Monday, December 10, 2018

The Christian Church's "white supremacy" shame (James H. Cone)


Chris Hedges underscore the theological contribution of James H. Cone’s “withering critique of the white supremacy and racism inherent within the white, liberal Christian church” in his latest column in truthdig.com.

According to Cone, privileged which Christianity and its theology were heresy.
Hedges quotes Cone: “When it became clear to me that Jesus was not biologically white and that white scholars actually lied by not telling people who he really way, I stopped trusting anything they said,” from Said I wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian.
Cone also writes, as Hedges reports:
White supremacy is America’s original sin and liberation is the Bible’s central message…..Any theology in America that fails to engage white supremacy and God’s liberation of black people from that evil is not Christian theology but a theology of the Antichrist.
White supremacy “is the Antichrist in America because it has killed and crippled tens of millions of black bodies and minds in the modern world…It has also committed genocide against the indigenous people of this land…. If that isn’t demonic, I don’t know what is…and it is found in every aspect of American life, especially churches, seminaries and theology.
Two questions emerge:

First, does Cone’s critique apply to Canada?

Second, Is the church’s enmeshment with the archetype of the for-profit corporation an extension of its colonial “white supremacy”?

Notwithstanding the herculean efforts of many well-intentioned people to bring about reconciliation regarding the “residential schools” tragedy, all of those efforts both necessary and long over-due, one has to ask, “Have we really addressed the theological roots of the issue”? Canada continues to face the haunting and daunting spectre of thousands of indigenous peoples who have to boil their water, attend below-standard schools, search in vain for adequate and accessible health care, and a basement-like ceiling on opportunities for work with dignity. Canadian prisons, too, are “over-stocked” (as if indigenous inmates were mere objects) with indigenous prisoners many of whose lives are the direct result of Canadian social policy, historic patterns and the impunity to which previous Canadian leaders (all of them dutiful and serious adherents to one of the establishment churches) were and are indebted.

As recently as the 1990’s in Ontario theology schools, Huron College and Trinity College, specifically, no a single word was uttered, by way of curricular offerings, in rebuttal of the church’s complicity, or even direct responsibility for the “white supremacy” that has been perpetrated for more than a century, demonstrably in the name of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Political correctness, ironically, consumed much of the “talking points” about such things as the debated rights of gays to administer the eucharist, the rights of women to be bishops, the relative merits of the “Red” and the “green prayer books.

And then there is the ghost of “filling the coffers and the pews, in the manner of the corporate balance sheet that permeated the atmosphere around “successful parishes. It is, was and for too long will continue to be, a prime responsibility of  Christian clergy to do anything and everything imaginable to keep the bills paid, the numbers climbing and the reputation of the denomination unsullied.

I have led public services from which people actually got up out of their pew and walked out, because a “guest” gay priest was celebrating the eucharist. In the U.S. a parishioner confronted me, just before the Christmas services with this question: “Would it be alright for a black boyfriend of my grand-daughter to attend the Christmas Eve service?” And, following three years of serving a small church as a single divorced clergy, I was harangued with the following utterance: “You would never have been given this job as priest here if you had arrived with a black wife!” White immigrants from eastern Europe, who worshipped in that church, reported that white crosses had been burned on their property, when they were young people, and they were not even black….so rampant and deep was the racism of “white supremacy” against even white European immigrants. Not surprisingly, 87% of the people living in this country voted for trump in 2016, and in 2018, 76% voted for the Republican candidate, continuing the indelible crucifixion of any Christian expression of liberation of and for all.

Canadians do not like to speak or read the kind of language that fills the theology of James Cone. We like more euphemistic expressions, that essentially “paper over” the deep divisions that nevertheless define the Canadian cultural landscape. However, just today, the Ontario Human Rights Commission issued an interim report:


shot and killed by police…black people are overrepresented in several types of violent police interactions, including use-of-force cases, shootings deadly encounters and fatal shootings (CBC)
There is another under-reported piece of information in the OHRC report:
More white people were carrying weapons in police use of force cases, and that white people allegedly threatened or attacked police more often than black people


The words (previously reported in this space) of an Australian exchange student to a question in a Canadian high school student’s question, “What is the most noticeable difference between the United States and Canada?” come quickly to mind:
“Oh, that’s easy! In the U.S. racism and bigotry are on top of the table; in Canada they are both under the table!”

Trouble is in Canada, there has been little to no co-ordinated, funded and empirically researched data on the rise of white supremacy and organizations that purport to uphold the supremacist ideology, like the Southern Poverty Law Centre in the United States. Only this year has there been an organized and collaborative resource developed to document the various chapters of these organizations and their activities.

Notwithstanding the exemplary work of some leaders in Christian theology in promoting and nurturing ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue in Canada, there is nevertheless, a clear and indisputable link to racial superiority, bigotry and indefensible personal and national treatment of minorities, including various ethnicities and religions that continue to impede the success of all efforts at establishing equal human rights, equal racial justice and a theology that purports to be dedicated to the liberation of all without real and acknowledged voices in the political and cultural landscape.
If Cone spoke for his deceased, murdered ancestors, in the United States, who are the Christian theologians in Canada who dare face the ire of the Christian establishment by calling out the blatant and inexcusable racism of the Christian  church throughout Canadian history.

An underground Christian church that strips all veneer from the politically correct sophistication, acknowledging its complicity and culpability in both distorting and demeaning the core intention of the gospel, teachings and life of Jesus Christ Resurrected, would go a long way to freeing both the laity and the hierarchy from having to protect and defend the indefensible.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Jealousy: grain of sand, a worm and invisible lethal gas


Jealousy is a complex emotion that encompasses feelings ranging from fear of abandonment to rage and humiliation. Some consider it a wake-up call that a valued relationship is in danger and remedial steps are needed.

