Monthly Archives: October 2022

Political Violence is the Currency of Fascism

Whatever one thinks of the politics of Nancy Pelosi, American Democratic Speaker of the House, the violence perpetrated against her husband was nothing short of terrifying, and for many reasons. No spin can erase the fact that this was political violence. And it is becoming normalized in a country that has been rapidly unraveling for several years.

The latest attack did not occur in a vacuum. It was fueled by the far right which is becoming more unhinged by the day. Before Republican senator Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia took office, she embraced insane QAnon conspiracy theories and proclaimed that Pelosi was guilty of treason. She added: “it’s a crime punishable by death.”

During the coup attempt on January 6th, 2021, mobs broke into the Capitol and proceeded down hallways calling out her name. Some of them erected a makeshift gallows in front of the building. And since this incident there have been political ads depicting violence against the Speaker and other politicians in the Democratic Party.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve been a long time critic of Pelosi. I have been against her neoliberal, “we are capitalists” economic policies which have contributed to the abysmal condition of labour, while consistently voting to increase the budget of a bloated and belligerent military sector. I have opposed her reckless foreign policy blunders, like recent trips to Armenia and Taiwan, which have only exacerbated global tensions at a time when de-escalation of conflict should be a priority. And I have vocally decried her continued support for the apartheid regime in Tel Aviv and the despotic theocracy in Riyadh.

But she is not being attacked for these positions. The animus toward Pelosi stems from a noxious, far-right ecosystem where political and social paranoia are the lay of the land. It is a place where complex social, economic and cultural issues are reduced to two dimensional, black and white shadow plays.

This strange world, which largely exists online, is where troubled souls perseverate on supposed secret cabals who meet in shadowy caves in Washington DC or New York to plan out their diabolical crimes of world domination. It is a place where logic and reason have been abandoned for magical thinking and cult-like obeisance to charismatic authoritarian figures. A place where social hatred, racism and prejudice have become acceptable opinions and mental illness is ruthlessly exploited. Where fascism is nourished and encouraged to fester in minds that have been alienated from civil society, cut off from a future of promise, addled by drugs or online hate, and denuded of nuance and critical thinking skills. And it is where violence is seen as the only vehicle for agency in our society.

Violence is the currency of fascism, and in the US it is endemic. It has been woven into the very fabric of the culture since its colonial settler roots in Native American genocide and ethnic cleansing and the African slave trade. It is a common thread through its bloody crushing of labour movements, Jim Crow segregation and lynching, internment of Japanese citizens, suppression of women’s suffrage, reproductive freedom and LGBTQ+ rights, wars of domination against Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and beyond, to the mass shootings and police and prison brutality of today. And that violent tradition informs the miasma of lies and lunacy we see online.

Attacks against political leaders like Pelosi, or the normalization of them, are canaries in the coal mine. They warn us of something potentially catastrophic looming ahead. But there are no signs that those who need to hear them are listening. Only days after the attack on Paul Pelosi, who is still in hospital, Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted a photo mocking him and peddling a discredited conspiracy theory. He has not deleted it. As of this writing it has gained over 20,000 likes and was retweeted over 3000 times. He understands his father’s political base. The question is, do we?

Kenn Orphan, October 2022

*Photo is of Nancy and Paul Pelosi courtesy of Associated Press.

“Yesterday was Last Week, Today Never Happened”: A Reflection on the Painful Journey Through Dementia

Today, I am deeply honoured to feature a reflection by my sister about our mother, who suffers from dementia.

Several months ago, my brother Kenn and I realized that Mom’s dementia had progressed to the point where I could no longer care for her at home, so we made the extremely painful decision to place her in a nursing care facility. Although she has kept her sweet and loving disposition, Mom’s memory has degenerated to the point that she no longer consistently remembers anyone but my brother and I, and sometimes, not even that is always true.

Her world is very small now and she is no longer the once vibrant and capable person we knew her to be. One thing that has not changed though, is her loving personality, and although Mom can no longer carry-on long conversations, she is most content when surrounded by others. She still has a warm smile for everyone she sees and very often will reach out and hold the hand of whomever may be talking to her.

My brother and I have now begun the sometimes-emotional task of going through Mom’s things and though it was not always obvious, she was a very sentimental person and as we have discovered, saved every single card and letter she has ever gotten. So, my brother and I have spent several evenings together, going through these memories of our mom, which are even more poignant because, though she no longer remembers her life, much of it is represented in this box of treasures, carefully saved over a lifetime.

During these times that my brother and I have pored over my mother’s treasured memories, we have laughed and giggled while looking at all the silly things that we, her children bestowed upon her, so full of our childish wisdom and artistic endeavours, that she, our mom had so carefully preserved all these years.

And whereupon reading the love letters and cards written by our dad, to his sweetheart so many years ago, we have looked at one another in surprise and wonder. Going through all the many Christmas, Easter and birthday cards, we smiled in remembrance of holidays and celebrations long past.

