ISSUES NETWORK - REPORTS FROM LONDON
Have We Forgotten That There Are Laws Governing War?
London - As Barack Obama prepares to send more American soldiers to Afghanistan, I think citizens of all countries should make an effort to know the Laws of War.
Yes, such laws exist. Several of them. Even when two countries or more face each other with guns ablaze, there is binding international legislation designed to contain the anger and the hatred. There are very clear agreements which forbid combatants from sinking too low in their treatment of each other.
Perhaps, at this time in history, it would be good to review some of these laws. After all, our predecessors worked hard to draft and agreed upon them. Don't we owe it to them to acknowledge their efforts - not only in word, but in deed?
War was made illegal as far back as 1928 with the International Treaty for the Renunciation of War, also known as the Pact of Paris or the Kellogg-Briand Pact. (Frank B. Kellogg was then US Secretary of State, Aristide Briand was French Foreign Minister).
At that time, 15 nations, including Canada, the United States, Britain, Germany, and Japan condemned the "recourse to war for the solution of national controversies." Over the years, more than 60 countries have given their support to the Pact, agreeing to settle all conflict peacefully no matter what its origin or nature.
Surprisingly, the Kellogg-Briand Pact is still in force, although it certainly hasn't achieved its peaceful goal. It did play a major role in the Nuremburg War Crimes trials - during which Germany's leaders were convicted and hanged for the crime of waging aggressive wars against other nations.
But before the trials, even before the end of World War II, the UN Charter of 1945 agreed that: "All members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means ... " and "... refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state ..." It was yet another attempt by humanity to stop the killing.
A year later, the Nuremburg Tribunal wrote that: "... the solemn renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy necessarily involves the proposition that such war is illegal in international law; and that those who plan and wage such a war with its inevitable and terrible consequences are committing a crime in so doing."
Further it concluded: "To initiate a war of aggression therefore, is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime ... "
And, of course, in 1948 there were updated and more relevant Geneva Conventions, which formed the basis of international humanitarian law and defined clear limits to the brutality of war, including the treatment of civilians. At the same time, a new word came into our dictionaries with the Genocide Convention - an attempt to prevent anything like another holocaust from darkening the planet.
Genocide meant "... any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group a) Killing members of the group; b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part ... "
In 1950, the United Nations General Assembly adopted seven international war laws, based on the Nuremburg and Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals. Known as the Nuremburg Principles, they outlawed Crimes Against Peace - the "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression" - and Crimes Against Humanity - the "murder, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population."
The 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court added to the power of the ever expanding international laws and conventions by establishing the first international criminal laws with respect to the offences of "genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes." It also set up the permanent international criminal court in The Hague.
Genocide, by the way, is defined under the Statute as certain acts committed "with intent to destroy, in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part .."
As one UK observer, Chris Coverdale of The Campaign to Make Wars History, has noted, the indiscriminate use of weapons such as cluster bombs, which spread tiny bomblets designed to kill or maim people within three kilometres of the target, would qualify as acts of genocide.
So, the statutes are on the books. It is up to the citizens of Canada and the world to make sure they are enforced. That is quite a challenge in this increasingly lawless world.
Is Canada's Image Abroad Greener than Deserved?
London - After reading about the Germanwatch survey in which Canada was rated 53rd among 56 countries when compared for their carbon emissions and greenhouse gas reduction policies, I felt grim. According to the survey, we actually dropped two spots from last year. Until recently, this country has had a fairly green image abroad, but it seems increasingly tarnished.
But there is hope. At a recent series of international workshops on transportation in London, England, Canada - or one corner of it - revealed a much more environmentally-friendly side.
The workshops for senior municipal officials were sponsored by the C40 Sustainable Cities group, chaired by London's mayor Ken Livingstone. As the name suggests, there are 40 cities in the organization - each with a population of more than three million. There are also several smaller, associate cities. It's an important group.
Toronto is Canada's only representative, but it seems to be holding its own. Its Mayor David Miller is on the steering committee and C40 manager Simon Reddy describes the city as "out there with the leaders of the pack concerning climate change." That is much better news.
A major topic of discussion during the C40 workshops was congestion charges - making people pay to drive in certain areas, usually city cores. I am sure anyone who has spent long periods of time sitting in his or her car during morning or evening rush hour won't be surprised to learn that traffic congestion - or jams - has been called "one of the most pressing socio-environmental issues of our time." It increases travel time, sometimes results in property damage, causes stress, even road rage, as well as noise - while idling cars spew CO2 into city air.
In OECD countries, of which Canada is one, it is estimated that gridlock cuts national productivity by about three percent of GDP. In some Asian countries, where the situation is even worse, that figure can be as high as four-plus percent. All in all, it is something to avoid - and, if possible, prevent.
So, various urban centres from Singapore to Stockholm have introduced the strangely titled "congestion charge." (It sounds to me like a charge on the poor souls who have inhaled too many fumes while caught in a jam.)
It was radical "Red Ken" Livingstone who surprised everyone by introducing a congestion charge in the heart of London in 2003. Responding to the argument that this made London accessible only to the rich - which to some extent it must, Livingstone rightly pointed out that fewer cars and more smoothly-flowing traffic would create less pollution. An excellent point when you consider that transportation emissions are increasing faster than any other source of greenhouse gases.
Of course, there was vocal opposition to the idea. But one year later, the statistics told a very good story. There was 18 per cent less daytime traffic in the charging zone, 30 per cent fewer delays, and 10 per cent fewer vans and trucks. At the same time, more people were using bicycles and motorcycles, as well as buses and taxis, which could move around the city with greater ease.
The charge began at 5 pounds a day (approximately 10 dollars), then rose to 8 and will soon be 10. There is also a high penalty - which Livingstone's main rival for mayor has promised to decrease - for those who don't pay on time. When I was staying with a friend in Notting Hill a couple of years ago, she ran in the door late one evening and rushed to the phone. She had only seconds to pay her congestion charge for that day before suffering the wrath of Ken.
The odd panic aside, the charge has been successful enough that the zone has been expanded to the west of the city - although some claim traffic has increased once again now that people are used to the payments. As Reddy pointed out, the charge is not just a revenue raiser. The money is poured back into infrastructure and efforts to create "behavioural change" - getting people to take public transit. He said New York's mayor has gone public with his support for the idea, but other cities are quietly considering it. (Any Canadian cities, I wonder?)
When I emailed a couple of relatives to find out if they would agree to such a charge in Toronto, their positive responses were loud and clear. One said he remembers how London in the '80s and '90s was like Toronto now - but the former has improved to the extent that: "In some places you can hear birds!"
The other wrote saying that she and her 19-year-old son both liked the concept, providing there was some kind of residents' pass for those already paying high property taxes. Referring to the bumper-to-bumper traffic, which they deal with too often, they observed simply that it was time to "Stop the madness."
I am sure Toronto isn't the only urban Canadian centre which could benefit from policies which have been tested abroad - especially as the planet tells us it's time to find new solutions to old problems.
Europeans Ready to Learn From Canada About Genetically Modified Crops
London - Based on the regular public appearances of one Western Canadian farmer on this side of the Atlantic, it is clear that Europeans feel they have something to learn from Canada's experience regarding Genetically Modified crops.
Indeed, 78-year-old Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan rapeseed grower for 50 years, is much in demand both here in the U.K. and on the continent. His long, expensive, and well-publicized court battles with Monsanto have become the stuff of legend and inspiration.
They began - for those readers who missed the story - when Schmeiser was charged in 1998 with patent infringement after Monsanto's notorious "gene spies" (often former RCMP officers) found the giant agribusiness's GM rapeseed growing in his fields.
To put this charge into perspective, it is important to understand that, for centuries, farmers have saved seeds, often sharing them with others. With GM seeds, however, farmers must buy from Monsanto or, like Schmeiser, they will be vulnerable to legal action - even if GM seeds blow onto their land.
Although he was not completely vindicated by Canadian courts, Schmeiser's experience and knowledge is especially valued by Europeans right now, because the EU has given opponents of GM crops one year to present proof that their introduction would be harmful.
In the UK, where a public outcry a few years ago prevented the introduction of GM crops, groups, such as GM Freeze, are warning Britons in no uncertain terms: "Your rights to eat and plant GM-free food are still under threat."
These anti-GM groups know that New Labour ministers have expressed their support for the introduction of GM products into the UK food chain and have already allowed the testing of GM potatoes.
"We want public involvement in decisions about GM. Laws to make biotech companies liable for harm caused by their GM products and independent safety research on GM and its impacts," demands GM Freeze.
At the same time, in their report for the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, 400 scientists have recently stated that: "Assessment of (GM) technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage unavoidable."
Nevertheless, the GM threat is "creeping up on us again", as one British scientist put it. "It's knocking at the door." Another observer fears GM crops could be brought into the country "by stealth" in part through animal feed.
In the midst of this controversy, Canadians like Schmeiser are valued. Their experience is real and direct. After all, the Canadian government, apparently swayed by promises of higher yields and fewer pesticides, allowed the introduction of four GM crops - soya, corn, cotton, and rapeseed - in 1996.
Schmeiser, once a member of the Saskatchewan legislature, tells Europeans about his nightmarish struggle to survive legally, financially, and emotionally as he and his wife Louise mortgaged their farm to clear their name. But he is also spreading the word about other aspects of GM crops.
He points out, for example, that, because of negative experiences with GM crops to date, the Canadian government has cancelled the introduction of GM wheat, rice, alfalfa, and flax.
He notes that, as he and others have found out, there is no such thing as containing GM crops in one field or area. Their seeds contaminate by wind, animals, bees, and so on. It is, therefore, not possible for GM crops to co-exist with conventional and organic crops. There is no longer non-GM rapeseed or soya in Canada, for example.
Schmeiser also quotes statistics revealing that, contrary to the claims that GM increases crop productivity, rapeseed yields in Canada have decreased by 10 percent, soya by 15 percent. What does this mean for the claim that GM can help feed the world?
At the same time, three to five times more chemicals are needed to control the new super weeds which have developed since the introduction of GM crops - another claim undone, as rural land, water, and residents are subjected to new poisons. Monsanto's Roundup Ready pesticide is four times stronger than it was in 1996.
But it is Schmeiser's description of how the introduction of GM crops has divided the Western farm community that surprises and touches many of his listeners.
He tells how, in spite of tough times, his part of the country was built by neighbours "talking and working together." Now, there is a "new fear culture" as communities wonder who might be spying on behalf of Monsanto. At the same time, Monsanto demands that farmers sign a "non-disclosure" form in which they pledge not to say anything negative about the company.
All of this sends shivers down many European spines. However, in typical Canadian style Schmeiser insists he does not want to force his own opinions on anyone. He simply wants the citizens of other countries to have access to very crucial information.
"I've come here as a Canadian farmer to tell what's happened in Canada and the United States," he says. "In 1996, we didn't have anybody to tell us."
Let's hope the Europeans listen.