Differing from envy, in that a third party is always involved, (envy exists between two  people only), jealousy is, while necessary, nevertheless, a dangerous and toxic emotion. It often derails not only relationships but even careers, business deals, political accomplishments and the over-arching trend to co-operation, collaboration and sharing of goals among and between social agencies, political enemies and different nations.

The Shakespearean tragedy that depicts jealousy in its most venal forms, Othello, is so memorable because it focuses on a human dynamic that impacts each and every family. Other tragedies, like Macbeth and Julius Caesar, for example, deal with elevated personages, a kind of historic royalty, whereas Othello, a black moor, whose appointment of Casio as his lieutenant leaving a “wannabe” (Iago) out of power, illustrates the nitty-gritty of how easy and deceptive is the demise of human relationships.

The literary embodiment of evil, Iago, deliberately, deceptively and angrily plots the rumour of an illicit relationship between Casio and Desdemona (Othello’s wife) and goes about planting the seeds of his destructive, quasi-military ‘invasion’ before Othello’s eyes and ears, and especially injecting it into his imagination. Rage, in the form of Iago’s jealousy, invokes and evokes rage, in the form of Othello’s fear/pride of being a duped spouse.

People spurred by jealousy, almost invariably, are plagued in their minds and hearts with insecurities, anxieties, inadequacies, fears often unreached and possibly unreachable even to their possessor, that demand their own price. It is as if jealousy has taken up residence in his/her shoes, a reminder with each and every step, of the danger of being beaten, deceived, one-upped, out-done. Often, too, these men and women put on such a positive, authoritative, invincible and credible “face” in all dealings with the public, and even in their private relationships, that it  provides deep and often impenetrable cover for the latent worm whose existence and voice eventually will out.

That grain of sand in the shoe will eventually and inevitably stimulate the worm of conspiracy that crawls around in the recesses of the mind. Discomfort, after all, is relentless. And too often discomfort refuses to disclose fully its worm. Something just does not “feel” right as the stimulus of the grain of sand awakens the interior “worm” of jealousy.

It is often, if not always, in a moment of intense anxiety and fear that the worm can no longer stay hidden, silent and imperceptible. Just when we need our most confident, most creative and most authentic and generous “self”, out burps this measly worm of our most mean-spirited and most unexpected and most hurtful (both to the host and to the victim) Shadow feature. Not only do we discover a part of ourselves we find reprehensible, the rest of the world is also “treated” to another example of the dark side of human relations. And if we think we are immune to the attitude, the insecurity, the pain of its re-discovery (most of us have encountered this “worm” previously) and the implications in this new situation, we have to face ourselves anew.

Like Iago, sometimes it is our closest confidante (Emilia, his wife) who takes the cover off the plot and its perpetrator. Sometimes, it is a colleague or even a supervisor who sees and possibly brings the ‘diagnosis’ to our attention. Often, however, it is in our own private, secret and most penetrating self-aware moments, long after the specific situation has morphed into the dust of history, that the full truth of what was really going on back then becomes clear.

Jealousy, for example, of a matron who deeply desired, and considered it her “entitlement” to have been the recipient of, a preferred appointment, in an organization her family had worked diligently to preserve and support, shows its ugly face and voice, unexpectedly, in a meeting whose agenda and list of attendees included the actual recipient of that preferred appointment. Flowing out from the eruption of jealousy is the seemingly requisite and inevitable “pay-back” of vindictive revenge, often directed at the author of the decision to ignore the ‘insider’ and offer an outsider the privilege and the honour of the appointment.

This two-headed monster, jealousy-and-revenge, seems unwilling to undergo separation. Like the proverbial Siamese twins, “JR” (evoking that old television iteration of Iago, J.R. Ewing from Dallas) sleep, eat, read, think, and even pray with a binary yet unified voice. Insult, abandonment, and outright character, political, career assassination are only a few of the weapons and goals of persons so jealous, and “offended.”

Such a dynamic is endemic among the pre-pubescent set, the adolescent demographic, the college fraternity and sorority corps, and on into adult and professional life.
With pre-teens, the prototype known to most is the jealous co-ed whose favourite “male” has abandoned her for her best friend, her sister, or worse, her deepest enemy. Among professional adults, a rejected personal relationship, in favour of another, is too often one of the primary motivations in the revenge of the jealous wannabe, who can and often does seek and find co-conspirators to bring about the demise of the one who rejected the relationship.

Those with a “high” yet brittle concept of right and wrong give us examples of jealousy when a colleague reaches some lofty perch of success, without having to own or acknowledge a deeply flawed attitude, act, or belief that counters the “right way” as perceived by the jealous observer. Exposure of the fatal flaw, then, often becomes the goal of the righteous warrior, in the name of the public good, as well as the private satisfaction of a personal jealousy. Tabloid newspapers feed on such jealous revenge. Movies, and television dramas, too, mine this character and plot gemstone for its predictable audience-generation, as well as the advertising dollars and audience ratings that accompany such productions.

Parents, too, sadly, can become jealous of their opposite number, especially if that other parent appears to have a more reciprocal, mutual and deeper relationship with the children.This emerging dynamic is especially noticeable in the event of an unwanted separation and divorce. This “face” of jealousy is, unfortunately, discovered too late, long after the children have grown and left the nest. And yet, it had to have played a significant role in the family dynamic, without the “other” parent even being suspicious of its existence. The children, too, are often innocent of such a dynamic again until long after they have left home. Yet the subtlety, persistence and ethereal dimension of this jealousy can erode much of the implicit trust of any healthy domestic relationship.

