Monday, November 19, 2012

Love flourishes in face of grief, despair


By Jim Mosher

There is a majesty in death, whatever its manner. Our shared grief cannot be captured in a moment.

Death shall have no dominion nor should we accept a death as anything but our common inheritance.

The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, though he died a broken drunk at an early age, wrote well of our signal ambiguities.

We have refused to own the deaths of those we love. We are cloistered by layers laid down by others — at the scene, in the hospitals we travel to assuage our grief and address our selfish
needs, at the cemeteries where people we do not know labour to make it all just right.

James Joyce, the greatest writer this world has known, wrote in The Dubliners about the ownership of death. Women — usually, women — would lay out the dead; see them; clean them; perhaps care about them. We are now distanced from the special and life-giving enormity death brings.

We should embrace death as much as we embrace life.

****
‘Community’ is a word tailor-made for sycophants and charlatans; it has about as much value as a three-dollar bill. Or so the most ardent pessimists may think.

I have a better understanding of ‘community’. It took a hammer to bring it home to where I live — where my soul resides. This place, this community.

My niece and her good friend died earlier this month [August 2012] in a house fire in Winnipeg Beach. They were 21.

I was brought to my knees. A staggering disbelief took hold. There was nowhere to turn but the bosom of family and friends. 

I found, however, that there would be great strength in a wider ‘community’ I may have neglected.

The kindness and warmth of people who know me only by my writing burst forth — a sort of supernova of love and understanding: a strange compassion from a wider world I should have known.

I received e-mails from people I know well and from others I know little. Simple notes of condolence, but heartfelt — and soul-fixing.

There is a ‘community’ that is wider than the sky, brighter than the brightest sunshine. A ‘community’ that nurtures and cares about its own. It affirms my once-shallow belief in my duty as a ‘community’ newspaper person.

It has renewed my passion for the Interlake.

I was inconsolable. I was paralyzed.

The kindness and caring of others changed that in a fundamental way. I am new. Again.

Lisa, my beautiful niece, my Little One, taught me more than I can say. The wisdom of her life has touched my soul. It is given context in the fuller picture of ‘community’.

My hope is that I can be a better person. Little One loved life. (She called me ‘My Uncle’.) I remember with great fondness her vibrancy: her love of all creatures.

When she was a wee one, she gamboled about my mother’s backyard — in search of that elusive life we too often ignore.

“Uncle Jim, look,” she said at just four years of age. “It’s a dragonfly. Isn’t it beautiful?”

She gently held the complex thing, fascinated by its wings, its face, its being. The morning of her death, she visited her mother, my sister. Amanda and I were in my van — stricken by a grief that surpasses all understanding.

A dragonfly lit upon Amanda’s knee. My sister cried.

It was a shadow of a deeper life we so studiously avoid. A glimpse of a greater life we crowd out with our dreams of possession and success.

There are many stories that should have been written during my absence in this editor’s chair — my perch of reason and, lately, despair. I apologize to the principals for not having written their stories. I will, however; though in a new context — with an insight I did not think I possessed.

Thank you, Little One.

(This piece originally appeared in the Aug. 22, 2012 edition of the Interlake Enterprise.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

We've all blinked


By Jim Mosher

Life is transformative, if we allow it to be.

I have lately confronted the enormity of our apathy in the general unwillingness to meet the edge.

The edge is a metaphor, of course. It’s a turning point at which we choose. It may be fight or flight, but either way it may define us. We have biological impulses that may be impossible to avoid or quiet.

But there are times in our affairs when choices are not framed in life and death — when choices must be based on moral and ethical grounds: ones which will not sink us, not immediately.

Our democracy, the one most of us see as a given that distinguishes us from ‘lesser’ nations, is in peril. It is being transformed by a Conservative majority government that is acting as if it is truly all-powerful. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government does not listen to parliamentary opposition parties nor does it listen to non-partisan Canadians who simply want the best for themselves, their families and the environment.

