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The sermonette on this page is the first I wrote as a conscious [editorial] after adopting the tag "sermonette". The use of Picasso's Guernica was prompted by some Americans objecting to meeting in a room where this painting hangs. Around the same time a statue was draped to cover nipples (pre Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfuntion at the Superbowl).

Where we stand

Editorial: January, 2003

Guernica by Picasso

Guernica is a Basque town in northern Spain: bombed and destroyed in 1937 by German planes helping the insurgents in the Spanish Civil War.

Guernica is a mural-sized oil painting on canvas by Spanish artist Picasso completed by June 1937. The painting, which uses a palette of gray, black, and white, is regarded by many art critics as one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history. Standing at 3.49 metres (11.5 feet) tall and 7.76 metres (25.5 feet) wide, the large mural shows the suffering of people, animals, and buildings wrenched by violence and chaos.

The war

The spokesmen and power brokers of the world's resources have almost completed their campaign to sell the populace on bombing Iraq into the stone age. Those of us who express the view that this is unwise are systematically discredited as either hopelessly naive or crazy. The media slavers as it guides us through the twists and turns of speeches by George W. Bush and company, Tony Blair and Jean Chretien. Trying to place the United Nations Security Council's role in all of this is mental torture. What the hell did Hans Blix really say? And if, as Colin Powell claims, the Iraqis have nerve gas and germs moving around in trucks would not that be all the more reason to try and work out a peaceful solution?

As a diversion, we are asked to turn our attention the dangers of pornography and/or child molesters, expensive toys full of people falling out of the sky or children of the rich being buried in snow during elite vacations. For war on Iraq and the war on drugs, millions of dollars are found. For questionable projects like beefing up police computer surveillance equipment, searching through the forests of Texas for charred wreckage of Columbia and finding better ways of predicting avalanches the public purse-keepers will again spare no cost.

We have been living in a war economy for some time now. Social programs have been slashed to the bone. People who have lost their jobs or otherwise fallen on hard times are being criminalized and are fodder of the domestic war machine which our justice systems have become. I saw a young woman getting her methadone at the drug store who was, two months ago, a guard at the Correctional. Now she is addicted to methamphetamine, a new version of which is the most recent scourge on Saskatoon streets. She looked just awful.

The enemy?

We are being asked to turn against each other when we need each other the most. High on the demonized list are all people who might be Muslims and then identifiable minorities in general. We are asked to distinguish between the pornography sold at your regular magazine counter, suggestive advertising (often featuring very young people) for everything from pizza to automobiles and the raw and raunchy porn on the Internet. Then we are asked to assume that those who view pornography, child or otherwise, will eventually act out the images that turn them on. There is no evidence to support this contention: one could as easily say George W. Bush is acting out his fantasy as Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. Or some other George C. Scott role. Affirmative action campaigns which were supposed to help redress the imbalance against minority participation is the excuse for racist and sexist tirades against anyone you feel like taking it out against on a bad day.

Education

Education has taken the deepest cut. An uneducated population is vulnerable to half-baked suggestions. While a whole generation of youth has been let loose into society with less than grade twelve, few job skills and fewer prospects, they are counselled by social workers who often have questionable credentials based on untested theories. When these youth run afoul of the law, they encounter educated lawyers — both prosecutorial and defence — who herd them into the penal system or doctors who will prescribe them drugs which they can sell on the street. (In Saskatoon street youth will pop or shoot almost anything. Addicted and messed up young people are among the most needy of health care, a topic not addressed in the Romanow report). The jobs which are available to them do not pay enough to cover proper accommodation so many live at home or grouped together on the "Aves" or east side slums and get into trouble.

There has been talk recently about reducing the school week to four days. Duh? Maybe we could instead hire more staff and keep the facilities open seven days a week or at night. Our community centers are also idle much of the time.

The young people who do make it to post-secondary education are those with families who can afford the tuition. Cloistered from their less fortunate neighbours, often the most important lessons they learn are how to advance a career and maintain the superficial trappings of success. Getting tools to interpret the larger context in which they live is not part of the program. Distinguishing right from wrong is difficult for people who have learned that the word "ethics" means "cover your ass and don't rat out your colleagues."

