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.

Wash away the killer cleaners

by Peter Sircom Bromley

Ever wonder what it’s going to take to get rid of the toxic cleaners in our homes, workplaces and the environment? Kevin Daum wonders about this every day because that’s his job. Kevin Daum is an entrepreneur and inventor who formulates, manufactures and sells green cleaners. Over the last fifteen years he has spearheaded the development of a company called Environmental Building Science Inc. The goal of EBS is to solve global oil pollution and toxic cleaner problems by changing how we clean at home and at work. The company has turned this ideal into Oil Lift and other Lift cleaning products now available in retail stores nationwide.

source photo: Teamarbeit

You might think such enterprise would be easy considering all the talk about going green. The truth is that Kevin’s people spend most of their time re-educating prospective customers. And that’s a real challenge despite countless stories in the media about switching away from toxic cleaners.

In North America, toxic cleaning products are a part of the domestic landscape, but few people realize that spraying poison on a surface or adding it to their laundry makes it, in a sense, less clean. Millions of otherwise rational people have been trained to place a high priority on white laundry and spotless kitchens at the expense of their health. The cure is killing the patient.

So how is this spin accomplished? Kevin says the answer is simple: fear and embarrassment. Advertisers ask if you care about your children, family, friends and pets. They suggest that if you don’t kill the bacteria, you’re a bad parent. Fears of being a bad homemaker can be so powerful that they override common sense. For example, you’ve been trained to believe doing laundry a certain way kills bacteria when in fact laundry machines can be bacteria incubators. Kevin calls this skanky laundry syndrome. To find out if you have skanky laundry syndrome, he suggests you smell your towels after you use them a couple of times. If they smell of mildew, you most likely need to detoxify your laundry machine.

As an innovator, Kevin is used to thinking outside the detergent box. Consider this: if the average person was given laundry detergent from Brazil they would think that their whites are not clean. Laundry detergent in South America is designed to make your whites have a reddish hue. In North America we’re trained to think that white laundry has a bluish hue. It also has to have a chemical smell. Kevin recently had a friend do laundry tests for him; she had removed all the red wine stains and was very happy with the results. Her mother then sniffed the towels. “These aren’t clean”, she said. “They don’t smell like bleach”. Most other mammals would run from the scent of chlorine bleach.

So how can we overcome the brainwashing and get rid of toxic cleaners from our homes and workplaces? Recently Kevin was doing a cleaning product replacement audit for a hotel. Many of the cleaning staff were using products they thought were green because the supplier had a green sounding name. The head of housekeeping knew that this was misleading yet she couldn’t get her staff to change (at home she uses baking soda, vinegar and lime juice). Even staff members who knew they were using toxic products were reluctant to change because they believed the green cleaners don’t work. One of the staff even showed Kevin the bleach she hides in her towels to use when her boss isn’t around. They both had a good laugh when Kevin pointed out that her boss could probably smell it.

So Kevin found himself with a bunch of bleach-smuggling professional cleaners that he had to deprogram. In response, he wrote a booklet calledHow to Kill your Cleaning Staff and provided it as a free download on his website. When they had read the booklet, he devised a clever strategy: he sold the hotel small bottles of two replacement cleaners and asked the staff to go home and find out what cleaning problems the cleaners don’t work on. They could not find any. The illusion that green cleaners are ineffective disappeared.

Kevin’s story illustrates the degree to which the purveyors of poison have brainwashed us to continue buying their watered down toxic goo.

So how do we break the cycle? Kevin says the first step is to get educated. To that end, Kevin offers a booklet How to Kill Your Cleaning Staff on his website www.oillift.net. Just click on the banner that says fun stuff for free on the left hand column, fill in your name and e-mail. The booklet is automatically sent to you.

The second step is to read and sign Kevin’s on-line petition to stop water pollution in your neighbourhood by banning toxic cleaners. With the petition there is a series of six questions. Kevin asks that you answer them honestly as he is trying to determine how much people know about environmental cleaning. You’ll be emailed the answers to the questions. And you’ll also get a solution for skanky laundry syndrome.

