Weed wisdom

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

A weed is a wild herb springing 

where it is not wanted. 
– Concise Oxford Dictionary

Weed seeds arrive with birds, on the wind, on our shoes and clothing and on a pet’s fur. They are persistent, lying dormant until conditions are just right for germination. Digging the soil brings weed seeds up to the surface, which helps them germinate. Perennial weeds can spread quickly by division when each little piece roots into a new plant. These are two good reasons to practise no-dig gardening and regular mulching.

Tip: Hoe weeds before they set seed and multiply your problem.

A garden will always have weeds, but there’s a great deal to be learned from observing them. There’s always a good reason why weeds spring up in the first place. An infestation points to an imbalance in the soil, such as poor drainage, lack of aeration, low fertility or a mineral deficiency. Weeds often thrive in poor soils, which indicates that the soil is deficient in the essentials for healthy plant growth.

Many perennial weeds are deep rooted, penetrating into the sub-soil where they access trace elements and minerals. When they decompose, their leaves and stems enrich the soil with these valuable elements, which may not otherwise be available to shallow-rooted plants. It’s important to return weeds to the soil for this reason, either by composting them or turning them under to decay in the garden. Deep roots also penetrate to aerate soil, helping with drainage. Dandelions, which thrive on heavy clay soils, are great at this.

Weeds can be used as indicators of general problems and they can even correct imbalances and deficiencies Weeds disappear when these conditions are corrected and soil conditions favour the growth of other plants – hopefully, not other weeds. The solution to a weed infestation, therefore, is to improve soil fertility, not to zap the area with soil-destroying herbicides. As Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, a weed is a “…plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

What weeds can tell us:

• Daisies, rich in calcium, thrive on lawns lacking in lime. When daisies decompose, they add calcium to correct this deficiency.

• Equisetum (horsetail) indicates an acid, clay soil in need of drainage. If the soil is drained and fertility increases, horsetail will disappear.

• Docks, sorrel and thistles indicate heavy, badly drained and acid soils.

• Dandelions indicate that the soil lacks essential minerals and elements.

• Clovers, medicks, vetches and wild peas (legumes) indicate a nitrogen deficiency and can correct this condition in the soil.

• Creeping buttercup thrives in heavy, poorly drained soils.

• Bindweed generally thrives in sandy soils.

• Stinging nettles prefer light, sandy soils. High in nitrogen, nettles stimulate the growth of plants nearby.

• Chickweed, groundsel, chicory and lambsquarters are shallow-rooted weeds that grow in fertile conditions. They indicate an improvement in fertility.

Comfrey and stinging nettles make high quality liquid fertilizers. By extracting minerals from the sub-soil and storing them in their leaves, nettles and comfrey become rich in nitrogen, potassium and calcium. Nettles are also high in iron. When nettle leaves are steeped in rainwater, the resulting concentrate can be used as a feed, releasing nutrients to plants.

Nature never leaves the ground uncovered. In winter, weeds give protection from rains and their roots penetrate to aid with drainage. They also provide a store of food for soil bacteria, which can then remain active to provide food for plants in spring. Where groundcovers remain and flourish in winter, the result is increased soil fertility.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows her certified organic “Seeds of Victoria” at The Garden Path Centre where she blogs The New Victory Garden online.

Positive change

THE POWER OF NOW by Eckhart Tolle

If you find your life situation unsatisfactory or even intolerable, it is only by surrendering €rst that you can break the unconscious resistance pattern that perpetuates that situation. Surrender is perfectly compatible with taking action, initiating change or achieving goals. But, in the surrendered state, a totally different energy, a different quality, ows into your doing. Surrender reconnects you with the source-energy of Being, and if your doing is infused with Being, it becomes a joyful celebration of life energy that takes you more deeply into the Now.

Through non-resistance, the quality of your consciousness and, therefore, the quality of whatever you are doing or creating is enhanced immeasurably. The results will then look after themselves and reect that quality. We could call this surrendered action. It is not work as we have known it for thousands of years. As more humans awaken, the word work is going to disappear from our vocabulary and perhaps a new word will be created to replace it.

The quality of your consciousness at this moment is the main determinant of what kind of future you will experience, so to surrender is the most important thing you can do to bring about positive change. Any action you take is secondary. No truly positive action can arise out of an unsurrendered state of consciousness.

I can see that if I am in a situation that is unpleasant or unsatisfactory and I completely accept the moment as it is, there will be no suffering or unhappiness. I will have risen above it. But I still can’t quite see where the energy or motivation for taking action and bringing about change would come from if there isn’t a certain amount of dissatisfaction.

In the state of surrender, you see very clearly what needs to be done and you take action, doing and focusing on one thing at a time. Learn from nature. See how everything gets accomplished and how the miracle of life unfolds without dissatisfaction or unhappiness. That’s why Jesus said, “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin…”

If your overall situation is unsatisfactory or unpleasant, separate out this instant and surrender to what is. That’s the ashlight cutting through the fog. Your state of consciousness then ceases to be controlled by external conditions. You are no longer coming from reaction and resistance.

Ask yourself, “Is there anything I can do to change the situation, improve it or remove myself from it?” If so, take appropriate action. Focus not on the one hundred things that you will, or may, have to do at some future time, but on the one thing that you can do now. This doesn’t mean you should not do any planning. It may well be that planning is the one thing you can do now. But make sure you don’t start to run “mental movies,” project yourself into the future and so lose the Now. Any action you take may not bear fruit immediately. Until it does, do not resist what is.

If there is no action you can take and you cannot remove yourself from the situation, use the situation to make yourself go more deeply into surrender, more deeply into the Now, more deeply into Being. When you enter this timeless dimension of the present, change often comes about in strange ways without the need for a great deal of doing on your part. Life becomes helpful and cooperative. If inner factors such as fear, guilt, or inertia prevented you from taking action, they will dissolve in the light of your conscious presence.

