A triumphant soundtrack for our times

the Leonard Cohen soundtrack

For the greater part of 82 years, Leonard Cohen wrote, recorded and performed a sometimes bleak, sometimes joyful, soundtrack of our times. Even from his deathbed.

Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

by Bruce Mason

Just before the profoundly sad news of his death went viral in November, many were listening to Leonard Cohen’s latest recording, You Want It Darker (released October, 2016), eerily prophetic and highly acclaimed as among the best of his 14 albums. As the world became darker and more inexplicable and absurd, the numbers grew into the millions, as others reached out and briefly retreated into his beloved canon of musical meditations on ‘big questions.’

My own initiation began with a few dollars left over from purchasing first-year university textbooks, spent on Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956), published when Cohen himself was an undergraduate. Its intellectual and spiritual hunger, melancholy and black humour were the most easily understood and accessible in the campus bookstore. Through dog-eared and thumb-worn poetry collections – The Spice-Box of Earth, Flowers for Hitler, Parasites of Heaven – and novels – The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers – I followed along on his quest for what he called a “state of grace, a kind of balance in the chaos of existence.”

In an engrossing New Yorker profile in October, “confined to barracks” from a modest second floor in L.A., Cohen confessed in his final interview, “I’ve got some work to do. Take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”

For the greater part of 82 years, Leonard Cohen wrote, recorded and performed a sometimes bleak, sometimes joyful, soundtrack of our times. Even from his deathbed. A handful of informal guitar lessons in his twenties served him well: “Six chords and a guitar pattern, that has been the basis of all my songs and all my music,” he said. And he eventually tamed his performance anxiety after pursuing Zen as a discipline and a practice of investigation.

Five decades ago, Cohen was as big and celebrated as it got in Can-Lit and culture. He befriended fellow poet Irving Layton, later recalling, “I taught him how to dress; he taught me how to live forever.” In 1960, restless and relentless, he retreated to the Greek island of Hydra where cars were banned and mules carried water up steep paths to houses. With a small inheritance, he purchased a simple, whitewashed space for $1,500 and shared it with one of his many muses, Marianne Ihlen, and her young son.

“I met him in the mid-’60s,” Judy Collins told me (Both Sides Now, Common Ground, April, 2013). “He’d been in Greece and was unaware of the folk boom, heading to Nashville from Montreal, with a notion of pursuing country music to supplement his income. In my living room, he apologized for his singing and guitar playing, even doubting that what he was writing were songs. I was mesmerized, wanted more.

“After he finished writing “Suzanne,” he sang it over the phone and I invited him to an anti-Vietnam War town hall. I dragged him onstage, but he stopped partway, pleading, ‘I can’t go on.’ “I pushed him back to the mic and the crowd went wild.”

Cohen was 33 when his recording debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), was released. He was an original voice, haunting, hypnotic, a whisper-like rasp, unconventional, unprecedented and more economical. Critics’ labels included “godfather of gloom,” “poet laureate of pessimism,” and “music to slit your wrists to.” “Sometimes, I stumble out of bed, look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Lighten up, Cohen,’” he told audiences, which grew to as many as 600,000 at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Speaking of concerts, he said they made him feel like “some parrot chained to his stand.”

His Hallelujah – ­years in the making and released in 1984 – is possibly the most-sung-all-occasions-song of this century, played at weddings and funerals, repeatedly on VH1 after 9/11, at the state ceremony for NDP leader Jack Layton, and at the opening of the Vancouver Winter Olympics. It has been recorded so often that Cohen jokingly called for a moratorium. Two weeks after his death, Hallelujah made its first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and garnered four million US streams in the week ending November 17, 2016.

Nobel laureate Bob Dylan has compared Cohen’s songs to “prayers… great songs, deep and truthful, multidimensional, surprisingly melodic, they make you think and feel.” Hallelujah is “beautifully constructed and the point-blank I-know-you-better-than-you-know-yourself aspect has plenty of resonance for me.”

In 1992, Cohen released The Future. Included on the album is Anthem, which took 10 years to complete – “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” – and Closing Time, in which he shifted out of the darkness in single stanzas: “All the women tear their blouses off. And the men they dance on the polka dots.” Or, “I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get? Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet. But I hear him coughing all night long, floors above me in the Tower of Song.”

