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Bookends: One Woman’s Personal Struggle to save the Arctic’s Snow and Ice December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in autobiography, Bookends, current events, News, personal, politics, Science, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: One Woman’s Personal Struggle to save the Arctic’s Snow and Ice

By Dan Davidson

April 4, 2018

-1025 words –

 

The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet

By Sheila Watt-CloutierThe Right to Be Cold

Penguin Canada

368 pages

$22.00

eBook edition, KOBO or Kindle: $11.99

 

Sheila Watt-Cloutier was a keynote speaker at last fall’s Tourism Association of Yukon conference, held in Dawson City. Much of her presentation was drawn from this book, with its provocative and surprising title.  This book was one of the finalists in the 2016 Canada Reads contest, as well as being nominated for a number of non-fiction awards.

A few passages from its introduction will serve to give you the flavour of her argument.

“For the first ten years of my life, I travelled only by dog team. As the youngest child of four on our family hunting and ice fishing trips, I would be snuggled into warm blankets and fur in a box tied safely on top of the qamutiik, the dogsled.

“The Arctic may seem cold and dark to those who don’t know it well, but for us a day of hunting or fishing brought the most succulent, nutritious food. Then there would be the intense joy as we gathered together as family and friends, sharing and partaking of the same animal in a communal meal. To live in a boundless landscape and a close-knit culture in which everything matters and everything is connected is a kind of magic. Like generations of Inuit, I bonded with the ice and snow.”

That bond is being broken as the reliability and predictability of the climate changes. A culture dependent on its relationship to the land, the snow and the ice, is becoming collateral damage to the global warming which is having she writes, its most dramatic impact on the region which is the “cooling system for the planet.”

“The Arctic ice and snow, the frozen terrain that Inuit life has depended on for millennia, is now diminishing in front of our eyes.”

This book is a blend of personal memoir and a history of her struggle, n her various roles, to come to terms with those changes and get others to take responsibility to reduce the toxins that natural forces tend to filter into the North.

This has happened to such as extent that at one time mother’s milk was found to be contaminated with industrial toxins due them being ingested as a component in the country foods that are a natural part of the Inuit diet.

Traditional education on the land was about more than just teaching children how to survive, the hunt, to master the technical skills, she writes. These lessons were also exercises in character building.

“It’s a very wholistic approach. The technical skills and the character building are not separate at all. Technical skills are about how the world works; character skills are about how you work. This wholistic approach to learning is the hallmark of Inuit culture, and this wisdom, which is sourced from the ice and the cold and the snow, is equally now at stake.

“It is being lost, just as the ice itself is being lost.”

Paradoxically, Watt-Cloutier’s time in a couple of residential school settings during her teenage years is something she remembers as being quite positive for herself and her classmates, even though it did divorce them from their culture. She seems to feel that more damage was done when she was finishing her high school and living with a well-meaning, but non-native, family in Nova Scotia.

She would spend many years trying to reclaim her fluency in her native tongue. She would have liked to reclaim as much as possible of her native culture but she found that, during her absences for school, the life she remembered so fondly had decayed and diminished. Some of this was due to the changing climate limiting traditional choices; some was due to nomadic people being herded into settlements by government policies and social assistance financing; some of it was due to the curse of alcohol, a problem she herself experienced at one point.

Watt-Cloutier has travelled extensively during her working life, beginning with jobs in the health care and education fields before moving into the political arena. She has been a political representative for Inuit at the regional, national and international levels, most recently as International Chair for the Inuit Circumpolar Council, which represents the interests of Inuit people in Canada, Alaska, Russia and Greenland.

She became a sort of human rights activist for the North. In 2007, Watt-Cloutier was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy work in showing the impact global climate change has on human rights, especially in the Arctic, where it is felt more immediately and more dramatically than anywhere else in the world.She did not win the prize, but the nomination highlighted her work.

She does not see herself as an environmentalist, though they have some causes in common. Protests over seal hunting have done serious damage to the Inuit economy, led by people who don’t understand that seals are both food and raw materials for the Inuit.

“We Inuit simply cannot have personal freedom, we cannot have choice, if we don’t have the right to be cold, if our homeland and culture are destroyed by climate change.”

