Sunday, 29 April 2012

Bread-Baking on Wheels

The smell and taste of fresh bread from an outdoor oven is a pleasure to experience. For those of us who have tasted such bread from the Doukhobor kiosk at the annual week long summer Saskatoon Exhibition in Saskatchewan, it is a pleasure indeed.

Steve Prystupa, former museum curator, sent me an interesting story about a lady in his Manitoba neighborhood: Karen Schlichting’s Oven Unveiled. Steve suggested that some Doukhobor or other groups in Canada might adopt the idea for their own unique brick oven on wheels. Why not a pech on wheels?

The inspiration for the oven came from baking bread for the past five years with her friend Hal Loewen in his outdoor wood-fired oven. Karen Schlichting received generous help from the Manitoba Arts Council to build this 4000-pound portable brick oven, decorated with thousands of tiny hand-cut glass mosaic tiles. The welded steel trailer was tailor-made to carry the concrete, rebar, fire brick, insulation, galvanized tin and glass structure.

Karen fired the oven up for a pizza making blitz for the opening of Manitoba Craft Council’s show 'Make Stop Repeat' opening at the Mennonite Heritage Gallery at 600 Shaftesbury Blvd. on June 23rd, 2011.

In the summer of 2011 Karen held several ‘bread actions’ where the oven appeared in random locations around the City of Winnipeg. After a visit to a Costco Shopping Centre with her magnificent 'Hansel and Grettel' bake oven,
Karen Schlichting took her mobile bake oven to a North Main cafe on November 10th for a season final bake fast. Hot fresh bread is something that needs to be shared so that’s what she has been doing with it. Moreover, Karen's wagon is like a cultural ikon; it gives colour and joy to the world.

Get more information by email from Karen Schlichting :

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Guns, Fighter Jets and Democracy in Canada

Canada's democracy in the last decade has deteriorated largely because of  the recent faulty leadership of the Stephen Harper's Conservative Party which first came into power in 2006.  In my observation, the art of governing has become more authoritarian and military-minded, less respective of diversity, more secretive, and meaner. 'You are either with us, or against us' seems to be the mantra of the day.

The March 29th, 2012 Conservative Budget tabled in Canada's Parliament reflects cuts that will make Canada a more conservative nation as it projects a deficit of $21-billion for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The Government plans to chop some 20,000 jobs, cut federal program spending by $5.2-billion a year, and extend the retirement age of millions of Canadians to 67 from the current 65.

The government has argued that extending the retirement age will keep people in the workplace, and paying taxes, for a greater number of years. That's unlikely. All indications are that low-income seniors will ultimately pay the price for the new plan.

Heritage is being cut by $191-million, including cuts to the CBC ($115-million), the National Film Board ($6.7-million) and Telefilm ($10.6-million), all to be phased in over three years. The hidden agenda is privatisation and a covert attack on cultural institutions that raise critical questions about poverty, war, violence, power, economic equality, and the good life. The government wants to stifle this discussion.

In addition, to raising cash to pay off the big debts that the Government has incurred largely for the military and security, Harper and his Conservatives want to sell diplomatic residences in foreign capitals and generally reduce the presence of diplomacy, particularly if it evokes Lester B. Pearson's legacy of peace keeping. For a country as wealthy as Canada, to argue that we abandon diplomacy and peace keeping because we cannot afford it is simply embarrassing.

Also there are plans to create more jails (despite arguments from most experts that the changes are costly and unnecessary in an  era of falling crime rates) and to allow the police and authorities unprecedented and checkless power to gather information on the Internet of everyday Canadians, without a warrant. All of this is one step closer to the 1984 Orwellian world that Mr. Harper seems to be clearly in favour of.

However, the former  hidden elephant in Canada's parliament is the $30-billion F-35 fighter jet plane project. This is an attack aircraft that is not needed for Canada and is not appropriate for what we really need  that of search and rescue. Harper's government did not mention this exorbitant cost in its annual Budget, until it was uncovered by the media and Auditor-General Michael Ferguson. This has since become a national scandal.

As serious investigative journalist Andrew Coyne of Postmedia wrote in his column titled 'F-35 debacle demonstrates a system of government in collapse':
  • 'Guidelines were evaded, Parliament was lied to, and in the end the people of Canada were set to purchase planes that may or may not be able to do the job set out for them, years after they were supposed to be delivered, at twice the promised cost.' (Ottawa Citizen, April 5, 2012: A13).
It was that deception by the Conservatives that led to the dissolution of the 40th Canadian Parliament  in March 2011 and led to the May 2011 federal election in which Harper's Conservative Party won a majority government. Surely the 2012 scandal that Mr. Coyne reports on is a case of contempt of Parliament and resignations should follow.

Let's recall that it was this government that spent $1-billion for the G-20 meeting in Toronto in  2010 as well as the G-8 in Ontario's Muskoka region.

Harper's intent in militarizing the country has had negative consequences not only in foreign policy, but in the social life of the country and the education of children.

During the past year, the government has been ridiculously spending $28-million celebrating the 1812 war between Canada and the USA.  One of these events took place on February 2012 at a family-oriented park in Gatineau, Quebec, where children were encouraged to play war games with replicas of vintage weapons.

The majority of parents surveyed by the Le Droit paper seemed uneasy that the activity was sponsored by the federal Parks Canada. 'Who had this idea?' asked Julia Robinson of Ottawa, 'When you put a gun in the hands of a child, even a replica, it trivializes violence.'

Years back in Saskatchewan, my mother used to remind us youngsters not to point a toy gun at a person. From her Doukhobor legacy (which included refusing to go to war on Easter Sunday1895 along with the mass demonstration in June of getting rid of militarism and wars), mother knew that violence begins at home.

Fast forward, in the March 26, 2012 issue of The Globe and Mail (page L7), mother's wisdom is supported by science entitled 'Hold a gun, see a gun':
  • 'Simply holding a gun increases the chances that you think other people are armed as well, new research has found' reports Psych Central. 'In a series of five experiments, subjects were shown images of people on a computer screen and asked to determine whether the person was holding a gun  or a neutral object, such as a foam ball. ... Regardless of the situation, the study showed that those participants who were holding a gun reported "gun present" more than the other participants.'
All of this reminds me of Tolstoy, Gandhi, King and the recent Center for Global Nonkilling findings, where nonkilling has become the wisdom of a healthy world community. The current Harper Conservative Government today is grossly out of step with a sustainable society. It ought to take note and learn an important lesson in governance and the creation of a real sustainable equalitarian society based on love instead of hate. Yes, it is this truly human ingredient that is necessary to create a genuine democracy in Canada and to make the world safer for everyone!