For five years, he retreated from the public eye, spending it in deep meditation and silence – three years near L.A. and two in Bombay. Meanwhile, his manager and former lover, Kelley Lynch, embezzled his life savings. He would be awarded a symbolic $9 million while she received 18 months’ jail time and five years probation for harassment. Broke, he went back to the studio and toured from 2008 to 2014, his spiritual strength evident in four-hour performances and an unmatched late-life renaissance.

Last summer, when he learned she was dying, Cohen scribbled, “Well, Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. Now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye, old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

After burying his father in an unadorned pine box in a family plot in home-town Montreal, his son Adam, a musician who co-produced Cohen’s last album, posted, “As I write this, I’m thinking of my father’s unique blend of self-deprecation and dignity, his approachable elegance, his charisma without audacity, his old-world gentlemanliness and the hand-forged tower of his work.”

Now, one for the ages, Leonard Cohen is gone, leaving behind a lifetime of inspired offerings, a rich, polished, timeless legacy for those who seek inner peace, especially in troubled times.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic. brucemason@shaw.ca

Last words from Leonard

Twenty-five years ago, his song, The Future, prophesied, “And now the wheels of heaven stop. You feel the devil’s riding crop. Get ready for the future: it is murder.” Weeks before his death, he shared some insights:

“I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not. It’s there, you can feel it in people – there’s some recognition that there is a reality that they cannot penetrate but which influences their mood and activity. So that’s operating. That activity at certain points of your day or night insists on a certain kind of response. Sometimes it’s just like, ‘You are losing too much weight, Leonard. You’re dying, but you don’t have to cooperate enthusiastically with the process. Force yourself to have a sandwich.’

“What I mean to say is that you hear the Bat Kol. The divine voice. You hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time, and much of the time you can’t decipher it. Even when I was healthy, I was sensitive to the process. At this stage of the game, I hear it saying, ‘Leonard, just get on with the things you have to do.’ It’s very compassionate at this stage. More than at any time of my life, I no longer have that voice that says, ‘You’re fucking up.’ That’s a tremendous blessing, really.”

photo of Leonard Cohen by Takahiro Kyono Creative Commons

When pain is invisble

photo of Gwen Randall-Young

by Gwen Randall-Young

I have worked with many clients who suffer from chronic physical pain, as well as those who have post traumatic stress. For these people, physical or emotional pain can be constant, and from the outside they may look perfectly normal.

A person wearing a cast or recovering from surgery is treated with compassion and patience. Their pain is obvious. Those with invisible pain often do not get the same compassion. Those who have not suffered from invisible pain cannot know what that is like.

Read moreWhen pain is invisble

STAR WISE – October 2016

photo of Mac MacLaughlin

by Mac McLaughlin

Everyone’s holding his or her collective breath as we approach the fateful November US election date. November 8 tells the tale. I’ve gone on about Trump’s chart – especially in the April 2016 issue – but it might be worthwhile to put the charts of Clinton and Trump under the cosmic microscope once again. When I look at their birth horoscopes, it makes my head spin and my heart pound, nearly audibly. It’s been in the news that Hillary Clinton may be ill, and her stars are strongly indicating she may very well be suffering from some type of severe illness. On top of that, her husband – and former US president – Bill Clinton is also on shaky ground, health-wise. Hillary has the power to win the election, but she may not be able to perform her duties, and the stress could be over the top for the Clinton family.

Donald Trump’s chart is equally strong and very dynamic and he also has the power to pull off a win, but the stars are indicating a most dangerous time in his life. It’s one of the strange things about astrology. Trump comes into a double Jupiter cycle just days after the election that promises great abundance, fame, wealth and power. At the same time, other planetary influences indicate the probability of a great fall in his status and wealth. On top of that, other indicators are showing the high probability of some type of accident or incident that could bring injuries or death to him before the fall of 2017. Go figure.

Both of the top contenders for the throne of the most powerful position on the planet are on shaky and very dangerous ground. What could this mean? To me, it means both have the power to win, but neither one may be able to see it through to the end of their term. Either of their vice presidents may be the one that ends up carrying through until the 2020 elections. I hope that what is written above doesn’t come to pass, and whomever is elected is able to carry on and do their best with the best of health, peace and safety. The remedy is to counterbalance this energy with more love and more caring for one another. Give, give and give some more, and by the by, we will get it worked out with love. According to the true mystics, we have a time coming up when the planet will be run by the wise ones who are spiritually enlightened, with wisdom and love in their hearts.