Our country is being destroyed by Mr. Harper and his ilk. His agenda is unambiguous. He is right — end of story.

There have been other majority governments in our country’s past but they have been distinguished, usually, as willing to accommodate — precisely because they knew that their majority status was at the leisure of Canadians of all political stripes.

Mr. Harper has no such misgivings about his national hegemony. He will prevail. Or, at worst, he will be awarded generous stipends from the multitude of corporations that already fall at his feet.

But it is not only the transformation of Canadian government about which we should be concerned. The general reflex of the citizenry is also being slowly transformed. Canadians, as we have long known, are no longer fully engaged in their democracy. We accept our strong democratic tradition as a given. No one would ever dare mess with that, many naively believe.

The transformations of Canada are many; that much is certain.

****
My transformation began Aug. 2, 2012 at a press conference in Gimli, 15 minutes north of my home in Winnipeg Beach.

Prime Minister Harper was there, in a room a stone’s throw from ecologically-challenged Lake Winnipeg, to announce funding for lake research.

Mr. Harper wasn’t sure at the time but he thought the new funding was, oh, something like $18 million. (He bent to whisper to one of minions to assure himself he was close enough. ‘That’s about right, sir.’)

Arrayed in the room, aside from a gaggle of media, were members of his cabinet and backbench — all flushed with the chance to be in the PM’s august company.

Oh, it was a memorable time.

The PM, bodyguards everywhere, was not there for an announcement — one about which he had not been fully briefed in any event. It was all a pretext for a fundraiser to be held later that day in Grosse Isle.

(Many people assembled at the barbecue in Grosse Isle, MP James Bezan later enthused in a ‘press’ release about that so-memorable event.)

The trick was that we taxpayers paid the bill for his presser and the rest because it was ‘government business’. (Perhaps someone could check next year when the PMO files its financial reports. But, no, that waste of taxpayers’ money will be another forgotten event, as other issues collide and effervesce, as doubtless they will.)

I did not write about all of this, though I was keen to point this all out to my readers. I did not write about it because my niece died three days after the Harper farce.

****
Lisa Aileen Mosher and friend Alyssa Bernardin, both just 21, died in a house fire at my youngest sister’s home in Winnipeg Beach Aug. 5.

Thus began my transformation.

Lisa, ‘My Little One’, was a fisher. She had only recently obtained a Lake Winnipeg fishing quota. She was, irrevocably and determinedly, a young woman full of life.

She did not suffer fools. But she had a kind heart and a searing need to understand the human condition. Alyssa was much the same: she loved horses and rides with friends along the trails near her parents’ rural home.

I wrote about our special relationship [See page 6 of PDF] but it would never be enough to limn the special connection I had with my niece.

There was no turning back. I had changed. It was a change induced by the transforming force of Lisa and Alyssa’s deaths.

I had been asleep all along. Lisa renewed my passion for principle. She gave me a revivified reason to be the person I once was.

Lisa and Alyssa’s deaths changed my community, too. The deaths of two young women, so pure of heart, touched us all.

What struck me was how stupidly and ineptly the ‘story’ of their deaths was pursued by Winnipeg media.

I lost a great deal of respect for a profession I had chosen — a profession that had chosen me, really.

Journalists wrote much that was patently false. They seemed to enjoy the ambiguity. They wrote and broadcast things that were based on off-hand comments of passersby who could not have possibly seen or understood.

It was, charitably, the pressure of the moment. Be the first at the post. Be the first to get the story. Modify, as the truth emerges, in the next news cycle — but, for gods sake, get something we can hang out for the supper-time news or the front page of our websites.

****
I recalled a time when, as the founding and only editor of the Kenora Enterprise, I wrote about an Indian fellow who died on the side of snowmobile trail at a local dump.

The man, I’ll call him Anon, had been found frozen to death in the middle of a pristine ‘nowhere’  — a place local snowmobilers loved to speed along during their excursions through the untouched wilderness near Lake of the Woods.

