30 July 2010

A Canadian writer, a Canadian retailer. BUY CANADIAN!

24 July 2010

The Gatekeeper Exposed. The Big Lie of the Literary Industry
http://ping.fm/6tUek publishing writing books

The Gatekeeper Exposed.

There has been a raging debate recently about self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Simultaneously, another debate arose about the need for agents and increasing their pay rates. At the core of both arguments was the same flawed concept: that agents and publishers serve as gatekeepers of literature. The premise is that publishers and agents must be valued (and compensated) for wading through slush piles, finding books of quality, and bringing them to market for the reader. The other implication of this idea is that any writer who circumvents the gatekeepers by self-publishing is delivering sub-standard goods; if the trend towards self-publishing continues, readers will stop reading altogether due to the sheer frustration of being unable to find decent books.

That’s the argument anyway.

This idea that houses and agents are guardians of quality is not a new one; it’s the backbone of the literary industry. But never before has this vision been obviously wrong. It is so patently false that even average readers can point out the flaws in this perspective with very little effort.

First, if the gatekeepers are looking out for our best literary interests, then why is there so much crap on the shelves? I’m not referring to books I don’t personally like. I mean crap - bad premise, worse writing, and awful construction. This is no longer a rare-occurrence; a reader has to shift books by the ton to find something worth reading. If the gatekeepers serve to protect us from bad writing, they need better training. Either that, or the overall quality of writing has declined so much that these offerings are the best of a bad lot. But if our society has become that illiterate, then surely we do not even need book industry.

Then there are the self-publishing fallacies. The gatekeepers would have us believe that every submission to a publisher, having been rejected, will be a) self-published, b) be published exactly as offered to the publisher, and c) be loathed by readers. Let’s take those one at a time.

Not every manuscript will be self-published. Self-publishing takes work and knowledge. Un-assisted, the author must edit and re-edit the manuscript; even substandard writers will not release a book un-spellchecked and loaded with bad grammar. Also unassisted, writers must learn layout and how to format for printing. If this is not done correctly, the book cannot be put on paper (or e-readers for that matter). All this hard work outside of the creative process will, and does, keep many amateur writers out of trouble.

As for slush-pile offerings: writers have known for decades that there is a significant lag-time between submission and review, sometimes as much as a year. Just because draft #2 was submitted does not mean that’s the draft which would go to press. In fact, by the time the agents or editors extract that manuscript from the pile, the actual book is probably ten or more drafts down the road. As much as writers hate editing, we are drawn to it like flies to s--sugar. We certainly wouldn’t have a book sitting about when we could be messing with it.

Regarding that final claim: why shouldn’t readers like the book? Perhaps the gatekeepers don’t see it selling millions, or even thousands, but it may sell a couple of hundred. That trite, overdone, cliché-driven, vampire romance has an audience and if the writer can tap it, the book will sell. For that matter, the protectors of literature have notably rejected scripts which, once self-published, have won awards and/or sold millions. So much for their good judgement.

Now let’s take a look at industrial fear-mongering: a market flooded with self-published crap will make people give up on reading. Funny, a market flooded with traditionally published crap hasn’t made that happen. In fact, readership is up around the world for both types of publishing. But the gatekeepers are scared about becoming irrelevant and out of work. Therefore, they must ensure there is a need for their services. To accomplish that, they are scaring the public. This is akin to bicycle repair people shouting that the automobile is dangerous and should never be driven.

A do-it-yourself arts industry does quite well. Look at the popularity of independent films. Even better, look at indeed music! The entire world of punk was founded on do-it-yourself-because-the-industry-doesn’t-like-you. You needn’t look hard to find other examples in music: alternative, heavy metal, grunge... scenes spawned by public interest and driven by bands willing to ignore corporations. If they had not, there would be no REM, Nirvana, or Iron Maiden.

The gatekeepers would have us believe that they are the only ones qualified to judge quality literature, a conceit we readers have allowed to grow into this festering pustule. They have deluded us, and themselves, into the belief that all books must be vetted by so-called qualified individuals. Otherwise, readers will despair of finding anything worth reading and may decide to watch TV instead. This is patently untrue. Any reader is quite capable of sorting the wheat from the chaff. After all, we’ve been doing it for all of our reading lives. We skim covers and pick the one that catches our eye. We read the blurb and, sometimes, the first few paragraphs. Then we buy or, most often, decide the book is not for us and slip it back on the shelf. Why would this process change with self-published works? It wouldn’t. Bad or plain covers won’t get a second look. Uninteresting blurbs or bad writing will get immediately rejected, and we will move on to the next book. Just like always.

