Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The struggle for truth in a tornado of dissembling...where are the Solzhenitsyn consciences?


The Counter Extremism Project reports today that convicted ISIS propagandist Anjem Choudary is to be released from a British prison. He was convicted and sentenced to five and a half years in 2016 after having pledged allegiance to ISIS and encouraging others to do the same. A British law that allows prisoners with non-life sentences to be released on probation after completing half of their sentence.

Neither Choudary’s propagandist activities nor his sentence are FAKE news! In fact, evidence of his success in recruiting innocents for ISIS flows in the ink of the British press. The CEP report states:

“Choudary is a founding member of extremist group al-Muhajiroun which was subsequently banned in the United Kingdom. Choudary has been linked to many extremists and multiple terrorist-related cases in the United Kingdom and Europe, including the 2017 London Bridge attack and the 2013 murder of British soldier Lee Rigby.”

Furthermore, according to the CEP, U.K. expert and CEP Advisor Ian Acheson, in a recent op-ed wrote: “It is likely that Choudary will continue to represent a serious threat to public safety and order when he is released. It seems inconceivable that any of the processes available to assist with the reintegration of offenders in he community will be applicable in his case.”

It is not a stretch to wonder out loud how long it will take for a public campaign of dissembling will erupt declaring all of this merely another of the lies propagated by the establishment. After all, to some, Choudary is an iconic hero, and propaganda machines are not the exclusive property and means of the establishments. Nor has propaganda been the exclusive invention and device of the trump administration although the extent to which it has been deployed by that administration seems to top the degree of deployment resorted to by previous administrations.

Today, Secretary of State Pompeo is in Riyadh allegedly on a mission from trump to learn the “facts” surrounding the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen living in the United States, contributing columnist to the Washington Post. Reputed to be a moderate critic of the Saudi royal family’s rule, and clearly not a revolutionary, Khashoggi, nevertheless, has not emerged from the Saudi Consulate in Ankara, Turkey, after being videoed while entering. Cooking up some story of an “interrogation gone wrong” as trump would have us think, only adds to the deceit and the growing distrust among ordinary people everywhere with how dictators regard the public and our capacity to discern truth behind the headlines.

Some of the more memorable quotes of propaganda from George Orwell’s novel, 1984 are worth repeating:
“Who controls the past controls the future”
“War is peace”
“The best books…are those that tell you what you know already”
“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself”
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”
Also, from the Orwellian lexicon, “doublethink” is the ability to hold two completely contradictory thoughts simultaneously while believing both of them to be true. “Doublespeak” is saying one thing and meaning another, usually its opposite. “thoughtcrime” is the criminal act of holding unspoken beliefs or doubts that oppose or question Ingsoc, the ruling party.

And it is not only to Orwell that “fake news” and dissembling, and outright propaganda owes its roots. Writing in A Jew Today, Elie Wiesel notes in a 1977 essay entitled,  What did happen to the Six Million?:

“Did Six Million Really Die? The Truth at Last” is the name of one brochure. Austin J,. App, former associate professor of English at LaSalle college, Philadelphia, spells it out: “The Six Million Swindle: blackmailing the German people for hard Marks with fabricated corpses.” French author Paul Rassinier, a pioneer of this revisionist approach, speaks of “The lie of Auschwitz,” Northwestern Professor Arthur Butz calls it “The hoax of the century.” If that is not enough, we recently hear a Nazi spokesman in California declare on national television that “all those stories about death camps and mass murder aren’t true, But…I wish they were.” (p. 51)

Wiesel goes on: Though obscene, this attempt to deprive the victims of their past is not new. Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl was termed a forgery by an ambassador at the United Nations. We find on monument for Jewish victims at Babi Yar, as there is none at Buchenwald. There were no Jews gassed anywhere, claims Sorbonne Professor Robert Faurisson. No Jew was ever burned in Auschwitz, says a former S.S. judge in a recently published book in Germany. The chimneys? Bakers, he explains, there were the chimneys of bakeries.

Enemies of the Jews, then and now, continue to utter such contemptible garbage. And, while silence is not the answer, refuting with evidence does not necessarily gag these purveyors of lies.