Start by acknowledging that there is resistance. Look at the thought process involved. Feel the energy of the emotion. By witnessing the resistance, you will see that it serves no purpose. By focusing all your attention on the Now, the unconscious resistance is made conscious and that is the end of it. You cannot be conscious and unhappy, conscious and in negativity. Negativity, unhappiness or suffering in whatever form means that there is resistance, and resistance is always unconscious.

 

 

Adapted from The Power of Now, copyright 1999 by Eckhart Tolle. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA, 800-972-6657 (ext. 52). Visit www.eckharttolle.com.

Dare to be you

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

This above all: to thine own self be true and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” – William Shakespeare

Many of the clients I work with experience frustration as a result of being people pleasers most of their lives. Generally, this process begins in childhood because it serves a purpose for ego. However, for many people, dissatisfaction and even resentment set in at some point in adulthood.

Very early in life, a child learns that behaving in ways that make others happy brings rewards. He also learns that behaviour that annoys or upsets others brings the opposite. For young children, regardless of how much parents express their love, an angry or upset parent is associated with a loss, or, at the very least, a disruption in the flow of love to the child.

Children are very adept at reading parental emotions, body language and facial expressions. If parents react with anger and judgment to a child’s misbehaviour, rather than accepting the child but correcting the behaviour, the child will feel rejected. Not liking this feeling, the child learns what to do to gain acceptance, which is associated with being loved and lovable. Without acceptance, the child feels both unloved and unlovable.

For some, this association between disappointing others and being unlovable persists throughout life. This is especially true for those who are quite sensitive or who have low self-esteem. The gauge for their value exists outside of themselves. It is like looking at the thermometer outside the kitchen window and assuming the reading applies to the temperature inside.

This is the perception ego develops and it is reinforced repeatedly. In school, the answer the teacher is looking for is more important to the child than his own creative response. Dressing like others takes precedence over putting together unique ensembles. In later years, it is more important to agree with others than to speak one’s truth and risk offending anyone. Doing what others want becomes a greater priority than honouring oneself.

After years of performing for the external audience, it can be hard to know who the real self truly is. Many would not even know what they would do in their lives, or what they would be passionate about, if they were no longer dependent on the good opinion of others. Yet they begin to feel a growing frustration and resentment and the sense they are not fulfilling themselves. This nudging could well be the work of soul, which knows that a very important aspect of our time on Earth is the full realization of our own uniqueness.

Our essence, or essential self, is like a seed that wants to grow. Unfortunately, for so many of us, the people in our lives did not nurture that seed. Instead, they tended to the garden in their own mind about who we were or how we should be. Under these conditions, the seed of our true self could not even begin to germinate.

Time, however, moves on, and soul realizes that a good portion of our time here has elapsed; it is time to get on with knowing and expressing our authentic self. Slowly but surely we become restless. We begin to notice that what we are thinking and feeling inside does not match what we are doing or expressing on the outside.

We begin to feel conflicted, and perhaps, for the first time, realize we are responding to external signals rather than to our own inner signals. There may follow a confusing and tumultuous time as we grapple with which signals to follow. The inner signals reveal what we want to do; the outer, what we think we should do. As we begin to validate our inner voice – our own truth and knowing – we begin the journey back to self.

It is not always easy and others may balk at our changes, but it is the road we came to travel, and it is waiting.

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

Break out and break ins

FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead

Scene from The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

There was not a preview of the teenage rites-of-passage comedy Growing Op before we went to press, but the film should garner more interest than the average Canadian production which is typically in and out of the cinema before you can say “hydroponic lighting system.” Writer-director Michael Melski, who hails from Sydney, Nova Scotia, drew inspiration from news stories of Vancouver grow-op raids. However, while the action takes place in a suburban grow-op, the film is not about drugs. It’s about a teenage boy Quinn – home-schooled and uncertain – trying to find his way in life. Says Melski: “It’s a story about Nature—about a young man growing through change, about the inexorable pull of first love, and the power of family. The long arc of the film is Quinn discovering his true nature.” Growing Op stars Rosanna Arquette (Pulp Fiction), Rachel Blanchard (Flight of the Conchords), Wallace Langham (Little Miss Sunshine), and a newcomer Steven Yaffee (MVP). The soundtrack features many up-and-coming Canadian bands such as punk rebels Teenage Head, Matt Mays and El Torpedo, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Classfied, Jill Barber, Amelia Curran, and Nathan Wiley.

Still with Canadian films, Deepha Mehta’s latest Heaven On Earth is out this month, and has had mixed reviews. The film tackles the subject of arranged marriages through the story of Chand, a young woman who gives up her comfortable Indian community to move in with her socially sanctioned but abusive husband, Rocky. Deeply unhappy, Chand retreats into an inner life based on myth and fairy tales, creating a movie that some critics have called a “muddled” mixture of reality and fantasy.

Fresh from winning last month’s audience award for best film at the Vancouver International Film Festival comes I’ve Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t’aime). A family drama of guilt and grief, it follows Juliette, a woman coming to terms with her past and present after being released from a 15 year stint in prison. The slow-burn story follows Juliette’s (Kristin Scott Thomas showing excellent command of the French language) gradual rapprochement with her family after her younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein) invites Juliette into her family’s home.

A different kind of captivity is examined in The Boy In The Striped Pajamas(opening on 14th), a powerful holocaust drama based on John Boyne’s bestselling young adult novel. At its centre is Bruno, the eight-year-old son of a high ranking nazi officer at Auschwitz who goes on boyish explorations of a nearby “farm” where all the workers wear “striped pajamas.” In his travels, Bruno befriends a bald-headed boy his age on the other side of the barbed wire fence called Shmuel. Their friendship brings about a sequence of events that leads to a moving and, not unexpectedly, tragic conclusion.