With one difference: these books have not been pre-selected by people who think they know better than you. In a retailer, you get to browse books published on the basis of what someone else thinks you will want, and you pick from that. With self-publishing, you get to browse a broader range - indeed, an entire catalogue - of books on offer. The difference is night and day. Buying from a retailer is like eating at a restaurant chain: you know what you will get and that it will be of a certain standard. Not necessarily an exiting meal, but edible. Browsing the self-published world is like going to a food fair: a huge variety of dishes on offer, some really good, some less-so, but all of them different.

The gatekeepers would have us believe that they are guardians of the written word, protectors of literature. Actually, they are the bling-draped bouncers at an exclusive club. The famous and the rich and their friends get to pass. The rest, no matter how well dressed or how skilled, are turned away. Now, not content with that, the bouncers are following their victims around, telling everyone that they are worthless. Elitist in the extreme, the gatekeepers are telling you, the audience, what you shouldn’t read. Luckily, the sales figures show you are no longer listening.

23 July 2010

Response to @MargaretAtwood 's take on g20 protests:

The Lady Protests Too Much.

I read Margaret Atwood’s article of 6 July (A Second Chance Or A Boot In The Face) in The Globe and Mail with fascination. The views of a leading Canadian author deserve to be read and considered. Atwood’s comparison between protests - one peaceful, one definitely not - was intriguing. Atwood’s speculations regarding government conspiracy to turn Canada into “Tinpot Dictatorship North” were alarming. Given her propensity for writing dystopian fiction, one can perhaps forgive Atwood for being incendiary.

What really bothered me was that this great thinker overlooked a fundamental point. She, like so many others, has drawn a line between government and protesters, as if the two are alien races. This pervasive Us-Versus-Them attitude is feeding the conspiracy minded and encouraging paranoia. Atwood’s unsubtle suggestions paint the government and police as dark forces aligned against society. Read too much of this sort of thing, and you may start seeing conspiracy everywhere. However, the only plotters that I saw were the black bloc.

The reality is that we are all one society: protesters, police, government officials, and the public. We live together, work together, and share the same values. As Canadians, we have built a county together and we run that country together. We all agree on certain things. We have delegated the operation of the country to government: people we select to represent us and do the grunt work. As voters, we control the government: we watch what they do, we evaluate their work, and we determine if they keep their jobs or not. There is no conspiracy. There cannot be because, unlike other so-called democratic countries, we the citizens pay very close attention to what our government does. Any attempt to seize total power in Canada would be met with immediate and determined response from us citizens in the form of elections, protests, or, in the extreme, revolt and assassination. Unlike dystopian models, we would have other vital citizens alongside us: the military and the police.

Speaking of which, these feebleminded denizens like to paint anyone in a uniform as agents of power, as automatons who exist only to do the bidding of the dictatorial government. That’s a good tool for fiction, but we must remember that underneath those uniforms are Canadians. People who live like us, who work like us, and who, like us, are opposed to the idea of government domination. Can you really believe that veterans from Afghanistan would blindly march into cities and open fire on the populace? More likely they would turn their guns on those who gave such orders. The police are even closer to us. They live with the rest of us, empowered by us to keep order and to protect us. Will they arrest criminals? Absolutely, that is their job. Will they quell riots? Of course, that’s what we want them to do. Not to mention that the police are protecting their own homes as well as ours. The police would not live in a dictatorship anymore than we would.

The idea of anyone trying to seize total control of Canada is laughable. How could that possibly work? We spend much of our time arguing now! Someone could declare themself king and overlord, and we’d likely all laugh at the lunatic and go on with our lives as normal. Canada is a country of consensus, a nation of discussion, and a society based on agreement. We work together to solve problems equitably and, above all, we are most concerned with our survival. Think of any major disaster in Canada: floods, ice-storms, hurricanes, forest-fires. What do we do? Everyone turns out to help. Along with the expected civil and military groups, individual citizens arrive from across the country to lend a hand. We all send donations. We make sure needs are met, people are helped. There is no sense of ‘someone else’s problem’. How could anyone achieve domination of a people that dedicated to each other?