Whether you buy Kevin’s products or other eco-certified cleaners, the problem of toxicity in cleaning products needs to be solved. Through education you become part of the solution to get the toxins out of your home and workplace.

Note: Oil Lift, Lift Cleaner and Surface restorer are now available at Canadian Tire, Lordco, Windsor Plywood, Tim-BR-Mart, True Value, Benjamin Moore, and most health food stores. Contact Kevin at info@oillift.net with your cleaning questions or request for a free workplace cleaning product audit.

BC’s David and Goliath saga

DRUG BUST Alan Cassels

I offer you a parable – perhaps the parable of our time. Pull up a chair and start imagining. Imagine being a big group of very powerful and profitable companies whose main business is the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. You are so influential that government ministers promptly return your calls. You keep some of the most powerful people within the legal and medical communities on your payroll. You invite yourself to lead government task forces and other agenda-setting activities and are considered so mighty that only fools would dare challenge your decrees. When it comes to leverage, you play a good game. You know how to force governments to have some “skin in the game” when it comes to paying the hefty costs of researching and developing your products. It’s not that you are a bully or anything; you are actually quite polite and congenial. Yet, at the same time, you and your members are very, very angry.

You are angry because not everyone considers the good products you produce and the good works conducted on your behalf by many of your favoured charities to be so special. Some even question whether your products are worth what you charge for them. Some even say they didn’t live up to their claims. Even worse, some believe your products make some people sicker. Those heretics might be small in number, but they are vocal. They constitute an unpleasant obstacle and prevent you from expanding your empire, blocking you from earning higher shareholder profits that are your due. With your great strength and wealth, some say you’re like Goliath because, in contrast to this pesky, nay-saying and ill-equipped David, you could easily overpower and smite him dead.

What makes you really angry is that this David’s skepticism could threaten to destroy other markets around the country. This sort of pesky impertinence could seriously harm your bottom line so you have to act, and act decisively.

This biblical parable is currently being played out right here in BC. Not in the full sheen of media lights, of course, but in the shadows and backrooms and offices of the legislature. In government ministries and universities. In halls redolent with the scent of power, prestige and privilege. The David and Goliath scenario could be an allegory for the forces of science against the forces of commerce, where we know David and his science don’t stand a chance.

It might be more accurate to call this particular BC-based David “evidence-based medicine.” Yet, in the eyes of Goliath, David is best characterized by the pharmaceutical industry’s pesky foe: UBC’s Therapeutics Initiative.

The world renowned Therapeutics Initiative (TI) was established by the BC provincial government in 1994 and planted at the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at UBC. This group of researchers, university professors and experts in clinical research provides valuable analysis and insight into the value of pharmaceuticals. The TI has been involved in educating medical students and practising physicians in BC for nearly 15 years and has developed an international following. While it is often accused of setting BC government drug policy, its role is limited to examining, synthesizing and discussing the evidence around drugs. It has a “just the facts ma’am” approach to clinical research.

Sadly, most physicians, after formal training in medical school, will learn about new drugs mostly from pharmaceutical companies. These doctors urgently need a group like the TI, which can provide balanced and current assessments of new drugs. Drug companies maintain it is their job to convince physicians of the value of new drug products; they spend upwards of $3 billion per year doing just that, an amount larger than the collective budgets of all medical schools in Canada. The fact that TI maintains its distance from the drug companies is one of the true sources of Goliath’s anger: he is unable to influence the key agency that makes drug evidence available to BC physicians.

You can imagine Goliath’s anger when he examines drug expenditures across Canada and finds a huge “missing market” for drugs in BC, worth close to $500 million per year. On a per capita basis, if BC residents spent as much on drugs as people in Quebec and New Brunswick, our provincial drug bill would be about 50 percent higher than it is right now. It currently hovers around $1 billion per year.

In BC, the Therapeutics Initiative has strived to educate doctors about the relative prices (and therapeutic values) of new drugs and while some critics say it tends to favour older, cheaper drugs, its analyses ignore the pharmaceutical industry’s marketing pitches and zero in on what the evidence shows.

