"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Let's avoid bad propaganda art

On Monday, council voted in favour of proceeding with something called the Library Art Project, which takes advantage of a provincial government grant of $35,000 to place a piece of art in the foyer of the new City Centre Library, which is now scheduled to open in November. However, before we unanimously supported the project, I took the opportunity to raise some concerns about the potential pitfalls of the project--with the result that both the NOW and the News published stories on the ensuing discussion.

Picasso's Guernica: A masterpiece of propaganda art.
Here's the background: My internal alarm bells start ringing more than a week ago when I read the background report about the project. The first alarm sounded when I saw that the project will bring together "community members from different cultural and faith groups with a professional community artist, using art as a tool [emphasis added] to examine issues of racism, diversity, integration and inclusion, and explore how the Coquitlam community can become more welcoming and inclusive."

Now, I certainly have no problem with furthering the causes of integration, inclusion, diversity and anti-racism. These are laudable goals, indeed. But my concern is that any time you set out to use "art as a tool" to do anything you are very clearly setting out to use art as a propaganda tool.
Maoist propaganda art: No artistic value.
Propaganda is defined as "a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position." We most often hear about propaganda as it relates to advancing some evil cause, but propaganda can be used to advance a good cause, too.

My concern is that propaganda art can very easily not be art at all, but simply a piece of rubbish or pap with no aesthetic value. Yes, some propaganda art, such as Picasso's Guernica (which aimed to influence viewers about the horrors of the Axis' aerial bombardment of a Basque village) can be stunningly successfully at an artistic level, of course. I fear, however, that, once an artist's unique, internally derived vision is tampered with by imposing an external demand on it -- in this case, demanding that the piece be "a tool" to fight racism -- that the artist will be handicapped and the work produced will suffer.

The second alarm sounded when I considered the implications of the fact that the artist will get his or her marching orders from a series of community workshops. It seems to me that this is "art by committee," and had the potential to be a "too many cooks spoil the broth" kind of disaster.

I quipped that, if we wanted to play it safe, save some money, and accomplish the "world at peace" goal to which we aspire, we might simply install a Coke machine in the foyer, and play "I"d Like to Sing the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony" on a continuous loop. I hope nobody took me seriously!

In the end, I'm glad we approved the project, and glad to have spoken up in favour of aesthetic quality. Let's set our sights high, and not settle for dreck.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Big marijuana changes coming...eventually

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.
The City has now received a response, from Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, to the letter (about which I blogged on Wednesday) that Council sent to Ottawa earlier this summer asking for better regulation of medical marijuana. The good news is that Ms. Aglukkaq confirms that more stringent rules are, indeed, planned. The bad news is that they are still many months or even years away. Here are the pertinent paragraphs of her letter, dated Aug. 29, received by the city on Sept. 6, but only distributed to councillors yesterday:

"In June 2011, I announced our intention to reform the MMAP [Marihuana Medical Access Program] in resonse to the public health and safety concerns raised by numerous stakeholders... The Department is proposing improvements to the MMAP that will reduce the risk of abuse and keep children and communities safe, while significantly improving the way program participants access marihuana for medical purposes.

"....[A] key element of the proposed improvements is the establishment of a new supply and distribution system that uses only licensed producers. This would mean that the production of marihuana for medical purposes by individuals in homes would be phased out. The licensed producers would be the only legal source of dried marihuana for medical purposes. They would have to meet regulatory requirements related to elements such as quality control standards and security measures. This would reduce risks to public health, safety and security. It would also mean that municipalities would be fully informed of any licensed marihuana production within their jurisdiction....

"Health Canada is currently in the process of drafting new regulations, a process that can take from 18 to 24 months..."