We even back protests. Strikes, public information campaigns, marches, blockades... we may disagree on the issues, but we all agree that people have a right to be heard. The police presence at the G20 was not sinister, it was standard. We see it every time any large group of people hold a protest. We also see it during parades and celebrations and during the Stanley Cup. The police arrive to ensure order, prevent criminal activity, and provide assistance to everyone. From lost kids to drunken brawls to people who are just looking to cross the street, the police help. They even help protests by closing off the march routes so cars don’t run anyone over. When did these become acts of domination?

Look at the black bloc footage again. What do you see? Masked criminals trashing buildings and torching cars. If that had been a Grey Cup celebration, we wouldn’t still be talking about it. The offenders would be awaiting trials and life would be back to normal. But because the black bloc used the guise of protesting, some people feel the need to defend them and blame the government.

Watch the videos again and you will see something which should send chills through you. Don’t look at the people in black. Look at the people around them. Do you see crowds of ‘peaceful’ protestors watching the action? These bystanders claim innocence because they didn’t toss a brick. I say: you were there and that makes you a contributor. Did you try to stop the destruction? So you are peaceful protesters: why didn’t you surround the black bloc to prevent their actions? Did you shout at the criminals to stop? Did you call the police and tell them what was happening? Did you get out of the way, so security could do their job? If not, then you endorsed that violence and participated just as surely as if you smashed a CBC truck. You cannot be that close to the action and claim you were not involved.

If you witness criminal acts, then you have a responsibility to society. As a member of a community which protects rights, you have an obligation to intervene when those rights are violated. You are quite vocal about police excesses; what about the acts of protesters? Who is fixing windows, collecting money to pay for damages and unemployed staff, scrubbing off graffiti and soot?

If your response to those accusations is ‘That’s not my job!’ then you are declaring that you are not part of our community, not a member of our society, not a Canadian as we see ourselves. In which case, why should the rest of us be concerned about your rights? You obviously are not worried about ours.

We had an opportunity at this summit. We had a chance to show ourselves and the world that Canada is a country of peace, a place where protests can be held without violence. We blew it. Protesters themselves could have quashed the black bloc and didn’t. Instead, they endorsed the action and, by their mere presence on the streets, ensured the police would be overstretched. Protesters even permitted the criminals to mingle and avoid arrest. Yes, there will be investigations into police misconduct, and I’m sure the protesters will be only too willing to help nail a pig. How many will help turn in the black bloc?

Where’s the conspiracy now?

14 July 2010

Really, Really, Really, Innocent Victims of Columbine

This is a tale of media and public stupidity and how they can combine to destroy lives.

Cast your mind back to 20 April 1999: the Columbine High School shootings. We sat riveted to the TV as it unfolded, watching the massacre live. All the news agencies were there. Over the next 24 hours - and months ahead of the investigation - the media was offering evidence of the shooters’ motivations: violent video games, Hitler’s birthday, satanic music, being outcasts, black trench coats. Well before police had established what had happened, news agencies were giving us the why.

Remember what you did the day after? Remember how we all talked about the murders, the bombs, how teenagers could be so well armed, how they learned to make explosives, how much information was on the Internet and in the library? Remember how judgemental you were? If you were an adult, you blamed teens for being nuts. If you were a teen, you blamed adults for not understanding. If you had been popular in school, you blamed the outcasts for being weird and psychopathic. If you had been an outcast, you blamed the popular kids for being bullies. Whatever it was, we all had an opinion on who was responsible. And we were all talking about it.

Zoom in to a small town high school. In this case, one in rural Newfoundland, but any one will do. During morning recess, an average teen approaches an acquaintance. Normal asks Trenchcoat what he thinks about Columbine. The two chat away. The subject of bomb-making guides on the Internet is raised. The 15-year-old, black-clad, cyberpunk tells jock-boy it’s very easy to find, that he’s read some, and that the recipes are more dangerous to bomber than victim.

Nearby, a girl, rooting in her locker, overhears the words ‘bombs’ and ‘Internet’. She looks at the boy in black and runs to the principal’s office. She reports the incident and promptly departs for home.

