Art: inspired or appropriated?

Art: inspired or appropriated?

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.

 

Injection sites can prevent deaths, not overdoses

Injection sites can prevent deaths, not overdoses

Not many people who moved to the Comox Valley for its small-town feel, access to recreational opportunities or the lively arts scene imagined heroin addicts injecting themselves in public places or one person dying almost every month from an opioid overdose.

But these things are happening here.

The Chambers of Commerce and elected officials don’t want to draw undue attention to this grim reality, but it has become too big to ignore.

More than 150 people died from opioid overdoses on Vancouver Island last year. Although more people died in the larger centres of Victoria and Nanaimo, the North Island (including the Valley) had the highest rate of increase — up 156 percent over last year — in overdoses. Ten people died from overdoses over the past 12 months in the Comox Valley.

And Island Health believes the overdose statistics are actually worse, and that many overdoes go unreported. And heroin kills more people than official death certificates indicate. That’s because heroin metabolizes as morphine, so toxicology reports in overdose cases often list morphine or an opiate as the cause of death.

Opioid deaths have increased sharply because most street heroin today contains fentanyl, which is up to 100 times more powerful than heroin. Just a speck of fentanyl the size of a few grains of salt can kill a 113-kilogram (250-pound) person.

Island Health Medical Health Officer Charmaine Enns told the Courtenay City Council this week that her agency hopes to reduce the Valley’s overdose death rate by opening a safe injection site where trained personnel could administer rescue breathing or Naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.

But these sites are misnamed and give the public a false impression. Island Health staff cannot prevent someone from overdosing, which occurs nano-moments after the drug is injected. They can only prevent the overdosed person from dying.

Enns said the supervised injection site at the offices of Island Health or some other provincial agency will allow staff to interact with users and offer mental health counselling and other services. That’s a good thing, and so is giving people a chance to live another day and get their life back on track.

But there are potential downsides.

To keep people suffering from addiction coming back to the clinics, Island Health staff might have to offer users less addictive drugs, such as methadone, and potentially dispense stronger drugs. If that does occur, the public may have a strong reaction.

The sites also put staff at risk because even a small amount of fentanyl is deadly if it’s absorbed through the skin or inhaled when airborne. Fentanyl’s potency has already harmed first responders from New Jersey to Vancouver.

The public should know what safeguards are in place to prevent this from happening here.

City of Courtenay firefighters have agreed to voluntarily respond immediately to serious medical calls, which includes overdoses. But they will only do so if they are equipped with Naloxone nasal spray, supplied by either the province for free or if the City Council agrees to purchase it.

They will not, in other words, participate in using needles to inject Naloxone, sometimes known by its commercial name, Narcan. To do that increases the chance of contacting fentanyl or needle injuries.

The extent of the heroin addiction problem has been partially hidden because today’s users are often middle-income, white, and no longer habitues of the gritty alleys of urban areas. The use of heroin and other opioids has moved into suburbs and small towns.

Island Health reports that overdose occurrences are widespread across the entire Comox Valley.

All over the province and across North America, people hooked on prescription painkillers find heroin easier to acquire and less expensive. If that wasn’t alarming enough, heroin use has become popular among school-aged teens. U.S. studies show that 3 percent of high school students are using heroin today.

The province was right to declare a public health emergency over the opioid problem. But whether the ministry’s plan just treats symptoms, or provides a lasting solution remains to be seen.

Even though safe injection sites raise troubling questions about enabling addiction rather than treating it, doing nothing is not an option when so many deaths can be prevented.

At the very least, we can learn from this effort, change course based on what is learned, and, at the same time, start thinking a whole lot harder about what it would take to prevent people from becoming addicted in the first place.

Who’s at fault: drivers or cyclists for crashes?

Who’s at fault: drivers or cyclists for crashes?

Provincial Court Judge Peter Doherty handed down a fair decision in the case of Timothy Prad of Bowser, the motorist who struck and killed a bicyclist, Paul Bally of Fanny Bay, on the Old Island Highway about a year ago.

The judge found the motorist honestly thought he had hit a deer and had not left the scene to avoid arrest.

But in the court of public opinion, deciding whether cyclists or motorists generally bear more responsibility when the two collide would more likely result in a hung jury.

People who regularly ride bicycles believe motorists have the greater responsibility because they’re driving multi-ton vehicles at higher rates of speed. And there will be an equal number of motorists who blame cyclists who often act as if the rules of the road don’t apply to them.

Either side could count multiple research studies to support their point of view, which is why I like the 2012 report on cycling deaths in Ontario by the province’s chief coroner. The study reviewed the circumstances of 129 deaths resulting from collisions between cyclists and motor vehicles.

The report states, “In 71 percent of deaths (91 of 129), some modifiable action on the part of the cyclist was identified which contributed to the fatal collision. The three most common contributory cyclist actions identified were inattention (30 cases; 23 percent), failure to yield right of way (24 cases; 19 percent) and disregarding traffic signals (10 cases; 8 percent).”

The report also states, “In 62 percent of cases (64 of 104) in which the cyclist collided with a vehicle (defined as a motor vehicle, streetcar or train), one or more modifiable actions on the part of the driver were identified which were felt to have contributed to the death … The three most common contributory driver actions were speeding (31; 30 percent), driver inattention (29; 28 percent) and failure to yield (20; 19 percent).”

Those percentages don’t appear to add up because the chief coroner found that in almost half of the cases both the cyclist and the driver contributed to the accident.

