Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Good on you, Danny Boyle

Few people would associate punk-rock strums from The Clash and Sid Vicious, the late Sex Pistols’ lead singer, with Olympic competition. But their gritty sounds helped make yesterday’s opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London the best I’ve seen.


I generally condemn the hype, corporate hoo-haw, and expense of the Olympics, but am a sucker for well-executed artistic, creative spectacle, from Burning Man to Cirque de Soleil. And director Danny Boyle’s historical extravaganza, although too long, was a whimsical, ingenious wonder.


I didn’t think that the bird’s-eye-view, film-journey intro was necessary and its quick-cut imagery created a disjointed effect. But overall, I liked the thematic thread of childhood play and discovery throughout the show, which I watched with my 93-year-old Scottish friend and neighbour Cathie. She loved it all, although the dance sequences that represented the 70s and 80s left her perplexed. (In the latter, I was delighted to see that the featured couple was not Barbie-and-Ken blonds with Chiclet teeth. Kudos to Boyle for casting against type.)


As a children’s author, I loved seeing J. K. Rowling, of course, and having children’s literature celebrated, along with kids reading surreptitiously in bed. But the benign stories included, such as Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, were far safer politically than the content of Charles Dickens, whose books like Oliver Twist revealed the many ugly sides of the Industrial Revolution (child labour, exploitation, pollution etc). No room for that in this sanitized portrayal.


Since my father received medical training at Great Ormond Street Hospital and always spoke highly of it, I was glad to see it gain recognition. And gee, in this era of Obamacare, what would the U.S. neocons think about this synchronized splash of light and dance celebrating Britain’s national health system? Subversive socialism propaganda beamed at the world’s millions, no doubt.


I appreciated the show’s historical perspective, the inclusion of suffragettes, and the portrayal of labourers toiling and sweating at their tasks. A fan of poet William Blake, I thought that the inclusion of his poem Jerusalem would undoubtedly raise the rancor of Arabs around the globe. Yet its inclusion was clever here. In the poem, Blake cites the “dark, Satanic mills,” used to produce iron and steel for England’s war effort, and mentions: “Bring me my Chariot of Fire.”


Blake’s Jerusalem, as one critic states, symbolized humanity free of war, the chains of commerce, and British imperialism; this was effectively conveyed in the bucolic splendor at the start of the ceremony. So, Boyle powerfully transformed this negative association of industrial production into the five Olympic rings, a symbol of countries coming together to show their best, not their worst.


My favourite parts of the compelling presentation included Daniel Craig as Bond, impatient to whisk away the Queen; Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean in the Chariots of Fire sequence; the choir of deaf children signing (not singing); David Beckham delivering the Olympic torch by boat, and the film series of “the kiss” projected onto the house exterior, which included Shrek, Prince William and Kate, and others. Sorry, Sir Paul, you’ve been far too familiar and predictable for too long and your croaky voice needs to stay low at your age.


I can’t imagine trying to conjure, let alone produce and synchronize, all of these shows-within-a-mega-show. Congrats to Boyle for telling the world: “Look who England is and what we’ve done!” You did it with more class and heart than any other Olympic opening ceremony.

Note: I didn’t watch the athletes’ procession. I was disgusted that sponsor Adidas had ordered all participants to wear Adidas shoes in this event. If they wore a pair made by a competitor, they had to cover the logos. Ridiculous and outrageous corporate power, all for the sake of advertising and marketing.

I wonder what Jamaican sprinter and Olympic medallist Usain  Bolt, sponsored by Puma, would have to say about that. He got a clause written into his contract to ensure that Puma outfitted all kids at his elementary school in Jamaica with running shoes. Otherwise, they’d be barefoot. Now, that’s a great use of corporate product.


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July 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm Comment (1)

What kind of change agent are you?

Awareness. Commitment. Action. One person alone can’t alter an entire economic system, but working with others who are committed to take action to change it can make a difference. That’s one of the messages of The Story of Change, the latest in environmental activist Annie Leonard’s animated video series The Story of Stuff.


In this six-minute short, Leonard blames bad policies and business practices for our current western economy, which values profits over people and the planet, and creates enormous inequities in taxation and income. It’s not enough, she says, to be a smart shopper and stop buying stuff that you don’t need that will end up in a landfill. We need to demand changes from politicians, regulators, and manufacturers.


The movie explores what effective change-making has looked like over time, presenting two world examples of successful mass change: the U.S. civil rights movement under Martin Luther King Jr., and India’s shift to independence, spurred by Mahatma Gandhi. Neither of these pivotal events of social transformation would have happened, Leonard says, if the respective leaders, King and Gandhi, had pursued their quest as loners.

