Monday, January 28, 2013

Who Cares if Kathleen Wynne is Gay?

In the wake of Kathleen Wynne's victory in the race to become the new leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, the inevitable, perennial questions are being asked; the "are the voters ready" questions that the media asks every time a potential leader who is not a Christian, white-man in a suit is facing the public.  Kathleen Wynne is now the first openly gay premier in Canada, a perfect talking point for a media machine that thrives on short-lived, usually meaningless issues that generation paper sales, tv viewership, and hits on websites. So everyone ponders aloud in a cacophony of media noise - "Can an openly gay premier win an election in Canada?"

But as it is in most cases the question is fairly meaningless. Kathleen Wynne will probably lose the next election and fail to become the first openly gay person to actually become "elected" to the office of premier. The provincial Liberal Party is deeply unpopular in Ontario for reasons that have nothing to do with Ms Wynne's sexual preferences. Despite all the back-patting that was bestowed upon Former Premier Dalton McGuinty at this weekend's Liberal convention, he was a shockingly incompetent premier. Besides being a lapdog of the growing corporate ideology that has so badly infected the federal and provincial Liberal parties in Canada, Mr McGuinty has deeply damaged the Liberal brand in Ontario with his continual partizan motivations. Like so many political party leaders (including our Fuhrer Harper) it is the blatant, undisguised partizan efforts that destroyed McGuinty. The final straw for McGuinty was, of course, the imposition of an outrageously illegal bill to take away basic democratic rights from teachers. In a blatant effort to win two fall bi-elections McGuinty bit the very hand that arguably first brought him to office. And after guaranteeing that the Liberal Party cannot be reelected McGuinty high-tailed it out of town and, a-la Mulroney, he left a woman to clean up his mess.

But I digress.

The point is that because of the vagaries of politics, we probably won't know if, under ideal conditions, Ontario voters are ready to elect an openly gay woman to the office of the Premier. However, the fact that such an outcome seems in no way beyond the pale, demonstrates at least one thing - as long as you are ready to tow the anti-union, corporate, establishment line, you can probably get elected no matter what your sexual preferences might be. Here is the real rub. Scott Brison, earswhile Tory, now Liberal MP for the riding of King-Hants in Nova Scotia, spoke on CBC's The Current this morning, saying that he once thought that when he came out as gay he would be precluded from entering political service in this country. However, it turned out that as long as Mr Brison maintained the corporate line, which he has done very effectively for many years, he could sleep with whoever he wanted.

All of this is not so say that the political offices in this country will tolerate NO dissent to the corporate ideology. Though corporate media has effectively precluded, say, an openly socialist person from gaining any real political power, there is still some, however small, variation of political ideas in Canadian politics. But, in political terms, the room for manoeuvre is increasingly small in our legislative houses, as it is everywhere.

And despite the fact that the social/sexual restrictions have seen significant liberalization in recent years, there are still many such limits to power. For example I would be surprised if you could find a single MP (or even MPP) in Canada who is openly Atheist. And even if you could find a few, it is clear that someone who professes to have no theistic beliefs at all would have NO chance of holding significant political office. And the fact that I think that Hockey is irretrievably stupid and that competitive sports in general are not only silly but actually bad for people and society, would mean that I would have no chance of gaining public office.

The fact is that more and more sexual orientation means less and less to people. The corporate, hierarchical structure of our society can use gay people as effectively as it uses straight ones. Gay, straight? Who cares, as long as you are willing to tow the capitalist/competitive line. What voters really aren't ready for today is not the Kathleen Wynnes of the world, but  people who are willing to question the basic structures of competitive, corporate, hierarchical ideology that maintains our systems of power.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Painting process. . . .

For the couple of people that expressed an interest in my painting process I thought I would post a little description with a few sequential photos to demonstrate how I do it.

Below is a shot of my current shadow-box in process. As you can see it is much larger than any other one I have tried which presents a number of challenges but also offers interesting possibilities.

What you see here is the front of the box covered with the underpainting. I under-paint most of my work and my favoured color for the underpainting is Burnt Sienna. Burnt Sienna is a relatively new color (first used in painting in the 19th century) and because it is an iron oxide based pigment it offers excellent coverage and remarkable stability. It is also an excellent underpainting color because it is dark enough to serve as a linear base where necessary but not so dark that it deadens the overcoats or makes them hard to paint.

