Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What Does It Mean To Be Canadian?

Nouilles de Lan zhou
I ask that having being in Montreal these last three days, reading signs in French, conversing with bartenders in English and having a great bowl of Nouilles de Lan zhou in a tiny restaurant in Chinatown where everyone was speaking Chinese.

And today is Saint-Jean-Baptist Day, a provincial holiday looked upon by the politically-motivated as an annual reminder that Quebec is French, not English, by others as a day off to party, and by others as a day somewhere in between. I did not meet anyone today agitating for an independent French Quebec; it rained today so I didn’t go the big parade or the music festival in the evening; I did go to Chinatown to have that wonderful bowl of hand-pulled noodles, beef slices, green onions, cilantro, white radish rounds, garlic and red chili oil in a broth of “30 natural  spices and Chinese medicinal herbs,” according to the colorful placemat given only to me, the only ‘foreigner’ in the place.

I’ve never asked my British Columbia colleagues what it means to be Canadian. If anything, they’ve stressed that they are not Americans. And anyway, those of us who inhabit the Salish Sea north and south of the border probably have more in common with each other and the Salish Sea than with the rest of our respective countrymen and women.

Except in rare instances, we do speak the same language. I don’t have to practice my French (poorly) when I go to Vancouver. I did before going to Montreal, the same way I practiced (poorly) before going to Brussels. But in Montreal,  the taxi driver from the airport spoke English and listened to gypsy jazz and broke into French when I ask if he spoke French. He also gave us a demonstration of Louisiana French, along with a brief linguistic analysis. You have to go to Quebec City, he said, if you want to hear only French— but even there, if you speak English, they will want to speak and practice their English.

But on the streets of Montreal I hear French: elderly gentlemen, young ladies, children, women in headscarves, black man with dreadlocks, even some Chinese. Carlos the Air Canada flight attendant announced in English, then French, en route to Trudeau Airport.

But the English-speaking bartender who grew up in Montreal shrugged when I asked him about Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. Oh, he said, that’s something bigger in Quebec City.

French is the official language of Quebec and Canada’s official languages are French and English. Language has been both the flash point and the proxy for political and cultural battles in Quebec and between Quebec and the Canadian government. Today, if you believe the man on the radio talking this morning about what Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day means, to be a Quebecer is to be the best of both French and English. He said he was proud to be Canadian.

I’m not Canadian but I think it would be great if being French and English and Hispanic and Native American and Chinese were what it meant to be Canadian. Americans usually don’t think they can learn anything from another country. We might from our northern neighbor.

--Mike Sato

Friday, June 13, 2014

“When You Go To Victoria, Don’t Flush”

Mr. Floatie (PHOTO: Chad Hipolito)
Two years ago in these pages we heralded what we thought was the light at the end of Victoria’s sewer discharge pipe after the Canadian government, the province of British Columbia and the Capital Regional District put $782 million down for a long-awaited sewage treatment system. Alas, we were wrong. [“Victoria Sewage: Now Can We Flush?”]

Those who follow this never-ending story were perhaps not surprised when the regional district township of Esquimalt adamantly refused to house the planned sewage treatment plant, thereby driving planners back to new site acquisition and additional costs of hundreds of millions above the $782 million already committed. [“Victoria region's sewage bill could rise by $100 million]

Now, enter Washington Governor Jay Inslee into the fray with a letter to BC Premier Christy Clark saying the sewage issue poses health and economic issues, threatens intergovernmental relations, and should not be pushed out to 2020. BC Environment Minister Mary Polak has responded that, “We have made it clear that sewage treatment will happen; this is not up for debate" and that regional district taxpayers could face up to $500 million more in costs if they can’t decide where a treatment plant will go. [“Victoria sewage fouls Washington-BC relationship”]

Resurgence of the Victoria sewage treatment issue has brought out many of the same arguments aired throughout Puget Sound in the ‘80s when local jurisdictions faced major capital costs to install secondary sewage treatment. [The Victoria regional district filters but does not treat its 34-million gallon-a-day discharge.] Like Victoria today, the arguments then against sewage treatment were based on the benign ‘flushing’ action of our estuarine waters and the unreasonable high cost of treatment to be passed on to resident and business rate payers. Same old, same old.