If you are looking for something lighter, Happy Go Lucky is an unusually optimistic, feel-good movie from British director Mike Leigh, who also gave us the excellent but bleak Secrets & Lies and Vera DrakeHappy Go Lucky was developed using improvisational techniques of Leigh’s previous work, with its emphasis on deep characters. The film revolves around Poppy (Sally Hawkins) a chirpy, elementary school teacher in London, England who takes up driving lessons after someone steals her bicycle. When Sally finds herself stuck behind the wheel with a socially awkward instructor, the polar opposite of herself, it is an opportunity for her to shine. The film does depend on you being won over by Polly, but for most people that won’t be a problem. Oscar nominations are already being talked about for Hawkins.

Robert Alstead maintains a blog at www.2020Vancouver.com

Vote for vision

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

Once more unto the vote, dear friends! On November 15, we get to vote for a new municipal council – the mayor and councillors who will represent us for the next three years, carrying the hopes and dreams of our communities.

But why do so few people vote? Is it because municipal elections can get pretty dull when candidates are full of vague generalities? “Vote for me! I promise to improve the quality of life and retain a balanced budget…” Blah, blah, blah.

Does blah stand for “Boring Long-winded Abstractions,” sucking the life out of what should be a stunningly exciting period when we debate the future and choose new leaders? Maybe they should be called “blandidates,” but beware, their blandness is often code for “I will ensure that business continues as usual and do nothing to rock the boat.”

If you scratch your average blandidate, you’ll find a conservative politician who keeps a close relationship with older voters more concerned about keeping their golf games up to par than about any dramatic vision of change or social justice.

But we do need change, and urgently. So what should we look for from the candidates for municipal office? Look for specific commitments that can be measured by results. Look for personal passion and a deep commitment to change, such as:

100 percent zero waste by 2030: San Francisco is showing it can be done. The city has already reached 69 percent waste reduction and is aiming at 75 percent by 2010 and zero waste by 2020, without resorting to incineration, which turns waste into toxic air pollution. See www.zwia.org

End homelessness by 2020: Calgary has set a goal to end homelessness within 10 years, which, as well as ending human suffering there, will also save the city $3.6 billion. Vancouver and Victoria must do the same. See www.endinghomelessness.ca

Increase cycling to 10 percent of all trips by 2015: In Davis, California, 17 percent of all trips made are by bike. In Copenhagen, Denmark, it’s 36 percent and the goal is to reach 50 percent by 2015. This means planning for safe, long-distance bike routes throughout the city where bikes do not have to compete with cars. It’s totally achievable if we put our minds to it. See www.copenhagenize.com

Contribute to the province’s goal of 100,000 solar roofs by 2020: That’s only a five percent rate of roof coverage. For a city the size of Vancouver (pop. 612,000), that’s 15,000 roofs generating solar electricity or hot water, or both. See www.solarbc.ca

50 percent of all cars and light trucks to be electric or plug-in hybrid electric by 2020: Israel and Denmark are planning for the widespread take-up of electric vehicles through the project known as “Better Place.” Paris, Berlin and Stuttgart are planning to get there under their own steam, through the leadership of their city councils. We need to begin planning right now for a future without oil, before we are left stranded, unable to heat our homes or travel by car. See www.betterplace.com

A community garden in every neighbourhood: We know that locally grown, organic food is better for us, the climate and the planet, so we must create space to make it happen. Seattle shows what’s possible with its P-Patch Gardens, and in Oakland, California, the Food Policy Council’s goal is that 30 percent of the city’s food be produced in or near the city. See www.cityfarmer.org

Engage everyone in the community in reducing their carbon footprints: If we are to make any progress, every household, business, school and organization must start going green. In Britain, the villagers of Ashton Hayes reduced their collective carbon footprint by 20 percent in just one year. If they can do it, so can we. Seewww.goingcarbonneutral.co.uk.

And that’s just the start. In Vancouver, Gregor Robertson and the Vision Vancouver team of candidates (council, school and parks boards) has, by far, the best chance of achieving a similar agenda, but only if we vote them all in. Elsewhere, you’ll have to choose them individually, candidate by blandidate. See www.votevision.ca

 

Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, editor of EcoNews and author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change and other titles. He lives in Victoria. www.earthfuture.com

The kids are all right

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

The 21st century is an exciting time for young people. Technology like email and social networking websites makes connecting with people easier than before and Google puts a virtual library on everyone’s desk. This current generation of youth has unprecedented exposure to knowledge, and the old adage that knowledge is power still holds true.

I’ve been approached by different groups to talk to young people at universities. I’m speaking at campuses across Canada, either in person or by video, on a tour with the Canadian Federation of Students, about global warming and its solutions. My daughter Severn and David Suzuki Foundation CEO Peter Robinson are also speaking at some stops. I’ll also speak to young people in Ontario as part of a campaign called Flick Off, which is encouraging people to consider renewable energy as a solution to some of the serious environmental and economic problems our dependence on fossil fuels has created.

Whenever I talk to students, I’m reminded of the joy I experienced as a college student, surrounded by curious classmates who were forming their opinions about the world. Public interest in the environment is at an all-time high today and that’s bound to affect the values that students form and the choices they make. Attending college is an exciting phase of life and students should be encouraged to question the way things are.

But I don’t envy today’s students, even though they have great, new gadgets such as iPods and digital cameras to play with. They are seeing the effects of global warming first-hand. They can see the mess that previous generations have created by ignoring the natural world and living beyond its limits. Today’s university students will have to deal with increased smog alert days, clear-cut forests, nuclear waste, overfished marine ecosystem and other environmental problems that older folks have created.

In my college days, I was active in the civil rights movement. The opportunity to right historic wrongs was a powerful incentive. The people I marched with took action and eventually helped change society and repeal discriminatory laws. Is there still racism and bigotry today? Absolutely. But things have certainly improved since the 1950s.

Back then, many things seemed divided. There were the activist organizations full of young, energetic people demanding change. There were older, established groups that constantly seemed to say, “We agree with you, in principle, but…” Thankfully, things evolved.