We ran the press release from the Ontario Provincial Police. It was scant and dismissive. I had decided earlier to go the dump after our newspaper was put to bed. I wanted to understand. I would meet a man who chose to live at the dump. He lived in a hovel he had constructed of other people’s waste: heavy cardboard, abandoned sheets of plywood, two-by-fours, shingles, black roofing paper.

In all, it was an impressive, commodious structure built to protect and be home to a man who, though penniless, retained a pride many can never muster.

This builder of hovels was in his own heaven. He knew the man who had died — the young man who had, broken and drunk, breathed his last boozy breath at the edge of a trail people rode in their high-priced toys, during the breaking edge of winter evenings, themselves pushing the legal drinking limit.

I learned about the dead man. He had been recently released from prison. There, he had, many told me, become a leader and beacon in his prison community: an Aboriginal person who had been working to understand his roots — and what how could help his brethren and friends.

I went to Shoal Lake First Nation to speak with his family. I learned more about this theretofore anonymous person than the OPP release would ever have told.

Under the front page headline which blasted “A home of his own” was the man at the dump who had befriended Anon. Beneath that picture and the lead-in piece was a banner advertisement heralding the arrival of swanky waterfront condominiums for the deep of pocket.

‘Anon’ died at the breaking point of a life that was showing great promise. He would have been remembered as a ‘loser’, a ‘drunk’. But we worked to ensure that did not happen.

Journalists need to do that stuff. (And forgive for touting my decision as an example — because I failed more often than I succeeded.) Press releases from cops and courts should never take precedence.

Lisa and Alyssa deserved better, too.

The nub of this piece is my grave disappointment with media in its present form, though I hope for its revival and rejuvenation. The ‘moment’ that is being so savagely sought for the dinner-hour news is a speck — one without import or true meaning; it is disconnected from the big picture all of us crave.

My transformation as a human continues. Let’s hope others choose the edge of choice before it is too late.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Buddha would cry


By Jim Mosher

Were it not so common, I would cry. Instead, the laughter of Buddha seems more appropriate.

My circumstance is laughable.

There was no great surprise earlier today when I was fired — or ‘discontinued’, as one might say of freelance writers.

I lost my job because I can ‘no longer be trusted’. I was quoted in ipolitics.ca and wrote my thoughts on my blog at jimmosher.blogspot.com.

My opinions hinged on the firing of Jill Winzoski, a fellow journalist and close friend.

I can cry for my friend Winzoski. She was canned, as all sources of which I’m aware make clear, because an MP interfered with her life. 

Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan said he would have nothing to do with Winzoski because, after signing an online petition, she, he said, had demonstrated her bias.

Mr. Bezan wrote in a Facebook post: “Due to my negative experience in dealing with Ms. Winzoski as a reporter, and her strongly stated opposition to the Government of Canada in which I serve as Member of Parliament, it is clear that I have to cease my interaction with The Selkirk Record and this biased and partisan reporter.”


Winzoski professes no particular political beliefs. The ‘partisan’ bit from Bezan is a non-starter.

In all, though, I cannot cry for myself nor Winzoski. 

It is rejuvenating to be terminated by someone who does not know a news story from a children’s grad.

It reminds me that I have not done my job — my ample, silly accolades notwithstanding.

I have been as lazy as most rural journalists have been. We have been, as I’ve written before, in the relentless pursuit of the obvious.

The time for ‘obvious’ is over.

That is where the rejuvenation comes to the fore. I am good at what I do — that’s writing.

My tens of thousands of stories attest to nothing. My next story is the world.

We will overcome. We will take that stage no one wants to walk upon. We — all of us — will walk with proud stride into that great hall of public opinion.

This new product, this newspaper I idealize will be driven by editorial content, not advertising. Its mission will be to produce the edgy copy we miss, much to my chagrin particularly because I have been part of its manufacture and marketing.

