Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Beam me up, Scotty — it’s Rapture time

I wanna know: Who’s gonna have the last laugh after tomorrow’s supposed Rapture? It sure won’t be the Vancouver Canucks. They’re playing like they’re stuck in purgatory right now, down 3-0 against San Jose after only the first period. Maybe they’re destined to flame out in hell for this . . . Skates and sticks sure won’t help them in a place that’s far too hot for ice to form. Did the team get hit with Judgement Day jitters or something?

All day today, I tried making phone calls to Vancouver, BC, and each time, I got the recorded message: “All circuits are busy. Please try again later.” The only other time I’ve ever had this happen is at Christmas. Truly bizarre. I started thinking: Gee, do people think that this is their last day on earth, so they’re jamming the phone lines to talk to their loved ones? Makes me think of those lyrics from the Manhattan Transfer song: “Operator. . .Information. . .Get me Jesus on the line.”

I’ve heard the advice for pre-Rapture prep: unplug your appliances and make sure you’re not in a plane. Sure would make the Mile-High Club a little meaningless, wouldn’t it?

I like some of the tongue-in-cheek Rapture tips that a friend sent: “Wear clean underwear” and “Keep your sunroof open to enjoy extra special effects.”

Anyone near Boston who’s still around post-Rapture can join the Left Behind Party on Sunday in Salem, Mass. What more appropriate place to celebrate Earth-bound survival than in the city that took a torch to witches?

 I can’t wait to hear what Harold Camping, the president of the Family Radio network (based in Oakland, Calif.), who predicted Saturday as Rapture Day, will say when he wakes up Sunday morning in his own home. “God forgot to wake me up.”

May 20, 2011 at 7:12 pm Comment (1)

Guest blog: Bin Laden’s death no civilized result

As a guest blogger this week, Massachusetts lawyer Frank McElroy (my hubby) offers his view of Osama Bin Laden’s recent death (murder).

The summary killing of Osama Bin Laden, though it may have been necessary on the ground, is just a damned shame. Had he been captured and brought to answer in the sophisticated federal district courts of the United States (or the courts of many other countries), I, and the world, would have had the benefit of a public procedure, a trial, likely a sentence.

 Most importantly, we would have had an affirmation that even in the most difficult circumstances, civil society is based on law, not on personalities, heinous, kind or powerful. Having Osama crack big rocks with a hammer into smaller rocks, alone, until his last moment, is a punishment that I believe befits his crime.


Death at the end of a muzzle or a hangman’s knot is far too easy in my mind. Just think of the crimes he committed. It’s one thing for a dead body to twist in the wind at the end of a rope, another to twist in the wind and contemplate an unending misery borne of the horrors visited upon one’s victims.


I can’t imagine anything more interesting and likely instructive than Bin Laden, in chains in the U.S. District Court in Southern Manhattan, properly defended. I’d have traveled and stayed for that, maybe even have volunteered to defend him.  That’s what makes the results legitimate, credible, civilized.

I cannot begin to credit the claims of Republicans who, long ago, affirmatively minimized Bin Laden to a point of no influence or activity. Now they claim that their former leader, George W. Bush, is ultimately responsible for the great feat of eliminating this true scourge.


Barack Obama and the power of the United States of America killed Osama Bin Laden.  Nobody else.  That was not wrong, but it was a lot less than what the world needed.  The audacious nature of the raid ensured shooting and death, and that’s what happened.  Not a lot really, compared to what Bin Laden has wreaked upon the world.  It could have had a different result, although I can’t imagine any planning that would have assured Bin Laden’s capture rather than extinction.


When Saddam Hussein was being tried for his horrifying crimes, I tried mightily to find a way onto his defense team, led by Ramsey Clark.  I wasn’t in time — they hung him from a hook in a dark room with no windows.  That’s not justice.  Having him testify or not, but being present in a court of law with unbiased triers of fact and administrators of law, that’s justice. 

I don’t believe in the death penalty for lots of reasons, one of which is that it doesn’t carry any real weight.  It creates an artificial end, and history shows that the value of human life is thin at best. 

Editor’s note: As someone committed to a path of nonviolence, I feel conflicted over Bin Laden’s death. I am grateful that Obama chose not to use a missile to kill Bin Laden and hence, risk killing innocent civilians. Yet, when westerners joyfully gather publicly to celebrate his death, how is that different than those in the Middle East who cheered the fall of the Twin Towers? 