Boy in Black is summoned to the office. Inside, the principal and guidance counsellor confront him. Do they ask about the conversation? No. Do they state the complaint and ask for an explanation? No. They demand to know why he wants to take chemistry the following year. He glibly answers that he is interested in fireworks and wants to work in theatre. Then he is asked to explain his attire. He answers that he likes his outfit. They ask about his Internet time. Plenty. Video games? Lots. Music? Variety from classical to heavy metal. The Boy in Black answers honestly, suspecting nothing, thinking this meeting is about his course selections for the following year. Imagine his shock when Principal and Guidance share a knowing look and then tell him he is to leave the building immediately and never come back.

Boy in Black refuses, demands to know what is happening. He is finally told that he was overheard making threats to blow up the school. He is, therefore, expelled immediately and is to leave school property forthwith. The janitor is searching his locker and bag (left in the outer office) and, if safe to do so, the contents will be turned over to the Boy at the exit. Boy tries to protest and is told the police would be called. Distraught Boy is escorted out by Principal and Guidance, handed his bag, and the door securely locked behind him. Boy walks home and calls his parents to tell them the confusing tale.

Fast forward a few hours. It is early evening in early spring, darkness falling during supper. Boy and parents are watching TV, wondering what to do about school. Sirens approach. Flashing red, white, and blue lights race around the walls. They all jump up to see which neighbour is in trouble, only to discover they are the ones with a driveway full of police cruisers. Hand on guns, two RCMP officers pound on the door, requesting entrance.

The girl who fled told her parents what she heard, described Boy, said he scared her. Her parents filed a police complaint, adding ‘information’ that Boy had guns and bombs and had threatened the school. One officer explained this as he questioned Boy and Mother at kitchen table. The other officer was searching the house. First, Boy’s unkempt bedroom and his pile of computer scrap. Then the officer inspected Father’s guns. As a hunter, he had several, all racked, firing pins and ammunition locked in a safe in the parent’s bedroom.

The police found nothing. After questioning, they concluded this was a case of over-reaction and that they would tell the girl's parents everything is fine.

The following morning, before the school board office was open, Mother went to the mall. There, she heard all the news: that her son was a criminal, a bomber, a psychopath; that he had guns, bombs, knives; that he threatened to blow up the school, the mall, the town; that he had been arrested, locked in a psyche ward, was on the run and a danger to everyone. Mother tried to say otherwise, but talking back to the town rumour mill is impossible.

Lawyers were called: nothing could be done about rumours or reputation. After all, the police had only been doing their job. The principal make have handled things badly, but he was still doing his job. Boy would just have to deal with it.

School board was called. Parents were told the expulsion stood. Parents called their government representative, who called the school board and told them that Boy has a right to an education. Three days later, a meeting was called and terms were announced. Boy would get a 2 week ‘leave’ to let things settle down and he could return to class after that. Provided, that it, he would be so kind as to visit a psychiatrist and provide a certificate saying that he was not a threat to anyone. After all, it’s only appropriate that the school should demand certificates of sanity whenever they want. Therefore, no certificate, no class.

All because of a conversation which everyone was having that day. Oh, and a black trenchcoat.

Eventually, Boy enrolled in a different school, did home schooling, then GED. He went on to do computer programming. Unable to find work in his field, he was hired at a call centre. He failed his security check. Even though there had been no arrest, no charges, no convictions, somewhere there was a record that he had been questioned by police.

Boy became Man and dreamed of serving his country. He applied at CSIS and failed his security check. He was told to get his record cleared. He couldn’t; there was no record, seemingly. He applied to the RCMP, passed the physical test, the medical, but failed his psych test because his medical record said he had seen a shrink about threatening his school. He tried to enlist in the Forces and failed both the psych and the security checks.

Five more years working in call centres, having to periodically explain to HR what had happened, that he couldn’t pass a security check because he had been questioned, but that he couldn’t get his record cleared because he didn’t have a record. At the end of five years, his centre closed and he was let go. For months he looked for work, had interviews, but no offers.

Meanwhile, the world had changed. The Internet had gone from a mysterious playing field for geeks to an essential tool for society, including prospective employers. One day, Man types his name into the most popular search engine. What does he find? The very first entry - indeed, the only entry - about him was a news story from 1999: Bomb Threats Lead to Expulsion. Which possibly explains Man’s inability to get a job.

