Monday, March 25, 2013


A good friend of mine sent me an email this past week and asked if I'd read it over and give him my thoughts. When I saw the title "Enough is Enough Movement", I began to cringe, knowing full well what would follow. I was not surprised by the contents of this document.

Democracy allows for a wide diversity of opinion, and gives each one of us the right to voice our ideas. However, there are limits on what a person can say. There are libel and hate laws, prohibiting people from spouting off on topics that are designed to disparage an individual's reputation or integrity, and preventing the spread of ugly and offensive hatred directed either at individuals or groups. Often, those among us who harbour strident or unsavory opinions attempt to hide behind the "free speech" shield and come dangerously close to commiting one of the offenses described above. I fear "Enough is Enough Movement" comes too close to those errors. You can judge for yourself.

The author of this piece is unknown: the article is unsigned. This is usually the first clue that what follows is pretty bad stuff. As you may have guessed, the document is a person's response to the "Idle No More" movement. Here is the opening paragraph:

I am getting really upset with all this native crap and politicians that are only concerned about their own gains while in office, and have no guts to deal with this native issue once and for all.

Hmmm ... that would be scanned. The "native crap" in question is undoubtedly the protests that have sporadically appeared in several Canadian cities throughout the winter. Our writer seems to have a strong opinion on the protests, using the word "crap", which denotes a feeling that the protests are somehow invalid or illegitimate. Further evidence of that opinion is the phrase  "deal with this native issue once and for all." Are we talking about a "final solution" here? It's been tried before, in Germany in the 1930's, with a rather unpleasant result. I suppose one could claim that the writer simply wants a fair and long-lasting settlement to the many native grievances, but the tone is off-putting and threatening. And what "gains" is the writer referring to? Are there politicians who have become wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice because of the "native crap"? But the writer continues:

On a very serious note and regarding the "Idle No More" movement.
Over the years we have all listened and watched as successive Canadian governments have tried to deal with the residue of our colonial past. On the evidence, a wide range of policies, and a huge amount of our money ( tax payers ), has failed to solve a seemingly insolvable problem of abortive aboriginal treaties, perceived entitlements, and social disaster.

If, like me, you are a lover of the written word, you must be cringing now ... rather like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard. But, style aside, one must really wonder just what it is that has our writer so worked up. I'm not sure I know what the "residue of our colonial past" is, but I suspect our writer is trying to invoke our long history of being a British or French colony, and how the British and French were rather unsuccessful in living up to the treaties they negotiated with several First Nations. If the Canadian government has not been able to "solve a seemingly insolvable problem", do we blame the British or French, our former colonial masters, or the "successive Canadian governments"? If the problem is "insolvable" in the first place, then why would anyone attempt to solve it, since it is impossible to do so? And why blame anyone who nobly tries to solve an "insolvable" problem? At least the effort was there.

Furthermore, I believe our writer means to say "aborted" instead of "abortive" treaties: "abortive" implies that the treaties, once negotiated, had a shelf life, and would self-destruct, much like the tapes used by the Impossible Missions Force in "Mission Impossible". If that is the case, then surely the blame for the "native crap" must lie at the feet of our colonial masters and the successive Canadian governments who created these flawed and short-lived treaties? But perhaps I am being too harsh. As for "percieved entitlements" and "social disasters", our writer is probably referring to aspects of the Indian Act and the various social problems faced by many First Nations people who live on remote reserves. But who know for sure? One thing is certain, though .... our writer is mighty pissed off. There really is a bee in his bonnet and we need to know what's bugging him. He continues:

The only consistent result of over 100 years of wasted time, money and lives is the fact that, for many, being a treaty aboriginal has become a business in and of itself; Aboriginal Incorporated has become a way of life, a leadership management philosophy, a negotiating tool, a public spectacle, and a very lucrative business model, at least for a few. The latest public display of Chief Spence and her Aboriginal Inc. handlers has backfired and, with the release of the audit report on her financial management of millions of tax dollars, we see what really is the issue: The criminal misappropriation of funds intended to help the social ills of an important but socially failing segment of the Canadian population.