Mac McLaughlin has been a practising, professional astrologer for more than four decades. His popular Straight Stars column ran in Vancouver’s largest weekly newspaper for 11 years. Email mac@macsstars.com or call 604-731-1109.


Aries ZodiacARIES Mar 21 – Apr 19

Anything weighing on your mind these days? If so, throw it to your drummer. Your drummer is the sum total of all that you are; in other words, your spirit. The answers to your problems will come flying back your way within a few days of the full Moon on October 15.

Taurus ZodiacTAURUS Apr 20 – May 21

Taurus never makes changes easily or readily, and if change comes, it is often experienced as somewhat of a tectonic shift. No sense waiting around for that type of energy to manifest. Be the master of your own destiny by moving forward now and making the changes that will bring peace and happiness your way.

Gemini ZodiacGEMINI May 22 – Jun 20

It’s one of those unique differences in personality types, in which Taurus doesn’t make changes easily or readily while Gemini looks forward with anticipation to anything new and exciting. You must put this natural gift to good use now and be very pro-active about getting it together body, mind and soul-wise.

CancerCANCER Jun 21 – Jul 22

Things could get a bit hairy around the full Moon on October 15. There might be power plays and other types of manoeuvres going on that need your attention and intuition. Kindness, caring and patience get you through while anger and aggression could easily backfire. Relationships of all sorts get tested throughout the month.

Leo ZodiacLEO Jul 23 – Aug 22

You can ease on though the October time or you can use the energy on board to tackle any sort of persistent problems or concerns, especially regarding your overall health. If your health is fine, you can focus the energy towards organizing the different areas of your life that have needed your attention for some time.

Virgo ZodiacVIRGO Aug 23 – Sep 22

It may be hard to keep your focus and attention on all of the different projects and objectives you have going. You may sense you have lost your way. Time and pressure are the two components you are up against. Doing one thing at a time, and taking your time, is best.

Libra ZodiacLIBRA Sep 23 – Oct 22

Reach for the stars and make a wish. Better still, just make it happen. Dynamic changes are taking place in your life, and out of the 12 signs, you have the best opportunities to be successful in all that you do. The full Moon on October 15 will bring more than a few surprises your way.

Scorpio ZodiacSCORPIO Oct 23 – Nov 21

It’s time for some behind-the-scenes work. Topics such as health, be it physical or spiritual, need your attention now. It’s also time to serve and help other souls that may be in need of nurturing and care. It’s time to resurrect your spirit and energy once again. A time of healing takes place.

Sagittaurus ZodiacSAGITTARIUS Nov 22 – Dec 21

Saturn continues to carve out his wisdom into your soul. Sagittarius is generally a joyful type and not too much can really get them down. A time has now arrived in which you have to get serious about what works and what doesn’t work. Seemingly onerous, once done, you can put the past behind you.

Capricorn ZodiacCAPRICORN Dec 22 – Jan 19

Mars and Pluto meet up in your sign mid-month, bringing on all kinds of power plays and other displays of possible outright ruthlessness and some danger. Keep in mind an honest man fears no enemies. The best bet is to avoid dangerous people and places. Moreover, stay clean and let your works be seen.

Aquarius ZodiacAQUARIUS Jan 20 – Feb 19

The time has come to do some exploring. You can climb the highest mountain and dive to the depths of the sea, but, in reality, the best search and discovery are within your psyche. Philosophy and spirituality, along with all forms of academia, will be of interest now. The world is your oyster these days.

Pisces ZodiacPISCES Feb 20 – Mar 20

Pisces is the most gifted and naturally talented sign of the zodiac. Art, music, medicine and theatre are natural vehicles for your expression. What you need to know is that you are flowering and opening as never before. Keep your vessel clean and pure and stay receptive to the higher vibrations being offered these days.

The power of one – saying no to salmon farms

The nations of the Dzawada’enuxw

The nations of the Dzawada’enuxw have been uniting and travelling down the coast of Vancouver Island locking arms with other nations in their quest to remove salmon farms from their traditional waters, sometimes called the Broughton Archipelago.