Goliaths from the drug world have been trying to slay the Davids of evidence-based medicine for years now, funding political parties, patient groups and specialists in order to build cases for the new drugs they will pitch to governments, physicians and patients. They supply money to universities and research institutes while claiming to politicians they are there to help “grow the knowledge economy.”

Despite how much we love our towers of higher learning, hang out at any of the world’s major universities these days and you will catch the unmistakeable whiff of commercialism, where plenty of Goliaths are cutting deals to divert publicly-funded, high-octane thinking into profitable and patentable products. Discussion of higher purposes and human fulfillment in universities is passé; the dominant theme is the drive for the respect and prestige that comes along with telling everyone we’re “Open for Business.”

If the government does away with the Therapeutics Initiative because of some sweetheart deal provided to UBC by Goliath, we should expect to see a body count. Wasn’t it the TI that sent out early alarm bells, asking physicians to pause before writing new prescriptions for drugs like Celebrex and Vioxx? Vioxx is likely responsible for more than 50,000 deaths in the US alone. I remember when the TI’s researchers were accused of being naysayers when they were asking physicians to be careful about prescribing this particular drug and to question the science behind the intense marketing.

Here in BC, there is growing evidence that Goliath is fortifying its battle with David by enticing UBC with lots of riches. There are rumours of buildings and bigger and well-equipped centres of research and drug discovery. The bribes have to be big because the payoff (half a billion dollars per year) is huge. Any government hoping to kill the TI and expecting a payoff should be asking not for a building worth a miserly $50 million, but rather for half a billion per year, every year to perpetuity. That’s what David is likely saving us.

BC is a strange province where the cosiness – a sort of chequebook diplomacy – between the current Liberal government and the drug companies that fund their election campaigns is well known. Last year, this cosiness translated into a BC government-appointed Pharmaceutical Task Force, staffed with drug industry lobbyists who produced a report so shoddy it’s an embarrassment to anyone involved. The major outcome of the report was the suggestion to scrap the Therapeutics Initiative.

The plot heats up when you recall that back in February of this year the UBC Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) was named as a Centre of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR). The Canadian government plans to kick in $15 million over five years to “accelerate the translation of health research into high value medicines.” Matching funds will come from BC taxpayers, funnelled through groups like the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund and the British Columbia Innovation Council (BCIC). The latter describes itself as a ?one-stop point of access and support to high tech companies, educational institutions, technology industry awareness groups (including regional technology councils), federal science and technology agencies and university research labs.” Wow – sounds like a full-on marketing machine for BC high tech. Just what the doctor ordered.

Like most universities, UBC certainly has its own objectives and new pools of potential research money must seem awfully tempting. UBC’s president, Stephen Toope, is a world-respected advocate for human rights and the power of international law. He is one serious and uncompromising dude when it comes to speaking truth to power. But you have to ask yourself: Will Dr. Toope be able to speak truth to the Goliath at the gates of UBC?

It’s hard to say. What is certain is that the success of university presidents is usually measured by their ability to increase the university’s prestige, size, influence and wealth. And with large numbers of academics and researchers who measure their success by how much research funds they can absorb, Dr. Toope would certainly face a rabid faculty backlash if he questioned the flow of drug funds to UBC.

What a conundrum, eh?

You might think this biblical parable is too much of a stretch because in the real ‘modern’ world, the Goliaths almost always win. Well, thankfully we have a democracy and there is an election coming up. We can throw out the politics of rule by rude power. We can choose not to support a government that thumbs its nose at evidence-based medicine, one that encourages the drug companies rule the day. OR we could ask for something different. And that difference is something that may mean the choice of life or death for some of us.

Alan Cassels is a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria a. He served with Stephen Toope as a UN Election Observer in the first all-race elections in South Africa in April, 1994.

cassels@uivic.ca

Health food matters

by Joseph Roberts

 

photo: Luc Santerre Castonguay

Food was always very important, the author said on the radio as she dedicated her new cookbook to her mother “who instilled in her a love of food”.

Food is important, in many ways and for many reasons. In many different delicious cultures there are very distinct eating habits, but we all have something in common: we all eat.