-A note on underpainting - I first became interested in an undertone for painting when I was in my teens and discovered the work of the 19th century English watercolour painter David Cox. Cox was an excellent painter (though not as fine as his contemporary Thomas Girtin) who often painted on rag paper or packing paper which had a brown tone. A number of paper makers have produced papers which are homages to Cox and in the 70s and early 80s there was a very interesting rag paper that was a fairly dark and absorbent that I used a number of times. I don't know who produced it but the production run ended and so I looked for substitutes and began to soak my watercolour paper in coffee to get an undertone. Because coffee essentially dies the paper it offers little interference with the watercolour that you lay on top of it. I eventually realized that underpainting has always been a common technique which many of my favorite painters employ. Even Bonnard (an often neglected painter) used undertone. Anyway, in the early 90s when I began to paint with acrylics (and sometimes oil) I experimented with various undertones until I began to favor burnt sienna. Underpainting provides depth and solidity to a painting that is difficult to achieve without some undertone.

Below you see a detail from the front of the above shadow-box. It is a sequence of photos which offers a brief insight into the process.

You can just see the drawing on top of the burnt sienna. The upper rectangle is painted in Naples Yellow which is one of my favorite colours (easily made with Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Orange, and White) The rays of the sun are straight cadmium yellow.

Cadmiums are great colours but they offer poor coverage. Thus to reach a solid colour with a cadmium such as the rays of the sun above one is required to make up to five coats of paint. The black here is Mars Black which is highly recommended when painting over an undertone. Mars black is another iron oxide colour and therefore offers better coverage than Ivory Black. Though you cannot see it in these photos, I often coat my blacks (which I don't use very often) with light coat of Ultramarine Blue. This technique creates greater depth and a slightly translucent effect like the black feathers of a Magpie. 

You can only see a bit of detail here but I have begun to add a little more depth to the colours with a cadmium orange at the tips of the rays and a lightened mix at the bases. (The addition of white is often a favorable advantage for the creation of coverage over an undertone) 

Below the face is formed and I am putting the decorations in. Above the face I laid down a streak of cadmium red (made in several coats) and then painted the words (written backwards) with cadmium yellow. 

Below the words are finished with small streaks of lightened ultramarine blue in the joints of the letters and a green (created with a number of colours) in between the letters, leaving just a small amount of the red visible. 

And here I have gone through the same process in the yellow segment and connected the two sections. 

The detail is now, more or less, complete and will later be integrated into the other sections of the painting. 

I hope this has been interesting to someone, and if you have any questions feel free to ask. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

White People are Just too Corrupt. . . . .

You know, I began to look into it and discovered, much to my surprise, that apparently economic malfeasance is quite common in this country. Have you heard about this? In the 1990s the Federal Liberal Party, then in Government, shuffled tens of millions of dollars through government coffers into the hands of their friends in the advertising and promotions field, skimming off millions for themselves. They also spent billions of dollars setting up a gun registry that should have cost almost nothing. I found out that in the 1980s fourteen Conservative members of the legislature in Saskatchewan were convicted of fraud for making phoney expense claims. Our present Conservative government spend a billion of dollars on one weekend meeting, building fake-lakes and diverting funds to the ridings of their MPs for unrelated projects while at the same time rounding people up in the streets and illegally putting them in detention centres.

Did you know about this stuff?

Then I began to look into it and found that these kinds of scandals go back into our history since the beginning. Even members of the government of the much loved John A. Macdonald were accused of being involved in bribery! And then I found out about the King-Byng Affair. Imagine my surprise.

Well after much reflection and thought, I have come to a painful conclusion. It seems clear that White Canadians are simply not capable of taking care of their own financial affairs. Corruption obviously is far to imbedded in their culture and they are just too immature to take care of themselves without inevitably falling into a spiral of corruption. It is sad but we just have to face the facts. Their economic and political leaders have an undue share of the social wealth while some of their people have fallen into poverty. White culture is a sea of corruption and inequality and yet they pretend to be adhere to democratic principles.

And now I find out that they are doing all of this while at the same time raping the environment, selling out their future to foreign interests, and leaving a legacy that will so damage our future that their children and grandchildren will suffer terribly from their neglect and malfeasance. They take, take, take, without thought of themselves or their future. Their culture is obviously disgustingly degraded and corrupted. They treat their women horribly (allowing them only token participation in government and business), their internet is full of pornography and crime is rife in their financial institutions. Meanwhile a handful of white people have hoarded almost all the wealth and the majority of them purport to think that this is a "natural" order of things. Their religious organizations are hopelessly degraded and sexual misconduct is inherent in the system.

White Canadians are obviously racially incapable at this time in history of acting responsibly with their money or their environment. It is time to change all that. Another nation needs to come in and take control of their money and government for their own good. We need to take their children away from them and put them in schools where they can be pulled into a more mature future. Here we can outlaw their language and separate them from their history of barbarism.

It is all very sad but it must be done now before it is too late.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Same old Hypocrisy. . . .

The Sixth Estate does a great job today in exposing the hypocrisy nascent in the ongoing attitude toward Chief Spence in particular and the Native Governments in general. It amazes me how corrupt our present government is and yet it continues to have the gall to attempt to marginalize others with accusations of financial malfeasance.