They have said “No” for almost 30 years to the salmon farms using their territories. But somehow, Canada, BC and the Norwegian/Japanese salmon farmers decided to ignore them. So today, one third of the BC salmon farming industry has made themselves at home in Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw territory.

Read moreThe power of one – saying no to salmon farms

More at VIFF

From Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s documentary Human. Photo courtesy of viff.org Showing October 10 (VIFF at the Centre) and October 12 (Vancouver Playhouse).

mesmerizing and unconventional

by Robert Alstead

• Koneline: Our Land Beautiful, by local filmmaker Nettie Wild, takes a fresh, even-handed approach to a heated subject: resource development in BC’s Northwest wilderness. The hereditary land of the Tahltan First Nation has been dubbed the “Serengeti of the North.” Now, the land is being opened up to mining companies for its rich gold and copper resources. Wild’s approach allows many individuals to share their different knowledge and experience of the area – whether it be the geologist’s expertise on rock formations or the aboriginal student sharing his disappearing dialect – and builds a mosaic of impressions.

Read moreMore at VIFF

Subvert junk food marketing

Eat real food

by Dr. Mercola

photo © Shelagh Duffett
photo © Shelagh Duffett

• Food marketing expenditures are quite telling. In 2009, a whopping $1.7 billion was spent on unhealthy food marketing to kids, compared to a mere $280 million spent on healthy food ads.

Kids aren’t even safe from predatory marketing at school.

In 2009, companies spent $149 million marketing soda and other sugary drinks in schools and, on average, these drinks contained 16 or more grams of sugar per serving – an amount that meets or exceeds the maximum daily recommended sugar intake for most kids.

A large number of studies have also confirmed that sugary beverages in particular are strongly associated with obesity and this is not limited to soda.

Fruit juices will, in many instances, contain nearly identical amounts of sugar as soda, yet many parents are still under the illusion that fruit juice is “healthy,” and fail to consider these beverages when looking for dietary culprits for their child’s weight gain.

To prevent obesity and chronic disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests limiting your sugar consumption to a maximum of 5 percent of your daily calories, which equates to about 25 grams/6 teaspoons of sugar per day for most adults.

The limit for children is around 3 to 4 teaspoons a day or 12 to 16 grams. So just one sugary beverage can easily put a child over the limit of what their body can safely handle without adverse health effects.

Other junk foods also feature heavily in schools. According to the video, The Weight of the Nation: Children in Crisis, “20 percent of the rise in the BMI of teens is associated with the increased availability of junk food in schools.” The film also addresses the issue of school lunches, discussing the impact inferior school nutrition has on the childhood obesity epidemic.

Parents are fooled by food advertisements too

Parents are also deceived by the food industry’s PR machine. Junk food ads cleverly manipulate parents into making unhealthy choices for their kids while believing they’re doing the right thing. As noted by CNN:

“It is a dual-pronged approach where food manufacturers are targeting kids to pester (their parents) for these products and then manufacturers are marketing to parents to get them to think these products are healthy and not to feel guilty about buying them …”

[P]arent-directed ads emphasized health benefits and nutritional information for the products… However, a recent report… found that many of the products that are advertised to children, such as sugar-sweetened juice beverages and cereals, do not meet federal standards for healthy snacks. And… the ads that parents are seeing are for these same products.”

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to avoid falling into this trap is to realize that if there’s a commercial for it, you and your kids probably shouldn’t be eating it!

Why? Because only processed foods are heavily marketed and if you’re concerned about your child’s health and weight, then processed foods of all kinds, no matter what the ads promise, are the enemy. Your fridge and pantry needs to be stocked with REAL food, meaning foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.

We must return to a diet of real food

Researchers have firmly debunked the myth that all calories are identical, and that to lose weight all you need to do is expend more calories than you consume.

Research shows that what you eat can actually make a big difference in how much you eat. In a nutshell, research shows that calories gleaned from bread, refined sugars and processed foods promote overeating, whereas calories from whole vegetables, protein and fibre decrease hunger.