The Mother Country Reacts to Political Activities of its Lost Child
London - The election in Canada, a loyal Commonwealth country, inspired hardly a squeak of interest here in the UK, but the political maneuverings of America - that distant, often-unruly, runaway child - have been an obsession for months.
The ups and downs of the long, drawn-out US campaign - so different from the style Britons and Canadians are used to - fostered a kind of media sub-industry.
Popular British TV stars crossed the ocean to provide weekly opinions on US history, geography, and personalities, as polite BBC radio reporters with their "posh" accents roamed the country, conducting often-bizarre interviews - with hockey moms in noisy arenas, for example.
I am certain the main result was that British radio listeners heard more country music via these reports than at any time in their lives.
When Election Day finally arrived, the only newspaper that dared to resist a headline like "America Decides" was a free tabloid which put Madonna's husband, Guy Ritchie, on the cover, noting he planned to fight the singer in order to keep their children in England.
Indeed, with all the interest and build-up, we in the UK were relieved to learn that the US polling stations would close early enough in decisive eastern states that we might have some inkling of the outcome by midnight our time - although I know I wasn't the only one who stayed up until five in the morning to make sure Obama had won and no skullduggery was possible.
(The film "Recount" about the 2004 electoral and legal machinations in Florida was shown on television a few days before the election just to refresh our memories of what could happen.)
As The Day After front page of the Guardian newspaper stated, some of this intense interest stemmed from the similarities between the 2008 US election and that in the UK in 1997. During the latter, the British people were as tired of Thatcherism as Americans were of Bushism - similar as they are.
Unfortunately, however, the British soon learned a nasty lesson. "When Tony Blair was elected, we thought he would rise above the sleaze of the conservative era," a friend told me a few days ago. "But within a year he was involved in the Formula One cigarette advertising scandal, changing policy after a party donation."
My friend seemed almost apologetic, not wanting to destroy the Obama moment.
Perhaps that is why Guardian foreign correspondent Jonathan Steele advised an audience to be skeptical about politics, but not cynical. Obama, he said, had some good ideas - talking to Iran - and some bad - accelerating the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Another reason for the great interest in the US is what Winston Churchill described after WWII as the "special relationship" between the Mother Country and her former child. Of course, that relationship has been much derided ever since Blair was considered "Bush's poodle" over the Iraq war and more.
The respected former Labour MP and Cabinet Minister Tony Benn - born Viscount Anthony Wedgwood Benn - put it this way on Election Eve: "Given that Blair did everything Bush told him to do, will Brown follow Obama?"
With Prime Minister Gordon Brown and New Labour's overall right-wing tilt, I'm willing to bet that many Brits would like their prime minister to follow Obama - based on what they know of the president-elect so far. Because of his opposition to the war, Obama wouldn't have lied to them about WMDs in Iraq as New Labour did.
Rather ridiculously, the leaders of both the opposition Tories and the government almost immediately tried to claim ownership of Obama's win. Conservative leader David Cameron announced that Americans had shown they wanted a change in government; Brown said it was obvious that they wanted more progressive, New Labour-style policies.
A discussion on the respected "Start the Week" radio programme hosted by Andrew Marr helped me realize what was partly behind the obsession the UK has for America. One of Marr's guests pointed out that during the American War of Independence 40 per cent of Britons supported the rebels against their own King. These apparently-treasonous citizens then tried to follow and support the "fragile" American experiment with its grand ideals and constitution. (The UK still has no such constitution.)
On the other hand, the Marr discussion also dealt with the tragic dumbing down of American society. This reminded me of an incident which I found indicative of the almost unrequited love between mother and rebellious child.
When the British writer Alan Bennett's play "The Madness of George III" - about the reigning monarch who "lost" the New World colonies - was made into a film, it had to be renamed "The Madness of King George." Otherwise, it was feared that Americans, knowing so little about British history, would assume the movie was a sequel.
They might even have thought it was about a third George Bush!
Let's hope Obama can see beyond his borders and across the Atlantic better than most - and the UK's American obsession is requited in a positive, non-demeaning way.
Afghanistan: This is no time to forget
London - Just days after the seventh anniversary of the October, 2001, invasion of Afghanistan by US-led NATO troops, including our Canadian Forces, the newly-elected Canadian government has to confront this military, financial, and human fiasco.
It can no longer be swept under the rug, as it was, more or less, during the election campaign.
After all, here in the U.K., the debate over the occupation and war in Afghanistan still carries on, in spite of collapsing banks and house prices. In fact, these crises convey a common sense of foreboding.
The U.K. ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, made headlines recently when he was quoted by a French diplomat (in a leaked document) stating that U.S. strategy in that tragic country simply isn't working - and NATO reinforcements would do more harm than good.
Indeed, Cowper-Coles claimed that the coalition presence, particularly the military aspect, is "part of the problem, not the solution." More NATO troops, including those from Canada, would, he argued, "identify us even more clearly as an occupying force" and offer more targets for the insurgents.
The UK ambassador also suggested that, since the government of Hamid Karzai was no longer trusted, the best future scenario might be "an acceptable dictator." Is this what Canadian men and women are dying for?
Cowper-Coles isn't the only one speaking out about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. In a quick response to the Ambassador's comments, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, the U.K.'s most senior military commander, warned that the war against the Taliban simply can't be won.
"We're not going to win this war," he said. "It's about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that's not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army." He advocated negotiating with the enemy.
Even the head of the US forces, General David McKiernan, who is requesting at least 10,000 more US troops, has admitted that militant fighters are coming from around the world to help the Taliban against the occupying forces. He, too, has suggested peace talks.
No wonder Karzai has been discovered making moves toward negotiations with the Taliban through Saudi Arabian intermediaries - which, so far, the Taliban have rejected, saying they will defeat the U.S. and its allies in the same way they defeated the former Soviet Union.
The Soviet debacle is a rather unpleasant parallel to draw, as Canadian journalist Eric Margolis pointed out in a recent column. After all, one of the reasons for the fall of the Soviet Union was the horrendous cost of the Afghan war - which was deliberately escalated when the U.S. covertly spent one billion dollars funding and arming the Islamic fundamentalist Mujahideen (until then a small minority in Afghanistan).
Now, the costs of the war are rising for the West ($22 billion for Canada alone) and must continue to rise if military victory is the goal. In 2003, the Rand Corporation estimated that, to be realistic, there needed to be approximately 20 occupation troops for every 1000 Afghan citizens. That would be a total of 500,000 soldiers - not an inexpensive proposition.
But it is not just the military and financial issues that should concern more thoughtful and caring Canadians. It is also the human catastrophe affecting the Afghan people - men, woman, and children.
A booklet recently published by the organization Stop the War here in the U.K. quotes United Nations statistics, which reveal that life expectancy in Afghanistan has dropped to 43.1 years since 2003. Over the same period, adult literacy has dropped to 23.5 per cent.
In spite of the grand words of feminists like Hilary Clinton, women's literacy has fallen to three per cent, maternal deaths have risen, and the infant mortality rate is now 135 deaths per 1000 births
At the same time, about 100,000 children have been "disabled or severely physically affected" by the war.
During the initial invasion seven years ago, it was estimated by a respected British journalist that 20,000 to 30,000 innocent civilians were killed. Since then, it has been difficult for the computer-guided smart weapons, the drones, and so on to distinguish between Taliban fighters and children.
For example, after a military inquiry, the U.S. recently had to admit that there were more innocent people - several of them children - killed in the August bombing of the village of Azizabad than first thought.
And there is other bad news in Afghanistan for the allies. Last year marked the largest ever increase in the production of opium. It had already risen an incredible 1000 per cent in the first year of the occupation.
Yes, something is desperately going wrong with this war in human, financial, and military terms, and it behooves the new government to tackle it with a clarity and honesty not evident in Canadian policy to date.
Do Canadians Support Activities of Our Mining Companies?
London - Earlier this month, while Canadians were in the process of selecting a slightly-new government to lead them over the next few years, Canada's reputation abroad was tarnished at an important international conference in Barcelona. Not deliberately, but unavoidably.
The damage to our country's image occurred during a meeting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which bills itself as "the world's oldest and largest global environmental network." More than 8,000 of the top thinkers and actors in the field of sustainable development, including representatives from government, business, the UN, NGOs, and academia were there to find solutions to various green problems.
Where did Canada come in? Among the attendees were Indians from the Amazon region of Colombia, who had travelled a long way from their rainforest home to speak out against what they feel will be a very destructive mining project - being planned and aggressively promoted by Canadian mining interests.
The deep-drilling gold mine, which would follow the veins of shiny metal as it winds its way through the earth, is the brainchild of Vancouver-based companies Frontier Pacific Mining Corp. and Cosigo Resources Inc. It would be situated on top of a highly-sacred site for Amazonian Indians.
This is a bit like drilling through the floor of Westminster Abbey or any beloved place of worship.
According to Martin von Hildebrand, a long-time supporter of indigenous rights in Colombia, who was also in Barcelona, the Indians can't understand the Canadian corporations' desire to plunder and desecrate such a remote and blessed part of nature.
"These people have a very refined, special feeling for the energy of the earth," he explained during an interview. Their spiritual leaders or shamans, he noted, are highly in tune with that energy, which they claim to sense emanating from the ground.
Von Hildebrand, whose German father founded the prestigious University of the Andes in the Colombian capital of Bogota, pointed out that the Indians also find the act of mining gold beyond their comprehension: "If Mother Earth has kept gold - and oil - in her womb, that's the way it's supposed to be," he said, trying to convey the Indians' way of thinking, which is so different from ours. Otherwise, he added, they believe it will cause illness and social problems - a view most of us in the developed world are starting to come to terms with.
Unfortunately, the Indians, who have been granted a large piece of land the size of the United Kingdom in the western part of Colombia, don't have subsoil rights to that land. In other words, although they can safeguard the plants and animals, along with their own way of life and culture, they can't legally prevent the miners from boring underground in search of profits.
Therefore, the Indians have asked the Colombian government to convert their threatened sacred area into a national park, where the subsoil would be legally protected. This land transfer, however, requires a consultation process, which the Canadian mining companies are doing their best to influence.
According to von Hildebrand, Cosigo representatives have been busy telling the Indians that the gold extraction will not affect the environment - an unlikely occurrence since the process usually requires digging through tons of rock to find even one ounce of precious metal. They have also been trying to entice the Indians with promises of healthcare and education funding (already supplied by the government) - and with cold hard cash.
Indeed, money is being used to sway the Indians to vote against the required park consultation process - and, therefore, the park itself. Von Hildebrand said young people are the most vulnerable to such enticements. "They have not come to a deep stage or understanding or seriousness that would prevent them from agreeing to vote for the mine."
So, the Indians and their supporters, such as von Hildebrand, are spreading the word in Barcelona and elsewhere against this Canadian project - and, at the same time, exposing some of the worst elements of our country's economic foundations.
