Saturday, 16 April 2011


No one has said it better than Mikhail Gorbachev: "Communism is man exploiting man. Capitalism is the reverse." Exploitation has been rampant throughout history and remains today entrenched even in the so-called Lands of the Free. Unions, built to lessen inequality, became powerful but, as Lord John Acton in 1887 warned, "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely." Sadly, unions like Canada Post, the railroads, and automotive have abused power. An ideal society is a two-way street: employees loyal to, and working hard for, employers who, in turn, appreciate and reward them commensurate with their accomplishments and the employer's ability to do so. So, what did I encounter with 3 major and 6 minor employers?

After various summer jobs that paid up to 20 cents an hour, I found in 1938, on graduating from high school with senior matriculation plus a year of commerce courses, a job with the Royal Bank of Canada with a starting salary of $400 a year in a town of 4,000 with 3 competing banks, each with a staff of about 7 men and one woman (the secretary). Room and board in private homes cost $7 per week. Pay raises averages $100 per year and you had to be making $1400 before allowed to marry so you would be about 28. Bank managers were paid about $3,000 per year. Their responsibilities included monitoting the staff for efficient performance of banking duties plus dress, deportment, and affiliation with local sports and social clubs to promote the bank as an important community asset. It was a safe and efficient banking system. No depositor lost a cent during the Great Depression. But, when employees in one large-city branch tried to form a union to achieve higher wages, bank officials moved in, locked out and fired the entire staff and moved in replacements.

I was making $850 a year when I enlisted in the RCAF is the summer of 1941. In an all-out war discipline was not as strict as feared and most of us were quite happy in the Service. The only mutiny I witnessed (crews refusing to bomb Germany in antiquated training aircraft) was settled amicably. By the time I was bombing Germany as an officer I was making $6.25 a day! This was double RAF pay so a wise government, to avoid friction, withheld half our pay for a nice post-war nest egg (for survivors). Our greatest pain was the nightly loss of so many cherished friends. A post-war RCAF career was most interesting but we found we were married to the Service. Families were secondary and wives endured a lot. Every two years we were expected to be proficient within days in a new job in a new location with no extra time allowed to hunt for family housing in a very tight market with no building during six war years while the population doubled. Twice we had to buy holes in the ground and wait two months for a house to be built. With provincial school systems that were superior to, and disdainful of all others, it was often a fight to get children accepted without dropping a grade. All five of our girls were born on the move. Numerous advanced courses and secondary (unpaid) duties also took time away from families. Today, this has been corrected with generous financial and time allowances.

Reaching the compulsory retirement age of 47 in 1966, I retired on a pension that was to remain at $5,000 for 14 years before indexing for inflation set in. My desire to be a teacher required anothe 4 years of university courses. I crammed 9 hours of classes into Mondays and the rest into evenings so that I could be available for part-time employment by a moving company. Unions disliked part-time non-union employees so dictated to the company when they could hire me for $2 an hour. Winning a teaching job in 1970 the pay was $5,000 annually from which a painful slice was taken by the union with which I became disillusioned. I objected to their considering as the enemy the unpaid school board that had to balance taxpayers with teacher demands for higher pay and reduced class size. I also disliked seniority rules that caused us to lose excellent teachers every time we had to downsize while keeping entrenched low-performing ones. Public relations were all-important, so pass rates remained high by lowering standards which some of us refused to do. Too many students came from broken homes, needing much more care than a school curriculum provides. I found teaching a full-time job, getting to know parents and home problems and being always available. I worked students hard, giving no multiple-choice tests (graded by machine) but all essays which kept me up late at night grading, yet I had no shortage of students seeking my classes. I quit the union when they went on strike in 1975 in the middle of a school year. Those of us who refused to desert our students made enemies of friends by crossing picket lines. Substantial pay raises, plus increased taxes, were later achieved but I loathed the methods used. Unions do serve good purposes but dues are too high, political ties too strong, and too many members serve the union rather than the employer and the public. Like climate change and over-population, the increasing gap between rich and poor is an explosive danger. We need the common sense to realize we are all in this together and that rewards and sacrifices need to be shared.

