Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Sam Mandala’s memory flows on

I love the synchronicity of the Internet. Last summer, I posted a whimsical entry about the wooden salmon art piece I did called “Sam Mandala,” which played on the word “salmon” and used mandala images as a theme. Well, it turns out that there was a real Sam Mandala, an Italian born in the Bronx. His granddaughter Melissa had Googled his name, and wound up on my blog. Who woulda thunk it?


She said that she loved my fish mandala and wanted to know if it was for sale. (It’s not. It was auctioned off and I have no idea who bought it.) She added: “[I]t describes my grandfather’s personality to a ‘t’.”


When Melissa emailed me about this, I was skeptical, having been victim of an Internet job hoax several months ago. But I did my own online research before responding and yes, she did exist. When I asked to find out more about her grandfather, here is what she sent in a reply:


“I’m from New Jersey, my grandfather was born in the Bronx, then moved to Newark, NJ. His parents and oldest brother were born in Sicily. His brothers were deviants, his brother Paulie was a bookie and his other brother was the type to steal and then fence the items.


Grandpa followed a different path. He married Grandma and then went to war in Korea. There are so many pictures where he’s kissing and hugging and holding Grandma on his lap. Every photo, he has a huge smile. I remember when I’d spend the night, he would wake up first, brew coffee, and bring it in to Grandma while she was in bed. He spoiled her and it was cute. Everyone in his senior citizen apartment building knew who he was because he would talk to everyone, but never got involved with drama or gossip. He always had a joke on hand. I think, maybe, he was a bit of a flirt!! So, that’s Sam Mandala as I remember him . . .”


What a wonderful story. I encouraged Melissa to write about her grandfather since so many family stories and reminiscences disappear, never told. That’s one reason why I’m writing a memoir and encourage others to do so through my workshops. Thanks, Melissa, for sharing a touching tale. I’m grateful that your grandpa’s memory ended up prompting you to contact me.

March 31, 2010 at 10:15 am Comments (0)

Karl Rove: arrest that war criminal

I often think of George Orwell’s slogan “War is Peace” from his novel 1984, symbolizing how a totalitarian government can twist the meaning of language to have words signify their opposite definition. We’re no stranger to this phenomenon in democracies, either. Hence, “peacekeepers” carry weapons and kill people, and powerful men like former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who oversaw the “secret” bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War, win the Nobel Peace Prize.


To a disturbing degree throughout history, countries herald the men who support and approve war while reviling those who abhor it. Hence, leaders often denounce peace activists as “subversives” or “thugs.” Since when does seeking peace and harmony make you a criminal?

One of the latest “war heroes” is Karl Rove, deputy chief of staff under former U.S. President  George W. Bush.  He is on a book tour in the States, speaking at private Republican Party gatherings about his new tome Courage & Consequence, My Life as a Conservative in the Fight. Without having read the book, I can say that I prefer the account of Rove in the citizen’s arrest complaint created by CodePink, a U.S. women’s peace group:


Arrest Complaint

 In the matter concerning:

United States of America, plaintiff  v. Karl Christian Rove, defendant

 Under the authority provided private citizens by California Code: 837, you, Karl Christian Rove, are being placed under arrest for high crimes against the people of the United States committed during your role as Deputy Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush as well as while serving as a campaign consultant during the U.S. presidential elections of 2000 and 2004.

 You are charged with willful violation of the following federal codes between the dates of January 1, 2000 until the present.

 US Code: Title 42, the Voting Rights Act, for ELECTION FRAUD in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. 

US Code, Chapter 19.371, CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT OFFENSE OR TO DEFRAUD UNITED STATES, for false information leading to the War in Iraq

 Several sections of US Code, Chapter 115, TREASON, SEDITION, AND SUBVERSIVE ACTIVITIES including, but not limited to submitting and fomenting false information leading to the War in Iraq, illegal detainment and torture of prisoners in Guantanamo and elsewhere, and other fraudulent acts leading to the deaths of more than 4,000 U.S. military personnel as well as approximately 300,000 Iraqi civilians.

 US Code, Title 18, Chapter 51, FELONY MURDER

 Further, you may also be indicted for other violations of federal code not listed in this complaint.

 Any United States Marshall or any authorized U.S. Law Enforcement Officer present is obligated under the provisions of California Code 837 to take you into custody and bring you forthwith before the nearest magistrate to answer these charges and to advise you of your rights with include:

 You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.

 Respectfully submitted by and for citizens of the state of xxx


On this xx day of xx, 2010.

