Wednesday, March 31, 2010

When A Bully Wins (To Kill A Mockingbird)

RIP Phoebe Prince

She arrived from Ireland, and in a case of "relational aggression," a group of girls disapproving of Phoebe dating a boy, decided to taunt her for three months, the DA reported. Media reports say they continued to mock her on Facebook after she died. Phoebe lived in America for six months and hung herself.

“I ask the question, are the women of our future, bullies in today’s high schools?” ~ status report today.

Prosecutor Elizabeth Scheibel , after announcing criminal charges for 7 girls and 2 boys, strongly recommended a national gender-based program called Owning Up, designed by Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bee and Wannabes, which inspired the movie Mean Girls.

This might be the bellwether case for bullying today in North America. For many years, I’ve been following morbid stories of bullying, noting escalating and growing female violence at schools. It’s the greatest fear I have for my daughter as she enters junior high.

Sometimes I see bullying among adults I know. Even cases eerily similar to Phoebe's story.

* * *

Phoebe Prince, 15, hung herself after bullies allegedly tormented her relentlessly for months. She died after what Prosecutor Elizabeth Scheibel called a "torturous day." The bullying was "common knowledge." This story really hit home because Phoebe smiled like my own daughter (the head tilt).

Nothing school officials did prevented Phoebe's death on January 14, 2010—even after her mother complained of the harassment twice. Scheibel announced criminal charges on March 29, 2010, against seven girls and two boys. Something unheard of: she released their names. The details are disturbing. Before Phoebe hung herself, bullied 11 year olds had also hung themselves in America.

In the wrong hands, social media and text messaging are the new bullies. This can power bullying 24/7. CNN reports 42% of our children have been cyber-bullied. Additionally, 160,000 children were reported being so scared of their tormenters, they avoided school.

CNN also reports 20% of our children are bullies.

One girl was beaten up after she talked to the press about Phoebe's life at school. Phoebe's friend reported Phoebe being in tears after school often.

* * *

It’s not easy to snitch. I only did it once in school. This is after I avoided school and was repeatedly asked why. My grades had slipped.

A friend sitting next to me was jabbing me daily in class with a pen, injuring me. He aimed at my ribs and my face when I wasn’t looking. I can take a lot of pain, and didn’t make a sound. In hockey, I threw myself in front of many pucks.

To this very day, 32 years later, I still feel guilty for snitching. Even though this friend, and our mutual friends, knew I had ratted him out, they didn’t make a big deal of it. Until then, i had never snitched. Not even for attempted hazings, racial slurs, fights, vandalism or thefts. And being shot at with a pellet gun.

The bully i ratted out received beatings at home. Later in life, he was heavy into drugs. He always said, “hello,” anytime I saw him. I don’t know what happened to him. I wonder if he is still alive. His best friend was a troubled NHL hockey player (now retired) who was in and out of jail.

* * *

Bullies grow up and i always wonder where they end up.

* * *

Two years ago, I was bullied by several men and a woman who launched a taunting campaign of reputation harassment. One man brazenly declared physical threats, inviting another to ambush me. For a while, I avoided posting my locations on Facebook. One bully stalked it and called three friends I was about to see and asked them to call back. Even my friends were being intercepted. Three friends in one week.

Then one day i was found by that bully who refused to leave me alone in public, following me to a restaurant. Many witnesses saw it firsthand. I left my dinner behind--after he suggested a physical altercation. When i read the prosecutor's statement for the Phoebe Prince case, it evoked haunting memories.

Why was I bullied? I'll never fully know. I can't enter their minds.

In my case, official letters from me and witnesses were written to the employer of the bullies. I had worked with them before. I was about to disclose illegal financial activity (why I think I was bullied). They denied the intimidation to everyone. But it was witnessed. Denial is a pattern in many cases of bullying.

School staffers were not charged as accomplices.

In my case, the intimidation stopped only after a message was sent from a lawyer.

Though i didn't know it, one bully had previously tormented another woman similarly for a year. She had said nothing until seeing my experience - which duplicated her experience. Bullying repeats itself as some morbid form of validation. Being bullied is a solitary experience. No one knows who will believe you, and what will be believed. The acts of a bully are often unbelievable. It is rare for victims to out their bullies. Many victims of bullies take the high road.

I was not afraid of my bullies. But I was tormented. Without one friend, who was there everyday for me, I don’t know where I would be today.

* * *
Yesterday, I listened to how women I knew taunted another woman I knew. Some people can’t stop themselves. Tormenting can last weeks, and even months.

Bullies find it therapeutic to pick on people.

* * *

DA Scheibel announced Phoebe Prince was taunted incessantly for three months. She was bullied until the day she died.

At school, teachers and administrators actually saw girls bullying Phoebe – bottles and cans thrown at her in a lunch room. Her mother Anne O’Brien Prince complained twice.

The school has gotten off scott-free, as you can see.

Phoebe spent her last day in life bullied in her school library in front of staff. Staff only reported this after Phoebe died.

The bullying continued into the hallways (with threats of physical abuse) and all along her way home where Phoebe's 12-year-old sister found her body hanging lifeless in the stairwell to her family’s apartment.

Moments before Phoebe died, her bullies drove by her and hurled vulgar insults and an energy drink at her. After Phoebe died, her bullies mocked her on Facebook.

* * *

Why you ask? Reports say the girls disapproved of Phoebe dating a popular boy.

I posted Phoebe’s story yesterday online. Later that night, CNN’s Anderson Cooper discussed the story’s implications on air. Below is a transcript. One of the most insightful pieces on bullying.

* * *
CNN Transcript

ANDERSON COOPER:But, first up, breaking news on a teen girl allegedly bullied to death. Just moments ago, we learned of new disciplinary action against more high school students in the connection with the death...Her name was Phoebe Prince, 15 years old. She came from Ireland. She was new to America, new to a school where she hoped she would find new friends.