From a grain of sand in the shoe, as an irritant, to the interiority of a “worm” infecting the unconscious, both of these images inside the individual, there is also a cultural dimension to this personal/psychological phenomenon of jealousy. Like an invisible, odorless, permeating gas, jealousy also attends, infects and drowns the attitudes of groups, political parties, churches, and even towns and cities who perceive that their “opposites” are being showered with “success” (however that may be measured) at their expense. At the root of that demon is the zero-sum game, whereby the only way “I” win is if “you” lose. In such a cultural dynamic, however, it is highly improbable that either “participant” in the “game” comes out a winner. Scarcity, that imperceptible and inescapable core of fear, is so sophisticated, so imperceptible, and so pervasive,  like carbon monoxide, or carbon dioxide that it can and does kill, by eroding what might appear to be an otherwise health, strong, and durable familial/organizational picture.

Too often dismissed as mere “office politics,” this personal jealousy leaps out when professional individuals in a large organization, foiled in their attempt to achieve a top position in that organization, subtly express their vindictive jealousy by an off-hand slight of tongue against the occupant of the rung on the corporate ladder they so desperately sought. “S/He communicates only on as “as needed” basis, as if none of us have either a need or a desire to know what is really going on!” Translated: ‘S/He should never have been given that post, and I would certainly communicate more openly and more effectively that s/he can or does.’ Depending on when and where such a judgement is uttered, its spirit carries a large cloud of jealousy and serves to undermine the successful occupant of the top office, with or without his/her awareness, unless or until a colleague exposes the disloyalty, or an agenda item authored by the “winner” is trashed and left for dead in the corporate trash.

In fact, it is reasonable to posit that loyalty, that treasured grease facilitating many relationships in the public arena, cannot co-exist in a culture of jealousy. And to take on the project of “training” or educating any organization about the dangers of/and options to counter jealousy/revenge is a fool’s errand, a tilting at windmills for the most idealistic of “fools”. This is one of those human qualities whose life, it seems, cannot be extinguished. Attempting to counter its seductive power and influence, however, is one of the more demanding of disciplines.

Squaring the circle of “large ambition” with the square of “humility,” as the world has attempted to do in eulogizing George H.W. Bush this week, so stretches the rational mind as to render one the servant of the other, likely in his case, humility he as a mask for deep, unrelenting and nuclear ambition. Literal identification, without acknowledging the complexity, interior competition, and the public and private confusion, ambiguity and humanity of the incompatibility of the two, is a reductionism “up with which we can not put”….to borrow from Churchill. Bush’s commitment to the pain and success of ‘the other,’ evidenced in his life-long letter-writing blizzard, does provide the link in the chain between the two: ambition and humility. It has been reported that Bush did not really have a “political base” but rather an “army” of letter recipients, in an otherwise alienated and alienating culture of American politics.

One thing seems clear: those whose “healthy self” has been nurtured and reared by effective, honest, authentic and loving parents, teachers, coaches, and even supervisors are more likely to be strong enough to avoid many of the lures of jealousy, and its nefarious worm, revenge that decimates both the perpetrator and the target. Finding the “better angels” within, and in the broader culture, in the classroom and in the boardroom, in the drill arena and on the playground, and among the most indigent and the most favoured continues to be a goal worthy of the commitment of each of us.

There is no culture, religion, ethnicity, geographic region or linguistic entity whose life and health are not enhanced by the pursuit of such a search for those better angels. And there is no single person who does not hope for the success of his own private search to be reinforced by the success of the larger culture in that search.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Reflections on AI on the human landscape


There are so many historic iterations of the opening of Pandora’s Box, pouring the many frightening “evils” into the world, (albeit along with hope). The latest might be the surge of Artificial Intelligence onto the technological landscape.

“Sold” as a significant “benefit” to the human race, AI nevertheless has the potential to overrun the human capacity to keep it “under human control”. The word is out that the U.S. military has commissioned a fleet of autonomous transport vehicles, raising the spectre of those vehicles eventually carrying a missile into “enemy” territory. A “perfect strike” has already been achieved, in research, by an autonomous virtual aircraft, repeatedly driving itself into a “target,”   while repeatedly killing everyone on board. Artificial Intelligence, by its nature, “learns” its programmed “goal” and then proceeds to accomplish that goal, without regard to any of the “human” implications.

All warnings about the need to slow down the research and development Artificial Intelligence, even from futurist thinkers like Elon Musk, have gone unheeded by those charged with such social, political, economic and cultural responsibility. We are not only awash in technology; we are not merely enmeshed in its gleam; we are apparently addicted to its opioid-like power to seduce us and render our better judgements etherized on the floors of our cutting-edge laboratories.

Already having unleashed social media devices “to bring us together” although they really generate significantly enhanced loneliness and depression, medical devices that were purportedly going to enhance the lives of people in their need, drones and cruise missiles that so sanitize the killing of all targets in their sights, manipulated as they are from thousands of miles distant from their firings, we are clearly prepared to take our hands off the “steering wheel” of this revolution. And leading the way into the new “world,” of course, is the military establishment with its massive impact on the United States’ national budget. “National Security” and “family protection” of course, eclipse “warfare” in the public relations spin of all activities military. And there seems to be no bounds on the level of permission the American people are prepared to defer to “defence” against foreign enemies, even surpassing the public goods of health care, education, environmental protection and poverty reduction.

Sycophancy at the altar of technology, as opposed to genuflections at the altar of the Almighty, illustrates and proves a degree of deep and long-seeded fear and loathing about our readiness to hand control to “another” ANY other, including a machine. Therapists spend hours learning about locus of control issues, whereby humans willingly, if unconsciously, hand over the control of our lives to another, whether that “other” is a parent, teacher, boss, or organization and recently a piece of technology. 

Power released to an agency other than ourselves can and will always redound against those engaged in the release. Unworthiness, in our genuflections to “experts,” and in our genuflections to authorities, only generates more feelings of unworthiness. It also unleashes a level of co-dependence, while releasing us from responsibility for our own decisions, thereby “permitting” the kind of projection of which we are all too familiar.