Our recently resigned justice minister, Chris Axworthy, left as his legacy a promise of legislation to lower to 14 the age at which a person can be prosecuted as an adult. He is now going to teach law at the University of Saskatchewan. As a federal member of Parliament, he turned taped evidence of a police crime over to the RCMP and had the whistle-blower investigated, prosecuted and jailed

Attitude

As said above, now is when we need each other the most. The University should be leading the way but instead rises in tuition combine with cutbacks in the liberal arts to fit the acedmy into someone's free market model. More and more funding comes from faceless corporations and we all know that he who pays the piper calls the tune. The tune is dissonant and chaotic. The attack on civil liberties since 9/11 has been received with hardly a wimper from the educated elite.

If the human race has learned nothing else in the last century one lesson should be that more, not less tolerance is necessary if we are to survive together on the planet. We need to speak to each other, hear each other's point of view and give consideration to our words and actions. The Internet, with search and translating programs, now makes this possible. It is not a "magic bullet" but it is a powerful tool. Like any powerful tool, we have to learn how to use it. What you read on the Internet is no more or less true than what you read in a book. Educators should be teaching people how to sort out fact from fiction, truth from untruth. Is something not dramatically wrong when students are using the world wide web to buy plagiarized essays when they could be learning to be original thinkers and writers?

inJusticebusters recently received mail from an anti-gun control activist asking why the website didn't take up this attack on civil liberties and waste of public funds. There are two reasons. We certainly don't have the resources to take on every single issue, particularly one which seems to be well publicized and has a well organized group of people behind it. The other reason is that it is my view that there are already too many guns and other weapons for killing humans. I would favour disarming the police of their killer weaponry and providing them instead with non-lethal tools of restraint and intervention. One group of people should not be entitled to kill citizens for any reason. What used to be considered a last resort has become a first reaction in many instances.

Regulation and education

We take the regulation of dangerous material for granted: this is a function we expect of government. We count on pure food laws to keep our food supply safe. Regulation is the rational alternative to prohibition. We see how the prohibitive drug laws are destroying the lives of some while making others wealthy. Some of our wealthiest and most influential citizens made their fortunes bootlegging during prohibition. The lack of morality they took to the enterprise has no doubt played a part in the current schizophrenic approach to alcohol where much of our commercial culture is lubricated by it while grim minded organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving ask for horrible punishments for those who take part too enthusiastically. Certainly the rational regulation of alcohol, gambling, and tobacco should be part of the public agenda. Damaged children and damaged families are our inheritance so far from our irrational approach.

We could also regulate prostitution and pornography rather than reacting hysterically against them. Social recognition that these are part of human society whether we, as individuals, like it or not will go a long way towards curbing injustices arising from unethical police stings and busts.

Reparations

The Internet now gives us access to quantities of information and ideas that previous generations could only dream of. Injustices of the past are elaborated in monstrous detail: the crusades, the European witch hunts, the slave trade, lynchings, the holocaust, all the horrors of colonization from genocide to broken treaties and stolen land, dropping the atom bomb on Japan and racism and sexism in all stripes and versions. A person could become very depressed immersed in the injustices of the past. Before the Internet, I had no idea the historical record was so unbroken. I had thought the idea of reparations for damages done to past generations was not workable and preferred to concentrate on the present.

I have definitely revised my thinking in this regard. Already survivors of the holocaust have managed to recover some stolen property from Swiss banks and the children whose parents were murdered by Pinochet's death squads have been able to identify the perpetrators and go after prosecutions. Where documentation exists and descendants survive, reparations are a real possibility. It is not enough but it is something. There can be no statute of limitations on the human conscience. We very much need to start acting together to do right. Sanctioning the people of Iraq is not right.

If there is money for wars and money for space exploration there is money for justice. The wealth of the planet has come from the earth beneath our feet and the labour of our hands and minds. Settling some old accounts would begin to redistribute this wealth. Dare I say from each according to his ability to each according to his need? Or do unto others as we would have them do unto us?

Yes.

A just world, one worth really struggling for would find ways and means to conserve the earth's resources, to make travel safe and cheap and encourage us to go to each other's places and learn what we have to teach each other. In a world where leaders, politicians, representatives of the Crown and police lie, we could start by telling the truth. First we have to find it.

I hope the material on this website illuminates some of the injustices we face and give some inspiration to fix them. I have called this a sermonette because it is not an editorial, not a rant and not really a sermon. A song from an old Lambert, Hendricks and Ross LP gave me the word.

--Sheila Steele, webmaster, February 5, 2003