Is Canada a mobile laggard?


There is something uniquely powerful about everyday people having access to the Internet from tiny devices in their pocket. That ubiquitous access to each other creates possibilities that are worth fighting for and saving. The mobile and wireless accessed Internet, combined with emerging open web and open data applications, has the potential to usher in a new era of connectedness, and with it, dramatic changes to social practices and institutions. If we get digital public policy right, Canada could become a leader in mobile communications, leading to empowerment, job creation and new forms of entrepreneurialism, expression and social change.

To harness this opportunity, politicians and policy makers will need to develop a digital strategy for Canada with a central focus on mobile communications and Canada’s broadband infrastructure. To be successful in the long term, we’ll need a “made in Canada” strategy that captures the imagination, vision and ingenuity of people from across Canada.

We’re all stakeholders

To be successful, our government needs to engage citizens in this process rather than listen to lobbyists behind closed doors while parliament is prorogued. This is our future so we’re all stakeholders and we all need to be invited into the process. Giving up on our capacity to meet this challenge and relying instead primarily on foreign investment schemes is not the answer. Such an approach would, at best, miss the lessons learned from the countries that are leading in broadband speed, access and cost.

Addressing Canada’s “digital divides” – those based on geography (rural, remote, inner-city), ability (cognitive, physical), class, age, gender and ethnicity – is particularly difficult given the composition of the Canadian cell phone market. The market is highly concentrated with more than 95 percent belonging to Rogers Communications Inc., Bell Canada Inc. and Telus Corp. These companies operate in the most profitable wireless market in the developed world, with a profit margin of 45.9 percent or12.8 percent higher than average. Despite this extraordinary level of profitability, Canada is falling behind on usage, ranking last for cell phone users per capita – in part because these users pay the third highest rates among developed countries.

New policy in the public interest concerning wireless access to the Internet is perhaps the most promising opportunity to close our digital divides and spur innovation. Yet the CRTC’s new media hearing in 2009 marked another occasion when the Commission had the opportunity to deal with the problem but did not. While the CRTC’s ruling on new media essentially delayed and side-stepped many of the key issues raised at the hearing, its inaction also set the stage for a high profile debate over Canada’s national digital strategy.

Strategy hangs in the balance

With pressure building, in June 2009 Industry Minister Tony Clement hosted a Digital Economy Conference to discuss the possibility of a national digital strategy. In 2010 and beyond, the policy-making process concerning Canada’s digital strategy promises to be a crucial and highly contested space, where the decisions that are made will have a deep and long lasting impact on Canadian media and communications.

Canadians face high prices, poor service and highly constricted choice. This is a reality that most Canadians are aware of: more than half the respondents (53 percent) in a 2009 Angus Reid public opinion poll reported that they believe Canada is one of the most expensive countries in which to use a cell phone. If this public opinion can be harnessed to an intervention in the government’s digital strategy policy, Canada’s wireless market could take a 180º turn.

We are at a communications crossroads in Canada. Better media means better policies and that requires engaging all Canadians in the discussion. The formation of Canada’s digital strategy policy provides a historic opportunity for us; once again, we can become a leader in cultural production and communications access, speed and innovation and we can close digital divides that prevent people from expressing themselves and connecting with each other.

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times andAdbusters.

Carcinogens and cooking

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

Have you ever thought of going mainly or entirely raw? You’d likely shed a few pounds. And that’s not all. Some of our favourite tastes are linked to by-products of cooking that are bad, bad, bad for us. When food is cooked, especially at high temperatures, by-products can form that pose a threat to health. Among the most notorious are heterocyclic amines (HCAs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) and acrylamide. Let’s see what’s cooking.

Heterocyclic amines

HCAs are chemicals created when meat, poultry, fish and eggs are subjected to grilling, frying or barbequing. High temperatures and longer cooking generate more of these compounds. Indirect heat methods, such as stewing, steaming or poaching, produce far fewer HCAs. Roasting produces intermediate amounts. Does cooking vegetables produce these chemicals? No, because the formation of HCAs involves the condensation of creatinine (found exclusively in muscle tissue) with amino acids (the building blocks of protein). In 2005, HCAs were officially added to the NIH’s (National Institutes of Health) list of cancer-causing agents. HCAs increase our risk of developing a variety of cancers, including colorectal, stomach, pancreatic and breast cancers.