While it’s true that most kids exercise too little, it’s important to realize your child cannot exercise his or her way out of a poor and metabolically “toxic” diet. Over the past 60 years or so, a confluence of dramatically altered foods combined with reduced physical exertion and increased exposure to toxic chemicals have created what amounts to a perfect storm.

The extensive use of refined sugar – primarily in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, which is added to virtually all processed foods – is at the heart of it all.

The recommended goal is to limit added sugar to a maximum of 10 percent of daily calories. While reading labels can help, the easiest way to do this is to eat REAL food. Obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and heart attacks are all diseases associated with a processed food diet.

The following short list of just three super-simple, easy-to-remember guidelines will not only improve your family’s nutrition, it will also help you avoid chemical exposures that can affect weight:

Eat real food: Buy whole, ideally organic, foods and cook from scratch. First of all, this will automatically reduce your added sugar consumption, which is the root cause of insulin resistance and weight gain. If you buy organic produce, you’ll also cut your exposure to pesticides and genetically engineered ingredients, and in ditching processed foods, you’ll automatically avoid artificial sweeteners and harmful processed fats.

Opt for organic grass-finished meats to avoid genetically engineered ingredients, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and other growth promoting drugs.
Opt for glass packaging and storage containers to avoid endocrine disrupting chemicals.

© Dr. Mercola www.mercola.com

Obesity a marker for many life-shortening diseases

Obesity is closely tied to a number of chronic diseases. In the US, eight obesity-related diseases account for 75 percent of all healthcare costs. This includes type-2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and dementia. About one-third of all cancers are also directly related to obesity. When you consider that two hallmarks of obesity are insulin/leptin resistance and chronic inflammation, you can begin to recognize that excess weight is fertile ground for a wide array of other ailments – many of which can cut your life significantly short. Obese children significantly increase their risk of suffering obesity-related illnesses and complications far earlier in life than others. Case in point: research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2015 revealed obese children as young as eight now display signs of heart disease.

Science and intuition

by Doreen Virtue and Robert Reeves


• At one time, intuition was considered an old wives’ tale. Today, researchers have solid scientific foundations for the process of intuition. Dozens of studies support the value of intuition in decision making and finding creative solutions to problems.

A recent study stated that medical doctors can achieve better outcomes in their patients’ care by calling upon their intuition when making decisions. The researchers concluded, “Intuitive and analytical decision processes may have complementary effects in achieving the desired outcomes of patient decision support” (de Vries et al. 2013). A related study found that farmers use intuition more than analytics.

Many studies have focused on our physical reactions to various situations, measuring blood pressure, brain waves, perspiration and heart rate in response to stimuli, such as looking at emotionally charged photos or video clips. In some intriguing experiments, the participants’ heart and other systems were shown to react to a photo or video even before the people being studied were shown the stimulus. Most of these experiments are “double-blind,” which means that neither the participants, nor the researchers, know beforehand which type of image the person being studied will see. The studies show that our bodies “know” when something emotionally charged is coming our way.

Perhaps you’ve had this experience yourself when you woke up feeling excited or happy for no known reason. Or, similarly, you felt a sense of dread on a day when something unforeseen and unpleasant later occurred.

Research has demonstrated that our palms begin to sweat when we’re around something harsh or dangerous several minutes before our conscious minds can register the threat. This makes sense, as the hands have a high number of sensory neuronal connections to the nervous system. Scientists believe that if we could learn to pay attention to our palms’ subtle signals, including perspiration, it would enable us to be consciously aware of – and avoid – danger.

Similar studies find that our heart rate and blood pressure increases when people are directing negative thoughts our way and that these functions relax and decrease when others are thinking positive thoughts about us. It turns out that “sending love” is a measurable energy!

Intuition works with the body’s systems

Our ancient ancestors relied on their intuition to ensure their physical safety. Imagine the vulnerable feeling of walking outside to forage for food where you depend on your wits to stay alive. This is the same built-in system wild animals use for survival. While we now shop in grocery stores for food and live in houses, this doesn’t mean that our ancestors’ instincts have “evolved away.”

Researchers have pinpointed the brain’s right hemisphere, which is associated with emotions and the arts, as the centre of our intuition. Additionally, the autonomic nervous system, also called our “ancient brain,” appears to be hardwired to instinctively react to potential danger in a way that could be called “intuitive.” The brain’s limbic system – our feeling centre – can sense danger detected by the autonomic nervous system before it’s physically apparent. In this way, our intuition (if we listen to it) keeps us safe.