Sadly, this Colombian project isn't an isolated example of Canadian mining companies running amok in the relatively pristine lands of other nations. They are also threatening Indian territory in the Andean Cordillera region of Colombia, as well as indigenous lands in Peru and Brazil.
In fact, if you check the website of Canadian-based Mining Watch, there is a long list of locations - from our own Arctic to Turkey, Tanzania, Thailand, and the Philippines - where local citizens are waging battles against what they see as unsustainable developments.
Of course, in the long run, it will have to be Canadians themselves who say "no" to this kind of economic aggression perpetrated in their name. We have to come to the conclusion that the protection and conservation of the planet are Canada's priorities, not exploitation and destruction.
As von Hildebrand pointed out: "We know that the planet is at stake and we don't have a second one to live on." Areas like the site he is fighting to save in Colombia might be "the last refuge.".
The Pressure Is On To Save the World's Treasures
London - As if the highly-unpopular Labour government doesn't have enough problems. In a recently released report after its annual meeting in Quebec this summer, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has criticized the UK for the way it is treating its historic treasures.
The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, the cities of Bath and Edinburgh, and Stonehenge are all on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites - and the UN agency isn't happy with what is being done to them. It has even threatened to put the Tower, one of London's most popular tourist sites, on its endangered list.
The problem is, yet again, thoughtless and short-sighted development. In the case of the Tower of London, there are plans to build two high-rise buildings - one of them 66 storeys - in close proximity to the historic site. UNESCO has called for the creation of a buffer zone to prevent the area from being overshadowed by modern structures. It also wants to see a local protection plan drawn up.
The same holds true for the lovely Westminster Abbey and the nearby Palace of Westminster (the Parliament Buildings) - with two more high-rise buildings planned nearby. Again, UNESCO is pleading for a buffer zone, and a detailed study of the famous skyline before irreparable damage occurs.
As mentioned, cities, too, are under scrutiny. Bath's plans to build a housing complex of up to nine storeys along with an engineering school have upset UNESCO to such an extent that it is sending in its inspectors. The agency is worried that the city's gorgeous Georgian homes, crescents, and squares will be seriously compromised.
Inspectors are also being sent to Edinburgh where city council has given the go-ahead for a hotel, office, and housing complex close to the Royal Mile, described by writer Daniel Defoe as "the largest, longest and finest" street in the world. In fact, the UK has been accused of breaching World Heritage site rules because it didn't advise UNESCO about this controversial scheme in advance.
On a happier note, UNESCO has praised Liverpool for heeding its warning that a planned development might threaten that city's historic Georgian ambiance. But the agency still wants to see more action taken to protect against future encroachments.
As for Stonehenge, the damage has already been done and UNESCO wants it undone. The agency "regrets" that the government keeps delaying plans to reroute a nearby highway away from the prehistoric stone circle and "urges" it to get moving on the project.
The UK has been given until February to prove that the government is heeding all of UNESCO's concerns.
I say "Bravo!" to the UN agency. In a world of war, terrorism, food shortages, climate change, and economic woes, it is too easy to ignore what some might consider the "small stuff" - the fabric and lay-out of our immediate surroundings.
But the well-being and maintenance of the cities, towns, villages, and natural environments that make up our world are crucial. They remind us of who we are and where we have been - and give us some indication as to where we are going. They are physical testaments to our values.
Marcus Binney, chairman of Save Britain's Heritage and one of the people fighting to preserve historic Edinburgh, summed up the situation: "Heritage has taken a back seat to Cool Britannia and encouraging everything modern ... "
Yes, there are those who want to be "cool" and rip down or diminish anything beyond a certain age, building high, shiny structures in their place. Indeed, they seem to want the whole world to look the same - and they are certainly succeeding. Look at Beijing, for example, where the ancient city alleys or hutongs that avoided the wrecker's ball are overshadowed by skyscrapers.
Sometimes the negative changes are more subtle. I remember how I used to love driving north up Toronto's University Avenue toward Queen's Park. There was a lovely, graceful sweep to the wide streetscape. Then, after being away from the city for a while, I returned to find that careless development had somehow destroyed the magic.
Certainly, the UK has a heavy responsibility to protect evidence of its lengthy and colourful history for the rest of the world, but there are things worth preserving in Canada, too.
If you go to the UNESCO web site, you will see that a real effort is being made to protect the world's irreplaceable gems - whether they be man-made or natural. The list of success stories, such as preventing the construction of a highway near the Giza Pyramids in Egypt or a river diversion project near the Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal are nothing less than heart-warming.
Is there a relevant battle in your community that you should sign up for? I am sure UNESCO would appreciate your participation.
Like This UK College, Canada Should Become a Model of Green
Devon, UK - Among the rolling hills of this pretty south-west county lies Schumacher College, appropriately named after the British economist, E. F. Schumacher, who wrote the book, "Small is Beautiful." It's a different kind of education centre, offering a more sustainable way of learning and living - and it has a distinct Canadian connection.
"Our college is a focal point for radical green thinking," says Dr. Stephan Harding, Coordinator of the Masters Degree in Holistic Science, which includes the senses, feelings, and intuition in its exploration of science. "Lots of Canadians have studied here."
He points out that the College is small-scale, community-based, and independent of business - something which doesn't seem to be available anywhere in Canada. So, it's off to Devon, land of tea, scones, and clotted cream, for Canadians wanting to know more about sustainable ecological solutions to the various problems facing Canada and all westernized countries.
Even Dr. David Suzuki, whom Harding considers "a hero" and "a brilliant communicator", has paid a visit. As well, Schumacher staff biologist, Professor Brian Goodwin, author of "Nature's Due", is a former Canadian whose childhood experience in the Canadian wilderness is considered very valuable.
Indeed, Canada is seen as a pivotal country in the climate change scenario, according to Harding. For one thing, well-respected British scientist Dr. James Lovelock has predicted that climate change refugees, attempting to escape higher temperatures, will mass migrate to the global north.
On a more positive note, our tundra and boreal forests, along with our sea ice, are very important in maintaining a healthy climate - and preventing future disaster. Our forests and soils sequester and hold carbon - unless or until they are destroyed by cutting or fire. Our ice acts as a sun reflector, moderating the impact of its rays.
Another Canadian asset, which the UK certainly does not have, is our Native population. Harding says that "indigenous wisdom" is something which "we Westerners have to learn from jolly fast." Native communities appreciate more than their non-Native counterparts that nature is "alive and dynamic", he adds. They understand that "the earth is a single system that commands our respect and reverence".
When I visited Schumacher College recently, I was impressed by the awareness of both the staff and students - or participants - that they were taking part in something very cutting-edge and important. Therefore, any appreciation of or interest in things Canadian made me quite proud.
Along with the Masters Degree, courses at the college, founded in 1991, range from Earth Jurisprudence (Making the law work for nature) to Embedding Holistic Economics: For a global community. There is also a Schumacher Certificate in Education for educators and facilitators in both the formal and alternative education systems.
Course leaders come from around the world to share their knowledge.
But the influence of the college goes beyond what is offered in its "classrooms". Gardening, cooking, even housework, are all seen as part of an important communal and self-sufficiency experience. There is also a powerful sense of culture and history that adds to the educational mix.
Schumacher College is mainly located in a slightly-quirky complex, built by Richard ll's half-brother, John Holand, who was later executed by his brother-in-law Henry lV. Now that's history! From 1380 - 1925, the building served as the rectory for the imposing, mediaeval estate, Dartington Hall, which stands on a nearby hill.
In 1925, Dartington Hall was purchased and restored by Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, who worked for the next 40 years to bring "the abundant life" - a combination of culture and decent employment - to the local people. The Trust Fund they founded continues to support learning both at the Hall and Schumacher College. (As I write, the Hall is hosting a literary festival, featuring top British authors.)
Both centres' international connections have also added to their richness. The Elmhirsts worked in collaboration with Rabindranath Tagore, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. At the time, Tagore had established his own alternative learning centre, just outside of what was then called Calcutta.
More recently, the Devon-India axis is personified by Schumacher Programme Director and teacher, Satish Kumar, who, when only nine years old, renounced the world and joined a band of wandering monks. After leaving the order and campaigning for land reform, he then walked 8,000 miles from India to the US.
Kumar's week-long course this September is entitled: Walking with the Earth Pilgrim. The college brochure states that some studies will take place on the dramatic nearby Dartmoor. "We can learn so much about ourselves and the world we live in by spending time in places of natural beauty."
That brings me back to the Canadian connection. So many Europeans equate Canada with its natural beauty. We are quite envied. Perhaps, we should take advantage of that fact and turn the country into a giant, green educational centre - a Schumacher College from sea to sea to sea.
I think Canadians and the world would benefit greatly from such a project!
Why Are Young People Killing Each Other?
London - Young people are killing each other in frighteningly high numbers. Whether in Canada or the United Kingdom, using guns or knives, this is a serious social tragedy. For Londoners, this has been the year of teen knife crime with 17 fatal stabbings so far, compared to a total of 16 in 2007. Their city is now seen as the knife-crime capital of the UK.
However, unlike North American cities, including Toronto, there have been relatively few fatal shootings.
This is in part because of a "crackdown" on guns last year. During a November Day of Action carried out by 1000 police officers in London and other major cities, one-hundred and eighteen people were arrested and more than 1300 guns were confiscated.
Now, young people here are willing to admit that guns aren't their weapon of choice. "With a knife you do less time," said Jubel Hussain, 17, when I questioned him on a bus along with his friends. "Knives are cheaper, easy to carry around, and easier to get." Although, he pointed out, anyone can get a gun, if they know the "inside people."
Hussain is right. The sentence for carrying a prohibited gun in the UK is a minimum of five years. For knives, it has recently been increased from two to four years, so that, according to the Home Office, they won't seem to be the "soft option".
But this summer in London - where "Bobbies" remain unarmed except for extendable batons - few people are breathing a sigh of relief because young people are less likely to carry guns.
Instead, there is an almost hysterical level of debate, exacerbated by the tabloid press, over knives. Hardly a day goes by that you don't open the paper and see the sweet face of a young person with tragic headlines such as "'Nice guy' dies in party stabbing" or ""Mother's heartbreak over Freddy murder".
One free tabloid has regular updates on "London's Knife Crisis."
The aptly-named Sir Igor Judge, who takes over as Lord Chief Justice in the fall, has declared that "The knife problem has reached epidemic proportions." Cherie Blair, wife of the former prime minister, fears for her children's safety when they are "on the street."
There seem to be two distinct explanations for the "epidemic." The more prevalent among the media, government, and law enforcement agencies targets individuals and their families.
A columnist with the right-wing Daily Mirror wrote recently: "I blame parents for knife crimes."
Prime Minister Gordon Brown is ready to intervene "quickly" where there is "a problem in a family with anti-social behaviour." Tory leader David Cameron, who caused a stir by describing British society as "broken", blames absent black fathers.