All of the above is absolutely true. Don’t look for the article; the news agency in question was kind enough to remove it. No, it wasn’t me. But it did happen to someone I know.

In the weeks and months following Columbine, then Taber, we all discussed what happened. What could possibly drive a teen to take up arms? I don’t think we found an answer. But I did hear of a number of incidents like this one: teens suspended or expelled or otherwise humiliated because they wore overcoats, used the Internet, listened to the wrong sort of music. The media had created a profile and supposedly intelligent educators and psychologists seized an opportunity. Whether they intended to get rid of the ones they thought were trouble or actually believed these people really were threats, only they can say. What I can say is that these actions were exactly the sort of thing to push any unstable person over the edge to violence.

Sometimes, I think about Boy and wonder how much longer he is going to have to pay for the accusations of a scared girl. Then I think about the others, those that share his experience, and wonder if they are having the same problems now. Or did they simply drop out, give up, and flee? Or, are they off somewhere learning how to make bombs, how to shoot to kill, and planning revenge?

I try not to think about that last one too much.

13 July 2010

Buy Game Misconduct at BetterWorldBooks and support literacy (yours and someone else's)http://ping.fm/jX3Np

02 July 2010

New Blog Post: Uncivil Rest
#g20 g8 protest globalization

Uncivil Rest

I've been mostly avoiding commentary on the G20 since I wasn't there, but I've gotten sucked in to the accusations. I spent most of this afternoon reading the account of someone who was detained, watching related videos, and playing catchup. Here are my conclusions:

1 - If the accusations of misbehaviour have any validity, then some police need investigating. The police are supposed to defend and protect us all, even detainees. Threats of rape, beatings, and other horribleness are not proper police behaviour, they are the actions of power-mad bullies. They are the acts of criminals and are every bit as vile as burning police cars and trashing businesses

2 - There is a recurring theme from 'innocent' protesters, the non-violent ones. That theme is "we weren't doing anything!" Well, yes, I noticed that. I noticed a lot of regular protesters following or walking beside the black bloc, watching their destruction, not egging them on but not interfering. Yes, you weren't doing nuthin. No one so much as raised a voice to say "Put down that brick, don't set that car on fire, stop trashing the media vehicles." You were there. You could have stopped them. You didn't. That makes you complicit.

And don't say "that's the cop's job"; you didn't much like the way the cops did their job. And the defense of our community against madmen is the responsibility of us, the citizens. If you don't want to be involved, then stay the fuck home. If you want to protest peacefully, then keep the others in line. If not, go home and write letters. You cannot watch violence happen and pretend you are not involved. You are. As a member of a community, as a citizen, as one entitled to those rights you proudly claim, you have a responsibility. You bear the responsibility to act when you seen injustice, not just globally, but locally.

How to act in the face of violence? You shout out for the offenders to stop. You go to the nearest officer and report. You use your iphone to call 911. You gather your own group and peacefully surround the criminals to prevent them doing harm. You enlist help from bystanders. At very least, you leave the area and make sure that those who will act are not distracted by you. If you want to watch, go home and watch the news. Stay out of the way until the unrest is properly over. Not over for now, not over for this afternoon, over for good.

3 - Your arguements against global corporations may be valid, but they have nothing to do with the owner of that Starbucks, or the fry-guy at the MacDonalds. You may hate capitalism, loath commercialism, despism multinational corporations, and you are entitled to your opinion, and to express it. But what about that business owner with all the broken windows? Who is going to help him fix it? Not insurance; insurance policies do not cover civil unrest. When he has to close down for repairs, how will his staff get paid? Those people working for minimum wage, how will they make rent after losing a weeks pay? And what about you? Where will you get your morning coffee now? These businesses exsist because the community uses them. And, despite what you may think about logos and branding, each of these is a franchise - an independantly owned business which provides services and jobs for the community. The community you just helped destroy.

4 - Stop bitching about costs. Oh, security cost this much! And it didn’t work! Well, guess what? If more money was spent on security, if more police were on the streets, you would complain bitterly about the cost. If there was less spent, you would complain about feeling unsafe. If no money was spent, if there were no police, that mob would rampage through the city and you can be sure property would not be the only things hit. Do not delude yourself: there is no such thing as an ethical mob or a controlled riot. The contained damage was a simple result of the presence of police. Because of them, the black bloc had to change out of their costumes and into street clothes to avoid arrest. Without security, they would have continured until buildings were burning and people hurt and killed. You can bet it is a very short leap from throwing a brick through a franchise window to deciding that anyone wearing a logo is a collaborator and supporter. Then that mod will be after your nikes.