In the face of stress, our nervous and endocrine systems work closely together to bring about harmony and balance. These two systems are linked by the hypothalamus, a structure in the brain’s limbic system. While the endocrine system is made up of many glands, the most important to know in regard to stress and intuition are the pituitary and adrenal glands. Let’s look at how all these systems work together.

When your nervous system recognizes a stressor, it sends a message to the hypothalamus, which then releases hormones to deliver the message to the pituitary gland. Next, the pituitary sends out hormones influencing the adrenal glands. In turn, this causes your adrenals to release a hormone to reduce the effects of the stress. This pattern continues until your body is satisfied that you have enough stress-relieving hormones available. Your body then relaxes and the nervous system calms.

However, if stress continues for extended periods of time, the biological exchange of neuro-messages and hormones may become unbalanced. If the hypothalamus, pituitary or adrenal glands become depleted, it creates a strain along the cascade. This causes a change in your stress response, energy levels and hormones.

By supporting your endocrine and nervous systems nutritionally, you will help keep your intuition clear and sharp. And, conversely, listening to your intuition is a big factor in reducing your stress levels, as it will guide you to avoid stress-producing situations in the first place. Your intuition may also lead you to a stress-management program that’s custom-tailored to your interests, schedule and budget.

Excerpted from Nutrition for Intuition (Hay House, Inc., January 2016) © Doreen Virtue and Robert Reeves. www.hayhouse.com

Docs at the Vancouver International Film Festival

by Robert Alstead

Titan Missile from Command and Control, Courtesy of American Experience Films
Titan Missile from Command and Control, Courtesy of American Experience Films

• If the events of Cold War documentary Command and Control hadn’t actually happened, you might think it was made up. On September 18, 1980, a PTS (Propellant Transfer System) team working on a nuclear missile in Damascus, Arkansas, accidentally dropped a metal socket in the silo. It punctured the fuel tank and set off a potentially catastrophic chain of events: the 9Mt thermonuclear warhead on the Titan II missile was capable of annihilating 10 million people.

Robert Kenner, who previously directed Food, Inc., uses artful reconstructions, together with candid interviews with those involved, from up and down the chain of command, to create a riveting and scary-as-hell account of the incident. Chillingly, the film also illustrates how this “broken arrow” – to borrow Air Force lingo – is just the tip of a pile of hundreds of nuclear weapon accidents that have occurred out of sight and mind.

In Freightened: The Real Price of Shipping, director Denis Delestrac posits that society suffers collective “seablindness” to practices in the global shipping industry. From the jacket in a shop made from materials that have travelled 48,000km for the price of a transit ticket, to the oil spills, shipwrecks and huge carbon footprint, the industry is flying under the radar. We cannot fathom the volume of illicit goods – potentially dirty bombs – circulating in container traffic.

Delestrac seems most riled by the coterie of secretive shipping magnates, who cut corners and costs by sailing their fleets under a “flag of convenience.” Under this topsy-turvy system, Mongolia and Bolivia, which have no coastline, have some of the world’s biggest fleets, while Panama, Liberia and the Marshall Islands are top funders for the UN agency responsible for shipping regulation.

In spite of a tendency to press its point too forcefully, this is a welcome look at the social and ecological impact of shipping; it is especially relevant in Vancouver and BC, given the huge increases in oil, LNG and coal shipping being planned.

Carl-A. Fechner’s Power to Change: The Energy Rebellion also calls shipping offside for its carbon footprint (equivalent to Germany’s), but its main focus is on solutions. Stars of the show are the engineers and entrepreneurs of the Energiewende(Germany’s “energy transition”), who are trailblazing renewables development with teutonic zeal and determination. Not afraid to get technical, it covers a variety of projects from straw pellets to replace fossil fuels, to giant battery power plants that are being created from de-commissioned nuclear power plants, to show how the big obstacle to climate action is not lack of technical know-how but political will.