Carcinogen-free cooking

  1. Keep your intakes of HCAs, PAHs, AGEs and acrylamide as low as possible. 
  2. Sell or give away your barbecue.
  3. When cooking, boil or steam foods because temperatures reach only that of boiling water, (100° C).
  4. Allow raw plant foods to occupy more and more space on your plate.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

PAHs are chemicals formed by the incomplete burning of carbon-containing substances in food or fat heated above 392 degrees F (200 degrees C). PAHs are present in grilled or charred meat and in poultry and fish, especially where fat drips onto the heat source, such as a barbecue and fumes rise or fat spatters back onto the food. PAHs can also form in toasted grains and in anything fried in oils. Like HCAs, PAHs are known to be mutagenic (they damage DNA). Lung, skin and genitourinary cancers are linked to PAH intake.

Advanced glycoxidation end-products

AGEs are harmful end-products created when food is heated to high temperatures and also when fat is oxidized. Foods most concentrated in AGEs are broiled, grilled and fried meats. AGEs also arise when cola ingredients, coffee, caramel and baked goods are browned at temperatures of 310 degrees F (155 degrees C) or higher. Browned, caramelized foods appeal to our tastes and the food industry purposely uses the Maillard (browning) reaction to sell products. There is considerable evidence that AGEs impair immune system function, accelerate aging and contribute to the progression of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye diseases, nerve diseases and Alzheimer’s disease.


In 2002, Swedish researchers discovered that a compound known as acrylamide forms when certain high carbohydrate foods are subjected to temperatures of 248 degrees F (120 degrees C) or higher, especially for a longer period of time. Canadian scientists learned that acrylamide most frequently develops when the amino acid asparagine reacts with naturally occurring sugars such as glucose. This occurs during the later stages of baking, roasting or frying when foods start to dry out a little and the surface temperature rises. The most concentrated food sources of acrylamide are potato chips, other baked or fried salty snacks and French fries, as potatoes are particularly high in asparagine.

Other food sources of acrylamide include crackers, crisp breads, pretzels, breads (especially toasted), cold cereals that have been toasted and other foods processed at high temperatures, such as coffee and cocoa. Acrylamide was evaluated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” In 2002, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) recommended that dietary acrylamide levels be reduced.


Vesanto Melina is a local dietitian and author. To learn more about the why’s and how’s of raw and high-raw diets, see the very new Becoming Raw (by B. Davis and V. Melina, 2010) and the Raw Food Revolution Diet. For personal consultations, call 604-882-6782 or visit

Pots of potatoes

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

The potato (Solanum tuberosum) is one of the most diverse food crops in the world and was first domesticated by humans 10,000 years ago. Potatoes originated in the Andes, but only arrived in North America with the Irish settlers.

The potato is best known for its carbohydrate content; a medium potato has approximately 26 grams. Potatoes provide vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. The nutrients of the potato are evenly distributed between the flesh and the skin so it’s best to eat them unpeeled.

potato flowers

Potatoes are easy to grow and highly productive; a 30-foot row can yield up to 60 pounds. One pound of seed potatoes can provide up to 10 pounds or more. It is highly recommended to start with commercial, certified, disease-free seed potatoes, but, having said that, I grew some great russets using certified organic potatoes from the produce section and they volunteered again last year!

Planting tips

  • Dig a shallow trench running north/south to provide plants with the maximum exposure to sun. Line the trench with uncontaminated wood ash and granular seaweed, which provides potash for good yields.
  • Plant seed potatoes 3” deep and 12” apart in the trench.
  • Cover with a layer of compost or topsoil.
  • Although potatoes like well-fed, manured soil, don’t over-manure, as this leads to scab.
  • Do not lime soil where potatoes will be grown; they prefer acidic pH 6.0-6.5.
  • Keep potato tubers dark to prevent exposure to sunlight, which turns them green, bitter and mildly toxic. Do not bury the tubers too deep, as potatoes naturally grow close to the surface.
  • Keep developing tubers covered by earthing-up against stems when plants are 6” tall, avoiding the leaves. Repeat every 6” of growth. Applying protective mulches also locks in moisture, which benefits growth.
  • To get the longest harvest, plant one early variety (Epicure, Caribe), one mid-season variety (Yukon Gold, Red Pontiac) and one late variety (Russet, Yellow Banana).