There is a grace in this world — one, as a friend remarked when he saved two boys from drowning but not others: a grace that surpasses all understanding.

(Yes. It is a biblical reference.)

We should not be off-put by such references nor should we allow the tawdry, ineffectual writing to which we, as journalists, have allowed you to be exposed.

‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds, admit impediments. Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.’ (Shakespeare.)

Let not this madness of scrawny truth and embellished lies be allowed to reek into our lives.

Winzoski has a final word or two.

“Keep your job, and keep your passions separate,” she said.

Passion.

There’s a word.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Time the Left gave Harper his due


By Jim Mosher
            
The left-wing bias that frequently tarnishes this page (www.interlakenews.ca) with its inflammatory rhetoric is an irritant in my right-tending craw.

The cackles of the Lefties and their minions grate on my free-thinking spirit. The Left’s fa├žade of analysis is only exceeded by its facile arguments against modern thinkers like our sublime prime minister, Mr. Stephen Harper.

Many may accuse me of being a sycophant, a myrmidon, laying down at the feet of a man who should be exalted the world over — or, at the very least, in his own country.

I curry favour with no one nor can I anymore abide the puerile criticisms trotted out as thoughtful analysis by the never-weened Left. Rather —  as a staunch Conservative and therefore, ipso facto, a deep thinker on all matters political —  I must rail against the assaults from the Left.

Our justly beloved prime minister is not the Prince of Darkness. He has, instead, chosen to bring riches, right and light to a nation set on a course of endless navel gazing, a nation stalled in its quest for corporatist glory at the expense of those who dare to disagree.

When, after all, do Mr. Harper’s critics ever have a nice thing to say about him and his policies. Few seem to recall, for instance, the PM’s soul-wrenching rendition of “Imagine”, a Beatles song slavishly embraced by the Left as its clarion call to peace and justice.

Consider, also, the PM’s decision to offer no debate in the House of Commons about the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (FIPPA). Think about it. What if the FIPPA had been open to debate by our elected parliamentarians?

Such a debate would have been dominated by the automatic-pilot naysayers whose cacophony in the House would have drowned out the sensible global economic policies of a man who cut his teeth as a policy wonk and expert in all things that involve other people’s well-developed numbers and theories.

Such a Commons debate would stall one of the best FIPPAs ever assembled in the bowels of unknown buildings in Ottawa by bureaucrats keenly aware of the PM’s vision.

Were we to leave economic policy to the NDP, we would be a nation of under-producers and cry-babies, mewling and puking at its mother’s bosom. We would be a union shop, unable to compete in a global marketplace.

The Left always assails our Darwinian approach to policy. But Charles Darwin, the great British botanist, proved that the survival of the fittest is key to growing a strong population and, by implication, a strong economy.

(We allow that there is compelling proof that evolution does not always proceed in a linear fashion, as witnessed by the well-proved theory of jumping genes and rapid, unanticipated change in the gene pool — change that is not entirely connected to Darwin’s seminal theory of survival of the fittest. That may suggest that Darwin has been misinterpreted, but let’s leave that aside ... because it’s really not my point anyway.)

And those milquetoast Lefties who revile our country’s greatest prime minister since Mackenzie King will also do a dog pile on the rabbit if the Government of Canada endorses a buyout of Calgary-based Nexen, one of the country’s largest energy companies and a prominent player in the development of our coveted tar sands.

They will conjoin the Canada-China FIPPA and the bid by China’s state-owned CNOOC to pay $15.1-billion for its buyout play on our natural resources.

There is no connection between the sale deal and the FIPPA. They, those indefatigable critics of our PM and his visionary policies, will crow about how you can’t have one without the other.

They will falsely claim that the FIPPA is a pretext to proceed with the Chinese state’s bid for Nexen. They will claim that Communist China will balk at their hard-won FIPPA if it does not get what it wants in the tar sands.