Strangers on the Earth is another documentary that follows an ensemble of characters, this time walking the medieval pilgrim trail across the North of Spain. I met my wife on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela so I’m always curious to see filmmakers’ treatment of it. Accomplished cellist Dane Johansen, following in the footsteps of Canadian violinist Oliver Schroer, sets off with cello on back to record Bach’s Cello Suites along the way. While his uplifting, mellifluous soundtrack combines well with evocative imagery of pilgrims doing the time-honoured trail during its summer peak, the film struggles to connect at a deeper level. Some editing decisions distract and Johansen’s own self-revelations are lost in the mix of pilgrim voices, from the poetic to banal.

When Two Worlds Collide will resonate with British Columbia audiences. The documentary looks at a bloody period of conflict between indigenous Amazonians and government over land rights and resource exploitation in the Peruvian Amazon. The doc closely follows charismatic native leader Alberto Pizango, who conveys a sadly familiar story of ecological loss and government duplicity. It provides good coverage of the government side through excellent use of archival footage and recent interviews to show how a tense standoff quickly escalated.

On my list to see is the latest from BC’s Nettie Wild, KONELINE: our land beautiful, a poetic take on the conflict between resource development and the traditional way of life of the Tahltan Nation in Northern BC. It won Best Documentary Feature at Hot Docs so it’s bound to be popular.

Vancouver International Film Festival (viff.org) runs September 29-October 14.

Robert Alstead made the climate justice documentary Running On Climate, runningonclimate.com

Playing for Change

One world, one voice, one day

MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason


Playing for Change Day


• Without fail, the Playing For Change website makes me feel good. Most often it gives me goose bumps, but it’s always (in all ways) a joyful, uplifting experience. There’s no better time to feel this yourself than on September 24 when a global community gathers and unites – through the power of music to affect positive change – on stages, street corners, in schools, yoga studios, cafes and living rooms. More than 300 events in 50 countries are listed at www.playingforchange.com

I’m not alone in praising Playing for Change (PFC). After taping a segment of his Words of Wonder, combined with Bob Marley’s Get Up Stand Up, Keith Richards said, “That’s the way music was meant to be.” Jackson Browne produced a PFC arrangement of Guantanamera, featuring more than 75 Cuban musicians in Havana, Barcelona and Tokyo, describing it as “one of the most rewarding and inspiring musical experiences of my life.” And Sara Bareilles reports that singing with the PFC Band “elevates the world with music and inspires me to be a better human.”

Warning! The videos at www.playingforchange.com can be addictive. It’s some of the best feel-good music ever with unprecedented collaborations between previously anonymous street musicians, the classically trained and big names such as Bono, Keb’ Mo’, Jimmy Buffett, David Crosby, members of Los Lobos and the Grateful Dead and even John Lennon on tape, with Yoko Ono’s blessing, launching a Power to the People campaign. Music IS the power.

Mark Johnson is the creator of the global PFC phenomena and the driving force behind what is now a worldwide, multimedia, online music project and foundation. He says, “It is easy to connect to the world through music. Religion, politics, a lot of those things, they seem to divide everybody.” When Bill Moyers asked if he was being naïve, Johnson responded, “To me, naive is thinking that there’s any other choice. The only choice we have is to come together. And to inspire each other because that’s the way we’ll create a better world now and for kids tomorrow.”

His own inspiration for a big idea – to connect the world through unfiltered music – was birthed on a New York subway platform when the Grammy-winning producer/engineer/filmmaker watched two monks singing in a language he didn’t understand. “There were about 200 people who didn’t get on the train… people with tears in their eyes and jaws dropping, people who would normally run by each other.”

Some time later, on his way to work at a Santa Monica studio, an “epiphany” inspired Johnson to record street blues musician Roger Ridley singing Stand by Me. He played the result through headphones for Grandpa Elliott, who has “been putting love out there for 60 years” from the streets of New Orleans. Subsequently, utilizing innovative mobile technology and travelling the world, Johnson videotaped more than 100 musicians – mostly outdoors in parks, plazas, promenades, in doorways, on cobblestone streets and hillside pueblos. Each captured performance of the same song created a new mix in which the artists performed together – although hundreds or thousands of miles apart – in a seamless, mesmerizing collaboration and viral global jam.

Johnson has since produced two award-winning documentaries, A Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians (2004) and Peace Through Music (2008), and much more music. He notes that PFC videos now have more than 300 million views from 195 countries.