Just this past Sunday, John Dickerson, subbing for Margaret Brennan on CBS’s Face the Nation, noted that there is a new wrinkle in political propaganda: insert obviously untrue information into a story in order to extend the length of the story, through the enhanced efforts of “fact checkers”. So now, the official publications of the state, especially under this administration, are morphing into a hybrid version of the facts and the non-facts, as a way of injecting the steroids of longevity into a news/public relations/propaganda piece.

Does it seem timely and appropriate to reflect on the concept of “what is true” in light of the Kavanaugh/Blassy Ford Senate Confirmation Hearings? Public opinion polls from Kansas, where Democrat Claire McCaskill is locked in a tight race with Josh Howley, Republican, she has a substantial lead among women, while Howley has a similar substantial lead among men. Is one to conclude that women have placed more confidence and trust in Blassy-Ford, while men have given their confidence and trust to Kavanaugh-trump? Was Susan Collins duped by Kavanaugh into believing that he would not have the temper to commit an act of sexual assault? Or had she cast her commitment to the Kavanaugh nomination long before the hearing? Was Warren Hatch colouring Blassy-Ford as “mixed-up” because his version of reality and truth could not countenance Blassy-Ford’s testimony? trump himself declared, when questioned by Lesley Stahl on CBC’s 60 Minutes, about whether he mocked Blassy-Ford, “It doesn’t matter; we won!” So the end justifies the means, and winning is the ultimate “end” of his zero-sum transactional game.

Is donald trump’s life-long immersion in lies and deception a hold-over from the Holocaust-denier ghetto? Are men and women becoming enmeshed in a tug-of-war about the truth regarding the sexual encounters of specific men with choirs of women? Does this kind of “denial” of truth erupt in our daily conversations about work, about family history, about school grades, about medical diagnoses, about paternity or about the way we go about pushing back if and when we are “outed” on an injustice? Is credibility the new litmus test for all public figures, including corporate CEO’s, candidates for elected office, professionals of all stripes? Or, more likely, we have slid so far below that standard that whatever statements reach our consciousness in the public arena are so fraught with “spin” and “torqueing” that the truth is now no more than a mere residual precipitate in the bottom of a long-forgotten test-tube on the shelf of an abandoned chemistry lab.? Or have we become so careless and disengaged that we no longer require ourselves to be fact-checking, scrupulously uncovering motive from stated purpose? Or have we surrendered our power so unconsciously and so completely to those who depend on propaganda to survive in their own narcissism that we have made ourselves victims of our own insouciance?

A NASA plane flew over the Antarctic this week, and disclosed some frightening information. Just one example is that the ice sheets are shedding the equivalent of two Olympic swimming pools of water every second! That is not “fake news” either, although there are plenty of people, including trump himself, who doubt whether or not man is contributing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, suggesting that ‘nature’ may be simply doing its thing. Of course, such a truth and reality does not fit into trump’s military/industrial/transactional/sales equation of putting a price on everything (everything literally) and then counting only the sales, the profits and the dividends, without regard to the lost lives, families, reputation, ethics and morality and relationships that have sustained the nation and the world for nearly three quarters of a century.

If Elie Wiesel is right in this statement, then the world has to be joining his fear;
The world is indifferent to our (Jews) death, as, in fact, it is to its own. (p.47)

Confronting Holocaust deniers is only one of Wiesel’s commitments. However, that commitment, and our shame, responsibility and repentance for our direct and/or indirect participation in such crimes, then, previous to the Holocaust, or since and into the future, depends on our willingness, courage and openness to the facts. It also depends on a vociferous, steadfast and united rejection of all forms of propaganda, seduction and skirting of responsibility, in our own lives.

I recall, after reading a letter from my aunt, my father’s sister, learning that my grandfather became ill and attempted to take his own life. However, when I inquired of my father about the veracity of her report, he quickly and summarily denied it ever happened. Reminding us that we cannot tolerate too much reality, T.S. Eliot, nevertheless, keeps the issue at the front of our consciousness, in the hope that our capacity to accept the fullness of the truth, even and especially when that truth is less than friendly, will continue to expand, as will the number of us who continue to strive to mature in that way. Our individual and shared survival depends on that!

Are we like Solzhenitsyn in his Gulag Archipelago, another powerless witness, who (living) through the experience of shame and hopelessness, now want to be heard?
If that turns out to be true, the hope for humanity will not merely survive; it will endure! The poets, prophets and shamans voice could save us once again from ourselves!


