad tomatoes, there’s a range of quick options. If they are firm, cut them in half and fill freezer bags with them. I add frozen tomatoes to a range of recipes and I think the fact they are still frozen is the secret for the best success. If you have a dehydrator, dry them and add the flavour of homegrown tomatoes to pizzas, omelettes, salad dressings and dips.

Salsa fresca 
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 minced garlic clove
1 tsp. minced jalapeno (seeds removed)
3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
Salt & pepper to taste

Bruschetta to die for! 
This recipe makes the best Bruschetta topping ever. It’s a great way to enjoy freshly harvested tomatoes. (Makes 2 1⁄2 cups.)

Stir together:
4 to 6 finely chopped and seeded plum tomatoes
2 finely sliced green onions

2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 clove crushed garlic
1⁄2 tsp. salt
Pinch pepper

2 tbsp. fresh basil, finely chopped
2 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan
Toss with tomato mixture
Serve on top of toasted baguette

Roasted tomatoes
Tomato flavour is accentuated by slow roasting. For a real treat try this.
(1 to 2 hours roasting time)
Preheat oven to 325°F (150°C)
5 lbs. whole, washed tomatoes
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. coarse salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
Herbs de Provence (optional)

Place tomatoes in a single layer in a large roasting pan lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and fine herbs as desired.

Put the pan uncovered into the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 250°F and continue to roast slowly for 1 to 2 hours until they are reduced in size and lightly browned on top. Let cool for 15 minutes. Add to a multiple of recipes or just eat on a cracker.

Then, of course, there are always all the green leftovers, but it’s great to offer mince pies at Christmas from the fruits of your labours in the garden. Bon appetit!

Green tomato mincemeat 
6 cups chopped apples (peeled)
6 cups chopped green tomatoes
3 cups brown sugar
11⁄2 cups white vinegar
3 cups raisins
3 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
3⁄4 tsp. allspice
3⁄4 tsp. mace
3⁄4 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. salt
3⁄4 cup butter

Mix apples with tomatoes and drain. Add remaining ingredients except butter. Bring gradually to the boiling point and simmer uncovered for approximately 3 hours or until desired thickness. Stir occasionally to be sure it doesn’t stick. Add butter and mix in. Pour into sterilized Mason jars, and process under water at a rolling boil for 20 minutes to seal.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows Seeds of Victoria at the Garden Path Centre where she teaches The Zero Mile Diet – Twelve Steps to Sustainable Homegrown Food Production and Growing an Edible Plant

Moving on

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Sometimes, there are people in our lives with whom we have painful connections. It might be a parent, whom we hold responsible for a difficult childhood, a friend who has betrayed us, an ex-partner or a supervisor or colleague in the workplace.

These relationships may remain unresolved either because raising the issues may create more difficulty or because we simply do not want the relationship anymore. Either way, as we try to move on, we may find we take the pain with us.

Is it that the person hurt us so deeply that our wounds simply will not heal? Is it our karma to suffer some punishment for harm we have done to others in this or a past life? Or is the pain, in part, our own creation? Any or all of these reasons may be true, but the third option is the only one that allows us to create a different future for ourselves.

When we talk about creating our own pain, this does not mean that we have somehow ‘attracted’ painful situations to facilitate our learning. It means the situation, in itself, is not the problem, but rather it is our response to the situation that creates the pain. It is our holding on and continuing to put our energy into the memory of the problems that keeps the pain alive and thriving within our consciousness.

Our learning is not so much to ensure that we avoid painful situations and relationships; that would mean avoiding love and life. It is about learning to let go of the pain. If we keep thinking and talking about the painful past and begin to define ourselves in terms of what happened to us, we bind that pain to ourselves. This does not mean we should suppress pain, however.

It is important to talk about what has happened to us, but the goal is to heal it and move on, rather than continuing to etch it deeper and deeper into our psyches. Speaking badly of the ones who hurt us or fuelling vindictive feelings only creates more toxic energy. This is harmful to the physical body and, like an inversion layer, blocks the rays of the light of wisdom to which we all have access. This kind of toxic energy hardens our hearts.

The tendency to hold on to pain, almost like an emotional constipation, may, in part, be genetic. I know of one family in which for at least three and perhaps even four consecutive generations, there was one sibling who stopped speaking to one or more of the other siblings and the silence lasted for decades, even until death. The individual held on to perceived slights, ruminated and obsessed about them and never let go.

Genetics create predispositions, not destinies. A family history of pain and suffering is all the more reason to work to change the pattern, rather than unconsciously passing it on.