Something that many people did not know about our mom was what a talented poet she was. In fact, some of her poems were so good, they were published. But as my brother and I discovered, Mom wrote many more poems throughout her life. Some were written on the backs of envelopes while others were scrawled on small bits of paper, all carefully tucked away.

Poems about love and friendship, God and family. Rambling ballads that spoke of her yearning for Nova Scotia, the homeland she left behind. Some about youthful love and broken hearts. Poems that were light and humorous, while others expressed deep sadness and despair.

My mother wrote this particular poem in November 2000. Discovering it brought great sadness to my brother and I, because we realized that Mom had some awareness, that changes, however subtle were beginning to take place. Changes that we, her family wouldn’t necessarily have noticed and that she didn’t understand but still caused distress that prompted her to write this poem:

What did I say? By Joyce Orphan

One time as we grew older, our minds were our treasure

We were oh! so smart, we had so much pleasure

But now, what has gone wrong

Why at times I can’t even recall my favourite song?

Yesterday was last week

today never happened

And when did I last eat?

Who was that person that just gave me a hug?

Did I hug them back or just give a shrug?

Well tomorrow is another day

I’ll just go along my way

And pray

According to the World Health Organization, “more than 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year. As the proportion of older people in the population is increasing in nearly every country, this number is expected to rise to 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050.”

As my mother has demonstrated by this poem, the beginning symptoms of this disease can be insidious to the point, where many of us would dismiss it as just the normal changes of getting older. I wish my mom had told us that she was feeling this way, there is no cure at the moment but at the very least, perhaps she wouldn’t have felt alone in her confusion and frustration.

Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to the diagnosis of dementia/Alzheimer’s. People experiencing symptoms, understandingly are afraid to talk about it because of the perception of being seen as incompetent or “senile”. But early diagnosis is key when treating this disease. There are medications that although they do not cure dementia, they can help slow the progression of the disease. And there is always the possibility that there is another underlying and treatable condition, that is causing these symptoms.

Cheryl Orphan, October 2022

Cheryl Orphan is a registered nurse who worked in pediatric care for almost 3 decades. She is currently an artist residing in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Her artwork can be viewed at

*Title photo is a painting by Cheryl Orphan entitled Fleeting Beauty, acrylic on canvas, 2022.

On Sunflowers and Performance Activism

This painting has been all over the news following an act of protest by two young people from the organization Just Stop Oil. They hurled a tin of tomato soup at it in the National Gallery in London. The painting itself was behind glass and was not damaged by the action. The frame, however, which is an antique, may have suffered some damage.

I will say that I have some sympathy for the activists. Over my lifetime I have been involved in many demonstrations that have not always been greeted with understanding. And sometimes disruption is necessary to get the public’s attention. Blocking roadways or refusing to get up from a seat in a theatre, a restaurant or a bus can be effective ways to protest an injustice and slow the machinery of a brutal system.

Like all of us, the young protesters in London are witness to the continued ravaging of the earth’s fragile biosphere on which we all rely on to survive. They see the web of life unraveling thanks to rampant greed of fossil fuel companies and other lucrative extractive and exploitative industries. And they see apathy and inaction by most world leaders as this carnage continues. They decided to take action.

But I don’t think this act really did anything to galvanize public support or concern. Most people are aware of our existential crisis. Every day we hear of a flood or drought or a monster storm. Famine and species extinction have become normalized. This kind of protest, however, comes across as a kind of preachy performance activism. And it has come to define many climate organizations these days.

Van Gogh’s painting will be fine. No damage was done to it. Ironically, his life’s work was about the veneration of nature. So, he might have even had sympathy for the young protestors. But our anger needs to be focused on the source of this catastrophe, not the few beautiful things humanity has been able to create in spite of it.

We need to focus it against the centres of capital, money and investment, against government agencies which aid these profiteers, against the industries that commercialize everything, including nature, and who reduce life to dollar signs, against the military sector which uses the most fossil fuels and pollutes more than any other industry.

But leave most public art alone, especially the art that is created for all of us. It is a major source of inspiration, particularly for the working class. And it is one of the few things that corporations haven’t entirely stolen from us, yet.

Kenn Orphan, October 2022

*Title painting is from a sunflower series by Vincent Van Gogh, 1887

Angela Lansbury: A Personal Reflection

The first time I remember seeing Angela Lansbury in anything was as Jessica Fletcher, in the tv series Murder, She Wrote. I was only a little kid, but I would watch these episodes with my mom who loved mysteries as much as I did.

I fell in love with the kind, bookish and sharp as a whip sleuth who had far too many murders to solve on her hands in that sleepy hamlet on the Maine coast, Cabot Cove. Fletcher was meant to be a combination of two of Agatha Christie’s most important characters: the elderly busybody, Miss Marple and the eccentric and ever curious mystery novelist, Ariadne Oliver.

Even though it was filmed several years before Murder, She Wrote, I would later see Lansbury in Christie’s blockbuster mystery, Death on the Nile. I was too young to see it in the theatres, of course. But I was glued to the screen when it came to television. Everyone shined in that movie, but her portrayal of the gin-soaked, washed up romance author, Salome Otterbourne, was perfection.

