16 July 2007

Death on the track

In my last post, I said I was one Calgarian who tried to ignore the Stampede and the accompanying yee-hawing. It isn't easy as the exhibition and rodeo grounds are practically across the street from me. Not is it easy when animals continue to be sacrificed for fun and profit.

On Saturday night the chuckwagon races claimed the lives of three more horses, making it 11 in the last six years, almost two a year.

The man who caused the crash that resulted in the deaths, Kelly Sutherland, a veteran racer described as an "icon" in the Calgary Herald, was suspended for one day.
Stampede senior manager Lindsey Galloway believes the suspension "sends a strong signal to everybody involved that [the Stampede] will not tolerate anything that compromises the safety of animals and competitors." The man whose horses died as a result of Sutherland's misconduct, Gary Gorst, doesn't agree. He says it feels like a slap in the face to him and insists Sutherland should be banned from racing for life. Animal rights activists suggest it's chuckwagon racing that should be banned.

But that isn't going to happen. Stampede management says ending the races isn't even up for discussion. And the attitude of the racers seems to be shit happens, life goes on. Racer Wayne Knight says, "We feed those horses and look after them just like kids." We can only hope Mr. Knight and his fellow racers wouldn't enter their kids in an event that killed two children a year.

09 July 2007

The Calgary Stampede - the voice of heresy is heard

This morning's Globe and Mail ran an article on the Calgary Stampede which -- horrors! -- contained critical material. As a proud Calgarian, I feel obliged to respond to this heresy.

The article is entitled "The Tyranny of Stampede" and focuses on the social and career pressure on Calgarians to dress up and get in the mood. At the risk of having to get an unlisted phone number, I publicly admit I thoroughly appreciated the piece. YAHOO for the Globe and Mail.

The whole Stampede thing has become somewhat embarrassing for those of us who believe Calgary may not be a big city yet but should at least have grown out of its cow town phase. We should no longer have to pretend we all enjoy the same things. Nor should we have to believe that getting "sauced" before noon is a matter of civic duty.

As the Globe article emphasizes, much of the pressure to conform comes from employers. As one young employee of a supplies store observed, "There is this total tyranny that takes hold. It's this total Big Bother aspect ...." More boosterism than fun, it seems.

Speaking for myself, I have absolutely no interest in all that horsy cowboy stuff. As for the cultural heart of it all -- rodeo -- I simply cannot accept that tormenting animals for entertainment or "sport" is something to be celebrated. And yes, my individualism is offended by the group think, or perhaps I should say group drink, of coercive fun-making.

One native Calgarian summed it up this way: "I can't take it any more. The dressing up, the partying -- it's all just too much now. I'm going to Vancouver for Stampede."

Me, I just ignore it.

Is there hope for Dubya after politics?

Contemplating this weekend's Live Earth concerts, inspired by Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, I couldn't help but note how American ex-presidents, or in this case a near-president, can be such forces for good in the world while the current president seems to foul everything he gets his hands on.

Jimmy Carter's work advancing human rights and alleviating human suffering through the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity; Bill Clinton's fund raising for AIDS and other causes and his foundation's initiatives to address a range of global problems; and of course Al Gore's magnificent work on global warming; all testify to powerful commitments to make the world a better place by peaceful means.

Intriguingly, all three of the above were to a degree failures at political office. Jimmy Carter was a one-term president, losing in his bid for a second term after the Iran hostage crisis. Bill Clinton had a disappointing presidency culminating in near impeachment over a little white lie any gentleman would have told (of course, a real gentleman wouldn't have put himself in a position where he had to lie). And Al Gore famously lost a presidential election even though he got more votes than the other guy.

So maybe there's hope for George W. Bush after all. If Carter, Clinton and Gore can all rise above mediocre political careers, maybe even Dubya will do something worthwhile after his presidency mercifully ends. At least, if he can be trusted with anything.

06 July 2007

Killer priests?

As if pedophile priests haven't embarrassed the Catholic Church enough, now they're having to deal with torturers and murders. Although church bishops condemned the tactics the Argentinian military used to suppress dissent during their 1976-83 dictatorship, not all the priests were on side. One, Christian Von Wernich, is now on trial charged with participating in seven murders, 42 kidnappings, and 31 cases of torture while he was chaplain to the Buenos Aires police force. Apparently, he isn't alone. About 20 other priests are suspected of collaborating with the military during the "dirty war." Von Wernich was extradited from Chile where he was practicing as a priest under the name Cristian Gonzalez.

One ex-policeman,
Julio Alberto Emmed, has testified, "The three ex-subversives who were still alive were taken out. ... the doctor gave them two injections each, directly in the heart... They were loaded on to a van belonging to the unit and were taken to Avellaneda. We went to wash and change our clothes because we were bloodstained. ... Father Von Wernich saw that what had happened had shocked me, and spoke to me telling me that what we had done was necessary; it was a patriotic act and God knew it was for the good of the country. "

A former detainee,
Luis Velasco, stated, "I once overheard Christian Von Wernich reply to a detainee who was begging for his life to be spared that 'the life of men depends on God and your collaboration.' On another occasion he came to me and touching the hair on my chest smiled and said, 'They burned the hairs ...'"

Like the pedophile priests, the accused murderers are aberrations. Nonetheless, Von Wernich's story of persistent evil, of never being appropriately dealt with by the Church, and then simply going on to serve another parish, has disturbing echoes.