Letting go of pain does not mean that whatever someone has done to us is OK. It only means that we do not choose to spend the rest of our lives suffering from it.

Others can inflict pain upon us, but only we can release ourselves from emotional pain. It takes a lot of energy to maintain the pain, thus releasing it frees up large stores of energy for creativity, loving and moving forward in our lives.

Think of every resentment, pain and grudge you carry as a heavy piece of baggage. Picture yourself dragging this baggage everywhere you go. Then, imagine setting the bags down and walking into your future without them. All that is left now is to choose what you will do with your baggage.

It’s your future and it will be what you make it. Choose consciously.

Gwen Randall-Young is a psychotherapist in private practice and author ofGrowing Into Soul: The Next Step in Human Evolution. For more articles, permission to reprint and information about her books and “Deep Powerful Change” personal growth/hypnosis CDs, visit

Burma documented by VJs


he images flow in Burma VJ

A highlight of last month’s Vancouver International Film Festival was the potent little documentary Burma VJ ( The good news for those who missed it is that it’s showing again at the Amnesty International Film Festival (November 12-15, Vancity Theatre).

The reality of news reporting in Burma is that there isn’t any. Or, at least, there wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the few resourceful video journalists, or VJs, who risk life and limb to capture images of rare acts of dissent against one of the world’s most oppressive regimes. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been imprisoned in her house since 1989. Foreign journalists are not allowed in. The media is the enemy. Anyone with a camera is arrested, and, as footage shows, can be shot dead on the spot.

In August and September, Burma made headlines as popular protests swelled into huge marches led by Buddhist monks. The VJs kept the images flowing via satellite and other means to international news agencies and to us at home, even as the uprising was brutally suppressed.

It’s quite astonishing that a film that comprises so much footage can have such impact; it was caught on palm-sized, consumer camcorders, often shot with a handheld, sometimes with the lens poking out of a bag with bits of clothing getting in the shot. There’s a sense of being there. At first, fear permeates everything. Our VJ, codename Joshua, says he fears being spotted filming by the ubiquitous secret police. People on the bus fear talking about “the generals” on camera. But one act of defiance leads to another, the vice grip of fear loosens and before long, the streets are erupting. There are moments of pure elation in this film as monks, students and people march chanting, “Our cause! Our cause!” defying the multiplying ranks of gun and bat-toting soldiers and police. It swells the heart. Credit to director Anders Østergaard and his team for crafting this film so well. For instance, the few reconstructions are perfectly understated and work seamlessly into the story.

Festival opener, The Yes Men Fix the World, also goes undercover, with serial corporate pranksters Yes Men’s Mike and Andy performing their hilarious high profile spoofs. Remember when Dow Chemical accepted full responsibility for the Bhopal chemical disaster on BBC television? Or when ExxonMobil and National Petroleum Council (NPC) launched Vivoleum at GO-EXPO, Canada’s largest oil conference? Delegates were told how human fat-based Vivoleum will make up for a shortage of the black stuff and burned little vivoleum candles at their tables. It’s amazing what they get away with.

Another to look out for is Elizabeth Farnsworth and Patricio Lanfranco’s The Judge and the General in which a judge from the Pinochet era examines the murderous legacy of the Chilean dictator and his own complicity in the tragedy.

Docs ruled at VIFF with the most popular citation going to Bill Guttentag’sSoundtrack for a Revolution, focusing on the music that powered the American civil rights movement. Dan Stone’s Sea Shepherd doc At the Edge of the World (see September FWW) won the VIFF Environmental Film Audience Award. Common Ground sponsored it. People also really liked65_RedRoses about the struggle of one cystic fibrosis sufferer to get the lung transplant operation she needs to survive.

Brit climate change documentary The Age of Stupid is now rolling out at many unusual venues across Canada. The film is as good as the trailer suggests with plenty of fun animation, snappy effects and, importantly, a good sense of humour to leaven the seriousness of the message. It should have broad appeal and if the Vancouver premiere is anything to go by, it could help stir things up in the run up to the Earth Summit in Copenhagen in December.

Robert Alstead made the Vancouver documentary You Never Bike He writes at and is blogging VIFF at

The hope of a new generation

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

Over the past many years, David Suzuki and I have been doing our best, in our respective columns, to alert you to the immensity of the looming climate crisis. Now, we are just weeks away from the critical conference in Copenhagen where the world’s leaders will attempt to reach a new global agreement.