In addition to her Nobel nomination, Watt-Cloutier has been awarded the Aboriginal Achievement Award, the UN Champion of the Earth Award, and the prestigious Norwegian Sophie Prize. She is also an officer of the Order of Canada. From 1995 to 2002, she served as the elected Canadian president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). In 2002, she was elected international chair of the council. Under her leadership, the world’s first international legal action on climate change was launched with a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

This is an engaging book, most interesting in the pages where it is most personal. The drier aspects of bureaucratic struggle do drag on a bit, but it is a worthwhile read for all that, and those details do matter.

 

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Bookends: Why There’s a Weird Person in the White House February 9, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, current events, Klondike Sun, Matt Taibbi, politics, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Why There’s a Weird Person in the White HouseInsane clown president

By Dan Davidson

April 19, 2017

– 850 words –

 

Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus

By Matt Taibbi (Author),

Victor Juhasz (Illustrator)

Spiegel & Grau

352 pages

$22.98

Kindle Edition

$11.99

 

With a title like the one Matt Taibbi chose for this collection of US election year essays, you really can’t expect that he will have anything nice to say about the man currently (except on golfing weekends) occupying the White House.

Mind you, Rolling Stone’s style of election coverage, beginning with Hunter S. Thompson’s “fear and loathing” series, and continuing ever since, have always been irreverent, scatological and, well, politically incorrect.

In this book we have 25 of the articles that were written for the magazine, plus a couple of bookends – one to admit that we are going to see a quite a few wrong predictions and early gaffes, and another to sum up what he thinks are the lessons to take away from the 2016 Circus, or the train wreck, as he often puts it.

The essay titles tell you a lot, even without reading the book: Inside the COP Clown Car; The Official GOP Debate Drinking Game Rules (parts 2 & 5); America is too Dumb for TV News; Casting “Clown Car, the Movie”; Revenge of the Simple: How George W. Bush Gave Rise to Donald Trump; and so on.

As he writes in his opening essay, “It’s an Alice in Wonderland story, in which a billionaire hedonist jumps down the rabbit hole of American politics and discovers a surreal world where each successive barrier to power collapses before him like magic.”

Those are among the nicest things he says about the man some cartoonists have lately been calling “the golfer in chief”.

The other COP candidates are the “clown car to which he refers so often. There was not one of them without major flaws and character defects. Some he classifies as mentally unready for anything for complicated than a greeter’s job at Wal-Mart.

He’s not kind to Hilary Clinton or the Democratic Party, either. Given the nature of the opponent set before them, this was their election to lose, and they did so by not paying attention to how Bernie Sanders inspired people, and by not working as hard as Barack Obama did to win his two terms.

“Why Young People are Right About Hilary Clinton” is a chapter that, while it clearly indicates he believes that she would have been a better, saner, safer choice, outlines all the reasons why she was rejected by so many people in so many key states. While she may have won the popular vote, she knew as well as anyone in the game that she had to win the Electoral College votes for that to matter. She had lost the common touch that she and Bill had used to gain his two terms in office, and while she stated more than once that she knew that, she didn’t do anything about it.

Taibbi is kind to Bernie Sanders and merciless on the Democratic Party that refused to take him seriously or to learn from what he almost managed to accomplish with nothing to compare to the massive financial backing that Hilary got.

Taibbi thought at first that Trump was a complete joke but, long before others, he upgraded him from joke to disaster in the making, and eventually stopped being surprised as he took down all the other clowns. “The Unconquerable Trump” analyses that triumph.

He saves some of his bitterest bile for the media, that has turned American news outlets into infotainment centers, and quotes that memorable news exec who opined that Trump was bad for the country but great for ratings and therefor for profits.

Reality TV gets a good whack along the way, as well, but while it is blamed for helping to dumb down the public’s ability to think critically, the public itself is raked over the coals for allowing it to do so. This section should have contained a passing reference to Neil Postman’s 1985 classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Perhaps he did that in his 2010 book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America. I think I must read this one, too.

He reserves some of his nicest words for the chapter called “Barack Obama’s Last Stand”, in which he describes the brief analysis of the outcome that the soon to be ex-President offered the public. Obama is not judged to be sinless. Promises were broken. Drones killed people. Red Lines were drawn but ignored. Still, Taibbi sums op the changing of the guard this way:

“Donald Trump may have won the White House, but he will never be a man like his predecessor, whose personal example will now only shine more brightly with the passage of time. At a time when a lot of Americans feel like they have little to be proud of, we should think about our outgoing president, whose humanity and greatness are probably only just now coming into true focus.”

 

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