After that, I tried to watch all the older movies she had starred in whenever I had the opportunity. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs and The Manchurian Candidate were my favourites, but there were so many others. Over her long acting career she starred in scores of films along side other legends, like Ingrid Bergman, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor (who was also a lifelong friend), Orson Welles, Elvis Presley, Bette Davis and Maggie Smith (another lifelong friend).

Hollywood was never Lansbury’s scene. She said she felt like a stranger there and was often cast in roles far older than her actual age. Nevertheless, she made a stunning career on stage on Broadway and in notable plays and musical performances. Her role as the quirky socialite Mame was critically acclaimed and beloved by nearly everyone who saw it, especially the gay community.

I must admit that Lansbury’s death is hard for me. Partly because it is yet another reminder of the relentless march of time. But it is mostly because of that cruel thief of memories called dementia.

As a boy I loved watching each episode of Murder, She Wrote with my mother. We would pore over the clues until we came up with the killer just before the final 10 minutes. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my mom would let me believe I sleuthed it all by myself. Even though those memories have vanished for her, I cherish them for both of us, nonetheless.

A part of me would like to share the news of Lansbury’s death with her. My sister told my mother of the death of Queen Elizabeth and said she felt sad at the news. This is unsurprising since she grew up through World War II in Nova Scotia. And the imagery of the British monarch’s resolve in the face of Nazi barbarism had an enormous impact on a lot of Canadians during that period of history. Dementia hadn’t robbed her of this memory yet.

Still, I think I will hold this news back from her. Not because it would be hard for me. But, perhaps, more for her.

Angela Lansbury lived a life that was undoubtedly full. It spanned almost a century. In fact, she died just 5 days before her 97th birthday. Born in the UK, she came from a family of Labour socialists and never lost that leftwing ideological care for humanity after coming to North America. And she entertained us in a way that forever changed the usual, banal nastiness of the Hollywood industry for the better. There is nothing to grieve about in any of that, but there is a hell of a lot in that life to celebrate.

Kenn Orphan, October 2022

*Photo is Angela Lansbury, 16 October 1925 – 11 October 2022.

I want to live in a river of love, where I can learn to dream again

I am honoured to feature the prose of a dear friend, Tangerine Bolen. Tangerine has an extraordinary way of tapping into powerful metaphors. Her writing at once captures the daily struggles so many of us encounter, especially those who struggle with chronic illness or disability, while simultaneously lifting us to a different plane of understanding, imagination and wonder. Her musings sing to the contradictions of what it means to have a body, and to live consciously in that body, loving it with all of its beauty and failings, while dreaming of something more.

I want to be a cicada, buried underground for 20 years in the cool dark, then bursting forth, furiously singing, furiously mating, then letting my earthly body go.

I want to be a caterpillar, forming my hard-shelled, spiked cocoon, the armor that allows the whole of me to dissolve into goo, liquid forming wings, eyes, head, legs, bursting armor open in the alchemy of transformation, to take to the skies.

Light as a feather, silent as dead stars.

I want to ask the Boatman on the river, the one and only river, why some of us are forced to live bobbing on its waters, where he refuses to speak to us, refuses to row to either shore.

An interminable twilight, racked with sickness and pain, where we must remember to try to capture every gleam, hold it, then let it go, as another piece of us is taken.

I want to speak to Death, and have long conversations. If only Death would deign to speak to me, while I am still keen on living.

I want to climb mountains again, and dance again, and cross logs over rivers, and go bouldering.

I want music to seep into my bones, in a way it hasn’t done, since sound unfriended me, and became ice picks in the ears, diffuse yet glinting.

I want to save the dogs, and help the people, and help myself, and never be sick again.

I want to enter the un-Promised land. Where every wrongful death, animal and human, where every life of suffering, extinguished before grace and relief could come, where the saddest and loneliest of all, in Elysian Fields live, free, utterly free, from all pain.

I want to be with those ones.

Not the Instagram celebrities and vacuous “influencers” and modern-day Nazis, or the people who have it good enough to neither understand, nor care about, others’ suffering.

I want to see transformation in hearts and on faces. I want to see hope return.

I want another planet, but I want this one, and I want another body, yet I just want my own, recovered, and steady.

I want to breathe again, freely, without devastation in my veins.

I want to live in a river of love, where I can learn to dream again.

And I want for you what you need too, because I am human, and my heart, though broken, is still open, and like all the hearts here that are forged by both sorrow and courage—it is made for greater things.

~ Tangerine Bolen is a writer, activist, disability rights advocate and former director of a civil liberties and human rights group she founded in 2010. RevolutionTruth created “Legal Campaigns,” combining grassroots advocacy and multi-plaintiff lawsuits to address power abuses committed by the United States government. The group has taken both the Obama and Trump administrations to court over indefinite detention and environmental injustice at Standing Rock.

*Title photo is Metamorphosis, 1936, by Joan Miró.