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January 2015

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tskThe main point of yesterday’s post was to share with the gentle reader the video clip that I had found on the InterWebNet that features Beau Dick – the excellent Kwakwaka’wakw artist and carver.

Now – WordPress contains a smart feature that recognises that one has inserted the address of a Youtube clip and renders it nicely on the screen, running it when clicked in a neat inline player.

What I did not know – not having done this previously – is that the mechanism that I use to send out an email digest to those who have subscribed to this stream of (semi)-consciousness does not recognise Youtube clips in the same manner – indeed it simply removes the link completely.

As a result yesterday’s post made reference to a video clip that email readers could not see at all. My humble apologies for this. Should you wish to see the clip – and it is worth so doing – this link will take you to the post itself and you will be able to view the page the way that was intended.

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidMy first visit to the west coast of Canada – indeed to any part of Canada – was way back in the summer of 2006. The Kickass Canada Girl and I were still relatively new to each other and by the time we landed it was clear that the trip had become a sort of two-way audition. Canada was invited to show itself off to me – the idea being to entice me to want to live there some day – whilst at the same time I was paraded before the Girl’s family and friends to see if I passed muster.

Canada clearly passed the test – and it looks as though I just about squeaked home too…

…though not without the odd alarum! The Girl’s aunt – she whose 80th birthday celebration we attended in Kamloops back in April 2012 – was initially somewhat suspicious of my intentions. Fortunately, once we had met face to face my English charm won her over to the extent that she decided that since I would definitely be moving to BC at  some point I should be fully briefed as to what to expect. To this end she has gifted me each year since then a subscription to British Columbia Magazine – for which I continue to be most grateful.

Leafing through the latest edition – which plopped into our mailbox just the other day – I came across a brief item on a Northwest Coast First Nations’ artist of Kwakwaka’wakw descent by the name of Beau Dick. The description of the man and his work fascinated me so much that I needed to know more. I turned – as ever – to the InterWebNet.

In a 2010 piece for Focus Online (‘Victoria’s magazine of people, ideas and culture’) Leslie Campbell wrote of Beau thus:

“Beau is tall and lanky, with long brown hair and a grey beard. He wears a rumpled black felt hat with feathers and speaks very thoughtfully. Though we didn’t know at the time of our meeting, he is regarded as one of the most creative and versatile Kwakwaka’wakw carvers of his generation, with works in many top museums. He’s a chief, an accomplished singer, composer, historian, and an initiated Hamat’sa, the highest-ranking secret society of the Kwakwaka’wakw.”

I subsequently found the wonderful trailer that I have linked below, for an as yet unfinished documentary on the man. Quite apart from the fascinating insight that it provides into this talented and thoughtful polymath the brief film captures something of the essence of the west coast – a sense of place, if you like.

Should the images, sounds, voices and words contained therein touch you even a fraction as much as they do me, then you might glean an inkling as to just why I feel drawn so strongly to this extraordinary coast.


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Black_and_White_Stick_BrokenMy attention was drawn to one of the more light-hearted items on a recent edition of Newnight. (For Canadians and others not resident in the UK, Newsnight is a daily BBC current affairs analysis programme). The piece concerned what was purported to have been the ‘must have’ gift of the Christmas season not long passed.

This oh-so desirable object – that which apparently appeared at the top of so many yuletide wish-lists – was… (wait for it…) – a stick!

To be precise – the ‘selfie stick’!

You might at this point suspect that you detect in my tone a hint of sarcasm. You would be right so to do.

OK – I am an old fart – but I just don’t get the whole notion of the ‘selfie’. It seems to have grown out of the seemingly instatiable desire with which some are afflicted, to record the fact of their presence wherever they may be on the planet. A few decades back the advent of the lightweight digital camera provided tourists and others with the ideal means of so doing, to the immense chagrin of the rest of us who actually prefer to interact with, or gaze in contemplation upon, the exciting new places that we are visiting. Travelling to the far corners of the globe to take picture of ourselves – rather than of those distant exotic locales – seems to me beyond the absurd.

I recall one visit to the Louvre some years back that was all but ruined for me by a hoard of tourists from another part of the globe. I wished only to stand in awe, drinking in the sensuous detail of the copy of the statue of the Three Graces. I was prevented from so doing by the endless procession of snap-happy subjects eager to have recorded their very presence in front of said marble icon – but facing away from it. I gave up and left.

The selfie itself (fnar!) was, of course, made possible by two further inventions – the camera equipped mobile phone and the means to upload the output thereof to the InterWebNet. By use of these tools the self(ie)-obsessed can not only record but also publish the fact of their presence anywhere upon the planet – at any point – within seconds!

The basic question, however, remains unanswered… Why?

For those who have not yet encountered this bizarely popular object, the ‘selfie stick’ is a pretty crude tool that allows one to hold one’s mobile phone at somewhat more than arms-length whilst snapping away. Presumably the intention is to enable one to include even more gurning idiots in the resultant snap than could otherwise be captured!