It is not that technology, including the spectre of Artificial Intelligence, does not hold a myriad of rainbow pot‘o’gold benefits. Cleaning floors, welding bolts, recording and transmitting information, research, medical diagnoses and even treatments, guarding front and back doors of homes, surveiling public spaces for unwanted and illicit events, linking all corners of the planet to a real-time reporting of events, both dangerous and inventive are just some of them. And, the community of engineers, visionaries, soft-ware developers and their supportive corporate and educational sponsors are certainly justified in their pride of accomplishment, not to mention the financial dividends of their investment of time and dollars.

Especially felicitous in meeting personal conveniences, as well as top-down organizational/governmental/corporate systems, the gestalt of technological devices, nevertheless, needs, even demands, a creative, mature and detailed set of responses that could/would/must hedge against its domination, and potential destructive advances. It is the interface of the human species with this galloping frontier, unlike the frontier on the ground that motivated and generated the westward advance of the population, land development and eventual cities that became the U.S.A., that troubles most observers.

The human capacity, discipline and restraint to withhold excesses of ambition, greed, impatience, and all opportunities to seize power (in whatever might be the latest iteration), however, as disclosed by centuries of human history, are so tragically MIA, that more than this scribe are uttering laments, even dirges, of anxiety. As with most of our human encounters, there is the great likelihood that we do now, and will continue long into the future both to adore the technology, and to fear its dangerous potential.

Add to our individual and collective responses to the technology directly, the prospect that those in control of its development, sale and distribution are also “infected” with those same human demons that originally poured from Pandora’s Box: greed, insouciance, deception, pride and indifference, among many others.

It is in our capacity to “hope”…the beginning of planning, and the promise of a brighter future, and the candle of faith that our species has to place its trust. Etheral, ephemeral, subjective and immeasureable, hope nevertheless casts both a lamp and a mirror into the darkness of any night of anxiety.
 
Leonard Cohen’s Anthem reminds us,

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack  in everything
 that’s how the light gets in.

And in his explication of the poem, Cohen says, “there is a crack in everything that you can put together: physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.” (from the Quartz website, previously published on a fan site.)

Could we ever actually consider less, slower, more modest and more regulated as the light of hope, another hopeful paradox, given the current penchant for more, faster, more extreme and no regulation?

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Reflecting on a proposed cultural tectonic shift from "rescuing" to "prevention" on homelessness


Ø Invention,


Ø Creating new cultural elements,


Ø Diffusion, the spread of cultural traits from one society to another

These three models are proposed as methods of changing a culture. And there is a mountain of evidence, not to mention public resistance, historic allegiances including the pursuit of something commonly called stability, (another word for security?) and that old reliable, increased cost, that paints a picture of Canada as highly resistance, in the macro sense, to cultural change.

To be sure, we have opened our national ‘doors’ to immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, (whether there has been adequate and sustaining assimilation and integration of those new arrivals is another question entirely). And we have, as have most developed nations, transformed much of our economy to accommodate the digital revolution. Our health care system, something we call national, with full (?) and equal (?) access, affordable and still in need of more evolution, is a monumental societal change, one of the more bountiful legacies of the last half of the twentieth century.
Similarly, flowing from the last half of the twentieth century are “employment” insurance, injured worker compensation, pensions and old age security. More recently, child care benefits and parental leave upon the birth or adoption of a new child have been added to the social safety net. The Charter of Rights, (1981) has given legal foundation to the human rights of all citizens, and several cases testing its provisions have secured Supreme Court affirmation. Another recent cultural change whose implications will cataract through the next several decades in the legalization of marijuana, not merely for medicinal purposes, but for recreational use.

On the other side of the ledger, however, the integration of minority language rights  (French specifically) into provinces with substantial French-speaking populations, for example, Ontario have suffered a serious set-back as recently as this week, when the premier of Ontario terminated the French Language Commissioner’s Office, and withdrew support for a French language university in the provincial capital, without incurring much by way of push-back from the province’s editorial writers. Similarly, the Ontario government has also eliminated the office of the Commissioner responsible for oversight of Environmental Protection. Framed as “budget cut-backs” these regressive governmental steps, nevertheless, demonstrate that social and cultural change seems highly dependent on the mood, ideology, personnel and commitments of the government of the day. Adding to this equation of the tendencies of specific governments are the temperature, the ‘humidity’ and the velocity of what are perceived as the cultural/political/societal/attitudinal/geopolitical/economic winds that blow from continent to continent, across oceans and mountains.

Following the second world war, optimism in North America was running quite high, portending to support for and even political impetus for such massive projects in the U.S. as the Inter-state highway system for which President Eisenhower’s name is most closely associated. The St. Lawrence Seaway was also shovelled, and re-routed, along with the moving of entire communities when mega-projects and the political thinking and will needed were at a peak.

These big projects were on the engineering stage, and needing only the money, the expertise and skill, and the public political support for their construction. They opened up transportation, travel, trade and new relationships between and among American states, and between Canada and the U.S.

On the level of the governmental bureaucracies, in both Canada and the United States, however, thousands of new jobs, perhaps even millions, have been created in large public bureaucracies to provide the social safety nets that have been designed and delivered to provide a “hand-up” to those in need. Pension boards, childrens’ protective services, community policing (another highly influential and positive shift in the way police relate to their respective communities), greater integration of social services with schools, along with increased exposure to the labour market for secondary and post-secondary students have made a significant difference in the opportunities available in contemporary education.