It’s ludicrous, of course. The Nexen deal is a separate process. It is entirely coincidental that the PM waited more than two weeks before tabling the Canada-China FIPPA in the House. That the investment agreement will be ratified in advance of a decision on the Nexen deal is one of those quirky things we all talked about when we were children.

We have to grow up, frankly.

Critics will also assert that we have no right to sign huge deals with a country that has an abysmal human rights record; a country that kills its citizens if they disagree with the Politburo of the Republic of China. A red herring if ever there was one.

Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan has said clearly that he strongly opposes the Nexen deal; that we should not be dealing with a state that executes its citizens and has among the worst human rights records in the world.

That noted, Mr. Bezan is a proponent of the Canada-China FIPPA, an agreement that he says will protect Canadian investors in that country.

The left will hang its hat on this apparent contradiction. But is it really a contradiction to say I hate China on the one hand but I’m okay with dealing with it at another, perhaps concealed, level of common interest? Of course not.

One can have different ideas simultaneously. (Recall British PM Neville Chamberlain who had no time for Adolf Hitler but famously placated the Nazi dictator with his policy of appeasement. It was a necessary move, one that would save the British from Hitler’s wrath for, oh, a month or two.)

Thankfully, the loud Left cannot destroy the most forward-charging federal government this country has seen for more than a century.

It is high time the Left allowed that the ship of state is better in the steady hand of a man who knows the tiller.

Sadly — at least for the minority of Canadians who handed Mr. Harper his majority government in May 2011 — the Left would sooner linger at the public teat, rather than develop the visionary policies we have seen under the leadership of our prescient PM.

(This satirical piece appears in the Nov. 7 edition of the Interlake Enterprise.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A sad day for us all


By Jim Mosher
            
Sadly, there’s nothing new in the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s penchant for shutting out criticism — often using deplorable tactics.

It’s impossible for an ordinary citizen to change this ‘new normal’ in Canadian federal politics.

However when my MP appears to work from the same script, I must speak.

Selkirk Record reporter Jill Winzoski was fired Oct. 19, the day after her paper’s owners received an e-mail from her MP, Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan. Winzoski is a boots-on-the-ground reporter. She is not a columnist or editorialist.

(I have lived in Bezan’s riding since 1986, though he was only elected in 2006. I have worked at two newspapers here in Manitoba, though there was a four-year hiatus (1996-2000) when I was founding and only editor of a newspaper in Kenora.)

Mr. Bezan’s e-mail contained a message Winzoski had sent to him and others regarding her personal opinion about a looming investment deal between China and Canada. It’s a deal, one should note, that has been the center of a protracted if truncated discussion across this country.

Winzoski, to her credit, had signed an online petition, changing only the subject line of the pre-written petition. She replaced the petition’s anaemic subject line with one of her own. She wrote, simply, that she ‘opposes this deceptive government’. Tens of thousands would agree.

Winzoski’s bold change in a subject line should be considered fair criticism, one would have thought — from a concerned citizen. Maybe she’s a Conservative, maybe an NDPer. It does not matter.

One would have thought this strong and engaged woman’s e-mail (subject line changed) would have been treated as a private message to, in this case, her MP. 

(It appears, however, that MPs can share correspondence with anyone of their choosing, unless it bears the letterhead of a parliamentarian, in this case Mr. Bezan. It should be noted that the recipient of the petition, with its uniquely changed subject line, was the PMO, and copied to other MPs, including Mr. Bezan, Ms. Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada and a few others.) 

Winzoski reported with distinction at the Selkirk Record for more than two years. Her writing was growing in maturity and was, in any event, superb.

(I should note, for the record, that Winzoski is not only a colleague but a close personal friend.)

Mr. Bezan has chosen to forgo advertising in newspapers in his riding, notably the Interlake Enterprise and the Selkirk Record. Instead, he advertises in Interlake Publishing newspapers, owned by Quebec-based Sun Media, an outlet that is stridently pro-Conservative.