Well, instead, Phoebe was bullied for six months, literally up until the day she died. That day was January 14. She went home and hanged herself.

Tonight, the school district in South Hadley, Massachusetts, announced it has expelled a number of students from the high school. Now, this is in addition to the nine teens who have just been criminally charged in connection with her suicide.

But I have got to tell you, kids are dying across the country, and, all too often, school officials kind of throw up their hands and say, oh, we had no idea.

Well, tonight, we're "Keeping Them Honest."

I want to bring you over to the wall just to show you some (other cases), give you some sense of just how serious and widespread this problem is. I mean, Phoebe is just one of many who have allegedly been bullied to death.

This is Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover. He was 11 years old. Now, he lived not far from Phoebe Prince. He was taunted by classmates. They called him gay. His mother begged school officials to do something to stop it. He hanged himself as well, just 11 years old.

This is Jaheem Herrera. We told his story a while back. He also was 11 years old. His mother says bullies called him gay, called him ugly, and they called him the virgin, because he was from the Virgin Islands. He also hanged himself. I mean, imagine, an 11-year-old hanging himself.

Just a few months -- a few days ago, just outside New York, 17- year-old Alexis Pilkington took her own life. Her parents said she was already in a lot of pain, but she was taunted online at a social site before. And, even after her death, they were taunting her online. Police are investigating.

Now, we're going to talk tonight to Dr. Phil....about the problem of bullying, and why he says we all need to wake up about it.

But I want to give you some numbers...One in five children, according to Love Our Children USA, say that they have bullied somebody. One in four says they have been bullied. Forty-two percent of kids say that they have been bullied online. And as many as 160,000 kids across the country say they have been so scared of their tormenters, of their bullies, they have actually stayed home from school.

But I have got to tell you, not enough is being done about it. Kids are dying -- 41 states now have some kind of anti-bullying legislation on the books. Nine, including Massachusetts, don't, though a bill is making its way through the legislature.

Now, lawmakers say that Phoebe Prince's suicide is a big reason why that is happening in Massachusetts. But, "Keeping Them Honest" tonight, Massachusetts has been trying, unsuccessfully, to pass anti-bullying legislation for a number of years. So, why didn't they?

And what about Phoebe's school? I mean, teachers and staff knew about the bullying, according to the district attorney. So did other students. Did they do enough to stop it?


GARY TUCHMAN: Phoebe Prince spent her last day alive tormented by her classmates.

It began at the school library, where, according to prosecutors, the 15-year-old was harassed in front of a faculty member. The bullies then taunted and threatened Phoebe with physical violence in the hallways. And it continued as she walked home.

It ended when Phoebe's younger sister found her lifeless body hanging in the stairway, leading to her family's apartment. She was still wearing the same clothes she had worn to school. Officials say what happened to Phoebe in January was not an isolated incident.

ELIZABETH SCHEIBEL, NORTHWESTERN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: They (charges against 7 girls and 2 boys) were the culmination of nearly a three-month campaign of verbally abusive, assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm towards Phoebe on school grounds by several South Hadley High School students.

TUCHMAN: On Monday, prosecutors announced charges against nine teenagers, seven girls and two boys, in connection with Phoebe's death.

Two of the nine also face statutory rape charges. Phoebe Prince, who moved to Western Massachusetts from Ireland in the fall, briefly dated one of the accused, Sean Mulveyhill. Students say he was popular, an athlete.

Phoebe was a freshman from out of town. And, apparently, the other girls didn't like that she and Mulveyhill were dating. And, when the relationship ended, prosecutors allege a round of intense bullying started. According to students, books were knocked out of Phoebe's hands, her photo were defaced, and threatening messages were sent to her cell phone and over the Internet.

But it turns out, this wasn't the only incident. Phoebe Prince had allegedly been bullied for months, sometimes in front of faculty members.

SCHEIBEL: Prior to Phoebe's death, her mother spoke with at least two school staff members about the harassment that Phoebe had reported to her. Some bystanders, including at least four students and two faculty members, intervened while the harassment was occurring or reported it to administrators.

TUCHMAN: So, if faculty witnessed it and school administrators knew about it, as prosecutors say, then why wasn't it stopped? That's what Barbara Coloroso wants to know, an expert on school bullying.

She spoke to school administrators and faculty last year about the warning signs of bullying. Now she is wondering, was anyone listening?

BARBARA COLOROSO, AUTHOR, "THE BULLY, THE BULLIED, AND THE BYSTANDER": The bully....needed to know that, if they reported (bullying) to administration, it would be followed through with consequences where not only is the kid accountable, but the parents of those bullies are notified, so that they're working on the issue at home as well.

TUCHMAN: And she says Phoebe's death could have been prevented if school officials had just listened to her.

COLOROSO: Defining bullying for what it really is, the procedures in place that are truly effective discipline procedures and safeguarding the target.

TUCHMAN: Prosecutors say more charges could be coming. But, for Phoebe and her family, those actions will be too little too late. Her body was flown back to Ireland, where she was buried in a small cemetery next to the sea. Gary Tuchman, CNN.

COOPER: All right, let's dig deeper now with Dr. Phil Mcgraw, psychologist, bestselling author, and host of the nationally syndicated show "Dr. Phil."

Doctor, it's outrageous when you think about this. This young girl comes to the United States, 15 years old. She's from Ireland. She comes to this new country. She starts a new school. And, after six months of repeated harassment, which -- which a lot of people seemed to know about, she ends up dead, hanging from a stairwell in her home.

I mean, it's just sickening, when you think about it.

DR. PHIL MCGRAW, HOST, "DR. PHIL": Anderson, it is beyond outrageous. Let me tell you, this is a death that didn't have to happen. It's always tragic when a young person loses their life. It's doubly tragic when one takes their life. But when it is inside a system that is guaranteed, that's supposed to be protecting our children, nurturing our children, advancing our children, that is just unacceptable.