Books abound with food for thought: The Food Revolution, Power of Superfoods, Fields of Plenty, Vegan Delights, Real Foods for a Change, No More Bull, Eating My Words, Chef’s Table, New Ethics of Eating, Feed Your Genes Right, The Joy of Cooking, and even The End of Food.

Yes, we all eat – at least those of us who are fortunate to live in places where food exists. Many just scrape by, and the even less fortunate die of starvation.

Soil, water, and sun are so intertwined with food on this good earth. I hold an almond in my hand: how did it get here where did it come from, who help it grow? So many questions. Each nut is a seed capable of growing into a huge beautiful tree which in turn brings forth the next generation of almond flowers which produce pollen for the bees. The mystery of life to continues.

Humans are not the only animals who cherish nuts and seeds. The branches of the birch tree outside my window are home to many seed-eating birds and squirrels. We are each and all part of a magical natural cycle. As the grey and black squirrels scurry about on autumn’s gold-leafed branches, people scurry about in traffic and in their homes. While the wilder creatures hunt and gather directly from the source of their sustenance, we too search out our foods – but usually in more indirect and complex manners.

What we choose to eat is based on our beliefs, our customs.

Where our foods come from, what soil or water they use, how they are grown and produced makes the difference between life giving or disease making. As we learn and evolve we learn what matters about food.

photo:Chanyut Sribua-rawd

Access to nutritious food from sustainable sources is a primary responsibility of any functional culture. May all beings be fed and may all beings be happy.

A decade ago, at an organic food conference, women from rural India told of their fight to keep their village’s soil and food clean of toxins. A t-shirt message starkly read, “Food without poison is a must for life”. They were in a battle to keep high tech patented genetically altered terminator seeds, and their accompanying chemical herbicides, from displacing hereditary seeds which had, for thousands of years, reproduced life giving free seeds. The gap between the corporate food-for-profit agenda and grassroots sustainable food-for-families was graphic. Monsanto, the same corporation that sued Percy Schmeiser in Canada over copyrighted GMO products, was involved over in India as well.

Health food matters.

When a food product shows up on a store shelf, it is only as good as its ingredients, and the skills and care of its handlers. And the ingredients are only as healthy as the soil it comes from.

We look at food with various levels of understanding. Sometimes companies that manipulate foods intentionally hide the real nature of what they produce. In Canada, for example, labelling genetically modified food is voluntary. Given that most informed eaters would shun GMO products, voluntarily disclosing that their product contain GMOs is not likely to happen. Deceptive labelling can deceive by omission.

Prior to the industrial chemical revolution there were natural methods of preserving certain foods, drying or pickling being two examples. Chemical preservatives now promise longer shelf life so the product can sit around – sometimes for years – and still be sold. These food products get consumed much later than nature would normally allow. Some preservatives are more natural but most modern ones are synthetic and toxic. It gets tricky when natural-sounding additives are used to greenwash or hide other preservatives. A case in point happened in Canada with the combining of ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate in the cheap two litre plastic bottles of orange looking soda pop sold in supermarkets. The synthetic vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid chemically reacted to the sodium benzoate when the pop was left out of the fridge and in the sunshine on a hot summer afternoon. The ascorbic acid broke down the sodium benzoate into sodium and benzene. Benzene is a known carcinogen. Unwittingly, thirsty people gulped down the sugar-coated poison thinking it was okay.

So as we eat our way through a lifetime of food, we absorb what is in our diet. Like the proverbial frog in hot water we slowly get cooked. If we eat food with carcinogens we toxify our cells, some even to the point of immune collapse where diseases take over the organism.

Food of course is not the only vector of unwanted contaminants, but it is one we do have a some choice over. We can eat the highly refined, sugar, salt, preservative-laden unfresh food, or an apple, avocado or pumpkin seeds for snacks each day.

We make ourselves healthy or unhealthy one bite at a time. And how we chew our food matters too, in whether we assimilate what we consume. Chewing our liquids and drinking our solids engages our mouth saliva to begin the process of digestion. Remember, if our teeth do not chew our foods then our stomach must.