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Memo to Canada Post: Scarcity and fear will not grow a healthy corporate culture


Regardless of whether Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers reach an amical, mediated or arbitrated settlement, with or without a work stoppage, the deplorable culture of the corporation has to undergo a complete transformation.

Debating and voting and even striking, or enforcing a work stoppage based on the specifics of wage parity, dental plans for retirees, specific formulae for imbursement on the new substantially higher daily parcel deliveries for RSMC’s* or whatever specific clause that might motivate the vote of particular employees…
any or all of these will only serve to encrust the veneer of corporate respectability on a deeply dysfunctional corporate body that as recently as only a year or two ago called the company One of Canada’s Best 50 Companies.

After thirteen years of full-time employment with the company, and having retired within the last month, I write this from a perspective of sadness, and deep empathy for all Canada Post workers. They are caught in the web of a vortex whose origins date back decades to a time when the labour movement was both vibrant and, with the benefit of hindsight, could be legitimately targeted as “nuclear” and filled to the brim with some sort of labour-movement hormone/hubris far more powerful than testosterone.

Over the last several decades, however, that “labour” power has so shrivelled to what can now be termed “labour ED”. One can only imagine the scene at the current negotiating table; there are two competitors how have contempt for each other crawling around on the floor blindly grasping for scraps of “benefits” (or “cost cutting”) amid a tsunami of technological changes that have impacted retail and communications strategies and tactics of both domestic and corporate clients of the postal service. A minor ‘win’ here, a minor ‘loss’ there and both sides are trying to satisfy a different political “base’s” appetite from what the company portrays as a dry well an empty pantry and a red-ink-filled profit picture.

Trouble is.. the well and the pantry can be more appropriately and accurately ascribed to the shared culture in which both unions and corporation seek to continue to exist.
And that culture and its community, seen from both sides of the river that struggles to flow between their members is seen to be drying up. Scarcity of letter mail is part of the reality. However there is also, on the part of the company a scarcity of trust and confidence in the individual workers who, almost universally, are working their butts off in a diligent, careful and professional manner. Basing corporate management style on a premise that punitive interventions are the only kind workers will understand and “obey”, on a demonstrably failed “scientific management theory” that has long ago been eviscerated from most enlightened workplaces, Canada Post sabotages itself while it continues to insult every worker with whom “it” chooses to engage. The fact is that all face-to-face exchanges initiated by CP supervisors with front-line workers are from a critical parent perspective. Whether Customer Service has received a complaint or a supervisor has complained about a co—worker, a supervisor will be deployed to lay down the law. Phone calls, private appointments, or even “kangaroo courts” and suspensions without pay are some of the methods of enforcing the rules. This approach has been proven to be ineffectual by even the least tutored, trained and experienced supervisory research. And then, following some “crossing of the corporate line of acceptable behaviour” a new policy, caution, sanction or threat is implemented effectively painting all “innocent” workers with a new layer of corporate compliance, and a deepening of the alienation of all responsible, committed and professional workers. Focused on mistakes, and the immediate need for crushing these “insects” (workers who may or may not have deliberately erred), lays an obvious and predictable foundation of contempt, distrust and fear throughout the organization chart, at least from the perspective of the lowest level workers on that chart.

I have worked with others who literally quiver on the expectation of a phone call from a supervisor, so unnerved are they at the tone, attitude and reputation of the supervisor. Similarly, some hyper-critical customers also strike fear into an already repressed and nervous worker base. Heavy-handed critical parenting is a self-sabotage, whether implemented by parents of children, army generals, bishops or CEO’s. Such an approach also insults both the administrator and the recipient. Mature adulthood, including a full investigation of the truth, a premise of confidence and trust in all workers by all supervisors will obviously save dollars, result in enhanced worker loyalty, and enhanced evidence of “going beyond the basic job description if and when appropriate.

In this light, ironically, but apparently missing from the corporate culture of Canada Post is the established and often touted reputations of Canadians for hard work, responsible compliance with rules and regulation, as well as a universally joked about compliance to stand in line, peacefully, while waiting for the concert, or even the ticket to the concert of our dreams. We are also willing, able and committed to do exceptionally good work, regardless of our position on the hierarchic ladder of the corporate organization chart, providing we are demonstrably treated with respect, dignity and truth.