I see parallels with the battle against global warming. I hope we are entering a new era in which the old excuses for inaction are no longer given any credence and students become active in solving some of the serious problems in the world. There’s evidence that this is already occurring. Renewable energy is a very realistic part of the solution, not only for environmental problems, but also for economic difficulties as well, and I think young people can play a major role in pushing for a switch from non-renewable fossil fuels to renewables.

It’s heartening to see the number of people saying “yes” instead of “no” to topics such as energy conservation and renewable power. And it’s a diverse group. If there is one positive thing to come out of global warming’s threat to humanity, it’s that it’s bringing together different factions to work together for change.

In the not too distant past, environmentalists were treated as a “special interest group” and relegated to the fringes of public discourse. But now we’re starting to see organizations as diverse as student groups, major corporations, technology companies, Crown corporations, and financial institutions talking to each other to find solutions to issues such as climate change. The environment may continue to be a “special interest,” but it’s one that concerns us all.

Today’s young people know this. And it’s interesting to see them use the tools at their disposal, such as email, blogs, podcasts and social networking sites, to become online activists. Combined with individual action, this is a powerful way to call for change at all levels of society.

When I see the energy of today’s youth, I’m inspired. Although they haven’t learned all the answers to climate change yet, they haven’t learned all the excuses, either.

Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Letters

 

Never voted for Bush

Greetings from Punxsutawney Pennsylvania and the Inner Circle of the Punxsutanwey Groundhog Club. Believe it or not, we track what people are saying about our friend Phil so I read your commentary. In no way is Phil commenting on your remarks. He is really much more concerned about weather. I on the other hand say:  I never voted for Bush and want our friends in other countries to know that I am a proud American, but I believe that his decisions are not consistent with what many people feel. So the world may hate us but I hope they know that with a less than 50% approval rating…many of us are waiting for the next president to re establish our reputation in the world. Hang in there with us.

Ben Hughes,
Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

 

Ruined reputation

Now can we leave IraqNam and Afghanistan? We pissed away billions to support US oil fascism, and ruined our nation’s reputation in so-doing. Meanwhile, record numbers of homeless people and families, undernourished children, and failling young people grow, even as we pump up the BS for BC’s version of the Olympic Follies. What’s next?

All the best,
Joseph E Fasciani
now 65, who cannot “retire”

 

Dear Alan Cassels

It’s about time someone wrote what I have been suspecting! I’ve never been so furiously inspired in all my 24 years… yet I feel helpless to do anything about the current situation. I picked up an April 2008 copy of Common Ground at the Health Food Store in Penticton and have been blown away by the quality of the articles, yours being the icing on the proverbial cake. My step-grandfather, who has been more of a grandpappy than my real ones, has just gone through an ‘assessment’ in a care facility and luckily passed easily. Leading up to this joke, he was heavily medicated by his common law wife (my real grandmother who is not much of anything to me, unfortunately) and could barely function normally. I remember eating dinner with him one evening and he could barely find his fork, let alone his mouth. It turns out he was being force fed a deadly mixture of sleeping pills that completely rendered him useless. I had no idea of this at the time and attributed it to his brain tumor. I just remember feeling horrible for him as he laid his hands in his beloved chinese food after struggling to open a packet of sweet and sour sauce.

I agree with your article 100% and have no doubt in my mind that everything going on right now is profit driven. I hope to continue discovering more articles as informative and open minded as yours in the near future! Thank you,

Rich

 

A new way of thinking

Last week the evil organization Al Qaeda encouraged it’s member to attack the USA so that McCain might win the USA election. Well today the most powerful branch of international terrorism, Bush and his cohorts, attacked a village in Syria to oblige Al Qaeda’s wishes in a terrorist act that left eight people dead. It matters not if any of those killed by Bush’s New World Order were guilty of crimes of warring (that will possibly be known soon), what is clear is that Bush is guilty of killing these eight human beings. What is clear is that Bush is guilty of yet another act of State Based Terrorism likely designed to give McCain a boost in the election. If true that’s an even more scathing and cynical of Bush who already has the blood of at least many hundreds of thousands of people on his hands.

We need to find a new way of thinking to stop these wars. My way is to point out the war crimes, the killing crimes, of State Based Actors such as Bush and his agents of destruction. My way it to promote the notion that Governments right to War be revoked by the citizens of each Government in the world.

Act now. Revoke the Canadian Government’s right to War. Revoke your Queen’s right to War. Take that right away from her. Make no mistake about it Canada is still based upon the primitive notion of a Monarchy where the Sovereign Power to wage War sits. It’s time to shed that power from your government. Let your MP know, let your PM know that you revoke his power to wage War, that you revoke Parliament’s power to wage War.

Act now in America if you are a citizen there. Let’s your congressmen know. Let your presidential candidate know.

If enough Canadians or Americans do this – a clear majority of 60% – then it will be binding upon the war mongers in Canada! A citizens referendum.

Peace, prosperity and long life,
Peter William, a Concerned Human Being Living on Earth the one home we have in the Known Universe!

 

Best of Cuba

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike were devastating. Now islanders are working hard to make repairs. They want everything in shape as the 50th Anniversary of the Revolution approaches.

And, they want you to be part of this historic event during New Years!

Many people ask us how to help Cuba. Cubans say: Come and visit us! In doing so, you extend both economic AND moral support.