However, just as became tragically and desperately evident immediately following the 9/11 massacre in Manhattan, siloed bureaucracies are inordinately isolated, separated, alienated and too often in competition with other bureaucratic silo’s. There has been a long and deep history, on both sides of the 49th parallel, of “protecting our turf” so that we keep those jobs, and those secure boundaries around our specialties, around our people, and most certainly around our executive leadership. Schools have retained off-duty police officers to monitor school dances for years. Occasionally, a social worker will interact with a guidance department, to discuss and implement a ‘treatment plan’ for a student in or from a troubled and troubling family. Workplaces entertain students for “employment-peeking” opportunities; colleges and universities regularly host “orientation” (recruiting) days on high school campuses. On a case-by-case basis, there is a trace of a pathway cleared from the underbrush of political and bureaucratic tradition.

As in many other spheres, towns and regions, partly resulting from the tidal wave of technology that opens books, offices, research, and ‘best practices’ around the world, for whoever might be interested. We all have access to what Vancouver, and more recently Toronto, might be doing to combat their serious and tragic opioid/fentanyl crisis. Police departments have immediate access to both technology and successful experiments in their use in visionary departments in other jurisdictions. Similarly, the medical profession’s integration of DNA’s hub value in the treatment of diseases like cancer, through new medical school research, medical journals, and pharmaceutical advances on the cutting edge of unique, personal and demonstrably effective “cocktail” of medicine.

So, there is considerable evidence that supports the breaking down of political “walls” that keep many best candles/practices securely “vaulted” under organizational/corporate, municipal, provincial, and national “bushels”.

Nevertheless, when the homeless hub designed and released, by webinar, to the public a road map for the prevention of homelessness, including a heavy emphasis on prevention, some of the participants’s eyes and ears recoiled in memory of how our Canadian culture has adapted/adopted prevention as a cultural paradigm when faced with similar and very troubling social issues. Teen-pregnancy, for example, as an issue begging for prevention, and has been recipient of religious “abstinence” programs, “promise-keeper” covenants, political campaigns that protest the distribution of birth control, and the chestnut, the campaign to eliminate therapeutic abortions. On the other hand, even practicing Roman Catholics have spurned the dictates of their hierarchy, and welcomed contraception with open arms.

An old adage seems relevant: children are falling in at a water-fall, with large numbers of “people” pulling them out at the bottom of the cataract, while a few go to the top of the falls to determine why they are becoming victims to nature’s force. There is an immediate gratification for those rescuing drowning children at the base of the falls. There is a ‘rush’ that accompanies that gratification. The process of the rescue is quite simple, easily accomplished, and eminently bonding between rescuer and rescued, often for life. Each rescue receives public and merited attention and commendation, whether through the stories within the community, or perhaps even from the wider coverage of the large media. Politicians, especially, like to find photo-ops with “local heroes” wherever they can.

Almost ignored, in most social traumas, are those at the top of the falls, struggling without many resources, without the limelight of social/political/cultural affirmation, to remove those conditions that are generating the crisis before it develops. Compared with the “rescuers” at the bottom of the falls, these “prevention activists” work behind the scene of the tragedy, without the promise or expectation of public adulation and awards, without the resources that a public considers needed, and without the immediate gratification, or even the assurance, that they will overcome the force(s) that suck those children into the vortex of the cataract. University science labs are filled with researchers “at the top of the falls”; social policy designers depend on the findings of those researchers. However, there is a significant ‘time-gap’ between the discoveries of the researchers, and the design and promulgation of social policy, and another between the policy and the implementation.

Shifting the public consciousness from the rewards of rescuing to the drudgery of prevention is analogous to the task of shifting the direction of an ocean liner from north to south. It takes a lot of patience, diligent hard work, a committed team/crew and some decision-makers who have the open-mindedness to even consider the benefits of the shift, the conditions necessary to turn the wheel, and the patience to wait for the long-term results that will show up in reports that the number of kids falling into the waterfall has dropped significantly. Only then will it be feasible for many of the adjacent observers to “see the light” of the larger social benefits, and the relative folly of those years/decades/centuries of pulling kids out, without preventing their falling in. It is often the “time gap” in the perception of relative “urgency” between public figures (the politicians/tax payers) and the researchers/policy designers that impedes the reception and implementation of a significant shift like the one from “action/rescue” to “prevention/delayed gratification. Individuals are most often disposed and enmeshed with the opportunities for instant gratification; social policy think tanks, on the other hand, find their gratification in their design and teaching of new approaches, based as it usually is, on the compilation, collation and curation of multiple pieces of research from various scholars/practitioners.

While classical conditioning (the timing and relevance of behavioural rewards to generate desired behaviour) is not the only variable to shifting a culture from “rescue to prevent,” it does have application to the process.

“Invention” is one ingredient that we can all count on to emerge from the social and scientific “laboratory” research, and “prevention” of homelessness clearly qualifies as a highly inventive (if not actually revolutionary) approach to this growing social blight.

“New cultural elements” like:
·        pointing a social, political, media, educational, religious ‘cleg’ light onto the “top of the falls”,  
·        innovative funding based on the hiring and releasing of outside-the-box ingenuous bureaucrats by politicians and social agency decision-makers, including volunteer board members,
·        training for all constituent agencies in the benefits of the new “approach” that includes a difference between the “ticker” approach of the stock market with its urgent immediacy, to a longer social and cultural perspective of the benefits of long-range planning and implementation of such a “shift”
·        building bridges to all sectors to enhance awareness of and participation in the frontal initiative to address the roots of homelessness from a preventive perspective, as a pathway both to fewer victims and reduced social costs. This includes debunking the “complexity” and up-front “costs” of such a far-reaching and “macro” approach, in order to reach individuals before they “fall”
·        providing leadership in continuing research, public conscious-raising, private fund-raising, political pressure and social change

Linked to this “new cultural elements” is the digging out and “transporting” best practices from all successful practitioners in the field, from other communities in the region, from other national neighbours, and from countries facing similar homelessness across the globe. These little screens have wireless access to the little screens in all of the laboratories, lecture halls, media newsrooms, governmental offices and legislatures, courts, and international agencies charged with economic and social and political “wellness” of our varied and complex cultures. And from those little screens, with diligence, discipline, collaboration and a renewed sense of altruism among all participants, in that “we are all in this together,” each community can acquire relevant information, social and political models and a new sense of hope and optimism that our most treasured jewels, our youth, need not fall through the cracks of indifference, apathy, anger, frustration, the abuse of power, and/or the incidents of poverty, disease, displacements. These cracks develop inside loving families, inside caring schools, within the sanctuaries of religious organizations, inside athletic teams, the military, and within all social/political organizations and corporations.