Ah, now I see the crux of the problem. It's all those damn Aboriginal millionaires out there using the hard-earned tax payers' money to buy their Lear jets, vacations in Mustique, champagne lunches and Hugo Boss suits. And shame on you, Chief Spence! Our writer is on to you, and is not fooled by your "spectacle" of the hunger strike. I'd like to know if it is possible to buy shares in Aboriginal Incorporated: sounds like an iron-clad investment opportunity !!

Of course, the writer is, in his/her rather ham-handed way, attempting to criticize the bureaucracy that has grown over the years due to the failed law known as the Indian Act. Fair point. But where is the righteous indignation over the inflated federal and provincial bureaucracies that bedevil the mainstream of Canadian society? Could it be that a caucasian bureaucracy is preferred over an Aboriginal one?

I really shouldn't mock our writer, he/she is so earnest. And, thankfully, he doesn't leave us hanging, but thoughtfully provides solutions. Observe:

This has to stop. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over, and over, while expecting a different result. A failed policy approach is a failed policy approach and over 100 years should be sufficient evidence that enough is enough. We need to start from first principles:

Before I deal with his/her "first principles", I'd like to remind our writer and indeed everyone else, that "definition of insanity" is exactly what the Idle No More movement is trying to get across to the mainstream of Canadian society. If our writer is pissed off at the lack of progress on the "native issue", imagine how First Nations people feel ! They are not advocating the status quo at all, and are trying to convince all of us that the time for a real solution and for social justice has long passed. But, I think our writer may have missed that point. The tone of his/her document implies that the First Nations are just fine, thank-you, with things the way they are. Now for his/her "first principles":

1) No one in Canada is above the law of the land.

An obvious statement, isn't it? That also applies to corrupt and foot-dragging politicians and unscrupulous non-Aboriginal people who have swindled, tricked and out-right lied to Aboriginals for personal gain. But our writer undoubtedly is referring to people like Chief Spence who is blatantly breaking the law against hunger strikes, or the thousands of protesters who have assembled in shopping malls and public places to protest ... as per their constitutional rights according the Canadian Charter of Freedoms.

2) Your economic well-being is your responsibility. It is not the government's job to pay you to fish and hunt.

Say what?  You can get paid to fish and hunt? Well, it seems to be OK for citizens on the East Coast of Canada to fish commercially for a living and, when the cod stocks diminish, to be paid for NOT fishing. But I suppose our writer is offended by federal money going to help people who live in remote communities survive when the hunt or fishing is not good. Better they should starve ? Now, THERE'S a solution.

3) Employment rules apply to everyone. If you can't get a job where you live: Move.  Idle No More at our expense!

I totally agree. Now, all you young Canadians under the age of 25 who can't find a job, you know the rules!! Everyone move to Alberta ! Now !!!  Better yet, all of us must now move to China or India or Brazil, where all the jobs are !! Get off your lazy asses and find work ! ( And just what the hell does "Idle No More at our expense" mean? No more social assistance, I suppose. Does he/she mean for all Canadians or just the Aboriginals?)

4) If you receive public funds; you are accountable. Penalties apply.

Two minutes for inappropriate use of the semi-colon. But, seriously, this is the first part of the document that actually makes sense. There needs to be accountability in all areas of public finances. If our writer had only based his/her remarks on this point, I might be inclined to climb on board the train. But the other stuff derails him/her. And, since the budget for Indian and Northern Affairs comprises a whopping 3% of federal expenditures, I am sure our writer would want this "first principle" to apply to the other 97% of government spending: but I wonder why he/she zeros in on this issue. Oh, of course: it's "native crap".

5) Theft is theft; see 1) above.

Well, who can argue with that?

6) If the funds are badly spent or the recipients do not care for the infrastructure and benefits provided; the funds will not be replaced.