Together, we’ve launched two special tours for the holidays for you to experience the warmth, beauty, mystery and friendship that characterizes the safest, most festive destination in the Americas:

• Cuba Discovery and Adventure Tour from Dec 28, 2008 to Jan 4, 2009. Geared to families and friends who deserve a break far from “civilization” in a tropical paradise. Eight days of action packed culture and nature on this best of Cuba tour. A mountaintop excursion in Soviet Army trucks, visit to a self-sustaining rural eco-community, four days in an all-inclusive beach resort, hot Latin music and dance, and fine dining — all in five-star comfort. Details at BestOfCuba.ca

• 50th Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution Tour from Dec 27, 2008 to Jan 3, 2009. With change in the winds, what better time to visit Cuba and celebrate with the Cuban people on this most historic occasion? Participants will witness the rich fabric of island culture and have fun. An ideal tour for those who believe, as the Cubans do, that a better world is possible. Itinerary and costs at CubaSolidarity.ca

Here are two education programs:

• The ESL Cuba Volunteer departs to Cuba on November 8, 2008 for three weeks. It’s a small delegation of retired educators, ESL teachers and altruists who help Cuban youth at the university and primary level learn English. It’s a life-changing experience. See CubaVolunteer.com

• Teachers Introduction Tour to Cuba from Dec 27, 2008 to Jan 3, 2009. Participants will explore the island’s renowned culture of social progress, free education, universal health care, and peace. They’ll learn about Cuban efforts to construct a more equal society directly from its people. And, they’ll stay at the luxurious five star Hotel Habana Libre surrounded by the best Latin Jazz venues, just several blocks from the sea. See the details at HelloCuba.ca

Our main website at CubaFriends.ca hosts a wealth of fascinating reading on Cuban culture and history ranging from Jazz, Cigars, Libraries and Art to Law, Health Care, Education, Nature, Gays, IWD and May Day. Check it out and share it with your friends.

Contact us with any questions – we’re here to help make Cuba possible for you.

All the best,
Marcel Hatch, Education Director
708 – 207 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 1H7 Canada

Another US nail in the coffin of international law

by Robert Dreyfuss

A parallel new Bush doctrine is emerging, in the last days of the soon-to-be ancien régime, and it needs to be strangled in its crib. Like the original Bush doctrine – the one that Sarah Palin couldn’t name, which called for preventive military action against emerging threats – this one also casts international law aside by insisting that the United States has an inherent right to cross international borders in “hot pursuit” of anyone it doesn’t like.

They’re already applying it to Pakistan, and this week Syria was the target. Is Iran next?

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Let’s take Pakistan first. Though a nominal ally, Pakistan has been the subject of at least nineteen aerial attacks by CIA-controlled drone aircraft, killing scores of Pakistanis and some Afghans in tribal areas controlled by pro-Taliban forces. The New York Times listed, and mapped, all nineteen such attacks in a recent piece describing Predator attacks across the Afghan border, all since August. The Times notes that inside the government, the U.S. Special Operations command and other advocates are pushing for a more aggressive use of such units, including efforts to kidnap and interrogate suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders. Though President Bush signed an order in July allowing U.S. commando teams to move into Pakistan itself, with or without Islamabad’s permission, such raids have occurred only once, on September 3.

The U.S. raid into Syria on October 26 similarly trampled on Syria’s sovereignty without so much as a fare-thee-well. Though the Pentagon initially denied that the raid involved helicopters and on-the-ground commando presence, that’s exactly what happened. The attack reportedly killed Badran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih, an Iraqi facilitator who smuggled foreign fighters into Iraq through Syria. The Washington Post was ecstatic, writing in an editorial:

“If Sunday’s raid, which targeted a senior al-Qaeda operative, serves only to put Mr. Assad on notice that the United States, too, is no longer prepared to respect the sovereignty of a criminal regime, it will have been worthwhile.”

Is it really that easy? To say: We declare your regime criminal, and so we will attack you anytime we care to? In its news report of the attack into Syria, the Post suggests, in a report by Ann Scott Tyson and Ellen Knickmeyer, that the attack is raising cross-border hot pursuit to the level of a doctrine:

“The military’s argument is that you can only claim sovereignty if you enforce it,” said Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “When you are dealing with states that do not maintain their sovereignty and become a de facto sanctuary, the only way you have to deal with them is this kind of operation.”

The New York Times broadens the possible targets from Pakistan and Syria to Iran, writing (in a page one story by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker): “Administration officials declined to say whether the emerging application of self-defense could lead to strikes against camps inside Iran that have been used to train Shiite ‘special groups’ that have fought with the American military and Iraqi security forces.”

That, of course, has been a live option, especially since the start of the surge in January, 2007, when President Bush promised to strike at Iranian supply lines in Iraq and other U.S. officials, including Vice President Cheney, pressed hard to attack sites within Iran, regardless of the consequences.

On October 24, I went to hear Mike Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a pro-Israeli think tank in Washington. He spoke with pride about the vast and growing presence of these commando forces within the U.S. military, noting that their budget has doubled under the Bush administration and that, by the end of the decade, their will more than 60,000 U.S. forces in this shadowy effort. Here are some excerpts of Vickers’ remarks:

“If you look at the operational core of our Special Operations Forces, and focus on the ground operators, there are some 15,000 or so of those – give or take how you count them – these range from our Army Special Forces or our Green Berets, our Rangers, our Seals, some classified units we have, and we recently added a Marine Corps Special Operations Command to this arsenal as well. In addition to adding the Marine component, each of these elements since 2006 and out to about 2012 or 2013 has been increasing their capacity as well as their capabilities, but their capacity by a third. This is the largest growth in Special Operations Force history. By the time we’re done with that, there will be some things, some gaps we need to fix undoubtedly, but we will have the elements in place for what we believe is the Special Operations component of the global war on terrorism.

“There’s been a very significant – about a 40 or 50 percent – increase in operational tempo, and of course more intense in terms of the action since the 9/11 attacks. On any given day that we wake up, our Special Operations Forces are in some sixty countries around the world. But more than 80 percent or so of those right now are concentrated in the greater Middle East or the United States Central Command area of responsibility – the bulk of those of course in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Notice what he said: operating in 60 countries. The very invasion of Iraq was illegal in 2003, and it flouted international law. So some may say these cross-border raids are small potatoes. But they’re not. This is a big deal. If it becomes a standard part of U.S. military doctrine that any country can be declared “criminal” and thus lose its sovereignty, then there is no such thing as international law anymore.

And what of Defense Secretary Robert Gates? As quoted in the Washington Post article cited earlier: “Gates said that he was not an expert in international law but that he assumed the State Department had consulted such laws before the U.S. military was granted authority to make such strikes.”