While we are on the topic of costs, how much do you think it will cost to replace the police cruisers and CBC vans? Where’s that money going to come from? From you, dumbass. The police and the media are not enemies, they are not some secret society designed to control us. They are us! Our taxes pay for these services, pay the police to protect us and the media to inform us. You went to a party and burned the couch, and the party was at your place.

5 - Stop bitching about your rights. Your individual rights do not take precedence of the rights of the community. In times of unrest, we must all surrender our rights so that those we have entrusted can restore order. Sure, being in a holding tank for a day or a week sucks if you are innocent. But that is the price you pay for having someone else protect you. That is the price of being part of a society. When the mob takes over, your charter rights will not be worth the price of a free call. If you want those rights, want to exercise those rights, then you have to acknowledge that you only get those rights through being a part of society. Once you have stepped outside of society, you don’t get those rights. You get nothing.

Despite what we may wish, legislate, or even swear, there is no such thing as an inalienable right. Rights are offered by communities. When societies collapse, there are no rights. Look at any area torn by war. The raped and murdered had no rights. The rapists and murderers felt no compulsion to grant any rights. Only when order is restored and society reformed can rights be granted to the victim and punnishment to the guilty. If you don’t believe that, try stopping a bullet with your passport.

If you want your rights, then you need to protect them. You need to be part of society. And that means acting in the interest of society. Protesting injustice is one way. Preventing violence is another. Protect your society, guard your rights, and then you can safely work towards helping other communities.

You want to be responsible global citizens? Start by being responsible period. Fix some windows. Take up a collection to pay the staff. Get a brush and scrub off some graffitti. Make the point that destruction of our community will not help anyone elses community. As the slogan goes, think globally, act locally.

01 July 2010

On canadaday follow the US invasion:
1 July - What is it? Read The Last Post:

The Last Post

There have been seriously conflicting emotions in Newfoundland about 1 July ever since we joined confederation. On 1 July 1867, Canada moved from being a British possession to being a country. Naturally, 1 July is Canada Day - a day to celebrate the country and what it means to be Canadian.

However, Newfoundland sees the date rather differently. On 1 July 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme in the Great War, 801 soldiers of the Newfoundland Regiment went over the top at Beaumont Hamel in France. The Regiment was almost eradicated in 30 minutes by German crossfire. Yet, despite the mounting numbers of dead and wounded, the Newfoundlanders still fought hard to achieve their impossible objective. “The only visible sign that the men knew they were under this terrific fire,” wrote one observer, “was that they all instinctively tucked their chins into an advanced shoulder as they had so often done when fighting their way home against a blizzard in some little outport in far off Newfoundland.” Over 500 of the 710 casualties died, but as they were being carried to field hospitals, or lying near death, the Newfoundlanders only had one concern: Is the General pleased?

At roll call the following morning, only 68 members of the regiment answered the call. "It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault failed of success because dead men can advance no further." said the Divisional Commander of the Regiment’s effort. For this single action, the Regiment was granted ‘royal’ status. But the cost was huge: a significant portion of the small dominion’s generation.

Naturally, 1 July became Newfoundland’s memorial day. That is, until we joined Canada. Ever since, we have been torn; do we celebrate or mourn?

The answer is, both. Currently, activities on 1 July go as follow: sunrise ceremony making Canada Day, as we are the first province to get dawn. Then, morning activities consist of wreath layings and memorial services. Afternoon reverts to Canada Day celebrations. Every year, though, people complain about this combination.

For me, I see no problem with doing both. Beaumont Hamel must be remembered, marked, reflected upon. But I can guarantee that those who fought on that day, being Newfoundlanders, would have loved an excuse for a good party. Likewise, we should be proud of being Canadians. Canada is a wonderful country. A nation built upon understanding, consensus, compromise, and agreement. Every province joined by signature, not force. This sets the tone for the nation; we work things out, find appropriate solutions, and do not resort to force. Our reaction to those who do take up violence to make their point tends to be swift, harsh, and condemning. As with the FLQ Crisis, Oka, and most recently, the G20 summit, Canadians do not accept violence as a means of protest. If there is any one thing which is likely to unite opinion from coast to coast to coast, it is this. We don’t fight. We work things out.