March 30, 2010 at 12:14 pm Comment (1)

Crozier’s confidences spark A Prairie Memoir

Last night, I heard Lorna Crozier, Canada’s poetic gem and a Governor-General’s-Award-winner, read from several of her books, including Small Beneath the Sky: A Prairie Memoir. It always intrigues me to hear how skilled poets create evocative nonfiction prose. Their incisive attention to a moment, honed in poems, seems to bring  a fresh strength to prose writing. I can’t remember the specific lines that Crozier read that startled me with brilliant sensory detail, but the talent of her words had me experiencing the world as if peering through a carefully placed telescope with a sensitive yet powerful lens.


I can appreciate how growing up in the Prairies has shaped Crozier’s life and sensibilities, and love that she articulates how one’s soul can bond to a particular landscape. Her sentiments made me think of Sharon Butala’s deep sense of  connectedness with the prairie earth and sky. Yet my own sense of shimmering kinship with nature rests with the ocean and mountains in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike prairie people who often consider mountains claustrophic, I find looking at, and being in, them exhilarating and expansive.


In honor of Earth Day, the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt, BC where Crozier read, turned off all of its lights except for a few overhead ones that enabled her to see to read. Kudos to them for taking this initiative. Listening to her read in semi-darkness, with candles flickering, gave her words even greater impact.


Although I have not yet read her memoir, I know that in it, Crozier addresses her childhood of poverty and her father’s alcoholism. During the Q&A, I asked her if she had concerns about the ramifications within her family of exposing their “secret” of alcoholism. She said that she regretted the hurt this revelation caused her mother, and shared a related story. Unbeknownst to her, during a church service in her home town of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, someone read aloud an excerpt that mentioned the drinking of Crozier’s dad — and the author’s mother was in the audience. This was her mom’s first awareness of such content.


This account gave me pause, since I am writing a memoir about a family secret and am concerned about how much it will hurt my parents upon publication. But my consideration of this issue is not enough to spur self-censorship. I need to tell my own truth.

March 28, 2010 at 5:54 pm Comments (0)

Mary Walsh is right

With a horned Viking hat, fake metal armour and scads of improv confrontation, actor/comedian Mary Walsh has challenged and discomfited some of Canada’s top politicians. Beyond her satirical Viking role as Marg Delahunty on CBC Television’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes (a show that Walsh created), she recently lashed out at the federal government for its indifference to child poverty.


If senior government had made the same financial commitment to abolish child poverty as it did to Olympic athletes, Canada would be a far different country, Walsh told the March 8 annual general meeting of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation at the Hyatt Hotel in Vancouver.


“We got the most gold ever won by a host country and they say that cost about $4.2 million per medal,” the keynote speaker said of Canada’s 14-gold-medal achievement. Walsh charged the federal government with failing to fulfill its commitment made decades ago to eliminate child poverty by 2000.


“If they had thrown money at that then, I think we could be looking at a different country today,” she said.


For the past six years, British Columbia has had the highest child poverty rate in Canada, with a shocking rate of 18.8 per cent in 2007, the last available annual measurement. Pitted against the $58.8 million spent to earn Canada’s gold medals, what does this say about our national priorities?!

March 14, 2010 at 6:33 pm Comment (1)

The black-sheep mascots live on


Fourteen gold medals. A dramatic spike in Canadian pride. And a lot of half-price Olympic mascot merchandise.

In Vancouver’s post-apocOlympic world, Quatchi and his gang are now unemployed. His activist twin sister Quarotchety (see earlier posts) was horrified to come across this giant mutant version of herself during the Games. She probably felt the same way actor Glenn Close did years ago when a swarm of female fans, who had had plastic surgery to make themselves look like her, swarmed her.


But Quarotchety was thrilled to learn of a distant cousin Squatchi, introduced to Vancouver by some intrepid resident. Set free from Vanoc’s corporate family tree, the black-sheep part of the sasquatch family is growing . . . Who knows where they’ll turn up next?


During the Olympics, various television networks certainly took visual advantage of the scenic magnificence of Vancouver and Whistler. If I had never been to this region and saw the many gorgeous images shown on TV, I would be thinking: Wow, that place looks fantastic. But few media outlets provided much critical coverage of the Olympics within Vancouver’s total social-cultural context. That was hugely disappointing, but not at all surprising.


An acquaintance from South Africa said that the Olympic flag-waving  fervour on Vancouver’s streets marked the first time she had ever seen Canadians show passion. I confess to enjoying the Go, Canada, Go signs, the many flags displayed, and the nationalistic spirit that grabbed we usually reserved Canucks during the Olympic hockey games, in particular.