Not an expert in international law? He’ll leave it to the State Department? And this is the guy that Barack Obama’s advisers say ought to stay on at the Pentagon under an Obama administration?

Robert Dreyfuss is a contributing editor of The Nation magazine, and the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Metropolitan).

Remembering War

by Geoff Olson

On December 24, 1914, strange things were happening in the battlefield trenches. In the region of Ypres, Belgium, German troops propped Christmas trees on their parapets and decorated them with candles. That evening, they sang out Christmas carols in German to their enemies across the muddy no-man’s land. The British troops responded by singing Christmas carols in English. The camaraderie escalated and soldiers on both sides began to leave the trenches, mingling and exchanging gifts of whisky, jam, cigars, chocolate and the like. The Christmas truce spread down both trenches, according to military historian Gwynne Dyer, “at the speed of candlelight.”

While accounts of this often-told tale vary, all would agree that the Germans initiated the truce. In his book, The Small Peace in the Great War, Michael Jurgs notes that events were kicked off a few days before Christmas when a German regiment lobbed a carefully wrapped package across the no-mans land to the British side. Inside was a chocolate cake, with a note requesting the soldiers to join in an hour-long ceasefire that evening, to celebrate their captain’s birthday.

This mass outbreak of peace on the front alarmed the high command on both sides. They issued orders against fraternization, but it was days before all the men were back in the trenches, returning to the all-important business of killing each other. (In 1915, a similar Christmas truce occurred between German and French troops, and during Easter of 1916, a truce also opened up on the Eastern Front.)

We have Remembrance Day, but where on the calendar do we mark such epochal moments in wartime, when the sacrificial lambs laid down their arms and greeted one another as kindred spirits?

Boomers and their offspring have been lucky enough to live through an extended period of relative peace, following the two great wars. According to the conventional wisdom, our Canadian bacon was saved by the Cold War doctrine of MAD – “mutual assured destruction.” An atomic Sword of Damocles hung over our heads, making conventional warfare a thing of the past. Of course, this is only a partial truth. While it’s certainly likely that nuclear stalement put a crimp into conscription, that didn’t stop the superpowers from playing out their proxy wars across the world, from Angola to El Salvador. The Cold War put diplomatic relations between East and West into deep freeze, but a hot war in the global south sent millions to their graves and created misery for millions more survivors. The fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of communism, momentarily halted superpower brinksmanship, but not much else. The march of war continued through Kosovo, Rwanda, Darfur, Lebanon, The Congo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Back in the seventies, I was just a naïve kid on the outskirts of Empire, whose closest acquaintance with battle was the TV series MASH and the BBC series The World at War. The sitcom was bloodless and the documentary footage grainy and discreet. The past was buried and the future looked good. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had been unseated and put to work shuffling papers in the Pentagon and Kremlin.

It seemed my parents’ generation hadn’t just defeated poverty, but conventional warfare as well. The price was paid in body counts. Factoring war-related famine and disease, there were an estimated 10 million civilian casualties in World War 1 and 47 million in World War 2. Every year on Remembrance Day, the Commonwealth nations officially commemorate the sacrifices of members of both the armed forces and of civilians in times of war. But the remembering is definitely weighted toward the warriors.

Yet in the final analysis, war isn’t about remembering, but dismembering – separating people from their families and homes, and even their life and limb. For most of history, it has smashed civilian life, paralyzed relief efforts and dehumanized its blunt instrument: the warrior class whose youthful idealism is channelled into the state narrative of heroism.

The Cold War may be over, but we’re still in a hair-trigger situation, especially with the US policy of preemptive nuclear strikes against “rogue states.” In his book War, Dyer observes, “All the major states are still organized for war and all that is needed for the world to slide back into a nuclear confrontation is a twist of the kaleidoscope that shifts international relations into a new pattern of rival alliances.”

Does war come naturally to human beings? Let’s go back thousands of years, before the emergence of civilization. Imagine a group of tribes living together peacefully, in balance with their environment and with one another. Suddenly, there is a dry spell or a collapse of the local food supply. One tribe decides to make some weapons and conquer the next tribe, turning them into slaves. The other tribe has three choices:

1) If they flee, the paradigm of violent tribe expands into their territory.

2) If they submit to slavery, the paradigm of violent tribe expands into their territory.

3) If they build weapons to fight back, the paradigm of the violent tribe expands into their territory.

This is the crux of Andrew Bard Schmookler’s 1984 work, The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution. In Schmookler’s thought experiment, diplomacy is not an option with the violent tribe, which subverts the surrounding tribes to their paradigm. He believes this is how the heavily barricaded, heavily armed city-states of the ancient Near East emerged. There is little in the archaeological record to contradict him.

Similarly, historian and eco-activist Derrick Jensen holds that civilization is not only inseparable from war; it is war. Expanding city-states required a growing influx of energy and resources from outlying areas, which put them in continual conflict with their neighbours. To defensively arm was interpreted as an aggressive posture, requiring a preventative response. Preemptive strikes predate the Bush administration by thousands of years and arms races are older than Hadrian’s Wall.

The late British scientist Jacob Bronowski described war as “organized theft.” Wars don’t always begin with plunder, but they have nearly always ended with it, whether it was Carthaginian slaves, Incan gold, Nazi rocket scientists, coastal African diamonds or Iraqi oil.

War appears to be an emergent property of complex systems. Ironically, it may come naturally to societies, but not to individuals. It takes a fair amount of programming to counteract our true natures. Dyer notes that even World War 2 commanders discovered their men were often reluctant to kill in combat situations, lifting their weapons up and away from the target when they fired: “When US Army Colonel SLA Marshall finally took the trouble to inquire into what American infantrymen were actually doing on the battlefield in 1943-45, he found that, on average, only 15 percent of the trained combat riflemen fired their weapons at all in battle. The rest did not flee, but they would not kill – even when their own position was under attack and their lives were in immediate danger.”