This is outrageous. And my concern here is, it's outrageous at many different levels. I have a belief, and that is that, if you stand by passively, whether you're an adult or another student, a peer, whatever, if you stand by passively and watch somebody being bullied, you are as guilty as the person that's doing the bullying.

COOPER: So, you -- you support the criminal charges that have been filed against the people accused of bullying?

MCGRAW: I do support the criminal charges.

Look, I don't want to destroy these kids' lives, because they are kids. And their brains are not even through growing yet. They don't have the ability to predict the consequences of their actions. I doubt, in their hearts of hearts, that any one of them would have wanted this kind of outcome, if they took a moment to think about it.

But, Anderson, we have got to have accountability. This is at epidemic proportions. It's happening on the Internet. It's happening on the schoolyard. It's happening more with girls.

And -- and here's a question, Anderson. Where are the parents of these bullies? How are these kids out there bullying someone to the point of taking their own life, and their parents either don't know it, or don't care, or condone it? It's your -- it's their job to know what their kids are doing.

COOPER: Yes, where are the parents? Where are the school officials? Where are the other kids in school?

We're going to have more with Dr. Phil after break. We will talk about why school staffers don't take bullying more seriously, why kids don't come forward with what they see.

The live chat is up and running at You can talk to viewers right now watching right now around the world...

COOPER: All right, just want to update you on the breaking news tonight: the school district in South Hadley, Massachusetts, announcing the expulsion of several more student following the death of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince.

A Massachusetts prosecutor says that Phoebe killed herself after months of brutal bullying at school. Nine teens were also charged in connection with her death, criminal charges.

We're now digging deeper with Dr. Phil.

COOPER: The parents of one of the girls who is charged said, well, look, my girl didn't -- didn't attack her, didn't physically attack her, never said, I hate you. They just got into a verbal altercation.

It seems like folks don't take this bullying as seriously as they should, whether it's parents, or school officials who said they didn't know anything about the bullying that was happening to this young lady, even though the district attorney says that is not true, that school officials had been notified, and that the whole thing was common knowledge.

MCGRAW: Well, what we know, Anderson, from psychological research is that emotional abuse, verbal abuse, those sorts of things that don't leave visible scars can have a more devastating effect than actual physical abuse.

I mean, think of -- it's like your psychological skin gets burned. And what happens with the victims is, they internalize all of these messages from the bully. They start saying these things to themselves. They -- they adopt those messages and pound themselves with it 1,000 times a day, even more.

And so it becomes a very insidious decay of their self-esteem. This is outrageous that this -- allowed to go on. And -- and the report says that they were throwing bottles and cans at this girl in the lunchroom, with faculty members watching.

I'm so curious to hear what the administration and teachers have to say about this, because my experience with most teachers is that they are loving, caring, dedicated folks that would not sit by with this. What in the world is going on here?

COOPER: Yes. One of things we have covered a lot on this program is this whole stop-snitching movement, and especially in inner cities throughout the United States, where people don't want to come forward and say what they have seen because they don't want to be labeled a snitch.

In cases like this, it seems like kids who witness the bullying are often afraid to speak up because they don't want to become targets themselves.

MCGRAW: Well, that's -- that's exactly right. They feel like, if -- if I align with this unpopular person, then I'm going to be lumped in with them.

And there is strength in numbers. The only thing that's ever going to stop this in the schools is if we're able to make it uncool to be a bully, if they become the outcast, if it's unacceptable, because there's strength in numbers. If they close ranks around this kids, hear their cries, their desperate cries, then the bullies won't have the confidence.

And, so, I think there's a real issue here with the students needing to close ranks and say, we're just not going to have this be part of our school. And one of the things that I think, Anderson, we can't fail to talk about here, is, I have heard so much when I grew up, in my generation -- and it may have been the same with you, Anderson -- the attitude among teachers and parents was, look, kids will be kids; they will work it out on their own.

COOPER: Right.

MCGRAW: And a lot of bullying victims are afraid to be forthcoming with their parents because they're ashamed. They don't want -- they don't want to go home and tell their parents, look, I'm a nerd, nobody likes me, they're picking on me.

So, they hide that. Parents need to recognize the warning signs. If a kid is avoiding school, if they're getting injuries that are unexplained, and it's frequently from the same people, if they start coming up with illnesses that aren't warranted, they're avoiding school for some reason, they may be getting bullied.

And you don't want to go racing into the school like your hair's on fire, hysterically screaming at teachers and administrators, but you need to go in and partner with these folks and say, look, my child is reporting being bullied. I don't want this to be a he said/she said. I want to figure out what's going on.

But don't leave those kids to deal with this alone. It's the loneliest time they will ever have in their life. That's the time to step up and be an active parent.

COOPER: In the political realm, I know the legislature in Massachusetts has approved some anti-bullying measures, and a lot of states have done it, with varying strengths. But this is something that also really has to come from -- from within the schools and the kids and the administrators.

I mean, kids have to know that it is not -- it's not OK to bully. I mean, it's just -- it is unacceptable.

MCGRAW: Well, it is a grassroots program.

Look, you can do legislation. It's very bureaucratic. It's abstract. It is a beginning. And I certainly support it and -- and hope that we continue to see states adopt that and school systems to adopt it.

But this is a grassroots program that has to start from the inside out. The teachers needed education. They need resources. I mean, what's a teacher or counselor do when somebody comes and he says, "I'm being bullied," the other person says no?

Look, most of the bullies do this outside the view of the teachers. Now, in this case, it appears that some teachers knew what was going on and failed to take action. That is tragic.

But we have to -- we have to train these teachers. We have to give them the ratios they need to be able to see these things and help them. As I say, most teachers -- look, teachers don't take teaching jobs for the money. They take teaching jobs because they're passionate and they care about the students.