Ideally, small tubers, the size of a hen’s egg, are planted uncut. Larger tubers should be cut in pieces with at least two, but no more than three, eyes. Leave cut pieces overnight to form a callous, which will help prevent them from rotting in cool soils. the minimum soil temperature at time of planting should be 6°C (45° F), but potato tubers should be planted no later than the end of May.

You can enjoy an early harvest of new potatoes two months after planting by ‘grabbling’ with your hands under plants, without disturbing them. For the main harvest, cut the stem cleanly with a knife, just above ground and leave the tubers in the ground for two weeks before lifting so the skin has a chance to harden. Store potatoes (protected from rats) in burlap bags or paper sacks in a cool, dark, frost-free place. Stored tubers need ventilation or they may sweat and rot; check periodically for spoilage.

Problems with potatoes

Earwigs turn potato leaves into lace, but they don’t affect the growth below ground.

Late blight (Phytophthora infestans) can affect potatoes, particularly in cool summers. Tops blacken and the potatoes perish. To prevent blight, follow crop rotations, avoiding sites where Solanaceae, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants have grown before.

Wireworms are lured by potatoes and they especially cause problems in newly established gardens where sod has been removed. Nematodes are an effective biological control.

Colorado potato beetle can be a pest. Companion planting with marigolds and garlic are said to repel this beetle. Try side dressing with neem seed cake as a systemic insecticide.

Scab (Streptomyces scabies) adversely affects cooking quality, though not yield or storage. It shows up as brown, rogh ‘corky’ spots on tubers. Avoid fresh manure.

Carolyn’s new book The Zero Mile Diet – A Year-round Guide to Growing Great Organic Food (Harbour Publishing) will be released April

flower photo © Tootles |

Thought creates reality

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

If you awaken your soul, you will change.

– Gabrielle Roth

How often do we become angry or frustrated with others or the world because things do not go the way we want? This can be an occasional reaction when our favourite team loses, the car breaks down the day we have an important meeting or a friend cancels at the last minute.

Sometimes, however, it seems to be a lifelong pattern. Perhaps emotional needs were not met in childhood and there seems to be a void. This void can become like a black hole that draws into it more and more of the same feelings. Some people may feel their parents were not there for them and they might often be disappointed by friends and frequently let down by a partner.

Sometimes, individuals in this situation become people pleasers, feeling that if they do a lot for others, more will come back to them. They may empathize with others and nurture them, but with the expectation that the other person will ‘be there’ in return to meet their own needs on demand. Often, a life of drama ensues and a victim persona develops; the individual moves farther and farther away from what he/she really wants, and, in fact, creates the opposite.

Let’s look at what is really going on here. We have talked about the ego aspect of our being and we understand it is the more primitive part of us that thinks primarily of itself. It sees things only from its own perspective, rarely seeing, understanding or validating the perspective of another. It wants its needs met and becomes frustrated or angry when they are not. Ego may even turn on itself, generating feelings of worthlessness and self-judgment or criticism, based on the fact that others did not conform to its expectations. It creates polarity thinking, seeing things in terms of good guy/bad guy. Ego is always, of course, the good guy, which automatically makes the other person bad.

Ego develops in childhood. It is a basic program that comes already “installed” and for a long time it is the default program. Ideally, as we evolve in consciousness, we continually ‘upgrade’ our program.

Higher consciousness, or what I think of as soul, is also pre-installed, but we have to learn how to access it and run it. Once we know what it is, we have to choose to run it. Ego will still try to keep running in the background, but we use our powers of conscious choice to bypass it.

If we do not, or cannot, make this choice, ego remains the default program. This means that the ego perceptions of the past are brought into the present. Life events are viewed through the prism of past ego interpretations and are refracted into aspects of past conditioning and beliefs.

Further, this ‘distorted’ view is also used to predict the future so one reacts to present life circumstances as if they are continuations of old, negative dramas. Further, the future, which is clear, open and filled with multiple possible outcomes, instead becomes contaminated with ego predictions. The old ego ideas are projected onto the future and so that is what is created.