At a demonstration in response to the fatal stabbing of the 16-year-old brother of former EastEnders star Brooke Kinsella, people wore t-shirts with messages such as "Don't use a knife, get a life."
With this it's-a-personal-problem attitude, Sir Igor has called for the "most severe" sentences when knives are involved. Both Brown and Cameron have said that anyone carrying a knife should be jailed.
Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson says crime is his priority, and he has vowed to install more metal detectors around town - in a city already saturated by closed-circuit cameras (CCTV). There is also talk of installing metal-sensitive "knife arches" in secondary schools.
Also getting tough, organizers of the Notting Hill Carnival, Europe's largest street summer festival, made it clear that the police would be using their "stop and search" powers (usually aimed at the black community) and metal-detecting knife "wands" to prevent trouble.
But some have another interpretation of the problem. Black advocate Gary McFarlane blames the "dog eat dog" economy first introduced by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (who once declared there was "no such thing as society") and reinforced by New Labour.
He says that too many good jobs have vanished, and most gangs develop in areas of "high social deprivation" where youths feel "surplus and marginal." He also blames the affordable-housing crisis.
Different interpretations aside, the "epidemic" has spawned a number of efforts to bring young people back into the fold. One of the most interesting is Truce 20/20 in Newham, deemed the seventh most deprived borough in London. It offers conflict resolution training to young people while linking them to "peacebuilders" from countries such as DR Congo and Sri Lanka.
A US-based initiative called RockCorps, featuring top musicians and charging four hours of volunteer work for a ticket, will appear at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in September.
Will such things help? In an article about girl gangs, The Guardian newspaper interviewed a former member who explained that because everyone judged her as bad, she behaved badly. "By doing that I got what felt like respect ..."
That is a crucial warning for any city in any country.
Canadians Abroad Think Canada Is Worth Protecting
London - In this city, I feel as though I have celebrated Canada Week or Month, rather than Canada Day, singing the national anthem more often than I've done for years. It's made me realize that Canadians abroad really do appreciate what they have left behind.
My celebrations began when I paid a visit a few weeks ago to Canada House - to use its very convenient Internet service - right in the heart of London on Trafalgar Square. At that time, the building was being prepared for the Big Day to come - July 1.
When I arrived, one of the security guards asked me if I would like to experience a bit of my country. "Sure," I answered. He opened the door to what is usually a quiet exhibition room and the scent of freshly-cut cedar wafted out. Carpenters were busily erecting a structure, which is being described as an "exploration of timber."
Inspired, I decided it was time to be more patriotic. After several months of living here, I hadn't paid much attention to my fellow Canucks. I knew they were out there in large numbers (approximately 200,000 across the U.K.), but I hadn't really associated with them. I had preferred to deal with the locals.
So, I went in search of my compatriots with the help of a Canadian friend, who lives outside London and has been here for ten years. We surfed the Net and found a variety of groups: Network Canada, Canada 25, Canada Club, the Canada-U.K. Chamber of Commerce, and finally the Canadian Women's Club (CWC).
Timing is everything - or so it was with the Women's Club. When I called, a very friendly voice told me the CWC was holding its Annual General Meeting the next day at the Canadian High Commission's Macdonald House on Grosvenor Square. I was invited to attend. Just like that.
(Canada has two impressive buildings in London. Canada House is the more public venue; Macdonald House, around the corner from the highly-fortified U.S. Embassy, is administrative. )
You could say that the CWC "blew me away". This group, founded in 1932, was bright, welcoming, efficient, and effective. Certainly, it exists to organize social events - from daytrips abroad to bridge games and book clubs. But it also fundraises for two worthwhile charities - providing scholarships for Canadian students studying in the U.K. and offering badly-needed financial help to Canadian veterans living here.
I didn't end my Canadiana research with the ladies. A few days later, I found myself heading for a pre-Canada Day boat cruise along the Thames - with a decidedly younger group. These mainly 30-somethings drank beer and chatted as we glided up and down the river Canadian flags waving, listening to nothing but our own home-grown music. (There is something moving about staring at the British Parliament Buildings while listening to the likes of the Bare Naked Ladies!)
We later headed to what was billed as "Hozerpalooza" where half the gang of self-proclaimed "hozers" watched the European soccer final while the other half listened to a rugged, t-shirted singer from BC, followed by a very loud British band which treated us to Neil Young and The Tragically Hip.
The divided interest seemed to sum up the mind-set of Canadians abroad. We are immersed in a new culture, but miss our own.
On Canada Day Eve, Trafalgar Square rocked with music from Atlantic Canada to the West. Of course, there were the usual light references to hockey team loyalties and beer, but the line-up of stars truly worked magic on our Canadian souls. Canada Day, which just five years ago might have attracted a couple of hundred people to the local Maple Leaf pub, again filled the huge square with music and enthusiasm.
As guitarist Jesse Cook, whose performances both days were stupendous, told me, music provides a "touchstone" and a "way to reconnect" for people abroad. It is "a quick trip home" for those who can't just hop on a plane.
Cook credited Canadian Content (Cancon) requirements for making it possible for Canadian musicians to be heard and recognized both at home and away.
That brings me back to politics - as almost everything eventually does. As I was singing "O Canada" in Trafalgar Square with my arms over the shoulders of my friends, I kept thinking of what is going on in Canada right now.
A "blue-chip" committee recently recommended to the Harper government that Canada should be wide open for foreign investment and purchase - including banking and transportation. Everything but culture.
At the same time, Mel Hurtig's latest book "The Truth About Canada" has shown that thousands of once-proud Canadian companies are no longer Canadian-owned. Business decisions are made elsewhere and profits go elsewhere.
Can a strong Canadian culture exist, I wondered, in a country which has sold its economic foundations to others?
This is a crucial question as we plan our future. But, sadly, as Canadians in London swayed to familiar music, watched street hockey, and munched on Bison Burgers, I don't think it crossed most people's minds.
Three Reasons Why London Has Elected a Conservative Mayor
London - I was in New York City in November, 2004, when George W. Bush won his second term as president. For days after the election, liberal, democratically-minded New Yorkers walked around in a state of mild depression. They couldn't believe that they were going to be ruled for four more years by a man who ran counter to almost everything they valued and believed in.
London is like that now. Anyone whose politics leans toward the centre or left is feeling unhappy, even appalled, by the recent victory of Conservative Boris Johnson - or BoJo as I have heard him called - as mayor.
They can't understand how a man who supported the much-opposed invasion and occupation of Iraq, who backed Bush's opposition to the Kyoto Treaty, and who has made derogatory remarks about minorities can now be heading their vibrant, international city. It doesn't seem right.
(Johnson is not the Lord Mayor of London, like the famous Dick Whittington, whom many of us sang about in our childhood. He is head of the London government created by Blair just eight years ago after it had been dismantled by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The Lord Mayor, a ceremonial position, presides over the historic, commercial heart of London, which is confusingly called the City of London or simply the City.)
The negative reaction to Johnson's victory is so powerful that, just after the election results were announced, a friend of mine left me a phone message saying he was about to jump off his balcony. He lives on the second floor, so it wouldn't have been much of a fall, but the sentiment was clear.
There are a variety of reasons why the blond, tousle-haired Johnson has found himself at the top of the London power structure, but I have whittled them down to three.
The first is the might of the media. In London, as in most giant cities, hundreds of thousands of commuters travel by train or the underground back and forth to work. As they do so, they are bombarded by free newspapers - which, during the election campaign, supported Johnson while constantly lambasting his opponent, the colourful incumbent Ken Livingstone.
At the same time, the sole paid-for London paper, the notoriously conservative Evening Standard, launched what can only be described as a hate campaign against Livingstone. With kiosks and billboards seemingly at every corner and sales agents screaming out dramatic headlines, such as "Suicide Bomb Backer Runs Ken Campaign", this offensive was impossible to ignore.
In other words, the pro-Johnson media saturated the city. Readers looking for alternative views had to make an effort to find them in the national dailies - The Guardian, for example.
The second reason for Johnson's astonishing win was Gordon Brown and New Labour on the national level.
Ever since Brown was handed the position of prime minister by the disgraced Tony Blair, he has shown himself to be in over his head. His ministers and assistants are plagued with minor scandals; his backbenchers are unruly. What is worse is that Brown seems aware of his incompetence. His miserable, frustrated face appears frequently in the media. He certainly does not inspire appreciation or confidence.
Not surprisingly, Livingstone and all other Labour mayoral candidates across the U.K. - along with local councils - suffered the consequences. The result was a Labour rout, not only in London, but throughout the country. The largest in a generation. Conservatives, like Johnson, were the main beneficiaries.
Finally, there was the incumbent, Livingstone, himself. After two terms as mayor, he and his party were beginning to appear like some sort of 18th Century royal enclave - arrogant and corrupt.
To make matters worse, Livingstone had introduced new elements to London, such as the unwieldy, double "bendy buses", which Londoners hated and found dangerous. He had also phased out the original double-decker buses with their conductors - which Johnson wisely promised to bring back.
Nor were Livingstone's efforts at greening the city enough to convince those concerned about climate change that he was doing enough. And many questioned the results of his controversial congestion charge, designed to limit traffic in the core.
Nevertheless, for many Londoners, there was something worthy about Livingstone. "Sure Ken's government had its inconsistencies, but that is nothing new in politics," commented one. "Ken was grounded and down to earth. Through his actions, he showed that he was a mayor for the average person."
But for the majority it was off with his head. Strangely, however, in this class-conscious society, the more street-minded Ken has been replaced by Boris, a product of England's most exclusive schools. As one headline put it: "Toffs are back on top." You might call it an upside down revolution.
Ironically, the now-former Mayor Livingstone once promised not to run for a third term. When he reversed his decision, he made use of recent history. He argued that, if Bill Clinton had been allowed a third term, the U.S. wouldn't have had to put up with Dubya Bush and his shenanigans.
I'm beginning to think Livingstone had a point.
Is It Better to Be Old in the UK?
London - Is it better to be old and ill in Canada or the United Kingdom? I've been wondering this for the past couple of months, as I've watched Peter, a long-time Londoner, slowly dying.
I can't answer the question with any certainty because, fortunately, I haven't been as close to someone going through the same horrendous experience in Canada.
However, my gut feeling is that the sick and elderly have a better deal here in the UK.
I have been extremely impressed by the care and facilities at the disposal of Peter, 86, and his family - through the UK government's National Health Service (NHS), the British Red Cross and other charities, as well as the local government.
In fact, as Canadians debate the viability and future of their own public health care system, I believe it would be helpful for them to know how the UK is managing with certain issues and concerns - such as the care of infirm seniors.
There might be gaps in our system which should be filled.
Peter, a retired architect, had a heart attack twenty years ago. He suffered complications about seven years ago and had a pacemaker and defibrillator installed. Late last year, however, he suffered another setback and spent a month in the hospital before coming home with "end stage" heart failure.