The Canadian Health Food Association selected November as National Natural Food Month in Canada. What a beautiful time of year to be reminded of health with all the lush colour of maple leaves. Colour is an important indicator of how rich in vitamins and minerals certain foods are. May autumn inspire us to choose fruits and vegetables of deep hues for deeper nutrition. Products carefully manufactured from such green, red, blue, purple, orange mineral-laden ingredients form great supplements to augment our diet.

Whole foods are the way nature initially provides humans with abundance. Eat as much fresh raw food as you can. Cook foods in ways that release their nutrients, but avoid overheating and use utensils that are not toxic. Keep food from having contact with aluminum, Teflon or other non-slip plastic compounds. Avoid microwave ovens because they alter the food on an electron level and release free radicals linked to aging and cancer. Don’t be a guinea pig. There are other less intrusive ways to prepare what we eat.

Intention effects what ends up on our plate. Those that link our mouths with the original source of sustenance need to honour and respect natural cycles. Principles are more important than pretty packaging when it comes to health and the quality or goodness shows up in the details.

Think of foods as having benefits or side effects as do drugs. Most people would not take drugs if they understood the harm. But they do, because they are not well informed, or believe in so-called experts who would never take the very same drugs they prescribe. In the UK, adverse drug reactions kill about 10,000 (a nasty “side effect”) every year, whereas car accident kill about 3,000. Drugs, like cigarettes, are profitable but they also make people sick. The costs are sloughed off to the society rather than the manufacturer being held liable for the damage caused. In Canada we do not allow direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising as they do in the USA. Twenty five per cent of TV ads in the USA are drug commercials. The effect is that Americans spend about 50 per cent more on drugs than Canadians.

Three hundred billion dollars are spent on drugs in North America annually, much of which is advertising induced and unnecessary. Many side effects occur for which yet more drugs are prescribed. The combination of drugs bring unexpected results. How many well intended, obedient elders come to harm following their multiple prescriptions religiously? Their A to Z plastic pill organizers give them a false sense of control in an overly chemicalized world, further numbed by loneliness, alcohol and TV (with its booze and drugs ads).

When in doubt, use natural nutrition and a healthy lifestyle to improve your well-being.

Junk food compromises one’s health to the point of disease because, besides containing toxins, it lacks the basis nutrients needed for bodies to function well. This leads to attempts to rectify the situation with drugs, which can contribute to premature death. These unhealthy faux-foods may make a killing for their producers, but eventually sicken their user. There is an unholy synergy between crappy foods, sedentary lifestyles, pill pushers and pharmaceutical profits.

Nature eventually wins out in the long run. The laws of ecology do not go away. Every thing is connected to everythings else, and, we all live down stream from the source and processing of our food. Likewise, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Bad nutrition and toxic food extract their toll in human suffering. Just as one vitamin can cure so many illnesses, so can the deficiency of a vitamin or mineral cause disease. Vitamins, mineral, fibre, and other nutriments – coupled with rest, fresh air and pH balanced clean water – enable a body to be nourished and heal.

Imagine the social impact of chronic well-being and a highly contagious epidemic of health. Well-informed and inspired people choosing their foods wisely with care, respect and gratitude. The joy of healthy food spreads like wildfire across our land nourishing all in its path. People stop hurting themselves with unconscious habits around food. We honour the land along with the energy required to grow and deliver foods to market. There is an awaking of compassion for all those who hunger to better organize and distribute nature’s abundance so all are fed. Health Canada sees the light, reverses its drug-heavy approach to treating disease, and invests money to prevent disease.

You may say we are dreamers but we are not the only ones.

In 1976 Mother Teresa came to Vancouver’s Habitat for Humanity where she spoke of a hunger that bread cannot satisfy. It is a hunger to be touched, a hunger to be loved and a hunger to belong.

As we celebrate our healthy food choices, let’s remember those who have much less than us. Though most starving people live in countries ruined by geopolitical greed and environmental degradation, there are those in our land who are also hungry. Some are malnourished from junk food or poor eating habits, others from hard emotional, mental and financial times. Some are on drugs, some are not. Some smoke and drink, others don’t. But we all eat, and as challenging as it gets, if it is not us, who will be our brothers or sisters keeper?