We need to recognize the tremendous power of our thoughts. It is our thoughts that create our reality. Do we want the limited, primitive, unevolved ego to be creating our reality? If so, life will be characterized by anxiety, conflict, stress, troubled relationships, dissatisfaction, depression, anger, communication problems, negativity, criticism and judgment of self and others.

However, when we allow our higher consciousness, or soul essence, to guide our thoughts and actions, we choose a life characterized by a balanced mood, healthy communication, positive relationships, self-validation, understanding, compassion, acceptance and a relaxed approach to life.

What differentiates us from other species is our ability to consciously choose. If our lives are not the way we would like them to be, rather than blaming others for our circumstances and replaying the same old ‘movie,’ we need to create a new script. But this time, we are the sole producer and director.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For articles and information about her books and CDs, visit

Tough coming of age stories


Fish Tank is a spare and gritty rite of passage flick.

Fish Tank (out on March 12) is one of those gritty, working class, Brit flicks that makes few concessions to the demands of commercial cinema. Set in the grimy hinterlands of contemporary underclass England, it’s a rite of passage drama about a bored and stroppy teenager, Mia, whose transition into adulthood begins when her mum brings a new man home to their grungy, high-rise flat.

Dialogue is spare, with characters not so much talking as spitting words at each other. There is no soundtrack to speak of, just incidental music. Even the story itself has this minimalist quality to it, with a backdrop of inhospitable, usually decaying urban settings, offset by forays into the nearby countryside, which seem alien in their lushness.

From the start, 15-year-old Mia is ready to break loose. We meet her early on head-butting a classmate. Mia is a bit of a loner, escaping the claustrophobic setting of the housing estate through boozing and listening to hip-hop on her Discman. She’s always fighting with her mouthy, younger sister (non-actor Rebecca Griffiths) and single mum Joanne (Kierston Wareing), who looks young enough to be her elder sister. When mum brings home smooth talking Irishman Connor (Michael Fassbender of Inglourious Basterds), he starts taking a special interest in Mia, even encouraging her to enter a dance audition. Initially, Connor takes on a father figure role, driving the family to the countryside, lending Mia money, but their relationship becomes loaded with sexual tension.

Fish Tank has much in common with director Andrea Arnold’s debut feature, the assured and memorable Red Road. Both films focus on the inner turmoil of a strong female lead and explore the themes of sexual betrayal and empowerment. Red Road was also set in a working class tower block estate. Both are psychodramas, creating mystery and suspense as we watch the motivations driving the main characters.

Arnold is in her element and draws a strong performance from non-actress Katie Jarvis (discovered while she was arguing with her boyfriend in a railway station), while Fassbender as Connor exudes easy warmth. The film reflects Mia’s desperation and confusion, but without over-delineating the point. Arnold simply sets you down in the thick of things and lets you find your way, with visual metaphors sign-posted along the way. The camera also reflects the feral energy of the young protagonist, who is virtually always on screen. It never seems to stop moving, searching for something.

Somehow, out of the pits of despair, the film manages to come up with something real and hopeful with an ending that is beautifully understated. It’s good to see that at the BAFTAs, Britain’s equivalent to the Oscars, held last month, Fish Tank won Best British Film award (the excellent Moon reviewed in an earlier column won the award for Best Debut).

Oscar-nominated A Prophet (Un prophète), out on March 5, is even more claustrophobic and certainly a more tense rites of passage drama. Malik (brilliant performance by previously unknown Tahar Rahim), an illiterate 19-year-old, is condemned to six years in a prison ruled by Arab and Corsican gangs. Unable to defend himself, the half-Arab kid is commandeered inside by the Corsican gang leader to carry out “missions,” including killing an Arab prisoner, or else be killed himself. As Malik toughens up, he starts playing the various factions inside to his own ends. Director Jacques Audiard’s depiction of prison life is unflinchingly brutal, intense and complex. Although it’s not exactly clear what the meaning is of the more visionary elements of the film, as implied in the title, this goes far beyond the clichés of the hardman, prison drama genre.

Robert Alstead made the Vancouver documentary You Never Bike He writes at

Solar incentive

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

This month, and this month only, SolarBC will contribute $2,000 – twice the current incentive – if you install a solar hot water system by the end of March 2010. So don’t delay, don’t go astray, go solar today with But first let me take you on a journey of the mind.