And yet, just an anecdote in passing, in all thirteen years, I waited in vain for a single professional compliment from a single supervisor. And I was not being targeted as undeserving of legitimate support and encouragement. No one, in my time at the company, was ever offered a complimentary note, comment or word of support. Of course, there were a few dollars for a Tim’s coffee and Christmas, along with a gift certificate to some clothing company which has no retail outlets within one hundred miles of the workplace. Tokenism, as a surrogate for authentic respect and value, has always failed. And the sooner supervisors learn that basic tenet of human relations, the sooner the company will begin to premise its cultural attitude and approach on “plenty”. Another form of tokenism comes in end of year reports from some CEO, offering both compliments for having survived the deluge of Christmas mail, along with the usual threats to the corporate balance sheet.

Human Resources claims that they are interested in encouraging their employees to develop new skills, and to take on increased and different responsibilities. And yet, if and when there was a situation in which new learnings were required of employees, those closest to supervisors, with or without competence in the skill needing to be taught, were chosen, in order to demonstrate the low-level nepotism that drifts like early morning smog through the offices, mail stations and likely corporate headquarters. Of course, no cognizance of such an “insignificant” deferral to favourites would register on the radar of those making the decisions or on senior management. We do not normally notice the plank in our own eye, while magnifying the speck in another’s.

Back in 1984, Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries and Danny Miller wrote a book entitled, The Neurotic Organization, in which they detail the characteristics of different dysfunctional organizations. One such organization, “paranoid” they describe in these words:

In the paranoid organization, managerial suspicions translate into a primary emphasis on organizational intelligence and controls. Management information systems are very sophisticated in their methods of scanning the environment and controlling internal processes. The environment is studied to identify threats and challenges that may be levelled by government, competitors and customers. Controls take the form of budgets, cost centers, profit centers, cost accounting procedures, and other methods of monitoring the performance of internal operations. Top managers are suspicious and wary about people and events both inside and outside the firm. The elaborate information-processing apparatus is a product of their desire for perpetual vigilance and preparedness for emergencies.
The paranoia of the top-management group also takes another form: It influences the decision-making behavior of executives. Frequently, key decision makers, instead of withholding information from one another as part of their defensive mobilization, decide that it may be safer to direct their distrust externally. To protect against competitors, they share information. Moreover, in order to ensure an adequate response to threats, a good deal of analysis accompanies decision making. Concerted efforts are made to discover organizational problems and to generate and select alternative solutions for dealing with them. Decision making also tends to eb consultative so that a large number of factors can be taken into consideration and thus many aspects of each problem or threat can be addressed. However, decision making can become overly consultative in that different people are asked for similar information. This “institutionalization of suspicion” ensures that the most accurate information will get to the top of the firm, but it may also lower organizational morale and trust (besides wasting valuable time and energy)
Another organizational characteristic that conforms to the paranoid style is the tendency to “centralize power” in the hands of those top executives and their consultants who design control and information systems. Those who feel threatened generally like to have a good deal of control over their subordinates. They use subordinates to find out what is going on, but they want to reserve the ultimate decision-making power for themselves. So the locus of power is high up in the organization….
The strategies of paranoid firms tend to be more reactive than proactive. External challenges “get through” to managers, who do their best to cope with them….But strategic paranoia carries with it a sizeable element of conservatism. Fear can take many guises, and it often entails being afraid to overinnovate, to overextend resources, or to take bold risks. So reactive strategy dominates…
A potential problem with the reactive orientation is that it can impede development of a concerted, integrated and consistent strategy. The firm’s direction is too much a function of external forces and not enough one of consistent goals, strategic plans, or unifying themes and traditions. A “muddling through” or “meandering strategy can result, under which no forceful, distinctive competences are developed….
Corporate paranoia may stem for a period of traumatic challenge. The environment may cause the firm to suddenly experience a crisis. A strong market might dry up, a powerful new competitor might enter the market, or a very damaging piece of legislation might be passed. The damage done by these forces may cause managers to become very distrustful and fearful, to lose their nerve, to recognize the need for better intelligence. (DeVries and Miller, pp.23-27)