While watching the men’s and women’s gold-medal hockey games at the home of friends, a group of us waved our flags, stuck up a Go, Canada, Go sign under the television, and activated various silly noisemakers whenever Canada scored. My husband Frank, an American, said that I could never again tease him about how patriotic Americans are. Admittedly, the sports hoopla was gosh darn fun.


I loved hearing spontaneous bursts of O, Canada sung by boisterous fans in the streets. It was great to see people swathed in the Canadian flag. Why can’t people get as excited about social and political issues that affect their lives on a more long-term basis?


I am pleased that B.C. Housing found shelter for bout 40 homeless people who had erected a tent city on Vanoc-leased property at 58 West Hastings Street during the Olympics. But why did it take coverage of the issue in international press before staff  took action? Many advocacy groups on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside will be watching to see how the city and province respond to homelessness in this globally glorified city. (To find out more about the red tent campaign, see www.redtents.org.)


During the same week that Vancouver’s homeless erected the tent city, which bore red tents that said “Housing is a right,” visitors to Vancouver bought millions of dollars worth of luxury suites. Three sold in two high-end towers specifically for the Olympics. One included a $22.3 million penthouse under construction in Coal Harbour, beside the building that operated as the Olympic International Broadcast Centre.


I was shocked to find out that Vanoc donated $300,000 to the Haiti earthquake relief effort. That’s a laudable gesture of corporate social responsibility, but why couldn’t they have used some of that money to help alleviate the homelessness issue in Vancouver? While reaching out to other countries in the world, we can’t forget about our own folks and faults.

March 11, 2010 at 9:19 am Comments (0)

Glenn Beck hates me

The U.S. activist group Moveon.org has created a hilarious video satire of Glenn Beck’s rabid, illogical thought. You can receive a free personalized attack from him through Facebook. Watch and enjoy.

March 11, 2010 at 8:52 am Comment (1)

What’s Harper got up his sleeve?

My husband Frank is no expert on body language, but he recently noticed a behavioural tic that appeared every time that Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a lie. He was watching the parliamentary debate on television that followed Harper’s release of the federal budget.

Various opposition politicians were skewering Harper for his recent proroguing of Canada’s Parliament and his lacklustre budget that offered almost no significant changes.  Although he claimed to have delayed the opening of Parliament for two months so that he could “recalibrate” the country’s economy,  critics were astutely accusing him of using this as a tactic to avoid  fierce questioning about how much he and Peter MacKay, his Minister of National Defence, knew about, and subsequently hushed up, Canada’s torturing of detainees in Afghanistan.

My husband noticed that every time Harper had to answer to one of these pointed challenges regarding Afghanistan or a similarly unflattering topic, he would tug on his left sleeve before speaking. Was this some liar’s protocol or trick that a speech consultant had dreamed up for him? Or was it merely his own body’s reflexive action to a lie? I guess the time-worn response of averted eyes are no longer the only indicator that someone is avoiding telling the whole truth. What’s Harper got up his sleeve?

March 5, 2010 at 1:39 pm Comment (1)

The genetic range of B.C.’s spirit bear remains unprotected

                                                                                                   – photo copyright Heather Conn

British Columbia’s spirit or kermode bears — a rare genetic white form of black bear — are protected from hunting, yet their black-bear parents aren’t.


Ian McAllister of the B.C. conservation group Pacific Wild says that less than two per cent of the “genetic range” of spirit bears are protected from trophy hunting. These white bears, unique to Canada, are found only in north-central coastal B.C., on Princess Royal Island and several river habitats, including the Skeena and Nass valleys. Their highest concentration is on Princess Royal Island, where roughly one in 10 black bears is white.


Yet McAllister points out the hypocrisy of making the spirit bear such a popular public icon for British Columbia and Canada when its genetic legacy does not even enjoy protection. He recently told The Vancouver Sun: “How can British Columbia be celebrating the spirit bear in the opening Olympic ceremony and as an official mascot to the Olympics when trophy hunting is allowed in over 98 per cent of the animal’s genetic range?”


As a further insult, the British Columbia government in 2006 trademarked the name “spirit bear” — a term used for generations in the oral history of certain coastal B.C.  First Nations — for commercial use. Then-Finance Minister Carole Taylor said that the province  registered ownership of the name so it could legally use it on government publications. This gives the B.C. government legal power to sell the right to use the name “Spirit Bear” to private companies to generate revenue.

For more information on B.C. trophy hunting of bears, click here.

 For more information on the trademark issue, click here.


March 1, 2010 at 11:59 am Comments (2)