We can all become more sensitive about those conditions on the top of the “falls” within our purview, and the potential for young people to “fall” and to open our eyes, ears, minds and hearts to the notion that we might each have to shift our own “comfort zone” from detachment, refusing to intervene in another’s plight, keeping our time and treasure secure and safe, and believing that we are not “good” enough to become a part of the cultural shift that could lead to fewer “falling” into the whirlpool of homelessness, including the impacts of the well-intentioned social agencies currently operating on the front lines.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Endorsing Canada Post workers' legitimate demands for respect, decency, and dignity...NOW!


A while back, I wrote a piece that called on Canada Post to transform dramatically, creatively and immediately the culture of its workplace, from the demeaning, insulting, archaic, and counter-intuitive “scientific management” of the early twentieth century, in which workers were distrusted, insulted, considered a “drain” (cost) only, and certainly not the back bone of the organization.

Formulae that measure kilometers, points of call, numbers of flyers, numbers of “deliver to door” with or without signatures, numbers of lock changes (on Community Mail Boxes), numbers of vacation and personal days (both of which are abused by the head office of HR), whether or not “exit” signs have been posted in small rural offices….these demonstrate a culture of anality, obsessive-compulsive and neurotic, if not psychotic orientation and culture. And, when and if anything threatens the status quo, like falling numbers of hard-copy letters, documents, bills and the like, the corporation cries loud and wide, crying the apocalypse is no longer “coming;” it is already here!

Positive, present, listening, and attentive leadership to the core resource of this highly labour-intensive operation, the workers, has to replace the kind of pre-twentieth-century attitudes and beliefs and practices. The research is unequivocal that workers who are respected, trusted and valued and supported with policies, practices and supervisory relationships that live up to such benchmarks go beyond the minimum, provide more accurate and detailed attention to their tasks, and actually cost less in the long run. Such employees are authentic good-will ambassadors for their employer, and generate positive attitudes among their clients, a factor that is needed and considered so subjective as to be excluded from calculations by both labour and management.

Current obstructions by the corporation seem to include the following items, if reports reaching the employees and the public generally are complete and valid:

·        Restricting pensions by removing a guaranteed delivery amount and replacing it with a higher employee contribution,
·        blocking pay equity between letter carriers and rural carriers,
·        refusing to acknowledge that 1 in 5 letter carriers are injured every year on the job, the highest worker injury rate of all sectors in Canada
·        refusing to enhance profit opportunities by blocking rural banking facilities (is this a genuflection to the government’s cozy relationship with the five “established” banks?)
·        scrimping on the impact of the dramatic increase in parcels, by refusing to hire additional workers, and by demanding twelve-hour days without overtime

Are these, taken together, a hidden campaign to twist the government’s hand to make a decision on significant new numbers of Community Mail Boxes in urban areas, (an initiative begun under the Harper government)? Such a move, linked to a highly sensitive and creative set of adjustments to accommodate special needs of seniors, physically and mentally challenged clients, would reduce the time required to deliver directly to urban residences, and especially to wide-spread rural mail boxes. However, additional CMB’s would also significantly reduce the “community surveillance” currently embedded in the daily life of RSMC’s* in those townships and counties currently operating with restricted or no police protection, except under special circumstances.

Is Canada Post positioning itself, through the latest conflict with workers, for a government decision to sell the entity to a private investor, thereby flushing a cataract of cash into government coffers, at the expense of workers, most of whom, if not all, would automatically be eliminated and de-certified, under private ownership. The example of the Royal Mail, recently offered on public auction, with a few share “crumbs” offered to current workers to soften the blow, could be a model upon which these fractiousness labour negotiations is being built. (It is not incidental to note that the former CEO of Canada Post, Moira Green, was appointed head of Royal Mail, a few years ago, oversaw this transition to public shares, and has more recently retired.

There are cogent and compelling arguments for pay equity changes, health and safety enhancements, stabilized pension arrangements, parcel delivery support through increased hiring. Canada Post cannot wallow along with its corporate eyes glued to the rear-view mirror of their corporate culture, nor to the historic norms of the last century. Amazon, UPS, FedEx, DHL and other parcel-sales and distribution agencies are gobbling bigger chunks of the delivery sector of the economy, Technologies, too, are changing both the methods and the budgets of message and parcel transportation. We are all aware of the significant decline in raw numbers of union members, especially driven by the fall in manufacturing jobs. Male union membership has been falling, while female memberships in sectors like health care and education, have been rising slightly.