May 16, 2011 at 8:05 pm Comment (1)

Living in Emergency: survival at its rawest edge

For anybody in western society who thinks that their life is tough, try immersing yourself in the harrowing documentary Living in Emergency. This 2008 hard-to-watch film throws you into the poverty and life-death traumas of  patients in the Congo and Liberia, whom four hardy Medecins San Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) volunteers — all stressed and challenged to the max — try to save with only the barest of medical resources.

Last month, I saw the Vancouver, BC premiere of this gripping film, a former Oscar contender, at the Vancity TheatreBeyond the doctors’ obvious heroism and exhausting hours, I liked that the movie showed the three men and one woman in less-than-flattering terms. This  movie marked the first-ever insider’s look at Doctors Without Borders volunteers in the field, and director Mark Hopkins told Huffington Post that the organization wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea.

A French doctor panics when he’s forced to drill a dying man’s skull with the wrong equipment, due to a lack of supplies. One of the doctors, a new-recruit Australian, spews contempt at Unicef while drunk in off-hours, saying he’d tell any of its reps to “Fuck off” if they arrived to “help” at his isolated clinic. The other 20-something recruit rails against the impossibilities of his duties, saying that there’s no way he can continue. The others fear that one of their colleagues  has become too much like Kurtz in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Round-the-clock triage and tension-filled meetings give way to clashing egos, arguments, and also poignant admissions and loving community moments. A  native doctor complains that his western colleagues treat him like a secondary helper and when he demands greater respect, they criticize him. Admitting some gender bias on my part, I was pleased to see that the female doctor appears to handle the stress and demands the best of the four, ultimately choosing to head the emergency program.

Anybody who’s squeamish is guaranteed to look away during some scenes, when the sawing sound of a leg amputation sounds too close, for instance, and a doctor holds an organ in bloodied gloves above an open, throbbing torso. I’m usually pretty good with the sight of blood, but I definitely averted my eyes a few times.

I consider people such as these four doctors, willing to risk their lives to help others in the most extreme circumstances, true heroes. Yet I don’t uphold any sense of them as gods; they have chosen courage and astounding commitment over comfort and wealth, which is still readily accessible to them once they return home.

My main complaint is that the film was too long; it could have been edited more tightly. The interweaving of the four personalities and their stories, as subtext to their demanding medical days, could have been blended together more clearly and seamlessly. But overall, I think  it was an excellent and rare voyeur’s view of life at its rawest edge.

This screening of Living in Emergency was presented by Reel Causes, a great Vancouver-based nonprofit, all volunteer-run,  which screens monthly films on “poverty, disease and humanitarian causes” and donates all proceeds to a related charity. The proceeds from this April 21 show went to support Doctors Without Borders’ emergency fund.

 I applaud Reel Causes’ founder Mohamed Ehab for using film in such a proactive way to support social change, and the Vancity Theatre for creating an ongoing venue and an affiliated partnership.

May 10, 2011 at 5:12 pm Comments (2)

The Quaids in Hollywood North: How can you trust a guy who wears a fake dick?

When a filmmaker appears onstage at Vancouver, B.C.’s Rio Theatre and says: “The bullets are rubber, the penis is a prosthetic, and there’s a lot of nudity,” you can expect her upcoming flick to be, er, a tad unconventional. (I was only thinking: How can you trust a guy who wears a fake dick?)

When that filmmaker is Evi Quaid, wife of wacky Hollywood actor Randy Quaid, then you can expect the movie to be extremeo bizarro. Yes, indeed, this year’s April 22 world premiere of Star Whackers, featuring Randy as three ultra-strange characters plus a cast of several mangy-looking donkeys (the four-legged kind), was as woo-woo as they get. This grossly self-indulgent flick seemed akin to a bad student experimental film trying desperately to be clever and edgy, yet coming across as something influenced by alternating doses of downers and LSD.

(For backstory, it helps to know that Evi and Randy are on the lam after fleeing from California to Canada. In the U.S., they left behind a range of crimes from break-and-enter to unpaid hotel and restaurant bills. Randy believes that he’s targeted for death by Hollywood “star whackers” who seek to kill celebrities to boost their market value. He thinks that stars such as Heath Ledger and Chris Penn, among others, were victims of these professional assassins.)