We need to give them the training. We need to give them the resources. But, Anderson, this has got to stop. We have got to raise noise about this, until people say, we're not going to have this anymore.

COOPER: Dr. Phil, appreciate you being on. Thank you.

MCGRAW: Anderson, thank you so much.

COOPER: This has got to stop.

* * *

Many commentators of bullying don’t really know how ugly it’s gotten. The new kind of bullying is making up a story that you’ve been victimized to incite other people to attack another person. To Kill A Mockingbird.

I knew a girl I cared for, a friend’s daughter. She made up a story of being hit by a girl who made her feel left out. This tactic was used to get that girl in trouble.

Another teenager recently on trial in Toronto asked her boyfriend to kill a girl she didn’t like, and didn’t even meet. She was killed.

My daughter may be returning to North America for junior high, where bullying is rampant. It seems to start at age 11.

The difficulty is bullies tend to be classmates/friends of victims or children of people you know. What should I tell my friend whose daughter is a bully? Is it any of my business (if my kid is not the victim)? No one tells me how to parent.

There's also a big denial that females at an alarming scale are taunting classmates at school. What do i tell the mother who believes her daughter is good - a reflection of who she is? What do i tell the woman or man who only believes in the goodness of women/females? Is this gender bias to focus on girls? For my daughter, I am not afraid of the boys, I am afraid of the girls. The new kind of bullying uses social media and text messaging, uses fake stories of being victimized, and causes many people to attack, too many times, violently. Verbal abuse, dishonesty and defamation has reached a level never seen before. Sound familiar?

Many adults who pick on other adults are unaware adults teach its practice. And i think that's also why the practice is accepted.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Portrait of That Artist

That Artist.
Not Any Artist.
The one who makes you sing,
Whose words make you know,
Something you wouldn’t normally see.
Words come out

That Artist.
Not just any Artist.
The one who makes you go out of your way.
You can’t resist, the soul calls
That once in a lifetime
A story yet to be told

Napkin dances

That Artist.
Not any Artist.
The one that makes you want a repeat.
You sing the song,
Feel it.
You remember the sights, hear the echo
You write, you recall.
"Something new." You call.

That Artist.
That unsung Artist.
The one who makes you remember
What special really meant
You remember – special
Only That Artist
Makes you remember

Napkin dances

That Artist, inspired
Ain’t nothing like it
Not this night

That Artist
The one so humble
Or outrageous
There is no limit
Proving it all night

When you blow the roof off
There is only sky
That Artist makes you believe
Anything is possible

That Artist makes me
The person I used to be
Or That person I can still be
...That Artist.

That Artist who is happy,
Makes you happy,
Who is sad,
Makes you sad...

That Artist with the chip on the shoulder
- no, not that chip
But that inspired protest
That makes you protest
(Me doth protest)

Been photographing this same block since 2006 - for Time Lapse

That Artist whose ego
- no, not that ego
But that vision to see a New World
And dance, eureka

I see

Juanita is smiling tonight
When she smiles, the world smiles

When Black is White
And White is Black
When every colour is here
And every colour is gone

Afterhours, buildings start to speak to me
1239 am

That Artist breaks a sound
A word that whispers and then shouts
That truth…

To define what is not defined
That lyrical truth, That secret chord
That guitar, That piano.
That new act.

If true love is known
That Artist knows it.

A truth only That
Artist can see (at first)
No cheating
No lying

No fabricated feeling
For attention

That Artist rings from within
There is no choice
Only movement.

Everything was fake but this flower

Free flow.
Free speech.
Free up,

Freely dance happiness.
How can you tell the dancer
From the dance? Galileo once asked.

The words dance for music
The music plays for words
Sound layers peel off
For sound to take off

Mona Lisa
Is smiling
Or is she?
That’s the beauty
That Dolce Vita
That sweet life
That sweet spot

That fire, only That Artist knows
Madness, brightness
All in one
A power that can't be contained

"That Artist"

That Artist whose energy
Can’t stop, sees no barrier
Past the prolific
When your sweat,
Becomes my sweat

A passion without a pacemaker
The beat goes on…

Tonight I saw `Art’
The program said,
“Igniting our spirits
Through the Arts.”

Toronto Cafe closes, Card game starts
(surprise photo from outside)
(note the Kleenex dancing)

The photos above were taken at the cafe or on the street where the poem was written. As I put my pen down, closed my book, I asked Juanita, “you’re smiling a lot these days…(why?)” She answered, “Because I am going to Cuba.” She paints dancers and likes to dance. Actress Caitlin, a Tennessee Williams fan, is now leaving with boxes…she is about to move from Roncesvalles to a place closer by on April 1. I just saw a Canadian play called Art and showed her the program. There's a woman Kim who works at this cafe. She used to race cars (Ford Mustang) and looks like Mona Lisa. She served Maggie of Vancouver who tipped well the night before, she said. I read a link that said Mona Lisa's smile is an illusion. She is only smiling if you look at her from a certain angle. Maggie and I discussed Artists Kaki King, Andy McKee and Max Serpentini who play out of this world. I then thought of other Artists, out of this world. Michael who’s working tonight asks “what do you write, can you read something?” He’s about to get married on May 1 to Connie. I don’t normally write poems, I tell him. This is one. The title is a twist of James Joyce. I read the first paragraph to Michael. He then repeats it in Italian to a crowd. The Beat Goes On played in the background.

Feb 25, 2010: Exactly one month before, i was somewhere in New York City, writing. The Beat Goes On...
12:24 am

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This is #Haiti

...Two Presidents arrived in Haiti yesterday
Shane Macgowan joined Facebook today.
RamHaiti and Carel Pedre on the ground everyday,
And Wyclef Jean – pure intent and word everyday
Penn is no hypocrite – living in a tent city.
@troylivesay, a doctor, who knew the ground.
EQ was January, This is March

(written randomly in status reports)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

When Canadian law helps a kidnapper keep a victim

Toronto Star front page:

This is a tragic front-page story where a woman who may have been kidnapped must give consent to our government in order for information about her to be released. That’s the law in Canada.