On the shop floor level, however, union “leverage” has significantly declined in recent years, inside and outside Canada Post. Complaints, dubbed “grievances” far too often go unaddressed, even unheard, and certainly not accommodated by the corporation. It is these insidious omissions of responsibility, including the off-loading Employment Assistance Programs to private corporations, leave the company with merely a statistical account of the numbers and the relative severity of the challenges faced by postal workers. Evidence suggests, from office co-workers who have sought support from the Morneau-Shepell-Great-West-Life two-headed corporate ally administering worker assistance, that “counsellors” rotate shifts, leaving postal workers to repeat the details of their “story” to a new counsellor each time they call for assistance. Clearly, this default position does not and cannot engender confidence among workers whose experience tells them that their personal issues are so insignificant to those tasked with professional support that they are passed from one to another in a cavalier and inconsistent and thereby unsubstantial and fragile, if not defective system.
These details do not make it into the public consciousness.  Other details also never reach the public consciousness, including, but not restricted to:

·        being stuck in snow-drifts for up to five hours after calling CAA whose tow truck could not navigate through the drifts leaving only a township front-end loader the only answer to escape, or of
·        being bitten by stray dogs, or of
·        falling down un-shovelled, icy steps,  
·        trapesing through snow drifts to get a signature only to find no one home, or
·        twisting one’s back in an attempt to wrestle a full bed frame out of the delivery vehicle, and up the stairs into a customer’s apartment

While, to some, this list may sound like whining, it comprises an intimate and personal account of some of the “normal” working conditions, not to mention weather vagaries, customer anti-labour attitudes, or supervisory insouciance.

From this desk, conditions have now morphed to a state where a middle-ground of support for both corporation and worker is no longer tenable. Compromise, moderation, a gentle and somewhat clinical and sanitized, if dispassionate, attitude to labour negotiations, in the west, no longer serve the spine, the heart and the body of the economy, the worker.

Political and economic power is stacked in favour of the corporate board rooms, and their occupants. Public attitudes are no longer modest or moderate when it comes to unions getting a fair shake. Public attitudes are contemptuous, or perhaps even worse, disinterested and detached, unless and until their “pocket-book” or their special holiday presents might be delayed, or heaven forbid, not delivered until after the big day, December 25.

I owe by former co-workers at Canada Post a deep and sincere apology for having been so milquetoast, and so dilettantish and debonair, so dispassionate and detached in the earlier blog post on this issue. This labour dispute is at the core of the future of labour rights and corporate obligations for the next decades, generations and perhaps even the rest of the century. Canadian Union of Postal Workers members are fighting for legitimate, warranted and long-overdue, yet reasonable consideration, expressed through their pay slips, their work assignments, their health and safety supports, their pension benefits and their pursuit of their emotional, physical and mental workplace health.

And the rest of us, whether or not Canada Post’s decisions did, do or will have a direct impact on our lives, owe it to our children, grandchildren and their children to take this labour dispute very seriously, far more seriously this this scribe has done heretofore.

It is the future of the labour movement that is under fire from the plethora of right-wing efforts to demonize all signs of anything that smacks of a collective, collaborative and balanced approach to workers rights. Corporations will ignore, deny, or supress their legitimate responsibilities, as long as they can get away with such contemptuous disregard of their workers. Airline pilots are expected to fly far too many hours, without rest; truck drivers are expected, even required, to drive far longer hours than their bodies can withstand; delivery couriers (UBEReats, etc) are being struck and injured and falling off their bicycles, without the benefit of legal worker protection. (Some are even classed as “phone answering services” to avoid the company payments to the Worker Compensation Boards.) Workplace injuries, especially in non-unionized shops, receive only a bare minimum of support. More work is piled on workers by management, in both unionized and non-unionized shops, without a collective push-back from workers who fear for their loss of their jobs even if they took leave under their doctor’s supervision and requirement.

We do not have to take a “hands-off” position to this labour dispute, as too many corporate leaders and government leaders are doing with global warming and climate change. We are not powerless, in that or in this dispute.

We can write to our Member of Parliament, asking for a fair settlement of this current dispute. We can express our support to our Canada Post delivery person, the one we take for granted who trudges through the elements, hot and cold, the heave and light mail days, the friendly and not-so-much customer encounters, and the supervisory indignities and insouciance.

And our support can only energize additional political activism, on behalf of the millions of silent, voiceless and non-represented workers whom we can no longer take for granted.

All workers need the support of all Canadians, especially those current and future workers at Canada Post.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Opposition to trump cannot stop with voting.. pressure on elected officials needed now


How does one respond to the mid-term vote held on Tuesday, Nov. 6 in the United States, a mere 5 days prior to the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of 1918? And while there have been multiple homages paid to the many years of relative peace following the Second World War, the notion of military danger, enhanced significantly by the $74 billion expansion to the budget of the Pentagon, the U.S. withdrawal from the Medium nuclear weapons treaty, the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iran Accord, the huge arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and the threats posed to NATO by that same administration, remains unabated. There are many pieces of evidence that enhance the prospect for military violence, including:

·        the $61 billion expansion, totalling $700 billion, to the budget of the Pentagon,
·        the U.S. withdrawal from the Medium nuclear weapons treaty,
·        the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iran Accord,
·        the huge arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and
·        the threats posed to NATO by that same administration,

Add to this list, the underlying and dramatic shift in the culture of the American society favouring and emboldening of “white supremacy”, the explosion of incidents of mass murder 12 killed just last night in a bar in Thousand Oaks, Ventura County, California) and threats to the lives of political enemies of trump, the inflated presidential rhetoric of violence, intimidation, and even threats to the newly elected Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, (“if they investigate me, I will investigate them: two can play this game and we are much better at it than they are”), the confirmation of trump-lackey Kavanaugh, and yesterday the firing of Attorney General Sessions and the appointment of another lackey in Matthew Whittaker as his replacement, the world knows that a constitutional crisis has already broken through the horizon of the American political landscape. None of these developments bodes well either for global or domestic peace and civility, given that each is dependent on the other.