Hence, his wife’s film focuses on a mostly naked Randy, clothed in a full-length fur coat, on the run from Randy the assassin, clad in black with sunglasses and a serious-looking assault rifle, interspersed with Randy as an unknown third character, who spouts off on a hilltop while wearing an animal skull and antlers on his head and a black, open-weave bag stretched across his face. Your usual run-of-the-mill stuff, right? (Randy’s penis prosthetic, by the way, is a forlorn, droopy-looking thing. Can’t guess, and don’t want to, what’s hiding underneath it.)


Randy’s penis prosthetic is a forlorn, droopy-looking thing.


I had expected Evi, who appeared in the Rio’s aisles wearing tight clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and a video camera, to screen a 10- or 15-minute excerpt, then ask for audience feedback. Instead, we were subjected — the theatre was about a third full — to an 88-minute screed of Randy reciting Shakespeare and repeating soliloquoys over and over and over without any identifiable plot or script. After about the eighth consecutive time of him spouting “To be or not to be,” even the curiosity-seekers in the crowd like me were groaning.

We saw frontally nude Randy rolling in dry grass in his long fur coat. We saw him bellowing Shakespeare while holding the same antlered animal skull that later ended up on his head. We saw him eating dried grass on all fours and putting  a white donkey in a head lock, presumably to get information out of him. Early in the movie, he grabs a clump of fur-looking hair and holds it to his head and his crotch. The audience roars. Extreme close-ups put his (Randy’s, not the donkey’s) nose hairs and bulging eyes a lot nearer than this viewer would have liked.

In the movie, Randy plays the fiddle while ranchers brand cattle. He stares down a camel in the middle of remote desert scrub. He drives down a dusty desert road as a killer in a white Mercedes jeep and takes pot shots at invisible enemies. (The film’s on-screen opening explained that Randy was obsessed with the spirit of Shakespeare’s character Falstaff. He later said that he performed the part in what was to be a Broadway musical that  never happened.)

Based on the opening sequence (a pink-toned underexposed effort with Randy on a Shakespearian rant in full-frontal nudity), Evi apparently didn’t use a boom mike on a windy day. Strutting in a field in his fur coat, Randy sounds like he’s trying to speak over a hurricane.

Throughout the whole film, audience-members laughed, even at parts that the couple might have deemed serious. I actually felt compassion for the Quaids then: who wants their creative effort laughed at? (After four hours, I couldn’t bear to sit through a second 15-minute intermission for the Q&A to hear the couple’s view of their process and product.)

In my view, the scenery and wardrobe were the best part of the movie. The open desert setting looked like it could have been California, Mexico, Arizona or New Mexico.  The suits Randy wore in the film were unquestionably expensive and well tailored. I couldn’t help thinking: This movie is how this wealthy couple spends their money? What a waste. (The pair has sought refugee status in Canada and has made Vancouver their adoptive home. Evi is now here legally because her dad was born in Canada, but Randy’s application is still pending. The two donated the night’s proceeds to the Canadian Council of Refugees.)

Admittedly, I think that Randy is a gifted character actor who’s gone seriously askew. The evening opened with a screening of the Canadian movie Real Time, in which Randy plays, coincidentally enough, a hired assassin of a young, compulsive gambler whose unpaid debts are too high. In the role, he appears to channel Michael Caine, and won the 2009 Vancouver Film Critic’s Circle Award for his portrayal.

I confess that it was voyeuristic of me to attend An Evening with the Quaids, after hearing about Randy’s conspiracy theory and reading about the couple in the January 2011 issue of Vanity Fair. That publication calls them “Hollywood’s craziest couple ” and points out “that’s a high bar.” I agree, and yet, at least, Randy and Evi have been married since 1989, which is a helluva lot longer than most Hollywood couples, including Randy’s younger brother Dennis.


This movie is how this wealthy couple spends their money? What a waste.


I also confess to enjoying the lyrics in Randy’s two rockabilly songs Star Whackers (“They’ll sell your vital organs on ebay”) and Mr. DA Man (“a little bureaucrat in a chintzy suit”), which he performed as lead singer with local band The Fugitives. A handful of people in the audience, including the guy in front of me, were videotaping this portion of the show. (Sure enough, you can see and hear Randy singing Star Whackers from that night on YouTube.) About a half-dozen young women in tight black clothes danced in the aisles, then ran 0nstage and gyrated with Randy as he sang.

Yes, even in Vancouver, Randy has his groupies. They were hollering “We love you, Randy” outside the theatre at the front of the line on Broadway before the show. I was surprised at the media presence then. Global, CBC, CNN and Fox were doing on-camera interviews with some of those waiting and Jack FM reps were hoisting around life-size cutouts of several of their DJs. When Randy and Evi arrived, gleeful cheers went up and people clamoured for autographs.