The privacy of a victim trumps the safety of a victim.

The government refuses to release missing person files to a missing daughter’s mother because it’s the law. Her name is in the file. The law says – they can’t release any information confidential to her, or with her name attached.

Her name is Nicole Vienneau. She’s been missing three years now. The government refuses to release files as far back as 2008.

Case files sent by the Canadian Embassy for her mother have been blocked by Ottawa. The Canadian Embassy wanted her mother to have them.

Yes, this law does protect people who are not victims, who have chosen to run away from their family….and wouldn’t want their information shared…but what about the people who are kidnapped?

There’s something wrong with a country if it allows criminals to have free rein on travelers because their information cannot be shared to help solve the case.

Certainly the word “exemption” can be considered into law.

Online commentators seem to deflect from the policy issue saying this is the fault of Tories or Liberals. But this is not a partisan issue.

This is a Canadian who is missing. A victim whose information cannot be shared due to Canadian privacy laws.

Some commentators and even Canadian officials declare without looking at evidence that she could have chosen to run away.

Fact: Her visa expired days after her disappearance; her passport wasn’t used to cross any border.

Fact: She left her personal diaries and photos behind.If she ran away, she would take these.

Fact: Her bank accounts weren’t emptied.

Fact: She regularly chatted with her mother every two weeks. This is how she was discovered missing. She's been incommunicado for three years now.

Fact: She emailed wanting to come home earlier.

Fact: Her diaries indicated happiness, no thoughts of flight.

Fact: She was engaged to a man in Canada.

Fact: Police have a suspect. That's in reports Canada won't release.

Granted we all know people who would run away – but that doesn’t change the policy issue. In the current privacy laws, if a Canadian traveler is kidnapped, privacy laws prevent information about the victim being shared to help find the victim. Only the missing victim can given consent to waive privacy or else the victim needs to be declared dead.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What Happens When A Canadian Traveller Gets In Trouble

I once suggested we declare her dead.

Photo i took of Nicole Vienneau in 2002
(Wreck Beach, Vancouver)

I got the idea from Henri Cartier-Bresson, my inspiration for photography. He was once declared dead during World War II. He was missing for years. The Museum of Modern Art in New York then organized a posthumous exhibit to pay tribute to the legendary Magnum photographer. Henri then showed up and asked MoMa, Can I help?

By Henri Cartier-Bresson (Mexico, 1934)

He lived another five decades.

In Nicole Vienneau’s case, her family can't access missing person case files. Not unless she is declared dead.

The Toronto Star wrote a full page story today on this.

Police reports were sent by Nicole’s family lawyers securely via the Canadian Embassy. Then Foreign Affairs told her family, to get access, either Nicole has to be declared dead or Nicole, who is missing, has to give permission. "Privacy laws."

Nicole’s been missing for nearly three years. One year was spent trying to get these case files from Canada…files that may be critical for a missing person search.

Nicole’s mother had a good counter-argument against declaring her dead: Canada would stop looking for her.

* * *

For a half year, Foreign Affairs claimed to me directly in writing or via my Member of Parliament that they were in “regular" communication to assist Nicole’s family. They couldn’t disclose what because of “privacy.” I argued privacy shielded what they didn’t do.

I questioned how Foreign Affairs could claim to be in “regular communication” when no communication was regular. I questioned how they could be assisting by blocking case files from being shared.

Two other families who lost loved ones in Haiti reported experiencing this same false media claim. Foreign Affairs claimed they were in “regular contact” assisting those families. In The National Post, those families who lost loved ones in Haiti said they had no communication for a prolonged period of agony. I noticed in today's Toronto Star, Foreign Affairs is no longer saying, they are in "regular" contact.

Canada blocking case files from being shared with families—that is how families are dealing with Foreign Affairs most.

Today, I say, Fear for any Canadian traveller in peril abroad. This is a story of how case files are blocked by Canada from reaching families.

Today’s Toronto Star front page was a result of two emails I sent a few weeks ago – after months, and nearly a year, of trying to help Nicole’s family get files sent by their own lawyer via the Embassy.

* * *

This is one of two cases I have been rigourously pursuing for a prolonged period where information is being with-held from insiders.

Illegitimus non carborundum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. Never surrender. Take turns.

* * *

Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 11:26 PM...

Ministry of Foreign Affairs...

I am going to be copying Toronto reporters who are familiar with the case of Nicole Vienneau's disappearance. I dont feel it is right that her family has to file a complaint or sue the government to get all the files sent from Syria sent to the Canadian Embassy for her family. I have already spent months trying to get to the bottom of this with you.

It's been nearly a year by my count, and they've applied via the Freedom of Information Act just to get files sent by their own lawyers to the Embassy for the family. I remind you that an investigation of a missing person is at stake.

Your letter attached claims that you are in "regular communication" to assist Nicole's family. How can you possibly be assisting by with-holding information meant for them (for nearly a year by my count) - information that the family's lawyers sent to the Embassy to securely give to the family. Partial files are not acceptable for a missing person case.

I reference a blog by Nicole's brother. I have sent your letter attached here to her brother who copied his mother to verify your statements. Your letter was labelled by the family to be an exaggeration. I have been assured by the family, that contrary to your letter, you are not being accurate with your claims of assistance. I see the proof of it by your failure to hand over records about her case intended for her family to see.

This statement doesnt sound like any kind of assistance (from Feb 22, 2010, post by Nicole's brother on link above):

"In one of many ironic twists, they are denying us access to documents that our lawyer in Syria gave to the Embassy to give to us. That is, the police gave our lawyer some reports, our lawyer gave them to the Embassy to pass along to us securely, but once the documents arrived in Ottawa, the privacy zealots decided that we shouldn't be allowed to see them. And they have still decided we can't see them - different privacy folks have denied us access this time as well. It is mind-numbing how frustrating and obtuse these processes."