So, if the Aboriginals don't like their Lear jet, they can't get another one?  Again, seriously, our writer ignores the rather sad fact that the "infrastructure and benefits" are simply not there in several First Nations communities. So, how can the people "not care" for something that they do not have? As for funds being "badly spent", does our writer want the same principle applied to funds in mainstream Canadian society not being replaced if they are "badly spent"? And just how do we define "badly spent"? I agree that building a curling rink when people are living in poverty is wrong, but let's not confine this practice to the category of "native crap" ... there's plenty of corruption and inefficiency to go around.

This is my favourite:

7) Treaties will be respected in the context of the date of the treaty and the standards of the day.

This is our writer at his best. In other words, the mainstream of Canadian society is only responsible to live up to the literal terms of treaties negotiated in the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries. And the "standards of the day" means that swindling, lying, cheating, and confining First Nations people to the land no one else wants when they had stewardship to the entire continent is OK, since that was the standard of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Now we plainly see the underlying reason for our writer being so upset. We are not acting as responsible 17th, 18th and 19th century British, French or Canadian racists. We must turn back the clock and all of us must respect the "standards of the day". Now I get it !!

8) Your administrative costs and the pay of your local leadership will be set by the people that fund your operation.

I believe that's already happening. If not, then our writer would have us believe that the First Nations leadership simply tells Ottawa what to pay them and how much they need to administer their particular jurisdiction. That would explain all the Lear jets. This simply cannot go on .... or more to the point, why didn't I, as a teacher, tell the provincial government that my own personal services would cost the taxpayers 85 billion dollars .... annually? I really missed the boat on that one.

9) As our minicipalities are governed by provincial rules; so the reserves will be governed by federal rules.

Again, this is already the case. But I'm glad our writer got to use another semi-colon.

Now the piece de resistance:

I believe this list is a good start but is clearly a work in progress. I further believe that a valid counter to the "Idle No More" movement needs to be a strong "Enough is Enough movement." Plainly said, "We have had enough!".

What is plain to see is that our writer is upset with protest. Why? One wonders if he/she has lost his/her job because of Idle No More. Or perhaps he/she has been physically threatened or abused by some of the protesters. It is possible that our writer has lost personal property to the protest. Or could it be that he/she has been under the control of corrupt and abusive Aboriginal bosses who force him/her to hand over his/her rights and privileges as a Canadian citizen?

Or maybe, just maybe, our writer is doing what all "free speakers" do when they do not like protest: play the blame game. The reason Idle No More is protesting is not because of problems caused by us decent, hard-working, tax paying, law abiding Canadians .... no sir, it's those damn Aboriginals who have never had it so good, and are just being greedy and want more, more, more !!!

I, too, say "enough is enough".  Enough bigotry, enough racism, enough playing the blame game when we should pay attention to the concerns of Idle No More and work toward a realistic solution. We don't have to agree with everything Idle No More proposes. But surely no one is advocating keeping things the way they are. That's why Idle No More simply has to exist, and has to rattle a few cages to get people to pay attention. Well, our ridiculous writer has paid attention. Unfortuntately he/she has completely missed the point. But the semi-colons were nice !!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


In the hands of a skilled writer, historical biography can be a most enjoyable and enlightening experience to read. Truth is often stranger than fiction, and with the right approach, a biographer can bring a long-dead historical figure to life and make the events and achievements in his or her career read like an exciting novel. It can also bring some of the more difficult and frustrating events in our modern world into greater focus, and bring the reader to the unfortunate and inevitable conclusion that most, if not all of the great figures in history were completely off their nut.

One of the eras in history that particularly appeals to me is the time period in the United States from roughly 1755 to 1820: this represents the end of the colonial period in the US, the Revolution, and the difficult and turbulent early years of the republic. So much mythology has arisen about the period and, in particular, the people ( often known as the Founding Fathers ) who shaped the events. Modern biographers have, thankfully, made fascinating attempts to strip away the glorified stories, and present them to us as real people, with remarkable achievements and glaring weaknesses. I have just finished reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, written by the brilliant historian Ron Chernow. It was a long, but absolutely enjoyable read.