In other words, the chief coroner found that 100 percent of the fatalities were preventable if both drivers and cyclists had exhibited more due care and attention.

Every day that I travel around the Comox Valley, I see cyclists blow through stop signs, often without even slowing down. I see cyclists with ear buds. I encounter cyclists riding abreast of each other on rural roads (a violation of the rules for cyclists under Section 183.2(d) of the Motor Vehicle Act).

I have even seen a cyclist press the stop light button on Comox Avenue at the St. Joe’s General Hospital crosswalk and then ride across while cars piled up in both directions (183.2(b)).

But I’m also a cyclist, who, at the peak of my competitive period, often logged in excess of 150 miles a week on Comox Valley and Campbell River roadways.

A driver on Dove Creek Road once passed within inches of me, causing me to lose my balance and crash. And when I regrettably offered up a one-digit salute, he stopped and, in a fit of road rage, came back to assault me.

On another ride to Victoria, a large RV with super-wide side-view mirrors passed me through a construction zone in Nanaimo where the roadway narrowed. It was surreal. I felt a slap on my back and then I was airborne, out of my pedals, catapulted into a well-located patch of thick foliage.

In both cases there was no behavior I could have modified to avoid those accidents. They were 100 percent driver error, in my opinion.

Cycling is an important component of the Comox Valley lifestyle and a growing tourism attraction. It’s also important to encourage cycling as a physical activity that contributes to healthy lifestyles.

A regional task force comprising representatives from the cycling community, motorists, law enforcement, municipalities and the Ministry of Highways could make recommendations to mitigate the safety concerns of cycling and encourage more people to participate in a healthy and environmentally friendly activity.

Maybe it could also prevent another unnecessary and tragic loss of life.

Cowboy makes a bid at a local livestock auction

Cowboy makes a bid at a local livestock auction

I have a series of photographs taken at a livestock auction somewhere north of Courtenay in the late 1970s or early 1980s. I took this image of a man raising his hand to bid at that time. For some reason I think it took place at the Norwood Equestrian Center, but the auction involved all kinds of livestock.

Does someone know the exact location of this auction and whether it still occurs? And if anyone recognizes this man, please leave a comment on this website or on the Decafnation Facebook page.

Pot report stumbles on medical access

Pot report stumbles on medical access

The federal task force on marijuana released a thorough report this week that proposes to end Canada’s 93-year prohibition on legal pot production and consumption. Its 80 recommendations touched on the important considerations and concerns for a well-regulated system, and appeared to borrow from the experience of some U.S. states that are several years ahead of us.

But the federal task force failed on one important point: the merger of the medical and recreational marijuana markets.

Former Liberal minister Anne McLellan’s task force devoted an entire chapter to the issue of medical access. It noted that the Canadian Medical Association and the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada do not believe that doctors should write prescriptions for access to marijuana. Their arguments are sound.

  • There’s no conclusive research or evidence about how or if marijuana provides therapeutic benefits. Nor is there any conclusive data about the risks of using marijuana for medicinal purposes.
  • Physicians don’t want to be responsible for prescribing marijuana in the absence of reliable evidence. We want doctors to know what they are prescribing and why.
  • There are already other approved cannabinoid-based medicines on the market.
  • Allowing the medical marijuana market to continue as a separate system might delay or undermine funding for the necessary standard clinical drug development research.

Yet the task force recommended that legalization legislation “maintain a separate medical access framework,” at least at the outset and to re-evaluate it’s necessity in five years.

Similarly, the Canadian federal task force heard strongly from municipalities and law enforcement that medical marijuana licenses have been routinely abused.

The task force should have reviewed the multi-year experiences of states south of the border and come to a different recommendation.

Colorado, the first U.S. state to legalize use of marijuana, merged its medical and recreation markets from the beginning. It simply converted medical marijuana retail outlets into recreational stores.

In the state of Washington, lawmakers fell under the spell of lobbyists for the medical marijuana industry and kept the two markets separate when it initially legalized pot sales for recreational use in 2013. But the state closed all medical marijuana stores in July of this year, merging the two markets.

People in both states using marijuana to manage pain and other medical purposes have better access to legitimate and regulated products as a result of merging the two markets.

It’s well known that unregulated medical marijuana sales across North America were really a cover for recreational consumption. It was a way around prohibition that everyone, from law enforcement to politicians, was willing to accept on a nudge-nudge, wink-wink basis.

In the state of Washington, experts estimated that more than 90 percent of cannabis sold for ostensibly medical purposes was in fact consumed recreationally.

Similarly, the Canadian federal task force heard strongly from municipalities and law enforcement that medical marijuana licenses have been routinely abused.

The report says that “These stakeholders relayed numerous examples of instances where licenses issued under (medical marijuana), notably those to designated producers, were effectively used as a cover for illegal production and diversion to the illicit market.

“We heard about the size and scale of some of these designated producer operations and instances where law enforcement encountered thousands of plants in residential properties. Representatives from municipalities told us about the challenges these grow operations pose to neighbours, landlords and communities because of fires, break-ins and rental properties rendered uninhabitable due to mould or other contaminants.”

If there is sufficient legitimate demand for the low-hallucinogenic, high-analgesic cannabis preferred by medical users, retail stores will provide it. And medical users will have the option of growing their own.

The Wild West medical marijuana market has served its purpose as a bridge to legalization. Now it’s not only unnecessary, but poses professional risks for doctors and public safety risks for law enforcement. It’s time for a new sheriff in town.

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