To be honest, I am not hopeful that the result will be close to what is needed. The climate scientists are saying we need to reduce our carbon emissions by 40 percent below the 1990 level by 2020, but only Germany, with one percent of the world’s population, has committed to make this happen. Japan has agreed to 25 percent and the European Union as a whole has agreed to 20 percent, but the US is only committing to reduce its emissions back to the 1990 level. Canada is hardly any better, at a theoretical six percent below 1990.

Does this mean we should see the fading colours of the falling leaves as a metaphor for failure, and the inevitable dying of the light? The forecasted rise in global temperature, if we do not cease burning fossil fuels and destroying our planet’s rainforests, is up to six degrees Celsius by 2100, bringing an eventual 25-metre sea-level rise, plus no end of chaos from rampant storms, floods, droughts, agricultural failure and ocean marine breakdown. It is the end of civilization. It will also bring such rapid change to Earth’s ecosystems that most species will become extinct. There’s no comfort to be had here.

What to do? As a planet, we have yet to become truly engaged in the change that is needed. We’re still stuck in the tramlines of the 20th century. Our houses, industries, cars, trucks and planes still burn fossil fuels and our governments are still shovelling money to the oil and gas companies because they believe that, without their revenues, there will be no money for hospitals and schools.

However, after three years of work on my new book, The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming, I know what is possible. When you put the solutions together in an integrated, systematic manner, the result is flat-out glorious.

It opens the curtains on a new era of civilization, with clean, green energy that can run forever; farms that can be farmed forever, providing food for all while allowing farmland species to flourish, and forests that can meet all our human needs while preserving 80 percent of their glory for nature. It entices us with neighbourhoods where a real sense of community has been restored, filled with productive food-growing gardens, bicycle trails, artistic creativity and celebrations, all in a contented, efficient and affordable zero-carbon existence.

We are still prisoners of the past, awaiting the arrival of a younger generation who will look on the brilliance of this future world that is about to be stolen from their grasp and react with positive and creative rage. They will occupy the streets, block the highways and fill the prisons with their singing, demanding that we either lead the world in a new direction or get out of the way and let others take our place.

The leaders of the generations that came of age in the 1960s and 70s, who now control the institutions of our world, have seemingly become too entranced by the luxuries that have flowed from prosperity, including lavish salaries, sumptuous houses, exotic holidays and an over-abundance of consumer goods to satisfy every desire. Change is uncomfortable and requires effort. What motivation have they to dream of a different world? Better to relax and dream of the golf course, while telling themselves that climate change is either no big deal or a scam dreamed up by environmental groups to fill their impoverished bank accounts.

In reality, we sit on the verge of an amazing transition and if history tells its stories well, nothing will stand in the way of the hopes of a new generation, once they understand what is at stake.

Guy Dauncey’s new book, The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming, will be launched on Tuesday, Nov 3, 7pm, Vancouver Public Library (Alice MacKay Rm). Guy Dauncey gives a free presentation followed by an introduction by Dr. Mark Jaccard.

Copenhagen climate conference

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

Developed countries including Canada and the US have benefited tremendously from fossil-fuel exploitation. Resources like oil, gas and coal have allowed us to industrialize and expand our economies, making life easier for citizens.

However, just as developing nations started to follow suit in raising their living standards, we began to realize that our current fuels and technologies come at great cost to the world. And even though developed countries have reaped most of the benefits of fossil fuels, developing countries, which have contributed least to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, are feeling the brunt of the consequences.

Droughts, severe weather events, food shortages and waves of refugees are just some of the burdens climate change is forcing on people already facing incredible challenges brought on by poverty and a lack of infrastructure for things we take for granted such as clean air, water and food. At the same time, these countries are being told that they can no longer rely on the fossil fuels we have used to bring about prosperity.

In other words, the countries that have been least responsible for global warming are now most affected by its impact. In Canada, our government believes that developing nations need to aim for the same targets we are expected to meet to fight global warming. Even though some of the larger developing nations, like China and India, have overall levels of greenhouse gas emissions that are higher than Canada’s, their per capita emissions are a fraction of ours. It’s not fair.

World leaders have a great opportunity to correct this imbalance when they meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, from December 7 to 18 to work out an agreement on how best to deal with climate change. Many organizations from around the world are calling on our leaders to sign a fair, ambitious and binding deal.