What bemuses me more than anything, though, is that most of the images that one sees thus presented are – to be quite frank – pretty poor! If I wanted to display simulacra of myself upon the InterWebNet (and I don’t – I really don’t!) – I would want them to be as flattering as they could be. Heck! – I’d hire a professional portrait photographer to make sure that I looked as good as is humanly possible!

But then – as I said – I clearly don’t get it


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“The worst thing that can happen in a democracy – as well as in an individual’s life – is to become cynical about the future and lose hope.”

Hillary Clinton

DemocraciesTo mark the 750th anniversary of the first English parliament of elected representatives at Westminster (the de Montfort parliament which opened on 20th January 1265) the BBC has declared today to be ‘Democracy Day’. Given that democracy is a precious but fragile flower that requires careful nurturing I can only encourage the gentle reader to continue to exercise great care on its behalf – to ensure that the delicate bud does not wither on the branch through apathy or cynicism. Our democracies are far from perfect – but that should not prevent us from striving to make them so.

According to the Democracy Ranking Association there is little to choose between the UK and Canada in terms of world democracy rankings, with both countries lagging behind the Scandinavian nations – as has indeed long been the case. Do have a look at the Democracy Ranking Association website should you wish to know more about the criteria used for evaluation, or simply to gloat about your own nation’s position relative to others!

Rank Country Rank Change
13 United Kingdom -3
14 Canada -2


Clearly little room for complacency, but good to know nonetheless that both are well towards the top of the table.

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidIn the first part of ‘Not fit for purpose‘ I wrote of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and of how, through the later Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI), many of the Islamic states effectively opted out of any agreement to comply with the articles therein.

Lest anyone think that this be a polemic against the Islamic world alone let me be clear that I extend my critique to all states – be they based in religious or political dogma – that wilfully ignore the efforts of the international community to evolve a modus operandi by which the nations of the world might live at peace with one another. Putin’s Russia – as an example – is certainly not alone amongst secular states in displaying a fine disregard for the rights of others.

My discourse on the UDHR was – however – intended only as an introduction to the topic that I really want to address… that of the urgent need to find a way to prevent extremists of any hue from being able to co-opt the tenets and principles of faiths or political movements to suit their own despicable agendas – as happened the week  before last in Paris. This does – of course – presuppose the veracity of the condemnations of such atrocities as expressed by those whose beliefs and ideals have been traduced. Far be it from me to suggest that there might be occasions on which those who denounce the terrorists in public secretly support their actions in private – or at the very least sympathise with them.

The routes to radicalisation are complex and varied, and countries around the globe have thus far struggled to find ways to integrate those of contrary racial and religious backgrounds in such a way that the resentments and discrimination that can lead to ghettoisation and violence do not find fertile ground in which to breed. Whether these attempts follow the paths of multiculturalism or integration the results have, frankly, not been promising. Prejudice and poverty can be all to easily exploited by the dark forces that seek to prey upon those vulnerable to indoctrination.

Whereas it would be entirely iniquitous to hold religions or political movements responsible for the actions of the misguided minority who violate their teachings or beliefs – or indeed to expect those who follow these tenets in good faith to offer a solution to a problem that is not of their making – it would certainly assist matters if it were considerably more difficult than it is currently for the extremists to debase doctrines and dogmas in pursuit of their own agendas. In an entirely rational world this would involve revisiting and revising sacred and political texts and screeds to ensure that they do not contain ambiguities that might be so exploited.

The suggestion that ancient religious scriptures should be reworked would doubtless raise howls of protest – particularly from those who believe their own faith’s tenets to be carved in tablets of stone… this in spite of the fact that in virtually all instances the texts as we now know them are demonstrably the work of multiple authors and only took their current forms considerably later than the time that it is purported that they were written. It seems somewhat ironic that such canons have become progressively less flexible with regard to interpretation as the pace of change throughout the world outside has increased.

If such revision proves – as seems inevitable – too much to ask, then we should at least require – in the event of this sort of malign traduction – that those who deem themselves to be the guardians of such beliefs issue definitive interpretations of the tracts concerned – so that those on all sides who might otherwise become innocent victims of the extremists be offered at least some protection.

Failure to take any action simply re-inforces the view that such scriptures, screeds and dogmas be no longer fit for purpose in the modern world.

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Image by Julian Colton on Wikimedia CommonsMy last screed – posted in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris – posited that further comment should perhaps wait until there had been some time for calm contemplation. This – of course – because the initial surge of emotion experienced might just have caused me to asseverate something in print that I might later have regretted.

That time has passed. One and a half have million people have shown their solidarity – on the wintery streets of Paris – with the victims of this crime and with the principles for which they stood. Much of great wisdom has been said and written regarding these terrible events by those vastly more qualified so to do than I. Though there are no easy answers I am well aware that those who burn to understand how such a tragedy could have come about in this day and age in one of the world’s great capitals will already have spent much time reading and researching. They will learn little that is new or of value from me.

This will, naturally, not stop me from addressing at least one issue – so if you feel inclined – read on… if not – feel free to move on!


In the course of an address in October 1995 the then Pope – John Paul II – described the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as “one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time”. Indeed the document – drafted by more than a dozen representatives from around the world and approved by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948 by 48 votes to 0 (with only 8 abstentions) – has garnered general approbation throughout much of the world and forms the basis of the International Bill of Rights which has been signed and ratified by more than 150 countries. The UDHR has influenced or been adopted into most national constitutions drafted since 1948, and the International Bill of Rights has become a fundamental element of international law.