Clearly, the dramatic surge of digital technology has imposed two equally dramatic demands, one positive, the other quite negative. On the positive side, based on potential revenue and profit, on-line shopping has grown to an extent that Canada Post’s pricing strategies have positioned the corporation as the most cost-effective of the many providers of parcel delivery to domestic and business clients. From an average of one-to-two dozen parcels on a daily basis, in my own route, the number of parcels grew to an average of two-to-three dozen or more, reaching a peak of 70 parcels/per day in the week before Christmas. Additionally, the weight limit, (pegged at 66 pounds previously, and more recently changed to anything over 50 pounds permitting a second person as helper) has quite literally ballooned to well over 70 pounds, and for individual carriers, there is no helper when one arrives at  the customer’s residence or business. Clearly, revenues from parcel delivery have risen dramatically, as has the pressure on carriers, in filling their vehicles, requiring return trips to the office if the vehicle cannot accommodate all parcels in the first load, and in the size, shape and weight of parcels having become larger than originally.

Another market threat, posed by at least one competitor which delivers to the door, prompted a policy change on April 23, 2018 by Canada Post. Now, all parcels, regardless of whether or not they require signatures, or collection, are delivered to the door of the customer. The convergence of increased numbers, sizes and shapes, with the new policy of “to the door” for all parcels has combined to generate considerable pressure on carriers, as well as potentially extending the length of the delivery day. Compensation, on the other hand, for these changes has been minimal, ‘while the impact of the changes is being monitored’.

On the negative side of the ledger, letter mail has dropped significantly, from what was once two full boxes, and often three, to one-to-two boxes of letters. Customers have increasingly grown comfortable with the use of the internet for paying bills, for invoicing, even for contracts through such on-line applications as e-SignLive, which permits one to sign legal documents in emails. It is true that there are still some customers, especially in rural areas, who either do not possess computer technology, or whose facility and trust of the new technology has not reached a level of comfort that they have shifted their personal and business communication from hard copy to digital.
With respect to volumes, at least from one perspective with a single rural route, the volume of magazines moving through Canada Post has risen, perhaps by a 10-20% rate. Ad mail, however, except for car dealers, furniture dealers, and corporations like steel buildings and steel roofing, along with rural internet providers, has shown no significant rise in popularity.

As a footnote to these changes in the mail/parcel delivery sector, Canada Post has, (belatedly, in comparison with other private-sector delivery corporations) accepted the new technology of scanning bar codes on parcels, replacing hand-written delivery documents. These PDT’s, shaped like a cell phone, although probably 50% thicker and heavier, usually work as expected, although probably a half-dozen times per month, a bar code will not scan, or the battery in the PDT fails. These minor incidents were not, however, a significant or troublesome aspect of adapting to new methods.

Training in the use of PDT was superficial, brief, even incomplete, at least in my own case. The capacity to scan the process of drop cards, those little cards that appear on the customer’s door knob, was never outlined in the two-hour orientation period, resulting in repeated glitches, until another “trainer” solved the puzzle. Of course, no one from the company ever inquired about how the process of integration of the new technology was going. No one asked about the level of training, except perhaps by a corporate paper questionnaire, which I never did fill out because I simply had no trust that my observations would find a pair of eyes, and a concentrated mind to evaluate them, in some faraway corporate office cubicle.

Nevertheless, the time, to the minute, and the location to the specific spot, of the delivery of parcels and “expresspost” or registered letters is compiled in real time, in some corporate memory bank, accessible instantly should the parcel not be in the hands of the customer at the time s/he expects, given the flagging by most shippers on the internet. The number of kilometers, down to 1/10 of a kilometer, for the route is documented by a route planner, who drives the new route configuration, on the same day s/he prepares the sort-panel into which letters are manually sorted at the beginning of each work day. As there are rarely insufficient compartments for all customers, the planner merges two or three customers into a single sort box, without consultation with the carrier as to which customers receive copious amounts of letter mail. When I remarked to a postmaster about this omission of the obvious courtesy of consultation with the carrier, the instant response was, “They simply do not care about your input to the design of the sort board!”