A fair deal would put much of the onus for reducing emissions that contribute to global warming on the developed nations that are mainly responsible for the problem. Scientists agree that developed countries need to reduce their emissions by at least 40 percent by 2020. Developed countries must also help developing nations with financial and technological support so they can adapt to the worst consequences of climate change, reduce their emissions and benefit from emerging renewable-energy technologies. A fair deal would also compel rich nations to protect poor and marginalized people in developed and developing countries.

The call for an ambitious deal reflects the urgency of the situation. We have already dumped so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that it will take ambitious global efforts to stall the most severe consequences. That means ensuring that global greenhouse gas emissions peak no later than 2017 and then go down quickly so that concentrations in the atmosphere are reduced to less than 350 parts per million.

An ambitious agreement would also ensure that the world takes advantage of the numerous opportunities to create clean jobs and clean energy, which will strengthen global economies. We must also create conditions that will allow people, plants and animals to survive in a sustainable manner.

For an agreement to be effective, it must be legally binding, with mechanisms in place to make sure that countries are meeting their obligations and to enforce those obligations.

This all may seem overly ambitious and overly expensive, but the alternative, doing little or nothing, could be catastrophic. Consider also the speed with which countries such as the US were able to come up with trillions of dollars to bail out banking systems that were largely the authors of their own troubles.

The benefits of an agreement in Copenhagen that is fair, ambitious and binding go beyond simply reducing the severity of global warming. Clean-energy technologies, more attention to the plight of the world’s poor and recognition of the true value of natural systems and the plants and animals that share this world all provide opportunities to create a sustainable and prosperous world.

There’s little time to lose. We must tell our leaders that we expect them to support a fair, ambitious and binding solution in Copenhagen in December. Everyone’s future is at stake.

Learn more at

Charter for Compassion

The Charter seeks to change the conversation so that compassion becomes a key word in public and private discourse, making it clear that any ideology that breeds hatred or contempt, be it religious or secular, has failed the test of our time.


The Charter for Compassion is the result of Karen Armstrong’s 2008 *TED Prize wish and made possible by the generous support of the Fetzer Institute. It will be unveiled to the world on November 12.

The Golden Rule requires that we use empathy – moral imagination – to put ourselves in others’ shoes. We should act toward them as we would want them to act toward us. We should refuse, under any circumstance, to carry out actions that would cause them harm.

The Charter, crafted by people all over the world and drafted by a multi-faith, multi-national council of thinkers and leaders, is a cry for a return to this central principle so often overlooked in our world. It reminds the faithful that, in the past, leading sages of all the major traditions insisted that the Golden Rule was the essence of religion, that everything else was “commentary” and that it should be practised “all day and every day.” They insisted that any interpretation of scripture that led to hatred or disdain was illegitimate and that exegesis must issue in practical charity. 

Like the Charter of Human Rights, this Charter for Compassion is a yardstick against which the laity as well as religious and secular leaders can measure their behaviour; it can empower congregations to demand a more compassionate teaching from pastors and preachers; it can mobilize youth, who have seen at a formative age what happens when bigotry becomes rife in a society; it can make interfaith understanding a priority; inspire exegetes, scholars, educators and the media to explore the role compassion has played in the traditions, and ensure that compassion is a focal point in the curricula of schools, colleges and seminaries.

The Charter seeks to change the conversation so that compassion becomes a key word in public and private discourse, making it clear that any ideology that breeds hatred or contempt, be it religious or secular, has failed the test of our time.

We need everybody to participate – atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muslims – everybody! Our polarized world needs to see compassion practically implicated – politically, socially and economically – and show that in our divided world, which so often stresses difference, compassion is something on which we can all agree.

About Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong is one of the most provocative, original thinkers on the role of religion in the modern world. Armstrong is a former Roman Catholic nun who left a British convent to pursue a degree in modern literature at Oxford. She has written more than 20 books around the ideas of what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common, and around their effect on world events, including the magisterial A History of God and Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World. Her latest book is The Case for God. Her Her meditations on personal faith and religion (she calls herself a freelance monotheist) spark discussion, especially her take on fundamentalism, which she sees in a historical context as an outgrowth of modern culture.

In February of 2008, Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize and wished for help in creating, launching and propagating the Charter for Compassion.

Made possible by the Fetzer Institute

A private operating foundation based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Fetzer Institute engages with people and projects around the world to help bring the power of love, forgiveness and compassion to individuals and to community life.

The Institute’s work rests on a deep conviction that each of us has the power to transform the world by strengthening the connection between the inner life of mind and spirit with the outer life of service and action. While the Fetzer Institute is not a religious organization, it honors and learns from a variety of spiritual traditions.