He is weak. His pacemaker juts out of his thin, sagging chest, and he is now confined to two rooms in his house. But the good news is that he and his family are not going to go bankrupt over the experience. So far, they have had to pay for very little of his care.
Even Peter's many prescription drugs - from sleeping pills to blood thinners - have been free. (Aren't we still debating this in Canada?)
Peter's new, limited world is cluttered with special furniture - customized bed, reclining chair, stools, walker, commode - that make his life amid his family possible. All of these have been loaned by the Red Cross at no charge, as will various lifting devices be, if and when he needs them.
At the same time, there is a range of smaller items required by someone whose faculties are failing - oxygen supply, elastic bandages. These, too, are supplied gratis by the government, although, like Canada, reading glasses have been de-listed and are no longer free to those who need them.
As well, there is a veritable parade of doctors and nurses who visit Peter in his home. It seems that every day a new, smiling face appears at the door ready to go over once again his history and symptoms, and suggest possible solutions.
These include his general practitioner with two or three assistants, his cardiac nurse, palliative nurse, and a district nurse from the local hospital. Also, a physiotherapist has advised on making life safer for the invalid - and his family.
Even a dentist has made appearances and pulled a couple of Peter's teeth at no cost. A free chiropodist or foot doctor is also available at a nearby clinic.
There are even care-givers from a local charity to assist Peter's wife when the stress and responsibilities of dealing with a sick husband become too much to bear.
The only real expense that I have noticed at this point is for an additional care-giver who tends to Peter's every need - from shaving to massages - during the day, now that his total comfort is beyond the ability and know-how of his family.
These extra carers are available free only to those with a lower income, although Peter's family does have some of the cost covered.
As well, someone is often hired to sleep outside Peter's room at night to keep an eye on him. Those who are hired for this "night shift" earn, in Peter's case at least, about $150 a shift, which the family pays.
Actually, the wonderful attention to the needs of seniors, which I have witnessed, probably doesn't come as a surprise to Londoners. After all, residents over 60 are delighted that they can enjoy the city's transit service at no cost - rushing from buses to the underground (subway) without a care.
This free pass is a privilege indeed because transportation is expensive here. Oh, to be 60!
And, a friend of mine has been celebrating the fact that Prime Minister Gordon Brown's recent budget gave him and other seniors some very welcome tax relief.
Getting back to my original question: Is it better to be old and ill in Canada or the UK? I will let those readers who have experienced this phenomenon either directly or indirectly judge for themselves.
If the answer is what I think it is - the UK, then Canadians should be demanding more from Ottawa, the provinces, and the municipalities. Since it is possible for one western nation to give its senior citizens the care and dignity they deserve in times of need, Canadians should demand nothing less.
James Bond in a Post 9/11 World
London - James Bond or 007, the charming super spy, seems to be everywhere in London these days - bookshops, newspapers, radio - and it really is rather comforting having him around, especially in these insecure post-9/11 days.
Bond's sudden presence is due to the fact that the Imperial War Museum has mounted what it describes as "the first major exhibition devoted to the life and work of the man who created the world's most famous secret agent, James Bond."
The exhibition is aptly titled: For Your Eyes Only, and it is very much a walk through the lives of Bond and his equally charming creator Ian Fleming, who was born 100 years ago.
Everything from the desk and chair Fleming used while writing his many books at his villa, Goldeneye, in Jamaica to a working model of the Aston Martin, loaded with gadgets from the movies Thunderball and Goldfinger, made for Prince Andrew has been assembled.
But it is the colourful life of Fleming that really makes the exhibition worthwhile because he, too, was quite an intelligence man in his own right during World War II. In fact, one of the stated goals of the exhibition is to "examine how much of the Bond novels were imaginary and how much they were based on real people and events."
Fleming was born into a wealthy, noteworthy family, so his knowledge of the class and style were something he gained from the beginning. His politician father died when he was eight and he was raised by a domineering, ambitious mother and older brother. He attended the best, upper-class schools - although left the Royal Military College at Sandhurst early for some inauspicious reason.
In 1931, he became a journalist with Reuters where, he claimed, he learned to "write fast, and above all be accurate." But he soon turned to banking and stock broking in order to enjoy a life full of women, drinking, gambling, and golf.
When the war broke out, however, Fleming was forced to take life seriously. He became the assistant to the head of the Naval Intelligence Division, which was responsible for collecting, analysing, and distributing top secret information for the Royal Navy.
According to the Imperial War Museum, intelligence work "appealed to Fleming's sense of romance and adventure." He was given considerable freedom to devise his own ingenious, often-daring intelligence plans or "plots", as he called them. This cloak and dagger work, where he was required to travel and meet interesting people, obviously appealed to his creative mind.
There was even a Canadian connection, according to Ben Macintyre, author of a book, entitled For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, published this month to accompany the exhibition. (Convenient for those fans who can't get to the Museum.)
Macintrye told me that Fleming spent some time at Camp X in 1942-43, which was a training camp for British spies. But this training (which some argue was minimal) and coming under fire while witnessing the disastrous Dieppe raid in August, 1942, were as close as he got to actually getting out of the office and into the field, as Bond certainly did.
James Bond was "born" in 1952 on a February morning when Fleming finally began the novel, Casino Royale, which he had been planning to write since the end of the war. The name of his hero was simply lifted from the author of a book on the birds of the West Indies, published in 1947.
The post-war British public immediately fell in love with 007 who, unlike themselves, could enjoy the good life - fashionable clothes, fine wines, gourmet food, and guilt-free sex. It also liked to believe that Britain was still a force to be reckoned with, even though its economy was weak and its intelligence service had been diminished.
Then came the Cold War with its intrigue, spies, assassins, scientists, defectors - all grist for the mill in Fleming's eyes. He spent hours researching and learning about the new technologies being used - and his loyal readers were happy to assist him.
Sadly, twelve years and 14 Bond books later, Fleming died of a heart attack on August 12, 1964. He was only 56 years old. Of course, Bond lives on, mainly in the still-popular films. A new novel, Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks, is part of the Fleming centenary celebrations and will be released on Fleming's birthday, May 28.
It would be nice to think that the world of James Bond now exists only in writers' and readers' imaginations, but in today's complicated and unstable world secret agents are probably more plentiful than ever. In fact, the For Your Eyes Only exhibition leaves the viewer yearning for the relative simplicity of the past.
The World Doesn't Need a New Arms Race
London - Considering there are enough nuclear warheads on this planet - about 27,000 - to blow it up several times over, it is difficult to believe that we are facing a new arms race. But such is the case. This is especially evident here in the United Kingdom.
As Kate Hudson, chair of the UK's high-profile Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), which is 50 years old this year, says: "Already there is talk of a new Cold War."
What a great tragedy that, instead of the "peace dividend" we were promised more than 15 years ago after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the last Cold War, things are going from bad to worse.
In Europe generally, one of the main drivers of this latest nuclear race is the US Missile Defence System (MDS) - a network of radar and missile bases working with satellites - with proposed or established sites in the Czech Republic, Poland, and northern England.
Among other concerns, CND literature states that Britain's two Yorkshire MDS bases will "make Britain a front line target in future US wars". At the same time, they will make this part of the world vulnerable to anyone trying to neutralize the system.
Although its name and supporters indicate that the Missile Defence System, designed to stop missiles heading for the US, will be for defensive purposes only, Russia, China and others have their doubts. They are well aware that, once the US feels it is immune from counter-attack, it might be more willing to strike first.
This perilous destabilization is being compounded on a global scale by that fact that, in co-operation with the US, several other countries - from Japan to India to Israel - are developing their own Defence Systems. Canada, too, is playing a role.
Indeed, preparing for the US to have what is called "asymmetric advantage" is very provocative. How could it not be? Especially at a time when US authorities speak of nuclear weapons as being part of that country's "useable" arsenal.
Sadly, as I mentioned, the US isn't alone in its aggressive stance. In the UK, where the multi-pronged, circular peace symbol is also marking its 50th birthday, the Labour government is not only ready to assist the US in its Missile Defence System, but it is also preparing to modernize and expand its own nuclear arsenal.
Last year, the UK Parliament voted to approve the Labour Government's plans to replace its Trident nuclear system, focusing for now on the fleet of submarines and possibly the missiles. It plans to introduce legislation this year to renew or replace some of its warheads.
When I moved to this country, I had no idea that Britain, one of the world's nine nuclear states, was bristling with nuclear weapons. In fact, it is armed with almost 200 nuclear warheads - each with eight times the power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima at the end of World War II.
How strange and frightening it is to live so close to such incredibly destructive power.
Also, Gordon Brown and company are expanding the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) near Aldermaston in order to design, test, and build new and better nuclear weapons - the next generation, if you will.
The AWE developers have actually had the audacity to brag that their expansion plans compare with the Heathrow Airport's "colossal" new Terminal 5. I can only breathe a sigh of relief that Canada doesn't have an AWE similar to the new Pearson Airport Terminal.
Of course, all this renewal, replacing, and expanding comes at a horrendous price - as the Labour Government cuts important public services. It now plans to close many local post offices in spite of public opposition. Does this sound familiar?
Nevertheless, there is always funding for war or war preparedness.
All this atomic sabre-rattling comes in spite of the fact that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is - under the vast majority of circumstances - illegal under international law. As well, it is a disastrous affront to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which states that nations must negotiate nuclear disarmament "in good faith."
Many of us are concerned about climate change - and rightly so. However, frightening though that scenario is, it might not be the worst.
Even one of the British MPs who voted for the Trident submarine replacement acknowledged that human beings already have the ability to destroy the world and it is likely, knowing "natural human behaviour", that "sooner or later" they will "try it out."
He then warns: "I believe that that will happen before climate change has had time to do its work."
If we care anything about future generations, we really do have to stop the madness - on all fronts.
A Canadian's Life among the Jet Set
London - This isn't a rags to riches story, but it comes close. It's about a little known Canadian who spent the last part of his life mingling with the rich and famous, including the Rolling Stones.
Wally High was born in Kingston, Ontario, on the so-called wrong side of town. For four decades, his colourful personality, generosity, and impressive physical presence made him a local celebrity in his own right. He was often referred to as the Unofficial Mayor of the city.
Then, in the early 1990s, the big man with the soft heart met Canadian television and film star Dan Aykroyd - and became the entertainer's bodyguard, assistant, and good friend. This, needless to say, transformed High's small city life forever.
I first met Wally, as he was known to Kingstonians and mega-entertainers alike, in 1989 during a summer break from the CBC's flagship current affairs show, The Journal. After dealing with the great issues of the day - the fall of the Soviet Union, Tiananmen Square, I had retreated to Kingston, also my hometown.
There, I was introduced to this large, tattoo-covered, gruff-voiced man, who road an enormous Harley Davidson motorcycle with fringed saddle bags and had a great sense of fun. Then, he had a job slinging beer at the historic Royal Tavern, once the drinking hole of John A. Macdonald, Kingston's most influential Member of Parliament.