My Canadian colleagues and “Mr. Floatie” find the Victoria sewage issue deplorable but I’m not sure welcome the huffing-and-puffing self-righteousness from this side of the border. [Mr. Floatie retired two years ago when it seemed like a sewage treatment plant would be built but has reportedly come out of retirement for a “second movement.”] After all, those on this side of the Salish Sea have their hands full with stormwater, toxic bays and estuaries, toxic fish and shellfish, sewer overflows, closed shellfish beds, ocean acidification, oil and coal trains, and depleted salmon and forage fish habitats.

I’m sure every time the Victoria sewage treatment issue arises, our neighbors feel chagrin, that frustration followed by shame. No need to pile on. Twenty years is such a long time to suffer not only polluted shorelines but awful puns and being the butt of jokes. May you move smoothly forward.

July 10, 1994/ Seattle Times
VICTORIA, B.C. - A U.S. environmental group has some advice for tourists: If you go to Victoria, don't flush.

A brochure produced by the Seattle-based People for Puget Sound praises Victoria's "unique, old-world charm" but says the charm is dulled by the dumping of raw sewage into the Georgia and Juan de Fuca straits.

The 17,000-member group says that until the city has primary sewage treatment, it will remain the only West Coast city between Anchorage, Alaska, and Tijuana, Mexico, that dumps raw sewage into the ocean.

The group also notes Vancouver dumps and spills untreated sewage into the Fraser River and the Strait of Georgia and sewage is spilled every year by U.S. treatment plants into Puget Sound.

[“Victoria A Great Place To Visit, But Not To Flush?”]

‘Nuff said.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Let’s Get Together With Guns

Weren’t those Sunday Seattle Times pictures of women and their concealed weapons wonderful? Photographer Erika Schultz captured them well, as did the reporters in their story, “Pistol permits skyrocket, especially for women.

I thought they were a lot better than the Washington Post photo that accompanied a story earlier this week about ‘open carry’ demonstrations in Texas, “Assault rifles at the neighborhood Chipotle? Even the NRA thinks it’s ‘downright scary.’

“Downright scary,” “downright weird,” “downright foolishness,” the NRA said about the demonstrations. “Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners. That's not the Texas way. And that's certainly not the NRA way," the NRA said, as quoted in “NRA Calls 'Open Carry' Rallies 'Downright Weird.'

Nothing weird about our Washington women with their concealed weapons.

What was weird was that the politically ferocious NRA was taking such a — how to say it?-- moral position on the ‘open carry’ demonstrations, calling them lacking in “consideration and manners.”

This week’s  weapon stories brought to mind how guns can bring us together. Take this year’s state legislature with a deeply divided state senate basically unable to move any legislation forward. Neither House nor Senate, however, had any difficulty passing SB 9556, which legalized owning a short-barreled rifle (one with a barrel shorter than 16 inches). Federal firearms regulations still apply, and the measure had nearly unanimous bipartisan support and the Governor signed SB 9556 into law on April 2.

At a legislators’ meeting with constituents, the question of what is the public good in legalizing short-barreled rifles was met with silence, then finally answered with the reason: elected officials are afraid of the NRA.

That was a refreshingly candid answer but sadly depressing. Elected officials aren’t afraid of teacher unions, they aren’t afraid of environmentalists, they aren’t afraid of Native American tribes. They oftentimes can’t enact legislation because they are deadlocked politically--- but they are able to work in a bipartisan fashion to legalize owning short-barreled rifles. Ultimately because they are afraid of the NRA.

But who is the NRA afraid of? The NRA got a blistering volley back from demonstration organizers Open Carry Texas. And, a few days after taking such a statesman-like moral position on ‘open-carry’ demonstrations, it reversed itself in “NRA Retracts Statement Calling Open Carry Rallies 'Downright Weird',” claiming that its statement wasn’t an organization position but that of a rogue staffer.

The NRA, Open Carry Texas and gun owners and users across the land closed ranks. Another good example of how people can get together with guns.

And seeing all these pictures this past week of women with their concealed weapons and demonstrators with their ‘open carry’ weapons made me think about a way I could get together with folks who liked their guns. I don’t think I’ll ever have much to do with the NRA but I like to see pictures of people holding their guns and it seems like people are happy to be seen holding their guns.

If you think it’s a good idea, we can set up a web page where folks can share their picture of them with their gun. No names, just a photo of you and your gun.

That’s one way I can think of how we can get together with guns. What do  you think?

--Mike Sato