*A project of the TED Prize

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It is an annual conference, which brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes). makes the best talks and performances, the ideas worth spreading, from TED available to the public, for free. The TED Prize is designed to leverage the TED Community’s exceptional array of talent and resources. It is awarded annually to three exceptional individuals who each receive $100,000 and, much more important, the granting of “One Wish to Change the World.”


One life, one tribe, one chance – Indigenous Grandmothers share their wisdom

photo and story by Kami Kanetsuka

“We, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, represent a global alliance of prayer, education and healing for our Mother Earth, all Her inhabitants, all the children, and for the next seven generations to come. We are deeply concerned with the unprecedented destruction of our Mother Earth and the destruction of indigenous ways of life. We believe the teachings of our ancestors will light our way through an uncertain future. We look to further our vision through the realization of projects that protect our diverse cultures: lands, medicines, language and ceremonial ways of prayer and through projects that educate and nurture our children.”

Imagine a country where “when the Grandmothers speak, the president listens.” That is how it is in Gabon, Africa, where Bernadette Rebienot comes from. Grandmother Bernadette is one of the Thirteen International Indigenous Grandmothers – shamans, medicine women and healers – brought together through visions and prophecies.

For centuries, prophesies from different traditions have foretold the coming together of the Grandmothers. Unaware of these prophecies, North American spiritual teacher Jyoti had been praying for a way to preserve the teachings of indigenous people and make them more accessible. After receiving a powerful vision and dreaming of 13 elders around a table, she was compelled to pursue the vision. While visiting Bernadette Rebienot, a shaman in Gabon, she mentioned the dream. Bernadette had had a similar dream and said, “The time is now; we must manifest it.”

With the help of Jyoti’s spiritual community Kayumari, 16 letters went out across the globe to holders of indigenous teachings. The 13 grandmothers who accepted came from Africa, Brazil, Tibet, Nepal, Mexico, Central and North America. Many of them had experienced their own version of the vision. The first gathering took place in 2004 in upstate New York. At that time, the Grandmothers decided to become an alliance and meet in council and prayer twice annually. Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker and Luisah Teish were also present at the first gathering.

For some years, I had been hearing about these Grandmothers. I heard prophecies such as, “When the Grandmothers speak, the world will be changed.” I knew it was time to connect with them when I met an indigenous woman, Maria Teresa, last winter in Mexico and she showed a film about the Grandmothers’ visit to Dharamsala, India, the exiled home of Tibetan grandmother Tsering Dolma Gyaltong, now living in Toronto. During that visit, the Grandmothers were presented to the Dalai Lama who commended their work.

In August, I attended the 6th International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers in Lincoln City, Oregon. The gathering took place in honour of Agnes Baker Pilgrim, considered a living cultural legend of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. Grandmother Agnes has restored the Sacred Salmon Ceremony and there now appears to be more salmon in the river. (Sadly Grandmother Bernadette could not attend this council, as the president of Gabon had died and she was needed in her country.)

Witnessing the combined knowledge of these wisdom keepers, which embodies centuries of ancient teachings, was very moving, as most of these Grandmothers had worked through historical trauma and other trials and hardships. In their home countries, they work with people with AIDS and with those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and people who are ill. They also mentor youth at risk.

To avoid any kind of hierarchy, the Grandmothers sat at a round table. Approximately 300 people were in attendance, including many young people with children and babies and also many men, which showed a real affirmation of their work. During the week, many significant stories were related, including how when Grandmother Rita, a Yup’ik from Alaska, was nine, her great-grandmother gave her 13 stones and 13 eagle feathers and told her when she was her age she would “sit with a council of elders.” At the first meeting, Grandmother Rita gave the others the stones and feathers, saying, “We’re late, but we’re here.”

Elders, water, ancestors and the Earth – these were the celebrated themes at this council. Each day at sunrise, at midday and in the evening, one of the Grandmothers offered her ceremony. Any differences between traditions fell away, as each ceremony blessed the elements of earth, air, fire and water. Afterward, the Grandmother acknowledged the others with great respect.

On the day of honouring water, which Grandmother Agnes calls Earth Mother’s blood, it was suggested that those who wanted to bathe in the ocean proceed slowly and reverently rather than rushing in. After the ceremony, the shore was lined with people prayerfully entering the ocean, surrounded by flower offerings reminiscent of Balinese ceremonies.