Saturday, 9 April 2011


My neighbour, Marilyn Fife, has spent many years living in Japan, studying and teaching. She married Pepe from Ecuador who was running a business there. Both are now teaching here in Colorado Springs. Pepe flew back to Japan 23 March to assist in recovery efforts there. This letter is from Etsuko, a Japanese friend of theirs.

"Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is now even more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend's home. We share supplies like water, food, and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful.

During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes. People sit in their cars, looking at news on their navigation screens, or line up to get drinking water when a source is open. If someone one has water running in their home, they put out a sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets. Utterly amazing, where I am there has been no looting, no pushing in lines. People leave their front door open, as it is safer when an earthquake strikes. People keep saying, 'Oh, this is how it used to be in the old days when everyone helped one another.'

Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens are constant and helicopters pass overhead often. We got water in our homes for a few hours last night, and now it is for half a day. Electricity came. But all of this is by area. Some people have these things, others do not. No one has washed for several days. We feel grubby, but there are so much more important concerns than that for us now. I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire group.

There are strange parallel universes happening. Houses a mess in some places, yet then a house with futons or laundry out drying in the sun. People lining up for water and food, and yet a few people out walking their dogs. All happening at the same time. Other unexpected touches of beauty are, first, the silence of night. No cars. No one out on the streets. And the heavens at night are scattered with stars. I can usually see only two but now the whole sky is filled.

The mountains near Sendai are solid and with the crisp air we can see them silhoueted against the sky magnificently. And the people themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to check on it each day. Now to send this e-mail as the electricity is on, and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking to see if everyone is OK. People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no. They tell us we can expect aftershocks, and even other major quakes for another month or more. And we are getting constant tremors, rolls, shaking, rumbling. I am blessed in that I live in a part of Sendai that is a bit elevated, a bit more solid than other parts. So, so far this area is better off than others. Last night my friend's husband came in from the country, bringing food and water. Blessed again.

Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed an enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occuring all over the world at this moment. And somehow, as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide.

My brother asked me if I felt so small because all this is happening. I do not. Rather I feel as if I am part of something happening that is much larger than myself. This wave of birthing, worldwide, is hard, and yet magnificent.

Thank you again for your care and love of me.


It would be kinder if you thought of me only as obsolescent rather than obsolete, even though the facts point otherwise. When 8 years of age I started a world-wide stamp collection. For over 80 years I worked diligently at it while most other collectors faded away. Now, I have a fantastic collection with over a score of albums and countless duplicates. Who cares anymore?

I also enjoyed music so I built up a good collection of records, 33, 45, and 78 rpm. When they went out of fashion, I built a nice library of reel-to-reel tapes. Progress dictated that I convert these to VHS tapes, but just as soon as I had a respectable collection of a few hundred 8-hour tapes of music and documentaries that I taped from TV, they discarded all that and championed DVDs. They also ditched analog TV that was quite good enough for me and in my opinion superior to digital.

Now, instead of one remote, I need three to give me 2 hours of DVD recording when my VHS tapes would accommodate 8 hours in a much-easier-to-use format. Not only have I had to buy a new digital TV but also a converter to allow the VCR to record.
No, DVD and Digital, you cannot relax. The guillotine is waiting for you too.
And, to aggravate my wounds, they have not composed any music for half a century. They do have some loud noises they mislabel music that, like Merlin engines, have contributed to my deafness.

I am grateful for Lawrence Welk on Saturday-night PBS and Walter Chronkite from Vienna every New Year's Eve.

And, I can still find solace in the paper-printed word. It was with me when I started first grade with the 4-cent reader and my current 2,200 books remain excellent. They do demand a lot of room but who can trust any electronic reader to hang around for more than a year or two?