Which is why the combination of Memorial and Celebration on 1 July makes sense to me. No one can help that 2 very different and very significant events occurred on this date. To relocate one event to another place in the calendar would be to do a disservice to that event. So we mark both, we mourn and remember and party and celebrate. And that’s as it should be.

A final word on The Great War. This is perhaps the most important conflict in human history, yet it is frequently overshadowed by other conflicts, particularly World War II. We would rather remember the second war. Owing to Nazi atrocities, we can safely and comfortably declare that the Allies were not only victors, but just in their victory. Hindsight lets us justify our violence, World War II in Europe clearly had good guys and bad guys and the good guys won. A wonderful epic which has been used by governments ever since to justify sending troops.

The Great War is very different. There is no clear reason for its beginning. It ended with capitulation rather than victory. There was really no right or wrong side, no good or bad, no black or white. Most of the war involved people dying over stretches of land no further than the corner store. Horrible weapons were used: machine guns, gas, flamethrowers. Millions died. And, in the end, nothing was really achieved by either side.

This makes remembering that war very awkward. We don’t like to be confronted with the idea that war may be useless, that we can never achieve anything by force. We desperately want to have faith that fighting will fix things. Negotiating and compromise is hard; fighting an easy default. We want heroes and villains, not a bunch of similar people dying because a monarch or government is unreasonable.

But this is exactly why The Great War is so important: it proves war’s futility. It also proves that we are not so different. Frequently, opposing forces would exchange pleasantries during breaks in the fighting. Troops singing to each other across no-mans-land. Christmas celebrations were enemies met and exchanged gifts, had pictures taken with each other. Post-battle analysis, when commanders would give credit to the enemy for a battle well fought, like teams shaking hands after a game. Soldiers would die and kill for their countries, because that was their role, but, despite the hatred that is inevitable for one who is trying to kill you, soldiers were also able to stand around, shake hands, exchange knowing looks that said, “I don’t know why we’re fighting either.” And this is a very important lesson. Soldiers, men and women, are unique and should be honoured for their ability to answer the call, to risk everything, because we have asked them to do so. But in honouring them, we, as citizens, must ensure that their sacrifice is meaningful and necessary, not dumb and futile. We must watch our governments closely, guard our emotions carefully, and ask if we cannot find a better alternative to combat.

During the Great War, in Gallipoli, Turkey, fighting was intense and fruitless. British forces - among them, Australians, New Zealanders, and Newfoundlanders - tried to force their way uphill and overland, attacking entrenched positions. Above, in the hills, the Turks held the high ground but were under supplied. Fighting was intense, supplies scarce for both forces. Commonwealth troops displayed many acts of bravery, as did the enemy. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkish commander, told his soldiers at the opening engagements of Gallipoli: "I am not giving you an order to attack, but I am ordering you to die!" Which the Turks did in great numbers, their sacrifice buying time for reinforcements to arrive.

Is their sacrifice any less significant than that of the Newfoundlanders at Beaumont Hamel? Is it less than those of the ANZACs at Gallipoli? No. And that is most significant - both forces are equally capable of bravery or atrocity, both are human and equal. Is it not true, then, that war should be needless?

In 1934, Ataturk erected a monument for Gallipoli. The inscription read: "Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives...you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us, where they lie, side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well." I have not seen any similar tribute, any equal monument, which honours and respects both sides of a conflict. (If you have, e-mail me, please!)

Canada is a nation of settlement, of agreement, the nation which invented peacekeeping. We all fundamentally believe that violence is wrong and that it must stopped, even if we need to become violent to do so. While we mark Canada’s nationhood, it is only fitting that we also reflect on this fact. Newfoundlanders and Canadians all, we should take time today to think about our military, the cost of conflict, and the meaning of the Great War. If you cannot attend a memorial, take time to think, make an effort to learn, search out information on the Somme, play the Last Post on your ipod. One thing is absolutely sure: The first day of the Battle of the Somme did as much to shape Canada as the British North America Act.

And we will remember.

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