But hypocrisy seems to be the order of the week as the Ontario Premier has the gall to accuse teachers of attempting to undertake an illegal strike while his whole government is in a continued state of illegality with its Bill 115. The Premier knows full-well that this bill is illegal and that he will loose a Supreme Court challenge. This fact is evident from the Government of BC vs The Hospital Employees' Union decision which made it clear that governments cannot impose contracts. And the fact that the Premier knows his bill is illegal is evidenced in the fact that he has said he will rescind it as soon as the contracts are imposed and the labour unrest ends. This intent to rescind the bill is motivated on his hope that the Teachers' Union will not drag him to the SCofC where not only will he be humiliated and his legacy destroyed, but because he knows that his government's loss in court will end up costing the province more than it would have to settle with the teachers in the first place. Either way, the proposed one-day strike by teachers tomorrow is not illegal because Bill 115 is illegal in the first place then post facto the strike cannot be illegal because no legal contract prevails and therefore the teachers are in fact in a legal strike position.

If this week has carried any political lessons it is that governments have little or no shame. Harper and his supporters don't mind calling anyone fiscally irresponsible regardless of how evident the conservative government''s corruption becomes. And McGuinty doesn't mind enacting legislation that he knows full-well is illegal and then pretending to be on the legal and moral high-ground by throwing accusations against teachers whose rights he has attempted to destroy.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

More on Democratic Gaps. . . .

Given the visceral and sometimes racists attacks on the Idle No More movement and its supporters, I think it is important for me to continue to address, in a little more detail, the democratic issues that I touched upon in my previous post.

First of all it is important to understand that, even if we are supporters of legislative democracy it is essential for us to be critical of the system in which we live. We are obligated to engage in a continual investigation and critique of democracy. Failure to understand both its strengths and its weaknesses means we risk dictatorship. And make no mistake, dictatorship is always waiting in the wings ready to pounce, as we have learned so effectively in recent years.

As I have said before, Democracy should never be seen as a fixed and complete system. Rather it should be seen as a continual 'working toward.' We have gained very little if we dare see democracy as a system already achieved. Now, first we must understand that we live in a rare position in the world by the fact that very few countries in the world continue to use our rather antiquated 'first past the post' electoral system. Canada fails by any decent definition of democracy because even without the shocking decreases in participation, we have a system whereby a relatively small portion of the population elects a government that then rules more or less by decree. So let's make it clear at the beginning, Canada is nowhere close to being an effective working democracy. However, even a very effective democratic system possesses significant flaws. One of the primary problems here is that people make the mistake of seeing a so-called democratic system as an expression of the general will of the people. At its very best (in an effective system of Proportional Representation) a good democratic government would strive to represent the widest array of interests possible rather than some abstract notion of a "general will" that doesn't exist anyway. At its worst a government (like the one we sadly have) seeks to represent the interests of a very small, and in this case elite, minority.

The reasons that a good government should seek to represent the widest spectrum of interests possible while still maintaining social cohesion should be obvious. The rule of a minority, or even a majority, can be a dangerous thing to other interests in society. The Jim Crow laws in the US are a prime case in point. The majority white population used its power to control and oppress the African-American population, and they did so while still maintaining what they claimed was a democracy.

Because of the dangers that majorities (or even powerful minorities like the one represented by Harper and his Storm-Troppers) represent, democratic systems have committed to written constitutions and bills of rights which are inspired in part by the need to protect people from a majority or from the arbitrary use of government power. And even though governments can move glacially slow, these government mechanisms have been somewhat effective at protecting the rights of certain groups. The gay community has gradually used governments and courts to assert their rights and the recognition that they deserve the same rights that others enjoy. But even though such communities can, at least in theory, prevail, it should be clear to anyone that is informed that even though democratic systems contain mechanisms that are meant to protect people against people or governments with too much power, these mechanisms don't always work and even when they do they can be incredibly difficult and slow.

The rights of Indigenous people have been arguably the most under-addressed in democratic (and non-democratic) societies. The reasons for this gap in democracy are many and complex. The process of subjugating Indigenous people has often been seen as central to the creation and maintenance of the state at large. Indigenous peoples have often had legitimate claims to resource rich land to which capitalists and governments want access. Because of greed on the part of colonialist forces, governments have gone to great lengths to undermine the ability on the part of Indigenous peoples to assert their rights. Courts have constantly ignored treaties, and governments have impoverished Indigenous peoples so that it is difficult for them to assert their rights. These groups, in other words, have little hope of filling the 'gaps' in the democratic system because the system itself is designed to make it difficult. (And this doesn't even address the fact that Indigenous people have a unique status in as much as they are part of separate nations within the state, a fact unrecognized my the majority)

