Contrary to the popular cliche, a person never gets too old to learn something new. I’m old, and this week I learned that I may have over many decades inappropriately appropriated African-American culture.
As a teenager growing up in the 1960s, I listened to Elvis on my transistor radio and 45 rpm vinyl discs. I picked a jazz album as my first purchase through the Columbia Record Club. And later, I devoured the music coming out of England by The Rolling Stones, The Animals and The Beatles.
All of these musicians had one thing in common: They were white people who appropriated musical styles unique to African-Americans.
Blues and jazz originated in the American South among the slaves and descendents of slaves picking cotton and other crops. Blues, and to some extent also jazz, was a mash up of African chants and drumming, church hymns and Appalachian folk music, which itself evolved into what we call ‘country’ music today.
Blues and jazz music inspired me. I understood it and naturally felt the underlying rhythms. This music formed the core of my own musical journey playing in jazz and blues-rock bands for over 40 years.
Did I unknowingly participate in cultural appropriation? Based on the events of the last few weeks, it’s a question I am pondering.
This painting by Amanda PL. At the top of this post is a painting by Norval Morisseau.
First, a Toronto gallery cancelled the upcoming show of a white artist, Amanda PL, who paints in the 1960s Woodlands style, which is unique to the Anishinaabe people. She discovered the style while living and taking Native studies and art education stories in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Aboriginal people protested the show because they say the artist appropriated indigenous culture and art. She says the style simply speaks to her.
But there’s no doubt that the content of many of Amanda’s paintings closely resemble — perhaps, too closely — the work of famed Anishinaabe artist, Norval Morrisseau.
To put it bluntly, the pieces of Amanda’s work that I have seen appear to copy the style and also the content of Anishinaabe artists. There’s little-to-no attempt to apply the style to new content.
And this is what bothers Chippewa artist Jay Soule. He says:
“What she’s doing is essentially cultural genocide, because she’s taking his stories and retelling them, which bastardizes it down the road. Other people will see her work and they’ll lose the connection between the real stories that are attached to it.”
Second, the editors of two Canadian magazines resigned over separate middle-school level personal columns about cultural appropriation.
Hal Niedzviecki, the editor of The Write, a writing trade magazine, wrote a mind-numbing introduction to an edition dedicated to indigenous writing that encouraged white people to write about “what they don’t know” and “people who aren’t like you.”
He concluded by suggesting a prize for the best example of cultural appropriation in Canadian literature. Other people joined the frat house fun, including the editors of the National Post, CBC and Maclean’s, who all later apologized. The editor of The Walrus resigned after writing a column support Niedzviecki.
Most writers have a measure of regret over something we have written. But Niedzviecki’s piece should win the Dumb Award. You don’t achieve greater understanding of indigenous culture from writers who don’t know anything about it. For that, he should have encouraged the publication of more indigenous authors.
Serious issues often arise from thoughtless actions. And that’s the case here. Whether Amada PL copied Morrisseau’s work or was simply inspired by it, and despite the inane ramblings by editors of two obscure publications, it’s worth having a conversation about cultural appropriation.
Artists in all mediums have always taken inspiration from other artists and cultures. Van Gogh and Gauguin influenced each other. The Beatles early work appropriated the styles of Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins.
So, how far do we want to take the concept of cultural appropriation? Should we boycott a Ramen noodle shop because a white guy is cooking this unique Asian dish? Must all sushi chefs be Japanese?
I’m not sure where the hard lines get drawn in this debate, but when, as a friend put it, “people of an exploited/excluded group complain about those of us who pack around all the privilege that our society conveys,” we had better listen closely.
Given yet another opportunity to follow its own Master Plan this week, the Courtenay/Comox Sewer Commission chose to ignore it. Again.
A letter from two residents of the Area B neighborhood most affected by the proposed construction of a multi-million dollar pump station requested a minor restructuring of the commission’s membership.
But the residents were really questioning the commission’s governance of matters outside of its existing mandate. A matter that the commission’s 2011 Sewer Master Plan said should have been addressed six years ago, but which they have disregarded.
In their letter, David Battle and Lorraine Aitken asked that the Area B director be added to the commission on a limited basis. He or she would participate and vote only “on issues relating to any existing or proposed infrastructure in Area B.”
It’s a reasonable request. If the elected officials of Courtenay and Comox propose to build infrastructure outside of their municipal boundaries, then the elected representative of those in the affected area should have a voice and a vote.
Democracy is based on the idea that all citizens will have a voice in government — their own or their elected representative’s — on matters that concern them. But residents of Area B have been denied representation.
The Courtenay/Comox Sewer Commission comprises members only from Courtenay, Comox and CFB Comox. But where it places sewer pipes, pump stations and treatment facilities affect people outside of those jurisdictions.
The commission’s 2011 Sewer Master Plan anticipated this problem, and is absolutely clear about the appropriate resolution.