Randy and Evi recently told Vancouver magazine WE that they love Canada and “want to give back in every way possible.” Why not use your money to build a shelter for the homeless in Vancouver, for people who already live here legally?

May 8, 2011 at 1:26 pm Comments (0)

Elizabeth May a small-c conservative?

Since my post this week on the election of Green Party president Elizabeth May, a leftie friend has sent me more info about her, citing a 2008 article in Canadian Jewish News. Initially, I found some  of it disturbing, but it did not all pan out.

I have always considered Canada’s Green Party a progressive, leftist force; it certainly garners a lot of leftie support. Well, May’s political roots seem to come from the right. In the mid-1980s, she served as senior policy adviser to Tom McMillan, the Tory environment minister under then-prime minister Brian Mulroney. That’s distressing, yet I’d like to know: How  much have her views and policies changed since then?

In this year’s federal election,  she received an endorsement from Fraser Smith, who spent six years on the Reform party’s executive committee, according to a National Post article. (My friend said that Smith was May’s chief strategist, but I couldn’t find any online info to confirm that.) Smith called her “a good conservative” in her views about the economy.  I don’t have an issue with that. If she’s not going to spend us into humungous debt, that’s a good thing.

May has apparently said herself that her party is not of the left. And yet she’s got  Ken Wu, a former forestry activist with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, as her communications manager. He doesn’t sound like somebody who would support a Tory.  (I dislike such limiting terms as “right” and “left” yet they make convenient labels. Unfortunately,  they usually lend themselves too easily to black-and-white thinking. Humans and their activity are a lot more complex than that.)

Back in 2008, May said that she would raise the GST back to six per cent and use this as a source of revenue for “community-level” needs such as public transit, sewer and water facilities, recreation areas and bike paths. That sounds good to me.

She’d also reduce corporate tax rates, supposedly tied to the incentive of reducing greenhouse gases. That sounds more dubious and more conservative. Yet she also said that she wanted to direct more money to low-income Canadians. And she claimed that the Green Party would scrap the Conservatives’ child-care tax benefit (a token $100 a month per child up to age six) in favour of fully accessible child-care spaces,  early learning educational experiences, and support for  families who want to raise a child at home. That all sounds great to me.

I’m not worried that May is a closet Tory in green clothing. I think that she’s got enough progressive thinkers and activists around her, and who voted for her, to keep her honest and to remind her that protecting the environment, indeed, is a prime mandate — not an impediment to jobs and corporate “progress.”
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Meanwhile, the thought of what prime minister Harper can do in Canada with a majority government is truly frightening. As someone said to me, the Canada that Tommy Douglas built might never be the same. Still, I’d rather put my energy into proactive responses and activism and hope rather than despair and alarmist rhetoric.

Yet, my friend points out that the first thing Harper plans to do is legislate away all funding to political parties. (Right now, they get a financial amount based on their number of popular votes.) As my friend wrote me in an email: “Since the Liberals are heavily in debt, this may be another nail in their coffin (which is Harper’s intent). Can you spell f-a-s-c-i-s-t? This guy is very, very dangerous.”


May 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm Comments (3)

Are you bold or fearful on the job — why or why not?

                                   Louise Mangan

In my view, sacred and spiritual talk relies too often on abstract concepts, which seem far-removed from the daily realities of work and life. That’s why I like the phrase: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” Since few of us retreat from life to live in a cave, we seek and need a practical sense of spirituality that fits modern challenges.

That’s exactly what a group of us got at a recent luncheon talk by Louise Mangan in Vancouver, hosted by the Workplace Centre for Spiritual and Ethical Development. (Mangan is the spiritual director of Pacific Pathways InterSpiritual Care, and chair of the InterSpiritual Centre of Vancouver Society.* ) She gave her talk, Fear in the Workplace: How Do We Cultivate Trust? in a conference room at the downtown Terasen Gas Building at Georgia and Thurlow.

Drawing from Taoist thought, Mangan reinforced that we can use our fears as an invitation to learn and grow. Rather than judging, blaming, and lashing out at ourselves and others when we’re in a situation that evokes fear, we can befriend fear as an ally. This starts with simple steps. When we’re afraid, we can bring awareness to our first response by asking: What am I feeling? (Mangan focuses on five key emotions: mad, sad, glad, afraid, ashamed.) We can each “be” in our body, centred and aware of its sensations, rather than ignore or try to suppress physical reactions. 