If it’s daytime, look out the window. See the Sun’s light and feel its heat. Take away that heat and you’d know what “cold” really means. We’d be freeze-dried in seconds, as cold and dead as Pluto.

Now ponder this. Only eight minutes and 20 seconds ago, that same light and heat was on the surface of the Sun, 150 million kilometres away. Just eight minutes ago, that heat was two million degrees Celsius above absolute zero, on the edge of the Sun’s atmosphere. It then travelled through space at the speed of light before arriving on Earth, where it enables all life to exist.

Without this daily miracle, we’d have no thoughts, no love, no tree frogs. No breath, no forests, no music.

As I write this column at dusk on a February evening, the Sun has set, but I can still see its light reflected off a tiny slice of new moon, tucked in among the branches of a fir tree, etched black against the dark blue sky of the oncoming night.

Being alive today, we know that every generation of our ancestors, going right back to the primates and mammals and beyond, has had successful sex – all thanks to the Sun and the mystery of Life.

For millions of years, we simply accepted the Sun’s heat and shivered when it was cold. Some eight hundred thousand years ago, under the stas of an African night, we kept warm by using the solar energy stored in the wood of trees.

Then just yesterday, geologically speaking, we learnt how to use fossilized solar energy in the form of coal, oil and gas. Little did we know that by so doing we would release a cascade of ancient carbon that would trap enough heat to raise the temperature of the Earth’s entire atmosphere, melt glaciers and threaten a global flood of catastrophic proportions.

There is a way, however, to gather the Sun’s heat directly, instead of burning the ancient fossil fuels that will be the death of us if we do not stop.

This way, quite simply, is solar hot water. We can also gather the Sun’s energy as electricity, but let’s leave that for another month.

Solar hot water systems have been around for over 100 years. Here in BC, we can choose between two technologies, using either flat, black plates or evacuated vacuum tubes to collect the Sun’s energy. We can also choose to direct the heat into our homes through a heat exchange fluid, storing the heat in a tank inside our home, or go with a tank on the roof that stores the hot water directly, as 45 million households do in China.

In summer, such a system will generate up to 100 percent of the hot water you need; in winter, it will generate up to 40 percent, depending on the weather. The cost will range between $5,000 and $8,000, depending on your choice of system, averaging around $6,900.

Towards this, there are two incentives to help reduce the price: 1) a SolarBC incentive of $1,000, doubled to $2,000 for the first 200 systems in BC installed by March 31st; and 2) a federal ecoEnergy incentive of $1,200 for larger systems that generate more solar energy, if you complete an energy assessment.

Alternatively, you can use the incentive to create a zero interest loan through TD Canada Trust, allowing you to go ahead with monthly payments of around $110 for five years.

For readers in the Fortis Energy service area (Grand Forks, Kelowna, Penticton, Summerland and Nelson) there’s a further $300 incentive available, and in Vancouver, for the first 50 new houses, there’s a 50 percent incentive (up to $3,500) on a first-come first-served basis.

For all the details, visit, where you can learn everything you’ll need to make a quick decision and take advantage of this one-time offer. If you and computers don’t get on, just call 1-866-650-6527. The Sun’s not going away, but this opportunity will if you don’t act now.

Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy 

Nature’s bottom line

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

In December, Canadian specialty TV channel Business News Network interviewed me about the climate summit in Copenhagen. My six-minute interview followed a five-minute live report from Copenhagen, about poor countries demanding more money to address climate change and rich countries pleading a lack of resources. Before and after those spots were all kinds of reports on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the price of gold and the loonie, and the implications of some new phone technology.

For me, this brought into sharp focus the inevitable failure of our negotiating efforts on climate change. BNN, like the New York-based Bloomberg channel, is a 24-hour network focused completely on business. These networks indicate that the economy is our top priority. And at Copenhagen, money dominated the discussions and the outcome.

But where is the 24-hour network dealing with the biosphere? As biological creatures, we depend on clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity for our well-being and survival. Surely, protecting those fundamental needs should be our top priority and should dominate our thinking and the way we live. After all, we are animals and our biological dependence on the biosphere for our most basic needs should be obvious.