Though you claim the Privacy Act prevents you from sharing any information with me (and it seems even her family) - What i do know is you are with-holding a fair bit of information on the case. Please advise if you can actually facilitate information to her family.

I think a Canadian mother has a right to know information Canada has about her missing daughter. And i think given this info was sent to Canada from her mother's lawyers for her mother to receive, i dont know why it has taken nearly a year for you to send all of it.

I am very troubled by this. I am in New York City right now, but i wont rest until you hand over every file the family's lawyers wanted the family to receive. Why is there a problem? At least, let them know. I fear for any Canadian traveller who goes missing based on what you have put this family through.

In that Feb 22 post by her brother, i am referenced for helping the family with a rigourous re-examination of the hotel scene where Nicole's belongings were left behind. When i used to be a reporter decades ago - i was very tenacious and understand that i intend to do the same here.

As per my last email i expect the family to respond that you have done your job forwarding all files from the family's lawyers in Syria. I think this is a reasonable demand. These delays of handing over information are wasting and impairing precious investigation and search resources being deployed and demoralizing people helping to find what happened. I personally have already spent many hours writing to you to demand you hand over information meant for the family from their own lawyers."

Second Email (Feburary 26):

This is another story where your Ministry is falsely telling the media you are in "regular contact" with families who lost loved ones (in Haiti) this some official line being made up by some spin doctor who dont know the truth or deny the truth...why can't you just say you're too busy or something...a least that would be more truthful. It's deplorable that false statements are being made about your actions to families who lost loved ones.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Power of Song (Singer Banned 17 Years)

Exclusion is convenient. Inclusion is inconvenient.

Compromise is convenient. Sacrifice is inconvenient.

Freedom is inconvenient. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ is convenient.

There’s a singer I know – he’s been around the block. The chopping block and back.

The US government once blacklisted this New Yorker. For 17 years, he was banned from TV. And this is after he once sung at the White House, as an honored American guest.

His words have been sung by Artists as diverse as Massive Attack, Ani DiFranco, Bruce Springsteen, Olivia Newton-John, Dolly Parton, Chris Deburgh, Billy Bragg, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Earth, Wind & Fire, Indigo Girls, Jackson Browne, and Marlene Dietrich.

This is a singer who practically single-handedly kick-started an American folk revival that featured Bob Dylan.

Bill Clinton called him an “inconvenient” Artist. If you listen to his song collection…you would go WTF? How could they ban him?

The songs, they seem kind of jolly, redemptive and hopeful. They’re in fact sometimes a little too happy.

“Anytime you have an administration that punishes its enemies—that’s never as far away as you think it is,” Bruce Springsteen opined on PBS. True that, just ask Dixie Chicks.

* * *
I thought of Pete Seeger when something strange happened in New York. I don’t have a lot of albums in my car. Maybe ten.

I went to New York to see singer Andrea Ramolo.

Andrea Ramolo's debut in New York City at Caffe Vivaldi

She randomly told me she had regretted leaving this man’s songs at home in Canada. And just my luck – or the luck of the Irish – or the luck of this 90 year-old singer (who is still alive and kicking playing Carnegie Hall) – I had this album among my ten.

Bruce Springsteen paid tribute to him in We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. And I only had this album because an Irish friend insisted I have it (it was once hers), and she mailed it all the way from Ireland.

Seeger Sessions...Traveled 3500 miles from Ireland

I gave it to Andrea. So now this one album has been to three countries owned by three music fans. Pete Seeger – have will, will travel.

We all share this love of Mary.

Aretha Franklin sang it on Amazing Grace. Another version inspired Paul Simon to write Bridge Over Troubled Waters.

* * *
In some twist of history, Pete Seeger in a twisted American cultural revolution was banned from sharing his music to a national American audience. This is someone who knew more about American folk music history than nearly every American.

Pete’s father was a pioneering ethno-musicologist. His mother, a violin teacher. His step mother, one of the 20th Century’s most notable female composers. Pete himself worked for Al Lomax at the Archive of American Folk Songs at the Library of Congress. His job was to curate songs that represent American Folk.

* * *
A Harvard scholarship student drop-out (now that’s a rare thing to say), Peter Seeger started with the Vagabond Puppeteers. Like Jack Kerouac On The Road, Pete Seeger saw a lot of America.

“During the entire trip the group never ate once in a restaurant. They slept out at night under the stars and cooked their own meals in the open, very often they were the guests of farmers. At rural affairs and union meetings, the farm women would bring `suppers’ and would vie with each other to see who could feed the troupe most, and after the affair the farmers would have earnest discussions about who would have the honor of taking them home for the night.

`They fed us too well…And we could live the entire winter just by taking advantage of all the offers to spend a week on the farm.’”

~ Daily Worker, October 2, 1939

* * *
During his Lomax days, Pete sang alongside Woody Guthrie (Bob Dylan’s hero) and Lead Belly. In 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt invited this rare racially integrated troupe to sing for soldiers at the White House. Lead Belly was known for his 12-string guitar.

Rare mix of people at White House

* * *

Andrea Ramolo sings Lead Belly’s In The Pines.

Set List - includes Lead Belly's In The Pines for New York debut. Written at Grey Dog Cafe

Pete Seeger’s 1950 recording of Lead Belly's Goodnight Irene stayed #1 for 13 weeks in America.

* * *

Then one dark day in 1953, Pete Seeger (along with his singing group The Weavers) was black-listed by the American government for not declaring his political beliefs…in the land of the free.

This Land Is Your Land.

Like the aftermath of the Dixie Chicks criticizing George Bush after 9/11…radio stations refused to play Pete Seeger records. Gigs were cancelled. All of them.