By helping others, magically we too are helped. We are related, we belong.

So share some food with a street person or a neighbour you haven’t yet met. Take time to see him or her fully as a person and part of the larger human family, a fellow traveller in this world of wonders. We each have our story to tell and our need to be heard. Break bread with the beggar on the street; share a handful of grapes. This too is a remembrance. Like the almond, we are a human tree capable of spreading comfort and joy. Spice life with compassion so we too can nourish our deep spirit inside.

Exciting times

THIRTY SOMETHING by Ishi Dinim

There are three things on my mind these days: babies, politics and basketball. I’m feeling pretty upbeat about all of them too. I’ve got a little one set to arrive in around one moon’s time. There are multiple elections with serious ramifications that I imagine are going to end up the way I would like them to – well, except for the federal Canadian one. And basketball continues to bless our world with the many gifts it can offer.

Basically, I’m going to be a dad – possibly, the most important elections in my life are coming up and the spinning ball of joy is within my reach.

Lately, I’ve been spending a great deal of energy sprucing up our nest. It’s funny how such a small person can take up so much space in our minds, and now, in our home as well. There are so many questions about our world and what it’ll be like when our child grows into it. I know that in our own small way we are doing what we can to encourage our future to be dignified and healthy. I can’t help but feel hopeful that we are collectively making positive changes in the face of major calamities. Even slow-moving structures like government are realizing that we need to advocate for our planet. Every choice we make has an effect and our children will dwell in our choices until they can make their own.

I’m not saying that making a choice to live more sustainably is always easy or fun, but it is necessary. It can sometimes make your head hurt trying to anticipate all the ramifications of what it is you’re about to do or not do, following a decision down its multiple, possible paths.

The general rule I’m following these days is less is more. I believe that the cure to our ills generally lies in controlling our ego and disallowing it to consume more than we need.

Here’s to getting real cozy with people you love and taking some time to just be. Good luck; I know I’m going to need it.

Films worth watching:
Redbelt
Burn After Reading
Pineapple Express

Internet time well spent:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CmvDQK3k2w

Ishi graduated from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 2001, with a BFA major in photography. He makes films, collects cacti and ponders many things. Currently, he is doing what he can for himself and the planet.

contact: ishi@yahoo.ca

Go for green

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

Green is a big plus when it comes to nutrition. Whether it is a salad or vibrant florets of steamed broccoli, a green juice or a smoothie, the green derives from the chlorophyll molecule, with magnesium right in its centre. Greens are packed with a multitude of minerals and abundant vitamins. (See recipe below.)

Green is also an outstanding choice when it comes to political parties. The Green Party, now rising to well-deserved prominence, recognizes that food choices profoundly affect our health and that of the planet; this fact is reflected in school food policies. The Green Party advocates the labelling of genetically modified ingredients, in line with the desire of many Canadians who prefer GMO-free foods. It also supports the elimination of subsidies for pesticides, thereby permitting organic farming to be more competitive with pesticide-laden foods that are sold at cheaper prices. The Green Party also supports fair trade, ensuring that impoverished farmers receive fair prices.

The Green Party profoundly understands the link between lifestyle and climate change. Taking heed of the thousands of peer reviewed climate scientists who agree that global warming is a real threat, its party platform encourages earth friendly choices for food and transportation. We Canadians want hybrid cars, energy efficient appliances, wind and solar power systems and green building products and the Green Party supports the growth of these industries in Canada.

For Canadians, the issue that has proven to be even more important than driving eco-friendly cars or riding a bike is the food we put into our mouths. Researchers Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin at the University of Chicago have calculated the carbon intensity of a standard vegan diet and North American carnivorous diet, through production processing, distribution and cooking to consumption. By going vegan, one elects to emit 1.5 tons less CO2 every year than the burger-eater. Choosing a state-of-the-art Prius hybrid over a gas-guzzling vehicle saves just over one ton of CO2 per year.