Back in Toronto, I soon began to hear about Wally's new life with Aykroyd. He was part of what the members themselves called "The Meat Pack" - several former Kingston bikers who had also been hired by Aykroyd as his bodyguards.
They would travel in formation with their equally bike-loving boss to concerts, film sets and premiers, as well as the openings of Aykroyd's House of Blues bars from Myrtle Beach to Hollywood's Sunset Strip.
There were tales of Wally, the Meat Pack leader, fishing with the Stones at Aykroyd's cottage north of Kingston - where neighbours were delighted to hear the band giving a private performance.
I remember listening to one slightly-awestruck Meat Pack member, a grandfather with a long, white beard, as he told me about the House of Blues opening in LA. He was sitting, having a drink, with a row of famous movie stars - of the Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood caliber - lined up at the bar nearby when a gorgeous woman walked toward him smiling. It was Faye Dunaway.
This was heady stuff for the Pack, and there were those in Kingston who felt the men were losing touch with their community. As the years went by, however, Wally, who made appearances in six films, took it very much in stride.
These glamorous exploits became more real for me when attending a concert, given by singer Steve Earle in Toronto in the mid-1990s. While introducing a song, the equally hard-riding Earle mentioned something about paranoia. He then noted that, as his friend from Kingston always said: "Just 'cause you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you."
Thrilled, I yelled: "Was that Wally?" But the band's loud music rose just in time to drown out his name. I am sure it was. They were, in fact, friends.
I later came in direct contact with Aykroyd and the Meat Pack when the star was given the key to Ottawa, his birthplace. A crowd waited patiently in the heart of town. Suddenly, we heard a roar of engines and the formation appeared - with then-Mayor Jacqueline Holzman on the back of Aykroyd's bike.
That evening, I and a few other female hangers-on, who generally weren't allowed on the bikes in that era, followed by car, as the Pack thundered through the capital, going from bar to bar.
When we finally reached the lovely Chateau Laurier where Aykroyd was staying, actor Jim Belushi was pulling up in a stretch white limousine. He followed us to his pal Aykroyd's suite for a late-night party. This was what life must have been like for Wally during much of the past several years.
But he never forgot Kingston. When a close musician friend died, Wally began fundraising for the Joe Chithalen Memorial Musical Instrument Lending Library for needy children. He also launched an annual concert, A Joe Show, for the same cause, inviting friends like the Doobie Brothers to play.
Wally was also a singer, musician, and songwriter. With the help of long-time friends, such as Willie P. Bennett and The Tragically Hip, he released his first CD last year titled: I Dreamt I Had a Recurring Dream. His back-up band was called the Non-Prophets. Both reflected Wally's signature brand of humour - which carried him from relatively humble beginnings to his life with the jet set.
Not long ago, the big guy died of cancer. An overflow crowd attended his funeral in one of the largest cathedrals in Kingston. Aykroyd delivered a eulogy to his long-time friend and employee. I can only hope that some of the jet setters who coloured Wally's life were there in spirit.
The Police Shouldn't Treat Angry Youth as Hardcore Criminals
London - Like Canadian cities, London, England, is full of contrasts - but somehow they seem starker. There, you can still sit in a white, lace-draped room and drink cream tea - with scones, jam, and clotted cream - served by a true English Rose. However, on leaving that room, you are met with news of the latest Russian mafia murder - as in David Cronenberg's new film "Eastern Promises."
Similarly, you can attend a lecture in a glorious, former mansion off fashionable Park Lane, followed by glasses of wine on a terrace overlooking Hyde Park, and then learn that the outgoing president of the National Black Police Association, Keith Jarrett, wants an increase in "stop and search" tactics.
Use of this crime-fighting measure has grown in the UK since the terrorist bombings on 7/7. It allows police to search people and vehicles, if they feel they have reasonable grounds for suspicion. Sadly, however, it is aimed mainly at young blacks. In fact, they are six times more likely to be subjected to this tactic. Young Asians are also targets. It's quite controversial.
All of this entered my world the other day as I was on a London bus heading toward Westminster. There were no empty seats, so I stood near the front, clinging to one of the handles provided. A young, black man was sprawled on a seat beside me, legs extended as far as they could go. Arms crossed. He had attitude. I smiled weakly as I swung from side to side while the bus made its way through busy traffic.
And then it happened. I heard a mumble from the young man. I looked at him quizzically. Another mumble, but this time I realized he was offering me his seat. I thanked him and said I was fine, and we began to chat. Or, he began to lecture me on the need for happiness - the most important thing in life in his opinion. I suggested diplomatically that money helped. So it went until he nodded and left the bus.
That day did seem to be my time for such encounters. In the evening, I climbed upstairs to my favourite bus perch at the front to enjoy the view. A woman sat on the aisle seat to the right, so I dropped down in the free seat to the left - beside a beer-smelling, young man. He even held a beer can between his legs. Not pleasant, I thought.
The journey continued in silence, and then the woman got up and left. Now, there were two free seats across the aisle, and I was tempted to move - but didn't want to insult the young man. So, we sat there together for several more blocks. An odd couple - middle-aged blonde and dark, twenty-something man. Finally, as we came to the end of Piccadilly, I pointed to the beautiful structure on the north side of the circle. "Do you know the name of that building?" I asked.
He didn't. But he did know that Hyde Park was just over there, and the Hilton Hotel was that way, and that we were now on Knightsbridge. I'd found a veritable travel guide. As we cruised along Knightsbridge, Sloane, and the King's Road, he opined that the fashionable Chelsea area lacked "character." He also admitted that he rarely visited the city's many cultural spots. I advised him not to take the treasures of London for granted. He agreed.
And that was that. He kindly warned me when my stop was approaching; I leaped up, and said good-bye. Once I was on the sidewalk, he waved as he disappeared into the night. An unexpected, very temporary friend - and probably one of the first to be stopped and searched by the likes of policeman Jarrett.
Official figures in the UK revealed recently that only one out of every 400 "stop and search" interventions leads to an arrest. After my two encounters, I could only conclude that conversation and respect with less intimidation might be a more constructive solution to the problem of angry, young men and women - of whatever background. Not just in London, but Canadian cities as well.
As for the Russian mafia, I've yet to run into any of them and would prefer to keep it that way. There's a big difference between rebellious youth and hardcore criminals.
Could Our Communities Cut Energy Use U.K. Style?
London - The crowded, little country known as the U.K. is a treasure trove of exciting, green initiatives. I assume that's because, as a Canadian friend suggested, people here don't have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to environmental degradation. It stares them in the face; they can't escape to the great outdoors the way Canadians can - and pretend all is well.
The growing, non-profit movement known as Transition Towns (TT) is one example. It is a practical and determined response to the double calamity of climate change and peak oil - when we reach the peak of our oil supply in approximately 20 years, according to some, and begin the downhill slide.
TT fosters communities, known as Transition Initiatives, which want to take the necessary steps to mitigate the former and prepare for the latter. This means making bold changes in areas such as food supply, water and waste management, economics, energy, and transportation.
"The idea of Transition Towns has caught people's imagination," Rob Hopkins, the TT founder has been quoted as saying. "All we have been able to do before is protest, lobby or campaign for change. Now we want to give people the tools to be self-sufficient and withstand the kind of shock that a reduction in oil would bring. We don't have all the answers, but the amount of momentum and energy created by the project is amazing."
A Transition Initiative, says the TT website rather grandiosely, is based on a community "unleashing its own latent collective genius" to launch itself on an "energy descent pathway" - with the site and TT central office staff available to "inspire, inform, support and train" during this daring process.
In other words, villages, towns, and even, theoretically, cities are given lots of help to "make the transition a little less overwhelming."
Yes, Transition Towns is nothing if not realistic. "It's early days, so we have a long way to go." But, they are giving this "massive task ... everything we've got." A recent, private funding boost has put them on "very firm footing" - which is good news for those who want to see quality change on a local level as quickly as possible.
I like their positive attitude. A community wanting to follow the TT model to a lower energy future is reminded that it once used "immense amounts of creativity, ingenuity and adaptability" while on the energy upslope - and there is no reason why those same resources can't be put to use on the down slope. Of course, this time the profit motive isn't playing quite the same role.
And TT supporters are told that, with the price of oil rising to ridiculous heights, it might not be long before local governments turn away from their own pale green Community Development Plans, and pick up the TT Energy Descent Action Plan. Of course, each Action Plan is devised with local needs and interests in mind.
Becoming a Transition Initiative - which about 20 UK towns, as well as one each in Scotland, Ireland, and Australia have done - is not for the faint of heart. Eager applicants must meet tough standards before being accepted.
This more rigorous approach has been adopted in part because at least one TT community stalled when it "didn't have the right mindset or a suitable group of people, and didn't really understand what they were letting themselves in for."
What are the criteria for joining this exclusive green club? A group of four or five people must be willing to take leadership roles with at least two of them undergoing Transition Training - now in the UK, but soon to be exported - by experienced staff.
Also, there must be a potentially strong connection to the local government, along with commitments to ask for help when needed, make presentations to other communities, keep the central web site and blog updated, and much more. It's a thorough, apparently time-tested agenda.
In return, TT provides a Transition Initiatives primer with sections ranging from team building to working with business to events planning. It even recommends courses to help "reskill" locals, so they can follow a simpler, lower-energy way of life - non-throwaway - in areas such as appliance repairing, cycle maintenance, natural building, food growing, bread-baking and even sock-darning.
To support this, Transition Initiatives are aided in creating a more sustainable economy. The town of Totnes, for example, was helped to become "The Nut Capital of Britain," planting edible nut trees wherever possible. Obviously, a community's potential strengths are carefully considered before such a move is made.
Nuts aside, I wonder if there are communities across Canada which have the potential to become Transition Initiatives with TT assistance? At a time when action is desperately needed to cut energy use, why not take advantage of an idea that seems to be working?
After all, according to Hopkins: "A future without oil could be better than the present if we use our imagination and think creatively
Clone Town United Kingdom ... and Canada
London - The future of small, locally-owned retail outlets in Canada's downtown areas has been shaky for several years now. Since the first "assault" by mainly-U.S. chain stores, along with the creation of suburban big box stores and supercentres, bankruptcies have been all too common. Some like what one observer has referred to as the "urban shopping revolution." Others don't.
But the problem of these giant "retailers without mercy" certainly isn't an exclusively Canadian one. In fact, some of the most exclusive and well-known shopping areas in the world are feeling threatened. The alarm bells rang a while ago in London when those colourful streets we've read about or visited - Portobello Road, Notting Hill Gate, Earl's Court Road - were officially described as being "in transition from a distinctly local to a more uniform character." Sound familiar?
So, in spite of its ideological bent toward the free market and laissez-faire capitalism, the Conservative council of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where many of the popular streets are located, set up an independent and heavy-hitting Commission on Retail Conservation. Sir Terence Conran of restaurant and retail fame came on board. The goal was to "preserve and enhance the character and vitality" of high (main) streets and neighbourhood shopping areas. Being dominated by Starbucks, Tesco supermarkets, and the Gap just wasn't working.