The Grandmothers are speaking to us loudly and clearly, through words, prayer and action. They are offering their teachings and plant medicines for others to respectfully use for healing and they entreat us to connect with nature and find our own personal gifts to offer the world. In these difficult times, with the Grandmothers leading the way, we now have the opportunity to truly become one tribe.

The 7th Council gathering takes place Dec. 3-7, 2009, in Sedona, Arizona. For more information about the Info for the film For the Next 7 Books: Grandmothers Counsel the Worldby Carol Schaeffer

What you should know about H1N1


by Alan Cassels

This season’s flu bug known as Swine flu or H1N1, seems to have prompted a lot of people to ask me, “Should I get vaccinated or not?” I have been quite loathe to write anything on the Swine flu for the simple reason that Canada’s media is already doing a superb job of filling daily newspaper pages and the airwaves and TV channels. They’re covering every tick and wrinkle in the vaccine development plan: the world’s pandemic preparedness, timing and access to the vaccines and so on, ad nauseam. However, my publisher insisted, so let me apologize in advance for adding my two cents to the din.

Is this pandemic worth worrying about?

Probably not. If we can learn from the experience from the southern hemisphere, which just had its flu season, mortality from the pandemic appeared to be relatively low and most countries had flu-related mortality rates of less than one person per 100,000. That’s tiny.

Does the vaccine work? 
It depends on your definition of ‘work.’ It ‘works’ in terms of helping you develop antibodies if you get the shot. However, are those antibodies enough to keep you from getting sick? We all know people who got the flu shot and still got the flu, right? When people tell you the flu vaccine reduces mortality by 50 percent, you need to know that these stats come from “cohort studies,” which compare death rates in vaccinated people versus non-vaccinated people. The truth is, those two groups may be very fundamentally different to start with and the vaccine might have had nothing to do with the observed outcomes. This “Healthy User Bias” is a usual feature of low-quality drug trials. Only random assignment or randomization can really prevent this.

But what about the Spanish flu of 1919? 
Couldn’t the Swine flu pandemic be a repeat of this massively deadly pandemic? Not likely. It’s healthier to think in terms of probabilities, not possibilities. While it is possible an asteroid could strike the earth tomorrow and kill us all, this is improbable. The Spanish flu had a high death count partly because it took place in a poorer, less hygienic and antibiotic-free world than what we have today.

But surely the H1N1 flu is severe and deadly? 
Compared to what? The regular run of the mill seasonal flu? Nope. There is substantial evidence that the mortality rate from H1N1 flu is actually much smaller than from the seasonal flu.

Young people are getting it and some are dying. Surely, the public health people can’t be wrong. 
Not entirely. If they didn’t push a mass immunization campaign, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs. Focusing on death in the outliers isn’t productive and repeating the refrain that the vaccine is “safe and effective” sounds strained. Do we need reminding that in 2005 the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted that up to 150 million people could die from Avian flu? (The eventual death toll was 262 people.)

Isn’t it public spirited to get vaccinated so you won’t spread the virus to others? 
Sounds plausible, but is that recommendation evidence-based? Have researchers, who have combed through hundreds of flu-vaccine studies, found studies suggesting this kind of effect for the general population? No. Of hundreds of studies on flu immunization, only about four are of sufficient rigour to say anything definitive and two of those studies showed the vaccine to be useless.

Is the vaccine ‘safe’? Adjuvanted vaccine or non-adjuvanted? 
Again, depends on what you mean by ‘safe’. Within the bounds in which it was studied, the H1N1 vaccine doesn’t appear to have much of a tendency to produce adverse effects. I don’t think anyone can say with certainty that the adjuvanted vaccines are more dangerous than the other. And no one on the planet has any answers about the long-term safety of the current flu vaccines. No one.

What’s your bottom line? What needs to be done to eliminate all the uncertainty about the vaccine? 
More research. Better research like large, placebo-controlled RCTs (randomized controlled trials) on the annual flu shot will erase some of these controversies and establish where the benefits are. If we followed patients over the long term, we could get a much clearer picture of the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness and the effects of natural immunity. Some say that studying the sacred flu shot with randomized, placebo-controlled trials is unethical. To me, it is unethical to carry on large- scale, hype-inducing public health policies without collecting the data (through randomized trials) needed to prove we are buying the health outcomes we think we are. I am not getting the vaccine, but I would if they agreed to include me as a study subject: “If they randomize, I’ll immunize.”

Any last words? 
My final recommendation: lighten up folks; it’s only the flu. Let’s see a government policy of calmness coupled with accurate information for both professionals and public. Hype can make us all ill.