The Master Plan says that before the commission embarks on any of the plan’s identified projects, it should create a governance structure for areas outside of the City of Courtenay and the Town of Comox.
Presumably that would entail giving fair representation — voice and vote — to people in areas affected by the commission’s actions.
It’s no surprise that commission members haven’t undertaken even a simple review of governance structure in the six years since the Master Plan was adopted. The commission has consistently neglected those parts of the plan that seemed troublesome, expensive or that might have prevented them for doing whatever they want.
For example, the Master Plan calls for the commission to review and revise the plan every three years. It wasn’t done in 2014, as it should have been, and still hasn’t been done. Other plan initiatives have also been ignored.
The commission and Comox Valley Regional District engineering staff have a long history of ignoring the advice and concerns of the community on sewerage issues. The regional district has been successfully sued twice over engineering mistakes that citizens warned against.
And history is repeating itself. The Sewer Commission has bungled the proposed Comox #2 pump station project from the beginning. It planned the project and purchased the property in secret. It intentionally withheld announcement of its plan and property purchase until after the 2014 municipal elections.
And the commission continues to treat legitimate citizen concerns with disdain, adopting a confrontational posture, rather than trying to find a win-win solution.
The letter from Aitken and Battle presented the commission with an opportunity to change course, and resolve the Comox #2 pump station outrage before the situation devolves into new lawsuits.
The commission should have treated the residents’ letter with respect, and fulfilled its obligations under the Sewer Master Plan, by undertaking a review of its governance structure and decision-making framework that would address Aitken’s and Battle’s concerns.
Instead, they deferred the matter to their June strategic planning workshop. That could be seen as a positive step.
But without advance work to develop possible options and process requirements, legal opinions and geopolitical analysis, nothing definitive can come from the June session. At best, the commissioners will ask that this same work be done and they’ll discuss it again. Later.
To those already suspect of the Courtenay/Comox Sewer Commission’s intentions, this looks like an insincere stalling tactic, perhaps to avoid immediate legal action.
It would be lovely if it were not, and the commission finally recognized the legitimacy of the neighborhood’s concerns and the better and less expensive options available to them.
The connection between Passover and Easter
The Christian holiday of Easter and the Jewish holiday of Passover occur almost at the same time every year. Why is that you may wonder?
Here’s a link to help you understand their connection and their differences.
Reason No. 436 why we should start over on another planet
According to new estimates from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, there will be more than 3.6 million drones flown by hobbyists over American soil. That would be more than triple the number flown today.
There have been 770,000 new drone registrations in the U.S. in just the last 15 months.
Also, a post on a Facebook group page for a particular tropical beach community. “I’m thinking of visiting. Can a drone be flown over the beach?” Privacy? Relaxing holiday? Forget it.
The Trump Newsletter
A new poll why Quinnipiac University shows that 52 percent of American voters find Trump embarrassing. Only 27 percent are proud of the president. Trump’s latest approval rating of minus-22 percent is based on the percentage of voters approving of his job as president (35) and disapproving (57).
Ignorant politicians keep trying to find alternate reasons for global warming
The latest absurd attempt to explain climate change that excuses burning fossil fuels and other human-related causes comes from a Republican (what a surprise!) running for governor of Pennsylvania. Scott Wagner, a sitting state senator, acknowledges global warming but attributes it to the Earth’s “rotation” moving closer to the sun, and also human body heat as a result of population growth.
First, the good news. He recognizes the Earth is warming and that population growth on an overly-populated planet is not a good thing.
But physics experts say the energy from the sun surpasses the energy from body heat by at least a million times. So the claim is absurd.
Also, the Earth “rotates” every 24 hours, but its revolution does take it closer to the sun twice every year, and then further from the sun twice. That’s because our orbit is elliptical, not circular. But there’s no evidence the revolution is changing.
Obituary: Tom Amberry
The Decafnation doesn’t usually publish obituaries, but this one is special.
Tom Amberry, who died recently at age 94, was a North Dakota native and California podiatrist. But about 50 years ago, the 6-foot seven-inch WWII Navy veteran was offered a lucrative contract to play professional basketball for the Minneapolis Lakers (which incomprehensibly moved to Los Angeles). He turned it down to study podiatry.
But, his basketball skills never left him. He stepped up to the free-throw line at a gym near his home on Nov. 15, 1993, at age 71, and, in front of 10 loyal (but probably bored) witnesses, spent the next 12 continuous hours draining 2,750 shots in a row. (Check out the video.)
At the time, he was quoted as saying, “I could have made a bunch more. I was in the zone, as the kids say.” Unfortunately, the janitor wanted to go home.
That’s a guy worth writing an obituary about.
Millions of people participated in a first-ever annual grassroots demonstration 47 years ago to raise awareness about environmental concerns. They called it Earth Day.