Mr. Bezan indicated in his e-mail to Winzoski’s employers that he would have nothing to do with the Selkirk Record, apparently because of Winzoski’s criticism of the Harper government’s handling of the Canada-China  Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPPA). 

The Canada-China FIPPA is at the center of a heated national debate, in part because parliamentarians have not had an opportunity to discuss the agreement in the House of Commons. We are told it will happen, but it will be a brief, if briefly lively, debate.

The Canada-China FIPPA was tabled Sept. 26. It will be put to a vote soon.

That opposition politicians will not have a chance to fully debate the agreement is, arguably, moot because the governing Harper Conservatives have a majority of the seats in the House.

Winzoski has a right to express her views as a private citizen in a democracy — or what used to be a democracy before Mr. Harper strode to his coveted majority — the pretext he needed to advance his flawed neo-conservative programme.

The prime minister once famously said that Canadians would not recognize their country once he was finished — that to a gaggle of American businessmen, but let’s not lose the point. We are getting it, nevertheless.

For his part, Mr. Bezan has every right to advertise where he pleases. It may not be surprising that he chooses to advertise in newspapers that do not disparage or criticize the Harper government.

Journalists should not inject their political views into news stories. But that does not trump the right of those journalists to express their views as private citizens, corporate ‘ethics’ policies notwithstanding. 

(It should be noted that Winzoski’s employers have never provided such a policy nor, it appears, does one exist; though, one suspects, it will be hurriedly written soon.)

We should recall that in a democracy we require a clash of ideas to ensure robust discussion of matters of moment. Government policy — particularly the policies of a majority government — should be subject to open and full debate in our country’s parliament — by everyone, corporate and citizen media included.

My newspaper — though I do not now speak on its behalf — has carried and will continue to publish criticisms and praises of Mr. Bezan and Mr. Harper. We all have a right to speak — and speak openly.

That is the more important as we near Remembrance Day, a sometimes over-wrought affair, full of platitudes and so forth. But a day the more meaningful for me because both my parents served in their respective militaries in England and Canada — my mother in the WAF in intelligence, my father in the RCAF on the Burma Front.

We have lost yet another passionate voice for the truth in Winzoski. She may never write as a journalist again. One can only hope that, as a diarist perhaps, she will chronicle the wrong that was done to her — and all of us.

If there is a spark left in our democracy, we must speak against what has become a banana republic, a totalitarian regime of corporatists and money lenders.

There is a way out of our political morass. We should all figure that out, each for ourselves.

One thing is clear. The way out does not include, involve or invoke the government of the present moment.

We may be conservative in our way of approaching the challenges this world faces, but the Harperism that has befouled Canadian politics is about as far from any sort of thoughtful conservatism as one can get.

As a reporter, I recall Mr. Bezan, addressing an otherwise celebratory crowd in 2010, when he announced a federal contribution to Gimli-based Evergeen Basic Needs, a non-profit that does good works for the less advantaged in Manitoba’s East Interlake. And I recall how the MP remarked that he had to read from a statement prepared by minions of Mr. Harper, the vaunted PMO.

We recall that moment with some regret — precisely because Mr. Bezan had always, theretofore, spoken openly and as a true representative of his constituents.

Lately, Mr. Bezan is muzzled as indeed are all who may have the temerity to criticize this country’s latest, perhaps first, autocracy — one ruled without regard for decency and principle by a chap named Stephen Harper.

Had Mr. Bezan ever interceded to have a reporter fired before?

Mr. Bezan said in an interview with me Nov. 2 that he had, as he deemed appropriate, spoken with newspaper editors and managers when he felt he had been “slagged in an way”.

Tellingly, he said about his dealings with the Selkirk Record: “I haven’t ever had to go this far before, no.”

He did go that far — and it precipitated Winzoski’s ignominious departure.

No worries. It was the right thing to do — or so the minority of Canadians who elected the PM may think.

I just think about the hell storm my parents would have raised. But that was a different day.