An average diet that includes meat leads to an annual greenhouse gas production equivalent to driving a mid-sized car a distance of 4,758 kilometres. See below for the correlation between eating various foods and the equivalent distance driven in kilometres. (Source: the Institute for Ecological Economy Research, Germany; study commissioned by independent consumer protection group Foodwatch.) Calculations are based on methane from animals, emissions from food production, manufacturing feed, fertilizer and the use of farmland.

Comparison of dietary choice (for one year) and the equivalent distance driven by a mid-size car:

• Diet that includes meat: 4,758 km
• Vegetarian diet (no meat, fish, poultry): 2,427 km
• Vegan diet (vegetarian with no eggs or dairy): 629 km
• Organic, vegan diet: 281 km.

Vesanto Melina is a dietitian and author of a number of nutrition classics, including The Raw Revolution Diet, co-authored by Cherie Soria and Brenda Davis. Register for the raw FUNdamentals class with Cherie Soria (Sunday, November 23) at www.rawbc.org or call 778-737-8852. For more great, green energy, visit www.greenparty.bc.ca or call 604-687-1199 or 1-888-473-3686.


GARDEN BLEND SOUP

(Makes 2 1/2 cups)

Of all the foods that support health, dark, leafy greens top the list. Kale, a plant that survives Vancouver winters, offers more nutrition per calorie than almost any other food. This recipe provides protein, vitamins A, C, E, most B vitamins, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc, copper, magnesium and manganese. Vary the flavours to suit your taste. In winter months, use hot water for a warming soup. This recipe is a favourite of Patrick Meyer, Langley’s Green Party candidate.

3/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup orange juice, or 1/2 orange, peeled
3 to 4 cups kale, stem removed, chopped
1/2 apple, cored or 1/2 small cucumber, peeled
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, basil leaves or dill weed
1 1/2 tbsp. light miso
1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 clove garlic
1/4 red jalapeño pepper or a pinch of cayenne
1/2 green onion, optional
1/4 cup sunflower seeds or 1/2 avocado, peeled and seeded

In a blender, process the water, juices, kale, apple, herbs, miso, garlic, jalapeño and green onion (if applicable) until smooth. Add seeds or avocado; blend again until smooth and serve.

Growing a food movement

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

Food security seems to be on everyone’s mind this year. It’s fascinating to see so many local initiatives in response to the concern for more local food, so I thought I’d share what it’s looking like in my part of the world on southern Vancouver Island.

The year began with a public forum on food security in the Westshore community, which launched a “Grow Tomato Challenge” by giving away hundreds of free tomato seedlings and mapping where they were grown for a future tomato festival to track people’s progress. Often, all it takes is one juicy, homegrown tomato to get a person hooked on growing food!

Food markets sprung up in all 13 of the municipalities in Vancouver Island’s Capital Regional District. At the end of Bastion Square’s Thursday market in Victoria, David Mincey from the Island’s Chef Collaborative (an initiative linking chefs with farmers) told me there was not enough food being grown to keep up with the demand. He is astounded by the response to local food at the downtown market. What a great incentive to get more farmers on the land.

Recently, I was bedazzled by the colourful sight of food being grown on the boulevard in the municipality of Fernwood. On Garden Street, not only did one front garden and boulevard overflow with edible plants, but also the vacant lot next door housed several allotment gardens. Around the corner on “Haultain Commons,” they were giving away free potatoes and squash from their boulevard garden. What a great way to build community and share resources.

In September, I spoke to an audience at a meeting for the newly established Farmlands Trust (www.farmlandstrust.ca) in the Mount Newton Valley in Saanich. Since February of 2008, people have raised $2.5 million of the $6.25 million needed to purchase 192 acres of Woodwynn Farm and turn it into a community farm that will become a model of sustainable, organic agriculture, providing education and land tenure to new farmers. Preserving farmland for the next generation is the only way to go when you consider that the average age of a farmer in BC is 56.

In the municipality of Oak Bay, the council changed a bylaw to allow the continuation of SPIN farming (Small Plot Intensive) so that Martin Scaia and Paula Scobie could carry on market gardening in 20 gardens. In Esquimalt, the council changed a bylaw to allow chickens in backyards and two women stepped forward to write a manual called Everything You Need to Know About Backyard Chickens.