At the time, in 1970, the message focused on saving the whales and cleaning the trash out of our rivers. Greenpeace was born. The public service announcements of the era featured an American Indian saddened to find garbage in a once-pristine river full of fish, and a cute owl that said, “Give a hoot – don’t pollute.”
Then everyone drove home in big gas-guzzling cars and squirted the chlorofluorocarbons into their ovens and their hair that eventually ate holes in our atmosphere’s ozone layer. They smoked cigarettes in cars and airplanes, spreading deadly carcinogens inhaled by everyone near them, including children.
The adage reuse-recycle-reduce that every elementary student knows so well today was a foreign concept back in the days when Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, was considered a radical. Nelson’s genius was to capture the youthful anti-Vietnam War energy and shift it to environmental causes.
It wasn’t a difficult task when, in 1969, rivers like the Cuyahoga in Ohio were so full of toxic chemicals that they caught fire. The blaze and a subsequent west coast oil spill were Nelson’s inspirations.
Now that we know the dangers of second-hand smoke and that releasing hydrocarbons had led to changes in the Earth’s climate that threaten our existence, do we still need an Earth Day?
Unfortunately, yes, we do, now more than ever.
Even though we have made great strides toward reducing some of the ways we harm Earth’s life-sustaining ecosystem, the really hard work lies ahead.
Implementing a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags and teaching kids the merits of recycling are child’s play compared with bringing down human-and-animal-generated carbon emissions to a safe level.
No one seriously doubts any longer the harmful effect of our reliance on fossil fuels and the dangerous leakage of methane gas from gas and oil wells. But even though we know what’s killing us, like addicts, we can’t get our deadly dependence under control
There are hopeful signs, of course. We have started to embrace solar and wind as sources of power generation, and it has become cool to drive electric cars, especially Tesla roadsters. Widespread public pressure is mounting for the providers of electrical power to shut down coal-burning power plants.
Not everyone is pulling in the same direction, however, causing scientists to worry if we’ll make enough headway by mid-century to escape an environmental catastrophe that might someday result in extinction of the human species.
So, yes, we still need a day to both celebrate progress and create awareness of the work that lies ahead. And the whales are still in danger.
People often ask me about the differences between the U.S. and Canadian electoral systems. There are many, but one stands out as the most important.
Individual candidates hardly matter in British Columbia elections.
Canadians vote first of all for the party, its record or its campaign promises. And there’s a valid reason for this party-first voting tradition.
An MLA in B.C. is expected to publicly support and vote the party line. Every time. Without exception.
While differences of opinion may be tolerated during private caucus sessions, an MLA who dares to criticize his or her party or to vote against their party can expect a swift eviction notice. Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson discovered this hard truth in 2010 when he criticized his party leader on a community website.
Political parties learned long ago that if they failed to pass a piece of legislation, the public would lose confidence in them, and that, in turn, would make another general election unavoidable and its outcome uncertain.
So party leaders acquired the power to discipline MLAs who fall out of line.
And to keep them in line, well-behaved MLAs receive rewards. Some get cabinet appointments, some get travel junkets, some get pork barrel benefits for their ridings and some get other coveted appointments; the list of possible benefits is long.
As a result, most individual Members of the Legislative Assembly in a parliamentary democracy are much less powerful than members of American state legislatures or the U.S. Congress. In the U.S. system, Republicans and Democrats frequently swing their votes across party lines based on specific constituency interests. Not so much on the Big Ticket issues.
But this ability to vote independently of party affiliation, bestows greater importance on individual candidates in the U.S. system than in British Columbia.
On the flip side, it also makes American elected officials more vulnerable to the influence of lobbyists. Without a party leader telling you how to vote, the temptations dangled by outside interests, who aren’t accountable to voters, can be persuasive.
It’s also clear in B.C. politics that only the select few in the premier’s tight group of confidents have any significant impact on party policy. This is also true in the U.S. system. But as U.S. President Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have discovered, a fracture in party unity can disrupt the plans of the boys and girls at the top.
So, unless a candidate in B.C. is embroiled in some scandal or ranks high enough in the party to have a material impact on policy, the local campaign rarely hinges on the record or actions of an individual candidate.
And that’s what makes the May 9 provincial election difficult for many voters.
What if, for example, you dislike the B.C. Liberal Party’s policies on education, the environment and government transparency … and maybe you have a particular aversion to party leader Christy Clark..
Maybe you just think that after 16 years it’s time for fresh faces in Victoria.
But what if you find the Liberal candidate more likable, smarter and more sympathetic on the local issues that concern you than the NDP candidate?
You might consider voting Green or Conservative, but if you’re at all pragmatic, you know neither of those parties has a chance to win.
If you’re interested in the direction of British Columbia generally, and how it fits with your world-view, rather than only your personal interests or those of your specific community, you have no choice.
You must base your vote on party policy, not on the appeal of any individual candidate.