Annie Leonard

She emphasizes that any significant effort to build a better future shares three key factors: a big idea, a commitment to work together, and the ability to turn the big idea and commitment into action.


I wholly agree, and yet the movie fails to acknowledge the value and power of inner growth and change, which often creates the launching pad for external action. The spiritual beliefs of both King and Gandhi were major influences behind their desire for change and their commitment to peaceful resistance. If King and Gandhi were themselves violent people, they could not have inspired and led others towards peace and dramatic social change. Their inner change had to come first.


That’s one reason, in my view, why many collective attempts at change fail. The so-called leaders haven’t done enough inner growth work (whether it’s in aid of maturity, anger management, compassion, forgiveness, love etc) to walk the talk and inspire others without creating emotional meltdowns, hatred, resentments, and disillusionment. The resulting hypocrisy and contradictions between their espoused views and goals and their daily behavior become too discordant for many followers, who often quit in disgust.



As they say: Never underestimate the power of one human being to make a difference. As Gandhi said: “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” Someone’s presence, demeanour, and attitude, even with no words spoken, can alter any atmosphere or group.


I believe in the approach Heal Yourself, Heal the World. Yet, as Leonard points out, it’s not enough to remain isolated after changing yourself for the good. Only when you join with like-minded others for a larger cause can widespread change take place.


What kind of change agent are you — networker or nurturer, builder or resister? Discover your “changemaker personality type” (communicator, builder, networker, nurturer, investigator or resister) in the short quiz following the video.

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July 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm Comment (1)

Green your Canada Day — show that you care about our environmental future


Happy Canada Day! This year, I’ve avoided the parades, entertainment, and other public hoopla that normally come with our nation’s birthday. However, I did wear green for our national birthday, as advocated by Nanaimo, BC resident Dana Haggarty.


“I would like to see green added to the celebrations this year, so we can all show that we care about our environment and we don’t support the government’s changes to environmental protection,” says Haggarty, a PhD student at the Biodiversity Research Centre at the University of B.C.


This marine biologist invited all Canadians to wear green on Canada Day as a symbolic gesture against the Conservative Party’s omnibus budget bill, Bill C-38. Sadly, this bill, which eliminates a cutting-edge environmental research centre and decades of environmental regulations, fisheries and species protection, has just passed in the Senate. Its legislative changes will soon be law.


“The stories of cuts and closures to scientific labs have really affected me and my colleagues working on ecological integrity monitoring that have lost their jobs from the cuts,” says Haggarty.


Our prime minister is poised to begin more program cuts, layoffs, and amendments to environmental assessment, including measures that weaken the legal clout of the federal Fisheries Act and Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.


That’s ironic, since Canadians consider the country’s wilderness the best symbol of “what Canada really is,” even beyond hockey and our flag, according to a Canada Day poll by Ipsos Reid. We’ve allowed Stephen Harper to trample on our natural heritage and threaten the very earth and ecosystems that we cherish as a nation and people.


That’s not even mentioning the other unwanted aspects of Bill C-38, like cuts to old-age security benefits, employment insurance, health care, immigration—even stiffer penalties for marijuana use. All will become part of our new reality as Canadians this year.


That’s why I support Haggarty’s Green Canada Day as a collective sign of protest. As she says on her website:


  • I will wear green to send a message that our country’s identity is our environment.


  • I will wear green to protest the dismantling of environmental protection through changes to the Fisheries Act and repeals of the National Round Table Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.


  • I will wear green to protest what has been dubbed the “environmental devastation” act, bill C-38, and how we have not been consulted.


  • I will wear green to show that I care about our climate and I am ashamed that our government has missed all of their targets and has no adequate plan to cut emissions.


  • I will wear green to protest funding cuts and closures to our important centres of environmental research: the Experimental Lakes, PEARL, the Centre for Plant Health, the Bamfield Marine Science Centre, and others.


  • I will wear green to protest cuts to Ecological Integrity Monitoring in National Parks and cuts to the Contaminants Program Fisheries and Oceans.


  • I will wear green to protest cuts to fish habitat management at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.


  • I will wear green for my health and the health of my unborn children.


  • I I will wear green for our land, water and air.


  • I will wear green for our climate and environment.


  • I will wear green for our oceans.


  • I will wear green for our wildlife, our trees, our plants, our animals, our fishes.


  • I will wear green for you, for me, for our future.

 “This land is your land, this land is my land . . .”



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July 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm Comments (0)