According to Chernow, Hamilton is the least well-known, and perhaps the least understood of the Founding Fathers. Unlike Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Monroe, Hamilton never became President. Unlike Franklin, he was not held in almost universal veneration for his scientific discoveries or inventions. And he has the rather dubious distinction of being the only Founding Father to be killed in a duel ... by another Founding Father, and the sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr.

Hamilton was one of those people who was both greatly admired and even worshipped by many, and also held in complete and utter disrespect and fear by others. Needless to say, Burr was not a big fan. But Hamilton had aggressive detractors in Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and especially Adams, all of whom were political rivals and believed that he was becoming too influential over Washington and was gathering too much political power for himself. Because of their particular animus towards him, Hamilton was constantly attacked for being pro-British and a secret monarchist, despite his heroism in the Revolution ( he played a pivotal role in storming a British redoubt in the war-ending Battle of Yorktown ), a cut-throat capitalist ( despite his personal generosity towards friends and strangers, particularly orphans, and political generosity towards parts of the new republic that needed federal help ), an elitist ( despite his humble beginnings as an orphan born in the West Indies ), and much worse.

Chernow painstakingly shows Hamilton's greatness. In addition to his courageous and impressive war record under his mentor and good friend, George Washington, he  helped pave the way for the creation of the US Constitution by initiating the enormous political science project known as the "Federalist Papers", most of which he wrote himself. (Ironically, his most important collaborator was James Madison, later to become a political enemy.) When the Constitution was finally ratified, he became President  Washington's first Secretary of the Treasury and single-handedly created not only the first Bank of the United States ( later to become the Federal Reserve ), but managed to wipe out almost all of the debt incurred during the Revolution, and begin the massive and impressive build up of the new American economy, dragging it kicking and screaming from its rural and agrarian roots into a modern industrial entity that eventually dominated the world, and still does so today. He helped Washington face some early and dangerous challenges in situations such as Shays's Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion, both of which threatened to end the infant republic before it really had the chance to get going. And he became one of New York's most famous trial lawyers, handling several famous cases, and contributing legal arguments which came to serve as important precedents in the republic's early judicial history.

But, as any good biographer must do, Chernow also shows the dark side of Hamilton, and these episodes are the more revealing and interesting. Perhaps most fascinating of all is the combative side of Hamilton's personality. He lived his life with a constant chip on his shoulder, perhaps stemming from his humble origins, which were often mocked and ridiculed by his adversaries. Hamilton claimed to be against duelling, but challenged several rivals to duels. He ultimately lost his eldest son, Philip Hamilton, to a duel a mere 3 years before his own "interview" with Burr. And, Hamilton claimed to be a devoted family man, married to his wife Eliza and father to eight children: yet, Hamilton clumsily and foolishly maintained an affair with a woman named Maria Reynolds in a strange and public way that scandalized society. Despite being a heroic soldier in the Revolution, he carried a publicly acknowledged admiration for Britain and a deep and abiding suspicion for France, despite France being America's staunch ally against Britain in the Revolution.
And, worst of all, for a man who wished more than anything else to unite the states together in a lasting and harmonious republic which was to be the model for the entire world, he engaged in some of the most vicious, ugly, and petty partisan attacks against some of the leading figures of the age, especially President John Adams, who was the subject of a long, whining and childish pamphlet written by Hamilton. All of this was conduct most unbecoming for a man of his stature and reputation.

The lessons are jarring and revealing. Hamilton was a man who suffered from several character flaws, and was unstable, erratic and dangerous to know or be around. He may well have been bi-polar, certainly not a crime, but enough to give pause to any claim to greatness. Yet, he is considered a great historical figure. And, in our own hyper-partisan and hyperbolic age, where verbal attacks on a person's reputation and even a person's ethnic background passes as enlightened discourse, we realize that, despite the more than 200 years since Hamilton's passing, not much has changed. Hamilton was a train wreck of a human being, yet he rose to be one of the great leaders of his age. We must try to learn the lessons of history: we have Hamiltons among us now. For better or worse, these people shape our current and future destinies. Chernow's excellent biography tells us that we had better pay close attention to those we elect or appoint to lead and guide us. God help us all.