The commission's report - aptly titled: A Balance of Trade - contains recommendations galore of which a majority were accepted by the council's cabinet just days ago. They include: the creation of two classes of retail, based on size, to be treated accordingly; forcing developers to prove that a need is actually being met by their projects; issuing what are called development "stop notices" if necessary, and restricting competition-destroying "sales" to specified dates. No more undercutting local businesses with surprise price slashing.
The report also warns of "planning creep" or "planning by stealth" based, obviously, on too many bad experiences. By contrast, there are proposals for "Community Strategy," "Local partnerships," "Consultation between developers, retailers and residents," as well as a "Retail neighbourhood watch." A full-time "Champion" to network with groups concerned about local sustainability is, well, championed.
The perennial problem of parking is raised, even the possibility of 30-minute free zones to compensate for the spacious lots of larger stores. Anyone who has nipped into a store for a few minutes and found a parking ticket waiting on the windshield would appreciate this. And there are other revitalization ideas. Farmers' markets are to be encouraged. Retail directories published. A borough retail conference organized. Shopfront designs improved with shopfront grants. Residents and visitors urged to "Shop local."
Not surprisingly, landlords, who are often on the front lines of the transition from small to large, have not been overlooked. They are being asked to offer fixed-period leases and to increase rents based on sales turnover. The sad reality is that it is difficult for a landowner to resist the lure of big bucks when a corporation comes calling. A Toronto friend, who owns a popular cafe on Bloor Street, learned that lesson when wealthy Starbucks wanted his corner location. It was only the determined lobbying of his loyal clientele that prevented his landlord from accepting the better offer.
When I read about the "Chelsea Charter," as it was labelled by one tabloid, I decided to talk to some shop employees on the fashionable King's Road, which runs through the borough. I certainly wasn't prepared for the barrage of anger and resentment. "It's much too little too late," said one salesclerk. "They're trying to destroy anything that is slightly quaint and British." Then she mumbled something about America and its influence.
This attitude and the council's effort to stem the tide doesn't come as a surprise in the United Kingdom. Two years ago, the new economics foundation (nef), a progressive "think and do" tank, produced a survey, dividing towns into three categories: clone towns, where high street shops had been "replaced by a monochrome strip of global and national chains," home towns, which had maintained their "individual character," and border towns - "on the cusp." At that time, the nef identified 42 per cent as clone towns.
Just before flying to London a few weeks ago, I found myself on King Street in downtown Toronto. I wanted to buy a novel treat to take to my sister and began looking for an interesting bakery or grocery store. No luck. I soon realized I was trapped in a world of coffee shops and other chains with nothing out-of-the-ordinary to offer. I wonder how many Canadian urban centres would qualify as clone towns?
We Must Share Information in the Age of Global Warming
London - It didn't come as a surprise that the recent initiative to establish an international environmental body to slow down global warming was initiated by Europe and rejected by the United States.
When it comes to the climate crisis, North America - yes, Canada, too - is dragging its feet. We are being overshadowed by "Old Europe" - both politically and in terms of public awareness.
Even now, when the "deniers" have lost the so-called debate over climate change and its causes, many citizens on the "American" side of the Atlantic still don't get it.
I first realized how far behind we were in our attitudes and awareness during a visit to London two years ago. The sense of urgency about the issue of global warming caught me by surprise.
There were conferences, lectures, pamphlets, and incisive articles by the likes of Guardian journalist George Monbiot. Even the New Labour government of Tony Blair - so badly compromised by its participation in Iraq - was, at least, talking the talk.
But does the concern in the UK - and much of Europe - over global warming translate into real action?
The answer to this question is yes. Thank goodness.
Europe is bubbling with ideas, inventions, and projects that make this crucial time in human history less frightening (because of the disasters that await us if we don't act), and more exciting and stimulating.
Let's look at a few examples, both public and private, in the U.K.
The high-profile Ken Livingstone, mayor of the City of London, has taken the climate change ball and is running with it. He puts many other civic leaders to shame.
"There is no bigger a task for humanity than to avert catastrophic climate change," he points out.
Livingstone's Green Plan for the City foresees one zero carbon development in each borough by 2010. He would also like to see "every south-facing roof in London covered with solar voltaics and solar thermal panels."
The London Climate Change Agency and the London Development Agency hope to be powered solely by a photovoltaic and wind turbine combination as soon as possible.
Of course, there are complaints about the infamous "congestion charge" which makes driving into central London an expensive proposition, but that too is positive.
Smaller steps are also being taken in London, such as the London Oasis, which looks like an ultra-modern flower and includes a hydrogen fuel cell, photovoltaic "petals," and a wind turbine. This not only demonstrates cutting edge renewable technology, but also provides city dwellers with a quiet, relatively pollution-free 21st Century escape.
In East London, The Premises Studios, known to musicians like Taj Mahal and Lily Allen, have created the first solar-powered recording studio in Europe, so that artists, too, can minimize their "carbon footprint."
I have also read that Currys, an electrical retailer, is selling solar panels and photovoltaic equipment in some of its major stores, along with the necessary advice to homeowners on how to install these "new-fangled" things (although a look at the company web site showed no mention of this).
In the housing area, there are wonderful advances, such as an eco-friendly community designed to reduce carbon emissions by 75 per cent. Its advertising promotion is a natural: "Stylish country living, in a forward-thinking and healthy home, that won't cost the earth."
There is also the new Genesis Centre for Sustainable Construction, built with sustainable materials, ranging from straw and clay to denim blue jeans and llama hair. It features a water pavilion with the latest in water conservation systems - and very modern "loos."
In at least one city in the UK, Leicester, the owners of homes built in the bad old days before global warming awareness can call The Green Doctor for advice on making their homes more sustainable. The Doctor's house calls have helped cut 408 tonnes of carbon emissions over the past three years.
Across the UK, home buyers and sellers will soon have access to the government-required Energy Rating Certificate, prepared by qualified inspectors to indicate the energy efficiency of a home, along with the costs of making needed improvements.
Since private homes use about one-third of the energy consumed in the UK, this is a big step forward - which costs relatively little.
Not to be outdone by advances on land, the Regional Development Agency in the East of England wants to build what it calls a Wave Hub, the UK's first offshore facility for testing and demonstrating wave power generators. If a new invention needs proving, this would be the place to do it.
I have just touched the surface of the wealth of activity going on in the UK - to say nothing of the Continent - to make the world a better and inevitably safer place.
Of course, Canada, too, is making progress in this crucial area, but it is good for morale to know exactly what is going on both within and beyond our borders.
This is an international challenge. We are all in it together.
Civilians Take on New Roles in Modern Wars
London - The news, which we read, watch or listen to every day, makes more sense - if that is the right word - when we appreciate how much war has changed over the years.
Where once 80 per cent of war casualties were soldiers and 20 per cent civilians, the reverse is now true.
It's not surprising, therefore, that civilians have begun to take matters into their own hands with actions that range across a broad spectrum - from working as non-violent peacemakers to the other extreme of becoming terrorists.
Let's look at the first group - those who risk their lives to prevent or bring about an end to violence in their communities.
According to Dr. Scilla Elworthy, founder of the U.K.-based group, Peace Direct, which offers support to many of these people: "In every conflict that's raging at the moment, there's not just one, but many such initiatives ... We just don't hear about them."
One such example is the work of Dekha Ibrahim Abdi from the Wajir District in Northern Kenya, a region where nomads roam the dry grasslands tending their herds.
In the early 1990s, fighting spread from neighbouring Somalia to Wajir at a time when the people there were already desperately competing for dwindling supplies of land and water. Violent clashes broke out among the clans.
However, Abdi and other women from these various clans decided they weren't going to accept living under such conditions.
So, together, they worked to establish a peaceful base - the market place - where everyone would be safe. They monitored it regularly, intervening quickly to diffuse potential causes of conflict.
With that success behind them, they then attracted clan elders and others to the process, and eventually brought the tension and violence throughout their region to an end.
Dr. Elworthy, a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, has many such stories of individual or group triumphs over what seems an inevitable road to violence. She says the stories she likes the most occur when someone just gets off his or her bottom and does something!
In El Salvador, for example, a businessman, in co-operation with the Bishop of San Salvador, offered a $100 food voucher to anyone handing in a gun.
More than 100,000 weapons were collected.
As well, there are the Peaceful Women of Cali, the third largest city in Colombia. When talks among guerillas, paramilitaries and government troops broke down in 2002, these women decided they wanted more of a say in any further negotiations.
They weren't going to leave their futures to the so-called experts.
Since that time, the Women have set up a Women's Peace School to teach others about non-violent resistance, how to protect themselves and those around them from violence, and how to influence human rights policy.
Tragically, such work is desperately needed in too many places.
Dr. Elworthy, who has been involved in the area of non-violence for many years, states that she doesn't know when things have looked so bleak on the international front.
"The people in charge of the U.S. and the U.K. are out of touch with reality and are unbelievably dangerous because they are in charge of such huge destructive power," she says.
What keeps her going is that she is in daily contact with "so many people with such powerful conviction" - and they are turning that conviction into action to prevent even more violence and war.
But we can't forget the other end of the spectrum - those citizens who turn to violence in reaction to the issues that affect them and their communities.
And, given Canada's new awareness of the possible existence of so-called "homegrown terrorists," an understanding of the motivation behind such people has become more relevant than ever before.
According to Dr. Elworthy, who has co-written a book entitled Making Terrorism History, we have to realize that the move to violence often begins with the experience of "an injury, a humiliation or more seriously a crime like rape or murder."
Unfortunately, many people in the Middle East, for example, have had such experiences, often at the hands of the U.S. and its allies - their towns have been destroyed, their family members murdered, or they themselves have been stripped and subjected to humiliating body checks.
The human reaction to these provocations, says Dr. Elworthy, is "first of all feelings of grief combined with shock and that eventually becomes anger, rage, and if nothing is done, another crime will be committed."
What's new in Making Terrorism History, she notes, is "recognizing that humiliation and degradation are powerful drivers of political violence."
That's often where the peacemakers at the other end of the citizen involvement spectrum come in - especially when governments fail to act compassionately as is often the case.
"... if you want to stop that cycle of violence you need to intervene at the point before anger hardens to bitterness ...," Dr. Elworthy warns.
Here in Canada, we have to look closely at why young, seemingly ordinary men might have turned to violence. If they are found guilty, we must try to understand what brought them to this point. To do otherwise, is to ignore the realities of today's world - our world.
Making Terrorism History Offers Timely Alternatives to Present Chaos
London - In these vindictive, belligerent times, especially now that Canada has discovered its own alleged terrorists, it comes as a relief when cooler heads prevail - or, at least, get published.
That is how I felt when I discovered that Dr. Scilla Elworthy - founder of the well-respected Oxford Research Group (ORG), which promotes non-violence - had co-authored a book in the United Kingdom seductively titled, Making Terrorism History.