Meantime, the NOW has published a story about my earlier response to the City's letter to the minister.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Keeping alive the voter-encouragement idea

OK, so my voter-encouragement idea went up in flames on Monday night. But that's not necessarily the end of the story. In fact, I've decided to try to keep the idea alive by writing to AG Shirley Bond about it. Here's the text of the letter I mailed this afternoon:

Honourable Shirley Bond

Minister of Justice and Attorney General
PO BOX 9044 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC
V8W 9E2

Dear Ms. Bond,
I note that the B.C. government has officially requested that the chief electoral officer convene an independent panel to examine the potential for using Internet voting in the province. I understand that the action is being taken in response to low voter turnout at both the provincial and municipal levels—a trend that is evident in the City of Coquitlam, where the last general election saw just 21.7% of eligible voters cast ballots.
It was in response to this that I recently put forward a motion, asking for my Council colleagues’ support in seeking a legislative change that would encourage more voter turnout. My idea calls for the full publication of the names of persons who vote.
At present, the names are made public for only six weeks following an election, and are accessible only to those visiting City Hall in person; no copying of the names, other than in longhand, is allowed. My proposal would give municipalities the right to publish the names online and in print as a way of thanking voters who cast ballots and celebrating their commitment to democracy, thereby encouraging all voters to ensure that their names are put on the list.
Tabling of my notice of motion generated stories in both the Coquitlam NOW and the Tri-City News, as well as interviews with CBC One in Vancouver and CKNW’s Michael Smyth.
The idea came from an article in the summer edition (the” Ideas Issue”) of Atlantic magazine which, in turn, was based on a study done in Michigan. Copies of both are included, as are a copy of the blog item on the idea that I published and a copy of my formal motion. Regrettably, council chose on September 10, 2012 not to endorse my motion, and so it was not forwarded to the LMLGA or the UBCM (and thence to the provincial government) for their consideration.
Nevertheless, I still believe the idea has merit, and therefore am writing about it to you directly for your consideration.

Thanking you for your time,
Terry O’Neill
Councillor, City of Coquitlam

My problem with the City's marijuana letter

UPDATE: Mayor Stewart has now commented, on his Facebook page, about this item. While my specific concern still stands, I'd like to thank him for taking the time to present such a comprehensive explanation.

Today's news, that marijuana smoking is linked to testicular cancer, follows by only a few weeks a report that teenaged pot smokers can expect to see a permanent decline in their IQ. The two troubling reports add to my longstanding concerns about any move to legalize marijuana usage.

Photo from marijuana-addict.com

I raise this matter now because of Coquitlam Council's recent engagement with the marijuana issue, during which we unanimously banned already-patently illegal retail outlets and also the commercial growing of "medical marijuana" in residential areas.
We also voted to send a letter to the federal government "requesting that [it] establish as soon as possible a regulatory framework regarding the production and dispensing of medical marijuana."
I supported the latter motion because, at a time when the federal government has made the medical use of marijuana legal, it only makes sense to have a better regulatory framework than the highly inadequate one that currently exists.
My support of the motion did not mean that I also supported the medical use of marijuana in the first place; it only meant that I recognized that the medical use of marijuana has been established and, this being the case, that better regulation is necessary.
The aforementioned letter was sent to federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Health Canada on August 23 under the signature of Mayor Richard Stewart. But, rather than simply conveying council's concern for a better regulatory framework, it ended with a paragraph declaring far more. I quote:
"Either this drug is a legitimate therapy for some patients (based upon a favourable risk/benefit profile) or it is not. If it is not, then the MMAR [Medical Marihuana Access Regulations]  should be repealed. But if--as our Council has generally concluded--there is a legitimate medical and society benefit to be derived from controlled access to medical marihuana, [my emphasis] then the MMAR must be revised as soon as practical to allow the safe, timely, and properly regulated filling of prescriptions for this therapy. As already noted above, the current approach is, in Council's opinion, untenable."
I think you can see the problem. It may be true that the majority of council does support controlled marijuana usage and, therefore, that the Mayor is correct in saying that "Council has generally concluded" there is a benefit from it. Nevertheless, our motion did not instruct the letter to say this. Furthermore, we never actually debated either the "medical" or the "societal" benefits derived from controlled access.
Yes, we heard testimony from marijuana proponents about the alleged benefits, but that was never the issue; the issue was the regulatory framework. If the issue had been the "medical" and "societal" benefits of controlled usagage, then we certainly would have had to extend the public hearing by several more hours, if not days. And, of course, we would have also been intruding into federal jurisdiction.
I talked with Mayor Stewart on Monday afternoon about my concerns with the letter, and told him that I was thinking about raising the issue either in-camera or at a public session. In the end, I decided that, because of time constraints during what was a very busy day, I would make the matter public through this medium.
I recognize that it is not the most pressing issue facing us today. However, I believe it is important enough to bring to the public's attention.