At the Victoria Public Library, I sat on a discussion panel in an overflowing room, where MP Denise Savoie invited people to talk about Vancouver Island’s food security. Public forums are the only way to inform all levels of government of our concern for the future food supply, especially when 95 percent of the food we consume on this island comes from off the island.

This past March, I started teaching a 10-month course called Twelve Steps to Sustainable Homegrown Food Production and discovered two amazingly simple ways to build food gardens. Check out “Lasagna Gardening” and “Keyhole Gardening” on the internet. Instead of digging into the ground, you build up from the ground, which means you can grow food with very little effort or expense. These gardening methods turn unproductive spaces into food gardens in a few hours, as they can be planted with food immediately following construction.

“Keyhole” gardens are so easy to build that even children are making them. If you stockpile organic waste materials, such as cardboard, newspaper, leaves, hay, grass clippings, manure or compost, you’ll have the necessary ingredients. These gardens provide the healthiest and most productive food because the medium in which it grows is so fertile and rich in micro-organisms. 

I have often asked myself what it takes to launch a Grow Your Own Food movement, but I now think we may have already launched one. How’s it growing in your part of the world?

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.

True surrender

THE POWER OF NOW by Eckhart Tolle

If we always accept the way things are, we are not going to make any effort to improve them. It seems to me that what progress is all about, both in our personal lives and collectively, is not to accept the limitations of the present, but to strive to go beyond them and create something better. If we hadn’t done this, we would still be living in caves. How do you reconcile surrender with changing things and getting things done?

To some people, surrender may have negative connotations, implying defeat, giving up, failing to rise to the challenges of life, becoming lethargic, and so on. True surrender, however, is something entirely different. It does not mean to passively put up with whatever situation you find yourself in and do nothing about it. Nor does it mean to cease making plans or initiating positive action.

Surrender is the simple, but profound, wisdom of yielding to, rather than opposing, the ow of life. The only place where you can experience the flow of life is the Now, so to surrender is to accept the present moment unconditionally and without reservation. It is to relinquish inner resistance to what is. Inner resistance is to say “no” to what is, through mental judgment and emotional negativity. It becomesparticularly pronounced when things “go wrong,” which means there is a gap between the demands or rigid expectations of your mind and what is. That is the pain gap. If you have lived long enough, you will know that things “go wrong” quite often. It is precisely at those times that surrender needs to be practised if you want to eliminate pain and sorrow from your life.

Acceptance of what is immediately frees you from mind identification and thus reconnects you with Being. Resistance is the mind. Surrender is a purely inner phenomenon. It does not mean that, on the outer level, you cannot take action and change the situation. In fact, it is not the overall situation that you need to accept when you surrender, but just the tiny segment called the Now.

For example, if you were stuck in the mud somewhere, you wouldn’t say, “Okay, I resign myself to being stuck in the mud.” Resignation is not surrender. You don’t need to accept an undesirable or unpleasant life situation. Nor do you need to deceive yourself and say there is nothing wrong with being stuck in the mud. No. You recognize fully that you want to get out of it. You then narrow your attention down to the present moment without mentally labelling it in any way. This means there is no judgment of the Now. Therefore, there is no resistance, no emotional negativity. You accept the “isness” of this moment. Then you take action and do all that you can to get out of the mud.

Let me give you a visual analogy to illustrate the point I am making. You are walking along a path at night, surrounded by a thick fog. But you have a powerful ashlight that cuts through the fog and creates a narrow, clear space in front of you. The fog is your life situation, which includes past and future; the ashlight is your conscious presence; the clear space is the Now.

Non-surrender hardens your psychological form, the shell of the ego, and so creates a strong sense of separateness. The world around you and people, in particular, come to be perceived as threatening. The unconscious compulsion to destroy others through judgment arises, as does the need to compete and dominate. Even nature becomes your enemy and your perceptions and interpretations are governed by fear.

There is something within you that remains unaffected by the transient circumstances that make up your life situation, and only through surrender do you have access to it. It is your life, your very Being, which exists eternally in the timeless realm of the present. Finding this life is “the one thing that is needed” that Jesus talked about.

 

 

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.