Clearly, with 30% of the population (primarily rural) of the United States represented by 70% of the Senators, while 70% of the population (primarily urban and suburban) is represented by only 30% of the Senators, there is a serious imbalance of political power reducing the influence of urban and suburban voters while inordinately inflating that of rural voters, portraying and foreshadowing continuing deadlock between the House and Senate. Built into the constitution is the stipulation that each state must have the same number of senators (2), and with. trump’s stampeding rallies in those states calculated to sustain a Republican majority in the Senate (another three-dimensional chess move to protect trump from the potential damage of the Mueller report), he has effectively “bought” himself an insurance policy against ultimate impeachment. After all, the only kind of transaction known to and practiced by this president is “buy-sell” because, for him, the only things that matter is his personal/familial growth in power, wealth, influence, and indeed dominance.

“Embracing” those candidates willing to accept his “embrace”, in his mind, leads to their electoral victory, and his self-inflated chest-thumping as the primary reason for their election. Those who “gave me no love” on the other hand, are publicly disdained even scorned, as “public enemies” of the president. The only possible ‘take’ from this performance in yesterday’s press briefing is that the president divides the world into those who have drunk his koolaid, and from whom he now expects and demands unsullied loyalty, and those who have chosen to reject him and his coat-tails. In the end, everyone, whether Republican, Democratic, of Independent, is useful so long as s/he is a public sycophant to the president, and dispensable if and when that dependence is cracked or worse, shattered.

Similarly, in geopolitics, this president has neither authentic allies nor friends, in other chief executive offices, only items on a chess-board, for his personal (certainly not national or international) ambitions, needs, whims and headlines. If the ‘other’ leader buys/accepts American arms, steel, aluminum, coal with tonnes of carbon emissions and trade deals, and complies with the threats and the imposition of tariffs issuing from the Oval Office, he walks under the radar of the president’s wrath. If not, then s/he instantly becomes a public target. And within the nation, those who bear the burden of being black, Latino, are in even more danger. Dubbed as “unable” and “unfit” and “uneducated” (see the references to both Stacey Abrams, and Andrew Gillum, candidates for Governor in Georgia and Florida respectively), they are thrown under the bus for their person, race and identity.

And so, while the public debate so conventionally focuses on the “bread and butter” issues of health, education and social safety net, justifiably, and trump wants the world to measure his success in stock prices, unemployment figures and conservative judges to the Supreme Court, there are, under trump, two other deep, destabilizing and converging political cruise missiles ripping through the United States political culture:white racist supremacy and shredding the legal framework of the constitution!
Charlottesville is the historic metaphor for the rise and triumph of White Supremacy, and even yesterday, another white supremacist was welcomed to the White House.

It is the shredding of the legal framework that underpins the governmental structure, creating what Neal Katyal, former Solicitor General under the Obama administration, and Geoffrey Conway (spouse of Kelly Anne Conway, and himself a constitutional scholar) writing in the New York Times, call a constitutional crisis that is no longer on the horizon, it has become a full-blown sun in the political sky of the United States. The “appointment” of Wittaker to the Attorney General’s post in the Department of Justice, according to Katyal and Conway, is unconstitutional, given the clear legal requirement that all who serve in such a position must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The “line of succession” from the Deputy Attorney General, to the Assistant Deputy Attorney General would be the “legal” path to a replacement for fired Attorney General Sessions.

It could well be, according to Katyal, appearing this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, that Whittaker has already turned over Mueller’s files to trump. It could also be that he has followed through on his public declaration on CNN, recorded and replayed for posterity, to vacuum all funding out of the Mueller investigation thereby foreclosing on the biggest thorn in the president’s side. These public declarations, linked to his denial of any Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, and now his appointment as interim Attorney General that, taken individually and/or collectively, provide empirical evidence for those seeking more proof of the “obstruction of justice” charge into which Mueller is delving.

·        Profiting from the spoils of presidential victory through the tidal wave of slush funds pouring into the trump hotel in Washington from geopolitical and national political sycophants seeking the pleasures of the trump administration (contravening the emoluments clause),
·        appointing his son-in-law to a full national security clearance,
·        padding the investment accounts of the most affluent men and women in the nation,
·        de-stabilizing the EPA,
·        gutting the department of Education,
·        firing James Comey,

·    firing of Sessions and plunking an obviously protective of presidential immunity to subpoena, prosecution and all other legal impinging constraints including impeachment…..**

And all of these items do not encompass the 307 (that is not a typo!) mass shootings in the last year in the United States, the voter suppression of minority voters by elected officials, the flaunting of all historic and traditional norms of governance.
How much more evidence do the people of the United States need to call, write, email, text or confront face-to-face their representatives in Washington, current and newly elected, to shout from the roof-tops, “We have had enough!”

Appearing in Toronto only last week, in a debate framed, safely under Canadian parameters, about the future prospects of populism throughout the world, Steve Bannon trumped his proud declaration that trump is an historic and transformative president who will be in our lives for decades. Already proven true, given the appointments of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh (and potentially a third, should Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s recent fall and breaking of three ribs), conservative strict constructionist opinion will dominate Supreme Court decisions for decades, Bannon fears no forceful contradiction. However, it is the demise of the American pursuit and achievement of many of the better cornerstone foundations of democracy, and the atrophy of the American reputation on the world stage, and the removal of the American potential to lead international efforts to spare the environment, all of them included in the costs already accumulated under this administration.

Tom Steyer, whether or not he is running for president in 2020, is not wasting his millions on advertisements calling for public support for the removal of this chief executive.

Will the public demand the termination of this political, social, cultural, legal and historic rampage? The world cannot wait for the Electoral College to be eliminated, nor for the Senate representation imbalance to be levelled, nor for the multiple state laws that repress and impede voting rights to be removed from the law books. The crisis, no matter how we frame it, demands reining in now!

**another heinous and illegal and deplorable culpability of the administration: the separation of families of refugees and asylum-seekers, and the incarceration of separated children from their families