Friday, September 7, 2012

In praise of a true homemaker

My six brothers and I all contributed to the eulogy that will be read by my youngest brother at my mother's funeral this morning. This is my contribution:
As a child, I remember asking mom what she had wanted to be when she grew up. She answered that she was doing exactly what she wanted: being a wife, a mother and a homemaker. I asked whether she really hadn't dreamed of being a nurse, or a teacher, or something else, and she answered quite adamantly, No, this is the life she had always envisioned for herself.
I've often thought about that answer. And the thing I keep coming back to is that being a homemaker is a profoundly important job. Just think of the word -- homemaker / "a maker of a home." It implies planning, building and maintenance of one of the most important institutions in our society.
A home isn't just a house. It's not just a place where we eat, sleep and watch TV. Rather, it is a place of nurturing, of safety, of guidance, of relationship building, of happiness and, most importantly, of love.
Mom was a true homemaker for my dad, my brothers and me, and unhesitatingly built new rooms onto that loving home every time a beautiful new bride came into the family or a wonderful new grandchild came into the world. Let's hope our children and our children's children enjoy as much success in their careers as mom did in hers.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Remembering my mom, Patricia O'Neill

My mother passed away on Monday morning, and while we're all sad to see her go, we've also been remembering what a marvellous person she was. Here is the obituary that's appearing in today's papers:

O’NEILL, Mary Patricia Josephine (nee Davis)

March 17, 1931 – September 3, 2012

A loving wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother, Patricia passed away in her beloved West Vancouver home, surrounded by her caregivers and her husband of 63 years, John Joseph O’Neill. Always caring and passionate, Patricia continued to be a vital part of the large family of which she was immensely proud, even as she endured a series of medical problems that culminated in the heart condition to which she finally succumbed.

Born in St. Boniface, Manitoba, Patricia was predeceased by her parents, Senator John Caswell Davis, OBE, and Priscilla Emmerling Davis (nee Guilbault), and siblings Edward Davis and Lucille Huot. She is survived by her sister Yvonne Pratt. She is mourned by: her husband, Jack; her seven sons, Robert, Terence, Kevin, Lawrence, Stephen, Douglas and John; their seven wives, Beverly, Mary, Marie, Maureen, Susan, Wendy and Leah; her 19 grandchildren, Taryn (and Garret), Timothy (and Ashley) and Sean, Patrick and David, Shannon and Erin (and Tyler), Brian and Colleen (and David), Jaclyn, Shane, Colin and Blair, Danielle, Mitchell and Jocelyn, and Megan, Christopher and Michael; and one great grandchild, Arianna. Her many nieces and nephews throughout North America will also miss their cherished Auntie Pat.

Pat and Jack met and married at a young age and their dedication to each other was obvious to all who knew them. They were seldom apart but, when they were, they spoke frequently. Pat and Jack started their life together in Winnipeg, but also lived in Brandon and St. Boniface before moving to Vancouver in 1959. Pat devoted herself to her family while also engaging in countless acts of charity, for which she is warmly remembered by many friends and organizations.

Everyone who loved Pat was especially appreciative of the fact Jack enabled her stay in their home during her last years and was able to provide her with such a nurturing environment with the best caregivers possible. Pat often mentioned how Jack was taking such good care of her and how grateful she was. The family is indebted not only to those wonderful caregivers, but also to the numerous medical professionals who supported Pat in her final years, and to the priests who provided pastoral care.

A Mass of Christian Burial will take place at Christ the Redeemer Church, 599 Keith Road, West Vancouver, at 11 a.m., Friday, September 7, 2012. A reception in the church hall will follow.