* * *
In 1955, a promoter taking a chance rented New York’s Carnegie Hall. It sold out rapidly. Pete Seeger introduced Kumbaya – a Gulla song from slavery days – which in 1959 became a staple campfire song for girl and boy scouts.

In 1948, Pete Seeger had already written the classic How to Play the Five-String Banjo, which started a banjo movement in America. Seeger invented the long-neck or Seeger Banjo. And a new sound.

Pete Seeger’s We Shall Overcome inspired MLK and became the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.

Seeger was still banned from TV during the Kennedy years. Other people sang on television for him. Marlene Dietrich recorded his song Where Have All The Flowers Gone in English, German and French in 1962.

Peter, Paul and Mary recorded his song If I Had A Hammer and of course there was Turn Turn Turn! re-recorded by the Byrds…my favourite.

* * *
If you ever see any footage of Pete Seeger…you will notice one thing…the images look like We Are the World. There were people of all kinds on his stage. I’d like to say these images look timeless…but today, they still look unique.

The 1960 San Diego school board demanded Pete Seeger sign an oath that he would not overthrow the government. Otherwise, they threatened to shut down his concert. Pete refused and a court order enabled the show to go on. San Diego apologized 39 years later in 2009.

* * *
On September 29, 2008, once banned from TV, Seeger at 89 made a rare national television appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. He sung, "Don't say it can't be done, the battle's just begun...take it from Dr. King you too can learn to sing so drop the gun."

Inspired by Woody Guthrie, whose guitar was labeled "This machine kills fascists," Seeger's banjo motto.

Earlier that month, the 52nd Monterey Jazz Festival, which never features folk music, invited Pete Seeger to headline.

In 2009, Pete Seeger appeared with Bruce Springsteen for President Obama’s inauguration singing Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land. He closed the show.

Two verses were included (not often included) about ignoring a Private Property sign and a reference to a Depression-era relief office. For those who know the song…those words really stuck out like thorns on a cactus.

* * *
Pete Seeger brought Open Mics (aka Hootenannys) to New York City. He fought for openess and free speech. He was the mould for music in the modern era.

“He was one of the few people who invoked the First Amendment in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Everyone else had said the Fifth Amendment, the right against self-incrimination, and then they were dismissed. What Pete did, and what some other very powerful people who had the guts and the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the committee and say, "I'm gonna invoke the First Amendment, the right of freedom of association...."

...I was actually in law school when I read the case of Seeger v. United States, and it really changed my life, because I saw the courage of what he had done and what some other people had done by invoking the First Amendment, saying, "We're all Americans. We can associate with whoever we want to, and it doesn't matter who we associate with." That's what the founding fathers set up democracy to be. So I just really feel it's an important part of history that people need to remember."

~Jim Musselman (founder of Appleseed Recordings)

* * *

``Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't.”
~ Pete Seeger

Pete later started a movement that cleaned up the Hudson River – long before environmentalism became popular. He married Toshi-Aline Ōta in 1943 and they’ve been together ever since. They bought land in the hamlet of Dutchess Junction in the Town of Fishkill, New York, at first living in a trailer in 1949. They then built a log cabin and house where they still live today.

`` “I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.”
~ Pete Seeger

His 90th birthday in May, 2009, was celebrated at a full Madison Square Gardens. Dave Matthews, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Morello, and Joan Baez were among featured artists paying tribute.

Few singers have had it harder, longer, more impactful and fulfilling than Pete Seeger in my life.

* * *
Tonight I saw Pete Seeger: The Power Of Song on television. It’s strange to see the only singer banned from television for 17 years, only singer blacklisted in a Cold War. It was as if he never existed during that time.

“Technology will save us if it doesn't wipe us out first."~ Pete Seeger

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Young Oscar

They gave tips on CNN: Traits to win an Oscar. Get accent. Get ugly. Get weight. Get in trouble. Get dead.

My favorite Oscar dream is no longer Halle Berry, first (and last) woman of African decent to win Best Actress in 82 years. That was so long ago, I woke up.

In this dream, an Oscar was not even won. Not one for film anyways.

The dream started in a New York basement, it passed through the White House, TED, and BET (with Indie Arie). It ended up at last year’s Oscars with Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Stone, Robert DeNiro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Forest Whitaker, Adrian Brody, Barbara Streisand, Tobey Maguire and Donna Karan.

When I first saw him, I wrote, “Plays like Oscar.”

* * *
Oscar Peterson was arguably the best jazz piano player ever—even when playing with one arm.

He was my Grade 5 hero in 1978. I first saw him in 1987 in Roy Thomson Hall at Toronto's first jazz festival. Until then, i had only seen a character sketch of Oscar's legendary one-armed play. In 1994, I held the door for Oscar, and pushed his wheelchair through, in awe of my hero. He received an honorary degree in my college at UBC's War Memorial Gym, where he once played five decades before. The loudspeaker blared:

"music is a sustaining source of pleasure and inspiration in virtually every culture on earth, and we count those who create that music among our most valued citizens."

It's a lot to see your hero and push him. (Eyes were welling up) I remember that day like yesterday. That was the last time i saw Oscar.

* * *
I never thought I’d see anyone else like him again. I was wrong.

Pesci, De Niro

Eric Lewis inspired someone to write this:

“Every once in a while, an artist comes along who changes everything. Producing something completely new and meaningful, this person fills a void within the fabric of our culture--a hole we didn’t even know was there.”
~ All About Jazz

Yep - That would be Oliver Stone

On November 15, 2007, I wrote what I saw to the Grammy Awards. I called this man the “Second Coming of Oscar Peterson.”

Written November 15, 2007--from Grammy Awards.

Written by me to Grammy Awards, November 15, 2007--“I am often in New York where i see a lot of magnificent artists in places such as Zinc Bar by Houston and Thompson - where prodigy jazz players, including the second coming of Oscar Peterson, play for $5 to $10 cover.”