The UDHR is intended to be neither a Western nor a Christian document, aiming to be both supra-national and supra-religious and being at pains to emphasise its universality. In spite of these efforts such criticisms as have been levelled against it uniformly declare that it be both Western and Christian in origin, and claim that it does not sufficiently take account of non-Western religious or political contexts. This – incidentally – in spite of the fact that many of the countries from which such criticism has emanated are in fact themselves signatories – though their compliance with the declaration might at best be described as ‘patchy’.

The truth of the matter is clearly that those states – and indeed religions – that approve neither of democracy nor of freedom of thought and expression are almost inevitably opposed to a doctrine that endorses both as inalienable rights. Neither concept is perfect, of course, but the vast majority of the world’s peoples – if not nations – manifestly believe them to offer the closest that it is possible to approach thereto.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference adopted its own human rights declaration in August 1990 – the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) –  as a response to the UHDR. Whereas many of the articles of which the CDHRI is comprised might seem familiar – derived as they are almost directly from the corresponding articles in the UHDR – the most important amongst them (including those referenced in my last post) have had added to them clauses such as – “except as provided for in the Shari’a”, “in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari’ah” and “in accordance with the tenets of the shari’ah”. The CDHRI culminates with:

Article 24.

  • All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’ah.

This renders the declaration subject to Islamic beliefs rather than being the universal code that had been intended and is far, far divorced from the founding purpose of the declaration, the origins of which emanated from the immediate post-war desire that the nations of the world should be able to live in peace, and from the belief that all human beings have as their birthright the basic freedoms by which that aspiration might be fulfilled.


Well – this started out as a simple post. I fear that there is more to be said and that a second epistle will be required…

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Nous sommes Charlie!

Image from Pixabay

“Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn’t exist in any declaration I have ever read. If you are offended it is your problem, and frankly lots of things offend lots of people. I can walk into a bookshop and point out a number of books that I find very unattractive in what they say. But it doesn’t occur to me to burn the bookshop down. If you don’t like a book, read another book. If you start reading a book and you decide you don’t like it, nobody is telling you to finish it. To read a 600-page novel and then say that it has deeply offended you: well, you have done a lot of work to be offended.”

Salman Rushdie

It is necessary to make some comment pursuant to the apalling atrocity perpetrated yesterday in Paris. Many thoughts rush through one’s mind and most are perhaps best left unspoken until there has been a chance for quiet contemplation. Naturally the first and most important of these are for the families and other loved ones of those who have been cruelly assassinated.

There is – however – one thing that must be said – and must be repeated again and again:


There is no right not to be offended – whether that offence be religious, political, idealistic – or indeed anything else.


Amongst the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are enshrined these inalienable rights:

Article 3.

  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 18.

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.


There is absolutely no right to – nor can there be any possible justification for – the taking of a human life in response to any offence whatsoever!


Photo by Sam Mugraby, Photos8.com

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“Sharks are as tough as those football fans who take their shirts off during games in Chicago in January, only more intelligent.”

Dave Barry

Sadly, this is not a post about sharks but rather about the weather in January. To be specific – this January!

I know, I know – the month is but a few days old and here we are – grumbling about the weather already. In my defence I should point out that it has been – thus far this year in the UK – either really cold and frosty or incredibly dreek. (Regarding which splendidly descriptive Scottish term the Urban Dictionary helpfully offers this definition:


It means bad weather. The kind of weather which makes you miserable: dull, grey and wet. If it rains hard and water runs down your neck it’s dreek.

…which is clearly not confined to areas north of the border).

Ah well – at least the days are getting longer!

Here are some pictures (I didn’t bother with the dreek days!).

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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Image by Wolfi Korn (Cartoonist Illustrator) “The wine’s all drunk and so am I
Here with the hoi-poloi, don’t ask me why
We’re celebratin’ anticipatin’; end of the year
everybody come, everybody here
– well more or less
Some already in a mess
I guess they’re waiting for the big one.”

Peter Gabriel – “Waiting for the Big One”

Well – this is it…

2015 is to be the year in which we retire and move to Canada.

Our deadline is the middle of July and – though we all know by now what happens to the best laid plans – as this particular milestone draws ever nearer I really don’t see things going that much astray.


  • The School knows that I will be retired by the end of the academic year. The Kickass Canada Girl’s agency knows that a similar deadline applies to her.
  • My application for Canadian PR is (one fondly hopes) grinding slowly through its final stages. In concert with all others in a similar position I expect the good news daily!
  • My second pension kicks in this month and our other financial plans are coming to fruition.
  • Friends and family in BC – though perhaps wondering if we are ever actually going to emigrate – just maybe starting to believe that it will finally happen.

Only one major thing remains undone and that will form the basis of the only New Year’s resolution that I will make this year – to sell our UK apartment by whatever means possible.


Nothing more to say – except to wish gentle readers near and far:

A very Happy New Year!

May it be a good one…

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