In Mangan’s view, fear invites us to examine our responses, and to practice a sense of powerful presence, regardless of what conflict or chaos is swirling around us. Otherwise, fear usually freezes action, disengaging us and launching our egos into battle mode, either on the offensive or defensive. Do you embrace or shrink from fear? What lessons do you think it can offer you, both at work and at home?

Mangan suggested some valuable and simple ways to enrich and heal our relationship with fear, drawing on love in our interactions:

•                Use a sacred word to centre yourself in prayer or meditation. It can be anything from “Patience” to “Forgiveness.” 

•                Each night, think of ways in which love came to you during the day. In the rush of life, it’s easy to overlook or take for granted a gift of love, large or small.  This could range from a child’s smile to a compliment from a colleague.

•                In reviewing your day, identify times when your love was incomplete or fractured. Consider how you might have responded differently.

•                Return to your first experienced fear and replay it, reframing it from a loving, eternal place. This promotes forgiveness and healing.

•               Do a Gestalt-style exercise with three chairs. Sit in one chair and remember a situation in which you feel regret or shame. Breathe deeply. Sit in the second chair, which represents Divine Source, and feel the love and acceptance of the divine connection within you. Then sit in the third chair and think of someone who has hurt you. How was that person trying to take care of him or herself? This process can help to strengthen our sense of compassion.

Lastly, Mangan reminded us to trust life to guide us. We only know the next step and that’s enough.

* Louise is a retired pastoral minister for the United Church of Canada. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto. She is a former member of the ethics commitee at B.C. Women’s Hospital and Health Centre, and a former chaplain for the International Congress of Midwives. She was the founding chair of the Interdisciplinary Midwifery Task Force of B.C.

May 6, 2011 at 5:08 pm Comment (1)

Go May go! Stephen, ya gotta go


Go Greens Go! I am thrilled and delighted that Canadian Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has won her seat in British Columbia. This is the first election of a Green Party candidate in North America. At last. She even ousted the Conservative incumbent Gary Lunn.

May achieved this success in her Saanich-Gulf Islands riding even after a media consortium, which included the CBC, refused to allow her to participate in the nationally televised federal candidates’ debate. Her victory occurred in a province where some people think that even Stephen Harper’s views are too liberal (scary!).

For instance, a local eight-page rag where I live, The Sunshine Coast Times,  was promoting the “search for truth, justice and the real Canadian way” of the Western Block [sic] Party. The publisher includes this disclaimer in his paper: “If you are a tree hugging, dope smoking, granola eating, left wing commie pinko and are prone to vote liberal, the material herein will probably cause you some serious pain.”

Like I said: scary. Go, May, go. However, one measly seat in a huge nation like Canada does not give a party any significant clout. The Green Party here is still only a ghost of its political role and impact in Germany, its founding nation. In Australia, the Greens have five senators, one MP, and 24 elected reps in state and territory parliaments plus more than 100 local councillors, according to Wikipedia. Canada, we need a lot more elected green thinkers in the political arena.

Meanwhile, the NDP has become the official opposition in Canada, for the first time ever. Another tremendous victory. Yet people are saying  that NDP leader Jack Layton will have less power now than he did as part of the previous coalition. I think that’s an overstatement.

However, the new majority government of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives is indeed a sad day for Canadians and the environment. What are people thinking? Harper is a strong proponent of Alberta’s Tar Sands, and like his former U.S. political buddy, George W. Bush, refuses to acknowledge the threat of global warming and the related impact of human activity. I won’t regurgitate  Harper’s long, poor record on disregarding ecological concerns — it would read too much like a eulogy for the earth.

You can get a good summary of Harper’s standing on the environment and other issues by watching this tongue-in-cheek video by a group of edgy women on Saltspring Island, part of May’s riding. Sadly, Canadians didn’t hear their message: Stephen, ya gotta go.

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UPDATE: A friend who read this post tells me that he’s skeptical of Elizabeth May, since learning her stance on abortion. Leftie activist Judy Rebick ended her support for the Green Party after she says that May called abortion “frivolous.” May is quoted on Life Site News as saying: “I don’t think a woman has a frivolous right to choose. What I don’t want is a desperate woman to die in an illegal abortion.”

What does May mean by “frivolous”? I don’t know. May does support her party’s position of keeping abortions legal. You can read the original story, posted in 2006, on the link above and make your own decision.

May 3, 2011 at 7:35 am Comments (4)