The economy is a human construct, not a force of nature like entropy, gravity, the speed of light or our biological makeup. It makes no sense to elevate the economy above the things that keep us alive. But that’s what our prime minister does when he claims we can’t even try to meet the Kyoto targets because that might have a detrimental effect on the economy.

This economic system is built on exploiting raw materials from the biosphere and dumping the waste back into the biosphere. And conventional economics dismisses all the ‘services’ that nature performs to keep the planet habitable for animals like us as ‘externalities.’ As long as economic considerations trump all other factors in our decisions, we will never work our way out of the problems we’ve created.

We often describe the triple bottom line – society, economy and environment – as three intersecting circles of equal size. This is nonsense. The reality is that the largest circle should represent the biosphere. Within that, we have 30 million species, including us, that depend on it. Within the biosphere circle should be a much smaller circle, which is human society, and within that should be an even smaller circle, the economy. Neither of the inner circles should grow large enough to intersect with the bigger ones, but that’s what’s happening now as human societies and the economy hit their limits.

We also draw lines around property, cities, provinces and countries. We take these so seriously that we are willing to fight and die to protect those borders. But nature pays no attention to human boundaries. Air, water and soil that blows across continents and oceans, migrating fish, birds and mammals and windblown seeds cannot be managed within human strictures, yet all the discussions in Copenhagen were centred on countries that, in turn, were divided into rich and poor. In science-fiction movies where an alien from outer space attacks and kills humans, national differences disappear as we join forces to fight a common enemy. That is what we have to tap into to meet the climate crisis.

Nature is our home. Nature provides our most fundamental needs. Nature dictates limits. If we are striving for a truly sustainable future, we have to subordinate our activities to the limits that come from nature. We know how much carbon dioxide can be reabsorbed by all the green things in the oceans and on land and we know we are exceeding those limits. That’s why carbon is building up in the atmosphere. So our goal is clear. All of humanity must find a way to keep emissions below the limits imposed by the biosphere.

The only equitable course is to determine the acceptable level of emissions on a global per capita basis. Those who fall below the line should be compensated for their small carbon footprint while those who are far above should be assessed accordingly. But the economy must be aligned with the limits imposed by the biosphere, not above them.

Learn more at

Words of wisdom


Life lessons: I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Each of us has that right, that possibility, to invent ourselves daily. If a person does not invent herself, she will be invented. So, to be bodacious enough to invent ourselves is wise. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.

Love life: Love life, engage in it, give it all you’ve got. Love it with a passion because life truly does give back, many times over, what you put into it. You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.

Forgiving yourself: I don’t know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes – it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, “Well, if I’d known better, I’d have done better.” That’s all. So you say to people who you think you may have injured, “I’m sorry” and then you say to yourself, “I’m sorry.” If we all hold on to the mistake, we can’t see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can’t see what we’re capable of being.

Don’t complain: If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain. If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don’t be surly at home then go out in the street and start grinning “Good morning” at total

Chant enchantress – an evening with Snatam Kaur

by Alan di Perna

Concert, chantfest, musical group meditation, a yoga class in melody . . . how best to describe a live performance by Snatam Kaur and her band? It’s all of these things and more. Seated center stage, Snatam is an angelic presence, dressed in traditional Sikh attire, bejeweled dress, white turban and veil. She’s a diminutive woman, barely five feet tall, but possessed of a voice that could wrest tears from a stone gargoyle — crystalline and radiant, redolent of the simple yet powerful truth of the heart. That voice has made her one of the top selling artists in the field of world sacred music. Amid the swelling ranks of devotional divas and mantra mamas, Snatam stands tall.

Based on traditional Sikh mantras, Snatam’s divinely melodic songs are mostly of her own composing. She offers an English interpretation of these mantras— simple, heartfelt verses that express the personal meanings these sacred syllables hold for her and help the audience forge their own emotional connection. Onstage, Snatam is ably supported by two musicians/backing vocalists. Devotional music stalwart GuruGanesha Khalsa handles the guitar with effortless grace, slipping easily between chordal rhythms and mellifluous leads. Indian prodigy Ramesh Kannan anchors the beat on tablas, his long, slender fingers laying down solid yet supple rhythmic patterns with a well-placed, occasional flash of virtuostic mastery.