Military psychology has spent decades determining what it takes to build the perfect warrior. The shaved heads, the drills, the sleep deprivation and the verbal abuse of basic training are meant to break down the pre-existing character and create a blank slate for military programming. Getting civilians onboard requires even more work. With the human costs of the two Great Wars recorded by scholars, recreated by Hollywood and rotated on The History Channel, it’s become more difficult for First World leaders to sell foreign campaigns to civilians. To convince them that war is either laudable or unavoidable takes all the machinery of social engineering: public relations outlets, advertising firms, media, psychological operations departments and faith-based organizations. For the aggressor nations, it’s always the same gig: the respectable convince the gullible that they’re in danger from the unspeakable.

War – what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, according to pop culture. But we have to ask, if something so deadly really works against everyone’s interests in the long term, why does it persist into modern times? Authors often use fiction to reveal unpleasant truths and no one excelled at this better than British writer George Orwell. In his novel 1984, he freely speculated on modern warfare’s ultimate purpose:

“The primary aim of modern warfare is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living. Ever since the end of the nineteenth century, the problem of what to do with the surplus of consumption goods has been latent in industrial society. From the moment when the machine first made its appearance, it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent for human inequality, had disappeared. If the machine were used deliberately for that end, hunger, overwork, dirt, illiteracy and disease could be eliminated within a few generations.”

This approach is a no-win situation for the elites, Orwell claims: “For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance… The problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. And in practice, the only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare.”

And here is Orwell’s slam-dunk conclusion: “The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.”

1984 featured three warring states: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. The ever-shifting alliances and wars had one principal aim: to align the people unquestioningly under their respective leaders. The line-up of foreign villains might change, but the propaganda was essentially the same for all three states. Orwell’s nightmare vision looks scarily prescient, given the three blocs we see emerging: the “North American perimeter,” the European Union and an alliance comprised of Russia, Iran and other nations. (Even 1984’s daily “ten minutes of hate,” directed against an ever changing line-up of villains has its modern equivalent in Fox News.)

The so-called “war on terror” is just a new riff on an age-old theme. Our leaders have declared war on an abstract noun – a vaporous enemy can never officially surrender. Perhaps this is why John McCain said last year that US forces might be in Iraq for “a hundred years.” It would also explain why Canada’s defence minister in 2006, Gordon O’Connor, observed, “It is impossible to defeat the Taliban militarily,” a line recently echoed by British Brig.-Gen. Mark Carleton-Smith, who told the Daily Mail that an “absolute military victory in Afghanistan is impossible.” Canada’s former Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier was even more explicit in a statement reported in the Toronto Star in 2006: “That’s never been the strategy – to defeat them [the Taliban] militarily.”

Orwell again: “In accordance with the principles of double-think, it does not matter if the war is not real. For when it is, victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, but it is meant to be continuous.”

But war isn’t solely a political problem; it’s as an existential one. Avoiding it requires more than Kissinger-like realpolitik, and resisting it requires more than a Remembrance Day poppy. War was not buried in the ashes of Hiroshima, Dresden or Coventry, as my parents’ generation had hoped. It’s all around us. Modern consumer society feeds off ongoing, internalized battles: drug and gambling addictions, body image disorders, clinical depression, advertising-driven self-loathing and all the bad craziness of our hyper-caffeinated, overworked, overextended lifestyles.

Orwell’s “continuous warfare” has been softened and projected into our day-to-day lives, with a North American political economy engineered to break the middle class. But it doesn’t stop there. The emerging culture of constant surveillance and expanded domestic policing is starting to resemble the jackboot dystopia of Orwell’s 1984 as much as the doped-up utopia of Huxley’s Brave New World.

The great irony is that, in comparison to people in other parts of the world, we still lead lives of great opulence. For the diaspora of the Third World, war is no metaphor; it’s an ever-present threat. According to Médecins Sans Frontières, there are currently 43 million people across the globe displaced by war. Sixteen million of them are refugees and more than half are from only six nations/regions: 4.6 million from Palestine, 2.3 million from Iraq, 3.1 million from Afghanistan, 552,000 from Columbia, 523,000 from Sudan and 457,000 from Somalia.

In the face of capitalism’s continual crises of overproduction and the mechanical lurch toward war, there appears to be little reason for optimism – except for the fact that never before in history have so many people been linked together, with so much potential for collective awareness. And in spite of any efforts of politicians, policy wonks or police, our information technologies may have reached the stage where they cannot be fully controlled from the top down. With increasing cynicism over traditional sources of media, much more hope is being pinned on cyberspace. For pessimists, the Internet remains little more than an infotainment “Tower of Babble,” a mad profusion of narrow interests. For optimists, it’s becoming something like a Manhattan Project of the human spirit.

As a German prisoner of war, the late author Kurt Vonnegut survived the largest massacre in European history: the firebombing of Dresden. “It was pure nonsense, pointless destruction,” he wrote in his last book, A Man Without a Country. “The whole city was burned down and it was a British atrocity, not ours.” At the end of his days, Vonnegut cast about for meaning for the signature event in his life and all the mass insanity he had witnessed since. “What is life all about?” he asked his sons and daughters. One son, a pediatrician, had a short, precise response. “Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”

That’s what the soldiers of the First World War were doing in the few days before Christmas of 1914, helping one another through this thing. Perhaps it was the long stretches of boredom, punctuated by moments of abject terror, which led the German side to try something unheard of. But somehow, for both sides, the tribal circles of compassion expanded out across the enemy lines. In effect, both sides committed an act of spiritual defiance and went off-script from the parable of the tribes. British soldiers exchanged Christmas pudding and cigarettes for German cigars and cake. Both sides sang in their own languages and even improvised games of soccer in the muddy no-man’s land.