I first heard Dr. Elworthy speak last month at a conference in London called "Be The Change" - based on Mahatma Gandhi's wise advice: "Be the change that you want to see in the world."
Although still a consultant with the ORG, she now heads Peace Direct, which offers hands-on support for grassroots peace-building in many areas of conflict.
In other words, this three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize knows war - and terrorism.
Dr. Elworthy talked about the intersections of psychology with politics - and the personal with war.
In the case of Iraq, she said, there were clearly other options, dealing with the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs of that country's people, which could have been followed without the present negative results.
The audience gave her a standing ovation.
I was not surprised, therefore, when I picked up Making Terrorism History and read the following words: "Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ... help to demonstrate not just how violent conflict is prolonged through cycles of trauma and retaliation, but also how armed intervention designed to end conflict can often have the effect of stimulating more violence."
Pointing out that we "now need strategies to combat the use of terror," Dr. Elworthy and co-writer Gabrielle Rifkind state that "too often this terror is exacerbated - indeed sometimes even triggered - by the actions of governments ..."
The book's main example of this is the brutal behaviour of the U.S. in relatively peaceful Falluja, Iraq - turning that community into a "ghost city" by dropping 500-pound bombs, killing more than 700 citizens, and inspiring more young Muslims to become terrorists.
"What is required is precisely the opposite, namely respect," the authors argue. "The Iraqi people need to have a personal investment in their communities and a sense of hope for the future, yet the trauma they have experienced stands in the way of that."
Non-violence, on the other hand, stems from the desire of citizens, governments, and even soldiers to make a "creative, constructive long-term impact" on whatever situation they find themselves in.
Dr. Elworthy and Rifkind list alternatives to the present cycle of violence, beginning with the advice to avoid, wherever possible, using more violence, respecting the customs, cultures and religions of those caught up in a conflict in order to lessen their humiliation and degradation, improving living conditions, and including all parties in the peace process.
They also advocate the training of trauma counsellors, negotiators and mediators, ensuring that a significant number of these are women, as well as the establishment of listening centres so people can express their needs, concerns, fears and anger.
"When large numbers of people have endured horror, it becomes important to create space in which they can humanise their relationships and move beyond demonising the other."
Above all, the authors conclude, governments must be persuaded that "the human factor - human security, rather than the use of force - offers the best chance of making terrorism history."
Sadly, as I began to write this article, these words seemed more relevant than ever with a news report concerning the cover-up of an incident last November when two dozen unarmed Iraqi citizens in the western town of Haditha were killed by U.S. Marines after one Marine was killed by a bomb.
Reacting to this, Democratic Congressman John Murtha, a former Marine and critic of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq, repeated his view that the war there can't be won militarily.
Instead, he said, political solutions are needed, and these are damaged by such incidents.
"This is the kind of war you have to win the hearts and minds of the people," Murtha said. "And we're set back every time something like this happens ..."
(In response to the hideous Haditha slayings - and other similar incidents, U.S. commanders launched a 30-day training session for their troops highlighting the "importance of adhering to legal, moral and ethical standards on the battlefields.")
It sounds to me like Congressman Murtha, unlike most of his colleagues, might be ready to read Making Terrorism History. However, I'm not sure whether he is ready to accept the fact, noted by Dr. Elworthy and Rifkind, that "externally imposed 'top-down' solutions are unlikely to survive without grassroots involvement..."
In fact, at this time, there appears to be a role to play for a certain middle-power with a history of peacemaking and peacekeeping to lead the world away from the present vicious spiral of violence toward what Dr. Elworthy and others envisage.
Or has Canada thrown away its precious reputation - thus making itself not only less credible, but vulnerable to terrorism as well - in its bid to appease our angry neighbour to the south?
Our leaders should be careful not to provide fodder for a new book, Making Terrorism Worse.
Paul McCartney's Wife Should Avoid Gold-Digging
London - Reading about the break-up of my favourite Beatle, Paul McCartney, and his wife, Heather Mills, I have one thing to say: "Heather, please do the honourable thing and keep your hands off Paul's money.
"You have no right to it."
In my opinion, Mills should walk away with only what is truly hers - what she brought into the marriage a mere four years ago, what she bought or was given during the marriage, and what she has contributed financially to the relationship.
If she does this, she will be doing womankind a favour.
Goodness knows, after certain high-profile alimony and palimony cases, which our greed-struck world has witnessed in recent years - the Aga Khan is reportedly paying out more than $300 million to his ex, Lady Heather's independent stance would come as a relief.
As a female, I would feel much less guilt over the sins of my gold-digging sisters, if Mills showed some self-respect and took a pass on the money grab.
After all, do some women think they should be paid for marrying? If so, Karl Marx was right when he claimed more than a century ago that the institution of marriage is nothing more than legalized prostitution.
We are not being paid by the hour for a particular service rendered, but with post-marital cash settlements we are being paid nevertheless.
I would also argue that, by giving a woman bundles of money after a divorce, society is introducing a kind of reverse dowry.
Instead of the bride's family handing over a treasure chest before a marriage, the poor husband - in most cases - must fork over hundreds of thousands or even millions afterward.
Either way, it does make women look - and often act - like commodities with a price on our heads, bodies and souls.
Indeed, I know of too many examples of ex-wives, who claim to be liberated, going after that post-marriage cash-for-life.
A male friend of mine recently received a phone call from his former wife, who left him about 25 years ago, claiming that he is still "responsible" for her. I don't think so!
Another friend, who did nothing but improve his wife's position both in society and professionally during their three-decade marriage, is now condemned to pay her a hefty sum every month for the rest of her life.
I have advised him take the divorce settlement back to court - and get a better lawyer.
Of course, children in a marriage change the rules of disengagement in that young ones do deserve financial support until they are self-sufficient.
But that's a separate issue. I'm talking about the self-serving demands of adults - usually grown women.
Unfortunately for Sir Paul - who said he and Heather were too much in love in 2002 to sign a pre-nuptial agreement, things look rather bleak on that side of the ocean. Two recent cases in which ex-wives were given extremely healthy settlements don't bode well.
(One rumour has McCartney offering Mills a quickie $50 million settlement if she will allow their two-year-old daughter Beatrice to live with him, although they would have joint custody.
On the other hand, the musician has recently hired one of the toughest divorce lawyers in the country, so seems ready for a fight.)
Some media have predicted that Heather might win the largest non-Royal windfall in U.K. history. After all, dear Paul, that baby-faced Beatle who had many teenage girls weeping years ago, including me, is worth more than $1.5 billion.
Mills, for her part, has claimed that being called a "gold-digger" is worse than losing a part of her leg when she was run down by a policeman on a motorcycle.
At the same time, one report said that the former model, who could take up to one-quarter of Paul's holdings - which works out to $1.89 million per week of marriage - says she would direct any money she gains toward her favourite Adopt-A- Landmine charity.
Of course, no one would deny the fact that landmines need to be cleaned up. They have taken their toll in too many countries around the world.
However, Mills should be finding her own legitimate sources of funding - not prying unjustified sums from her husband.
Sadly, Britons are wondering if the Mills-McCartney parting will result in "one of the biggest if not the biggest" court cases in history.
If so, I will be cheering for Sir Paul or Macca as he is also known.
It's his fortune, not hers.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Gaian Revolution at the LSE
London, England - Between sips of organic juice and bites of vegetarian sandwiches, they were planning a revolution at the London School of Economics recently. A very peaceful, reasonable revolution, but major change nevertheless.
For one thing, our present model of representative democracy - in which citizens hold their noses and chose someone to make decisions on their behalf for four or five years (often not really knowing what that someone believes in) - was called into question.
"In the midst of the prosperity and affluence of Western 'democracies' there is a pervasive sadness and sense of impotence about the future of our societies, of humanity and of the natural world."
So, too, was our "unsustainable," debt-based, growth-oriented economic system, where money is borrowed at interest and constant growth is required to generate the added funds to pay off that interest.
"It is not widely known that almost all the money we use comes into existence, not by governments creating it, but as a result of a bank agreeing to make a loan to a customer at interest."
The reason for this tasty and extremely enlightening lunch was the publication of a new book, part of a series known as the Schumacher Briefings, entitled: "Gaian Democracies: Redefining Globalisation and People-Power" by Roy Madron and John Jopling. Together, these two men have come up with an analysis of what is happening - and what could happen - to the world which is so clear-headed it comes as a relief in spite of its dire predictions.
Madron and Jopling don't simply talk about problems, whether political, economic, environmental, or social, they talk about systems - how they act and inter-act.
"Every human system has a purpose that governs the way it works, and this is true of today's form of globalisation." Nature, too, has its various systems and the title of the book is taken from scientist and author James Lovelock's theory, first advanced in 1972, that the planet (which he called "Gaia" after the Greek goddess of Earth) is made up of physical, chemical, and biological systems which work as one constantly evolving and self-regulating ecosystem.
"We have called the form of government we are proposing Gaian Democracy, because our proposal is shaped by principles similar to those of the Gaian system itself."
The authors argue that because the debt-money system forces our economies to expand in order to avoid financial collapse, politicians are also forced to give priority to policies that serve that need.
However, they warn, the two systems of globalization and Gaia are clashing regularly, dangerously - and, because nature isn't about to bend, it is time for humanity to do so. What do Madron and Jopling advise? We must first adopt a new system of governing ourselves: an
interlinking network of participatory, rather than representative, governments led by what they refer to as "liberating" leaders who listen to the people - instead of the rather inflexible, inaccessible types we have been seeing a lot of lately.
"The very different purposes and principles of Gaian democracies will be developed through the consistent use of people-power. They will reflect the whole range of social, ecological and economic realities with which people have to contend."
As well, quantitative change must make way for qualitative change with the end of the debt-money system. "Ending the creation of debt-money will not necessarily lead to a no-growth economy. The difference will be that, instead of economic growth being shaped by the banks, new forms of economic activity will emerge that reflect their societies' shared purposes and principles."
If all this sounds a little pie in the sky, it isn't, according to Madron and Jopling. They offer a list of participatory success stories, placing special emphasis on the approximately 100 towns and cities in Brazil where citizens play a very active role in creating annual municipal budgets.
In the city of Porto Alegre, for instance, about 40,000 out of the population of 1.3 million take part in hundreds of meetings with politicians and city officials to decide how the city will spend its disposable income.
According to Madron, this positive experience over the past 15 years at the local level in which the Brazilian Workers Party transformed corrupt, inefficient cities and towns into honest and effective ones led to the election of former shoe shine boy Lula da Silva as president.
"I am sure that within twenty years," he told the audience, "what has been done in Brazil could be done anywhere in the world."
Indeed, as we nibbled on the last of our sandwiches, most of felt we had a clearer understanding of the world around us - from London to Rio. We were ready to move from what the authors referred to as defence strategies in the globalised world to change strategies. We were ready to save Gaia - and ourselves.