Snatam mainly accompanies herself on harmonium (Indian pump organ), but also plays violin and guitar. The harmonium and tablas ground the sound in Punjabi Sikh musical tradition, but the music also has a decidedly Western flavor. Snatam grew up in an American Sikh family, and her music reflects the totality of her background. One can even detect a slight country lilt as her voice soars into the upper reaches of her impressive range. GuruGanesha, for his part, is a self-confessed Deadhead, which may account for his near clairvoyant ability to goad and guide the group’s inspired jamming on the music’s open-ended structures. What’s most remarkable about the ensemble is its fluid sense of interplay. These are players deeply attuned to one another and the energy of their audience.

Most of the band’s songs are done in call-and-response kirtan mode. Snatam sings a line. The audience sings it back. This back-and-forth exchange builds an energetic momentum that can palpably fill any room.

For some, group singing ordinarily counts as cruel and unusual punishment. But when we sing with Snatam, we all sound good. The band’s easygoing, informal manner breaks down inhibitions or boundaries. There are plenty of jokes and laughs. Snatam might lead the group in a round of pranayama (yogic breathing) or get everyone on their feet for a stretching exercise that soon becomes a sacred dance. By the end of the night, we’re all grinning like fools. Divine fools, that is. For we’ve been let in on a great cosmic secret: devotional music is fun.

Snatam will be performing at the Centennial Theatre, 2300 Lonsdale Ave in Vancouver on Sunday, April 4th from 7:30 to 9:30PM. Tickets are $35 advance / $45 door. Tickets are available locally at Yoga West, 2662 W. 4th Ave. and Banyen Books, 3608 W. 4th Ave. or online at She will also be leading a childrens yoga program from 3:00-3:45pm, the same day as the concert, at the same location. Tickets are $10 per person.

Olympics earn a bronze for climate action says Suzuki Foundation

The Vancouver 2010 Olympics have made the podium with a bronze medal for their efforts to reduce the event’s climate impact, according to a climate scorecard released by the David Suzuki Foundation. Achievements of the 2010 Olympics include building energy efficient venues, using clean-energy sources, relying on public transit during the Games and offsetting part of the Games’ emissions.

“Climate change is a defining issue of our time and the winter Olympics are an opportunity to show leadership by reaching and inspiring billions of fans and spectators with solutions to global warming,” says Paul Lingl of the David Suzuki Foundation. “Despite some missed opportunities, the positive steps taken by the 2010 Olympics demonstrate that climate solutions are doable, affordable and can have a lasting legacy.”

Along with successes, the Foundation’s climate scorecard highlights several areas where the Vancouver Olympics fell short. “The Vancouver Olympics will leave the region with few long-term improvements in sustainable transportation,” says Mr. Lingl. “As well, to date the 2010 Olympic organizers haven’t made the most of their opportunities to tell the story of their climate initiatives to Canadians and the world.”

Canadian winter athletes agree it is important to send a strong message about the need for climate action. “As a winter Olympian I see global warming firsthand: melting glaciers, changing snow patterns and the closing of lower-elevation hills,” says Canadian Alpine Ski Team member Kelly VanderBeek. “Winter sports are threatened by global warming and Canadian Olympic athletes are stepping forward and calling for action.”

“The winter Olympics depend on snow and ice and they need to do their part to protect winter,” says former Olympic speed skater Ingrid Liepa. “It’s encouraging to see that the Vancouver Olympics are making a contribution, and I hope that future Olympic Games will raise the bar even higher for the sake of our winter sports culture – and our planet.”

Ms. VanderBeek and Ms. Liepa are members of Play It Cool, a joint initiative of the Climate Project of Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation. These athletes are taking action in their own lives to reduce their carbon footprint and together with more than 70 Canadian athletes they wrote to the Vancouver Olympic organizers in 2009 and called on them to address the Games’ climate impact.

“The fate of winter sports and the potential to host winter Olympics in the future depend on choices we make today to address climate change,” says David Suzuki. “I’m inspired by the efforts of Canadian Olympic athletes, and I encourage the federal government and all Canadians to follow their lead and be part of the solution to climate change.”

photo © Ukrphoto |