Dyer noted, “These were not professional soldiers, after all; six months before they had been farmers or bank clerks or students, and for all the naïve enthusiasms with which they had greeted the war, they had never really wanted to kill anybody, let alone to die. In its inarticulate way, it was the first peace demonstration of modern times.”

www.geoffolson.com

Hidden wisdom of the Tao

interview by Laurie Nadel

Q: What is the Tao Te Ching?

A: The Tao Te Ching is the wisest, most influential book ever written. It was written 2500 years ago, at the time of Confucius by a Chinese master named Lao Tzu. The Tao offers a way of living with integrity. In fact, Lao Tzu believed that people do not need rules. Just raise your children to grow up and stay connected with the Tao.

Q: Can you tell us more about the Tao?

A: It contains 81 verses. You can read it in an hour and a half. Each of those 81 verses begins with living contentment and peace. When you live the Tao, you become peace, rather than talking about it. The Tao has no rules. The Tao does nothing but it leaves nothing undone. It does not interfere. It allows and is constantly creating.

Q: You grew up without a father, spending time in foster homes during your childhood. Yet you dedicated this book to him. Why?

A: My father walked out on our family. I never saw him and have no memory of him. Living the Tao, I am able to extend love to him and thank him for being who he was. People do what they know how to do. I see now, it’s all perfect.

Q: How has writing a book changed your life?

A: Two years ago, when I turned 65, I started on the Tao. I told my secretary to sell everything and give everything away. I walked away from it. The Tao teaches us to let go of things. Use the 80/20 rule. If you take all your clothes, you’ll find out that you only wear 20 percent of them. You just don’t wear 80 percent. Take what you have and don’t use and circulate it. Give stuff to people who truly need it.

Q: Why is trusting your intuition essential for living a happy life?

A: Intuition is getting closer to your source. It’s God talking to you. You get more intuitive insights as you get closer to God. True happiness comes from knowing you are connected to something so grand and so great…and so much bigger than your puny little ego. It’s an inner vision that everyone has. You get to a point where you can totally rely on it. When I am taking calls, something will flash through my mind. Maybe that caller is in Nova Scotia or Wisconsin. I don’t know who he or she is. And I will ask that person about a name that has flashed through my mind. Intuition has never let me down.

Q: What rules does the Tao offer for a happy life?

A: The Tao has no rules. When you run your life by rules, you’ve left the Tao. It speaks of noninterference and nonviolence. You can’t be a person of the Tao and have an enemy. Never use enemy and I in the same sentence. When you use violence to stop what you don’t like, you create a new generation of people who are going to go after people who bombed their parents’ village. Every time you use force, you create a counterforce. Think about how you get rid of dandelions: You don’t go out with a shovel and start smacking them because all of those fuzzballs go up into the air, creating more dandelions. Violence begets more violence. The Tao says that any single person in any line of violence…whether you drive trucks, design weapons, sell guns….there are hundreds of links in the chain. If one person refuses to deliver them or design them or sell them, you have stopped the chain.

Q: How can you live without laws and rules?

A: We need to lead by an inner kind of law that connects us to the source of all things. We are all pieces of God. We have to find the highest place within ourselves that wants to give. The Tao says that Source wants us to allow things to be. You have to plant a seed and leave it alone. It was probably a lawyer who said that we’re not a nation of people, we are a nation of laws. We are not a nation of rules. We are a species of beings who have a higher place within ourselves and a higher connection to the Source of all creation.

Q: Can you give us an example?

A: A lot of the Tao has to do with water. Water is the softest of all things, yet it is the most powerful. The ocean stays low because it patiently allows all things to flow into it. It is always flexible. You can’t grasp it. The Tao is not about grasping but allowing, like water.

Q: You are the father of 8 children, ages 17 – 40, and grandfather of 5 kids. How can the Tao help us to be better parents?

A: Catch them doing something right instead of something wrong. Remind them of their greatness on a daily basis. Constantly let them know you care about them. But you also have to let go. The term “enough is enough” is out of the Tao. As parents, you have to know when not to interfere with your children’s lives. You have to know when to not push and let them make mistakes and make their own decisions. Involve your children in your passions and hobbies. We taught all of our children to meditate. We took them on walking meditations. They laughed but now they say it was one of the most important things in their life. Expose them to great ideas. Let them see you doing things you love. Then you will respect your children’s passions as they grow.

Q: You write that thoughts create reality. What do you mean?

A: We are what we think about. If what we think about is what we don’t like, then why are we surprised when what we don’t like turns up in our life? If you think about all the things that are wrong in your relationship, then you will continue to attract what you don’t like….even what you don’t like in yourself and in your children. You have to monitor what you think about. Peacemakers never put their thoughts on what they don’t want, only on what they intend to create and what they intend to manifest.

Q: How does that work? It sounds bewildering.

A: Excellent! Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment! The Tao says to stop trying to figure it all out and just be in a state of awe. Then how could you not love yourself? The best way to show love to God is by loving each other. When enough of us do that, we’ll love everybody.

Q: Isn’t that naive?

A: When you think from this perspective, on what’s possible, then you always have hope. You always know that there is a way.

Q: You mention God a lot. How are you so certain?

A: Each person has trillions of cells. Our planets are specks of energy. The sun is 93 million miles away. If it was 2 feet closer we would burn up and if it was 2 feet further we would freeze. You are part of that creative infinite organizing intelligence. The first 9 months of your life you turned everything over to God. You didn’t worry about whether your kidneys would show up. And you showed up into the world and you were turned over to people who said, “We’ll take it from here.” And that was your mistake. Your task is to know that God doesn’t make mistakes. How could you believe that you are not worthy of yourself? You came out of that creative infinite organizing intelligence.

Q: How can all this make me happy ?

A: Stop looking for happiness. It’s an inside job. To live the Tao means to live peace. Be it. Radiate it out. When you have to choose between being kind and being right, it’s always better to be kind.

Wayne Dyer appears at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver at 7pm, on December 1.

Laurie Nadel, Ph.D. is the author of Sixth Sense: Unlocking Your Ultimate Mind Power.