November 16, 2007 (note from me to Grammy Awards)--"randomly Eric Lewis (re: the second coming of Oscar Peterson) showed up at the Zinc Bar last night! He had the whole place dancing - very unusual for a jazz trio in a cellar performance."

Who's the Pianist?

In some magical fate, as if Oscar passed his mantle, Oscar, after seven decades of playing, passed away on December 23, 2007. It was as if Oscar let this young Oscar play...true to the spirit of jazz greats in a jam.

December, 2007

* * *
Wynton Marsalis, with whom he played, saw it and so did Lincoln Center, where he played. The Second Coming of Oscar won the Thelonius Monk International Piano Competition.

“It's a contest that goes beyond simply rewarding musical proficiency, instead recognizing the elusive combination of knowledge, command, passion and expression that define a true piano master.”

~ All About Jazz

* * *
I found Eric Lewis by fate. I hadn’t gone to New York City for a while. After seeing 9/11, I had scars.

When I finally returned, I was roaming lost in SoHo. It had changed so much. Artists had disappeared. Retail stepped in. I was about to leave SoHo, then on the corner of Houston and Thompson, I saw a glow inside L’Angolo.

Natalie Portman and Heather Graham were here.

And that’s where I met Paola who told me to see NuBlu where I randomly saw Nora Jones. She also told me to go to Zinc Bar nearby. I went regularly: late night sets, green-room after-hours.

Then one day a Jersey boy named Eric Lewis walked in…everyone in Zinc knew Eric after the first night. He literally blew the roof off, putting everyone into a trance and then a frenzy. He was in a zone: A trance and a frenzy.

I then wrote, “Plays Like Oscar Peterson.” Words I never thought i would write. Almost sacrilege.

A woman next to me said, “He’ll make millions.” It was hard to believe her--but what i see in great music can't be believed. That woman (happened to be his manager) was in a trance, inspired. After seeing him one last time, December, 2007, I told her, “I think this will be the last time I see him here, the next time he’ll be too famous!” Sure enough, Zinc Bar closed, moving into a larger venue. L'Angolo also closed. This happened after my brother died two years ago today. The Grammy folks were the first people i saw after my brother's funeral (see keynote below). I then took time off from New York. A year and a half off.

Zinc Bar when two blind men played
(October 15, 2007)

Where Zinc Bar used to be
(February 22, 2010)

Then one day, May 18, 2009, I received an email from a friend who was with me the last time I saw Eric Lewis play. The email had one word: "Incredible." Eric was filmed at TED. He played the strings of his piano like this:

He also played at the White House for the Obamas, Spike Lee and James Earl Jones. His music made Denzel Washington's Great Debaters. And recently he's been on BET, January, 2010, with Indie Arie to play for Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Sean Combs, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Maxwell and others.

People at last year's Oscars saw Eric (including people pictured above).

Donna Karan (left) Barbara Streisand (right)

Forest Whitaker

Rosario Dawson

Jason Statham once played my friend Max Serpentini's bongos randomly in Vancouver...where randomly George Michaels once spontaneously sang to Max's drumming. Max saw Eric play that December, 2007...and wrote that email that said: "Incredible."

I only see Eric now on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and MySpace (our first place in cyberspace)…and because I can only remember him first-hand at Zinc Bar, that’s all I still talk about…that original magic, the roots of inspiration, in the roots of a New York basement.

I shared photo time capsules he could tag.

When people tell me how music is uncertain, I don’t respond because I have seen the best things happen to music, through thick and thin. The best music is belief. The best music is magic. The best music is a tonic to get anything done…to dream anything possible.

So here's my tip to be Oscar. Get magic.

* * *
After that November 15, 2007, set with Eric, i followed players outside of Zinc at 4am - an upright player walked home with music on his back and amps in both hands (no car). This inspired me to write this to the Grammy Awards (at some pre-dawn hour). I emailed it at 6:06am EDT to Los Angeles because i felt the moment mattered:

I am often in New York where i see a lot of magnificent artists in places such as Zinc Bar by Houston and Thompson - where prodigy jazz players, including the second coming of Oscar Peterson, play for $5 to $10 cover, and Caffe Vivaldi in the Village, one of New York's last surviving music cafes, where they just shot a movie about Bob Dylan who once lived next door, and whose owner receives 3000 monthly requests for a booking (a three-month wait list). Musicians play for donation. I discovered a new soulful artist there and always go there to show up to see her, i think it means so much to an artist today. She even inspired me to write a song Kate's Manhattan which i posted on Facebook and MySpace. I recently saw an artist who reminds me of Nina Simone there (Pamela Means), whom i photographed to capture the moment...
Pamela awesome Nina Simone.

...I even saw a friend of mine, an actress-musician, who visited New York City for the first time, and made it to the stage on an Open Mike to perform spoken word. She used a tiny bathroom as a Green Room to rehearse. It barely fits one person. I have never seen people so happy.

I have always called music the hardest profession and hardest art form in the world. What other art form or profession requires someone to work late nights, carry heavy equipment (and depend on it), find vehicles that fit the equipment (the harp is unbelievably wide), spend lots of money on recording, travel so much, and work for donation. Even Buddhist Monks have a better life. And yet, that's how some of the best music gets created, how it saves so many lives and impacts so many people, growing their identities at such at formative stage in life.

While i am there, i always write, wondering what speech would make music matter...always thinking of the keynote speech on Grammy night. Music Makes Me...write....all the time...with illumination only music can make.

Needless to say, we are without question very inspired by music and it is one of our biggest causes.”

Since my brother's died - nothing's made me happier than music.

* * *
The last thing my 29-year-old brother texted me in life...was about music...he wanted to explain the lyrics of Talib Kweli as i saw him sing live at the Highline Ballroom Lounge in New York, December 29, 2007. He wanted to explain how music created a social consciousness. He did this from a Toronto hospital bed. He had 91/2 weeks left to live. Word.