Among myriad locations, Johnson shares that the South African township of Gugeletu was “the saddest place, with so much despair, until women and children joined in singing Celebration.” It was, he says, “one of the most powerful things I had ever seen, from sad to happy, when all that had changed was music.” That barren backyard became the site for a first PFC school. A Playing for Change band was formed to tour the world and help raise funds for what is now 12 school programs – in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Thailand, and growing exponentially.

Each project also helps meet essential needs, including food, clean water, medicine, clothes, books, school supplies, solar energy, computers, and other technology. Johnson says, “It’s never ending, more songs to record, more musicians to connect, always more schools to build.”

As you explore the videos on the PFC site, you may notice two with a regional connection. Music Is My Ammunition opens on a Vancouver beach with three musicians – two from the Congo, one from Italy – before moving on to Jamaica, Hollywood, Cuba, Tokyo and Italy. Don’t Worry was recorded live at the Commodore Ballroom.

Playing for Change Day is held on the Saturday closest to International Peace Day. Everything you need to know to stage an event is also on the PFC website. Email brucemason@shaw.ca with any plans and projects. And tune into Common Ground. Happy Playing for Change Day!

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.

Playing for Change Day in Vancouver

September 24:
Project Blue Hands Society & Friends (www.projectbluehands.org) invites you to celebrate Playing For Change Day in Vancouver. Music, art & outreach for the people, Victory Square Park, 200 W. Hastings St., 11AM-4PM. To get involved, email info@projectbluehands.org or call (778) 233-5874.

Core beliefs about a plant-based diet

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina


portrait of Vesanto Melina•  I recently took out – from our wonderful public library system – a set of CDs entitled This I Believe. They are based on a popular NPR (National Public Radio) series that invited people to write a 500-word essay on a core belief that guided their daily life and to then read their essay on the air. (See website at the end of the article). After listening to a selection and wondering, “What is a core belief for me?” I recognized that mine centres on a shift towards a plant-based diet.

Pythagoras and his community adopted a vegetarian diet 2,500-years-ago. He derived the idea from Asians, who had adopted these practices as part of their Hindu or Buddhist faith. In North America, in the early and mid 1800s, a gradual interest in diets of whole plant foods included a reaction against food adulteration: chalk and plaster in milk and flour and dirt, sand and leaves in coffee and spices. Subsequently, dietary reformer Sylvester Graham’s emphasis on whole grains led to the current graham cracker and John Harvey Kellogg inspired a popular line of cereals. By 1850, vegetarian associations had formed in England and North America and vegetarian restaurants became popular.

Scientific backing was gained in the mid 1950s when Harvard-based research clearly established that adults could get all their necessary protein and amino acids solely from plant foods. However, we were not certain about deriving every one of the essential nutrients until after the last remaining vitamin, B12, was isolated in 1949. The origin of B12 is neither animal nor plant, but bacterial. This vitamin is present in animal products, originating from bacteria that are present, but it is not in clean plant foods.

By 1987, questions about the suitability of plant-based diets were addressed when the maternal care records and birth outcomes of 775 vegans showed that the mothers’ vegan diets did not affect birth weight. In fact, health advantages were noted. In 1989, the growth of vegan children was assessed by the Centers for Disease Control and found to be within the normal range. The families involved ate a plant-based diet centred on vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans, peas, lentils, fortified soyfoods), grains, seeds, nuts and vitamin B12 supplements. From conception to old age, they were thriving.

The National Academy of Sciences, 2016, says that by 2050, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 27% if we followed global dietary guidelines – eat more fruits and vegetables; eat less meat, sugar and calories – ?and by ?70% if we ate a vegan diet. A global shift to a plant-based diet is strongly urged?. Forward-thinking China is already encouraging its citizens to eat 50 percent less meat – for environmental and health reasons.

Over the course of my life, I have been at most of the places along the spectrum, from meat eating to vegan, though for the last half, at the plant-based end. We can be healthy at many places on this spectrum. You, too, may have experienced a gradual shift towards a more plant-based diet for any number of very sound reasons.

To return to our original theme, what is a core belief of yours?

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and author. www.nutrispeak.com To read essays from the This I Believe series, see www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103427272