Anyone who is familiar with these facts about democracy and the history of colonialism, understands that we cannot simply limit democracy to whatever governments or the courts say or do. For people to fill in the gaps in democracies, for them to ensure that majorities or those with power cannot simply dictate their will to everyone, they must resort sometimes to messy, extra-political action. Martin Luther King understood this and so does Chief Spence. The problem is that many others don't understand their own system or their own history. Such people imagine that because the system serves them ok, anyone who dares to fill in the gaps of democracy through extra-political action must be a "terrorist." And for Indigenous people this process is particularly problematic because they are facing genocide. There is no imminent threat that the African-American community or the Gay/Lesbian community is going to disappear. As unjust as it is, there is a sense in which these groups can afford to work their way through the system to assert their rights. On the other hand, there has been a concerted effort to destroy Indigenous cultures, to destroy their relationship to the land, to wipe-out their languages and their cultures. And for this reason they have a moral right to undertake unorthodox, extra-political action to assert their rights. And failure to realize this fact is a failure to understand the very principles on which our democracy is supposed to be founded.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Reasonable Defence of Chief Spence and Idle No More. . .

Writers at (and supporters of) The National Post and The Globe and Mail (we know who they are) have mounted a rather pointed, and sometimes visceral  attack on Idle No More in general and Chief Spence in particular. These writers (though I hate to dignify them with that title) seem to be running rather scared and as a result their attacks have begun to delve into the unseemly realm of race and terrorist-baiting. We have all read them and they have turned our stomachs. And, at some level, we are prone to think that these simplistic, sometimes racist attacks don't deserve to be dignified with a response. I can understand this position, but I also think that a reasoned defence of Idle No More (INM) and Chief Spence is a relatively simple matter and therefore should be made loudly and on a regular basis. (And I have no problem making the defence as a white male of European descent because in some ways it is this very constituency that needs to come to terms with this argument)

At a very basic level, attacks on INM and Chief Spence are based upon the incorrect assumption that extra-political activism with specifically political goals has no legitimacy in a "democratic society." There are many people who seems to assume that outside of electoral politics and the use of the courts, there is no legitimate political activity. This kind of assumption demonstrates a shocking lack of understanding of political systems and a sad lack of knowledge of history.

These kind of assumptions are based upon the idea that modern democracies are complete and closed systems, which of course they are not. Even if a 'democracy' has a high degree of participation (which ours does not) and a distinctly independent judiciary (a claim that even in our country can be brought into question), modern democratic systems suffer from some very basic, let's call them 'gaps' in representation and legitimacy. One of these consistent gaps has been experienced in the treatment of 'minority' and 'national' groups within the state. Democracies, in other words, have to be very careful about how they treat minority and national groups, and so we can understand the need and importance of written constitutions and bills of rights, documents which are often written in part to protect certain rights against the will of a majority. In other words, we enshrine certain basic rights precisely because democracy has unavoidable 'gaps' in its structure. An elected government will not always protect the rights of minorities or national groups. The problem, of course is that constitutions and courts will not always be able to fill these gaps, and even when we believe that the constitution or the courts will eventually prevail, extra-political activism is often an essential part of the movement to bring the issues surrounding minority and national rights to public attention. Such was the impetuous for the Civil Rights Movement in the US. (And even in that case it took presidential action to push equality forward.)

Now, let's come to the specific issues surrounding Indigenous groups in Canada. Indigenous groups in Canada constitute (according to the principles of the United Nations) separate nations within the state of Canada. They do so because they possess their own linguistic and cultural identities and have had a continual claim on specific areas of lands that are closely tied to their national identities. Now, sadly, history demonstrates conclusively that these national groups cannot rely on the governments, the courts, or the Constitution to protect their internationally recognized rights. We therefore have a demonstrable gap in the democratic system. These groups therefore have the moral right (one might even say the obligation) to assert their claims at an extra-political level. The normal political restrictions do not apply to these groups because a) they constitute separate national groups recognized historically, internationally, and in our own constitution and b) because they have basic recognized rights which, history demonstrates, they cannot depend upon politicians or courts to represent or defend. In other words, the extra-political claims of Indigenous groups are motivated by the very same principles that we claim constitute our treasured political system - principles of national sovereignty, participation, civil rights etc.

Of course, this argument is made even stronger by the fact that we presently have a government which is redefining our relationship to the state and the environment, and they are doing so with the consent of a relatively small minority (about 20% when voter turn-out is considered) of the population.

I believe this argument is reasonable, cogent, coherent, and straightforward. The Indigenous people within the borders of Canada have a right (and even obligation) to take their struggle to the extra-political level. If there were not significant gaps in our democratic system, if it truly represented and protected the rights of minorities and national groups, if the courts properly embraced the internationally and constitutionally recognized status of Indigenous people and their role in protecting the land and water, then perhaps one could question the extra-political activism of Idle No More. But these conditions do not prevail.