Paranoia, in an individual and also in an organization, is a cultural foundation for , and a result of the perception/belief in scarcity, and the fear of continuing scarcity, including potential undoing. Threatening sounds have been erupting from Canada Post’s headquarters for several years about declining profit levels, while the unions has been advocating for additional community services like banks, to be grafted onto the trunk of the original corporation, as has been successfully accomplished in other centres, including Great Britain, Israel, New Zealand. In the 2015 federal election, the parameters of delivery (direct to individual homes, as opposed to Community Mail Boxes) was one of the primary files in political debates.

Under the Harper Tories, Community Mail Boxes were being erected, sometimes in conflict with municipalities, particularly on the question of precise location and jurisdiction for the decision. The then Mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre, even took a jack hammer to a concrete pad that had already been constructed in that city, as an “attention-grabbing” publicity stunt to push back against the decision of Canada Post. The New Democrats, as part of their campaign in 2015, committed to continue individual home delivery; the Liberals, as expected, proposed a “study” to determine the details of their approach. So far, that study, although begun, has received little if any public reporting, without any announcement of the current government’s final position on the issue.

Scarcity, however, colours all corporate thinking and communication, in the form of ‘cost-cutting’ that disease that has generated an epidemic in many corporations since the 1990’s when the Anderson Consulting group were contracted by several major corporations to gut the labour costs, thereby enhancing profits and dividends for executives and investors, respectively. Trickling down even to the “kindergarten” memo’s on safety, lifting, climate-appropriate clothing and footwear, and even how to avoid the colds and flu of transitional seasons, the corporation begins with the notion that all employees “on the front line” (actually delivering letters and parcels directly to customers) are either stupid or so careless and unaware that, in order to minimize the cost of disability insurance payments, or more seriously, law suits, treat those thousands of workers with a insulting patronizing. Covering their back-sides, writing in some cubicle, complying with the input of accountants and lawyers, as well as “Employee Assistant Programs” these bureaucratic drones serve as a battalion of cost-cutting, cost-preventing, infantilizing of front-line workers.

Corporate fixation on cost-cutting, has also driven the implementation of policies so short-sighted and so patently defective as to render the decision-makers quite literally incompetent. So out of touch with the physical dimensions of the job of the Rural and Suburban Mail Couriers are decision-makers that, only a few years back, they introduced what they called “the stick”. Championed as a device designed by an active RSMC (therefore who among the 6,500 RSMC’s could object?) this arm ranging from 45-53 inches in length, with a claw into which the letter/flyer mail was inserted, was then lifted by a driver seated in the left seat of the cab, and projected out the window on the right side of the vehicle, then hooked onto the door of the mail-box and inserted into the box where the mail was released. Naturally, the simply physics of gravitational force on the “mail” at the end of the stick produces a significant pressure on the arm and shoulder of the RSMC from the insertion to the extension of the stick was significant. Many RSMC’s have suffered significant and long-enduring pain and discomfort from having been required to implement this “equipment”. In my own case, the initial injury occurred some five years ago, and although I have complied with Physiotherapy directions and exercises, the pain in the shoulder remains as a chronic symptom.

Saving money by implementing the “stick” followed the elimination of the “Ergo” helper, a second person sitting in the passenger seat and inserting the mail/parcel into the rural mail box. Cost-cutting of a meagre, benefit-deprived, additional person, who also provided a second pair of eyes and ears to the day’s encounters, further demonstrated the corporation’s values, and vacuity of the actual conditions on the rural routes. Complaints from customers, completely unjustified, about the driver’s actions, were corroborated as invalid, in my own case, by the “ergo” helper, who was interviewed privately and separately from the “hearing” to which I was subjected. The community “service” provided, anecdotally, by the RSMC in communities in which there are no public security officers, of course, is ignored by the cost-benefit analyses done at headquarters, especially when the kind of lens used to evaluate both costs and benefits is so narrow, shrunk by the mind-set of scarcity, paranoia and fear. Some of the many observations that come naturally to the RSMC in a rural setting include:
·        livestock wandering outside their pens,
·        visitors lost on rural roads,
·        professional delivery services looking for an un-mapped road or street (we never provide the directions to a customer’s address!),
·        a broken hydro/phone pole following an ice storm,
·        deep unplowed snow drifts as heads-up for local road crews and school buses
·        a flooded road following a severe rain storm,
·        fallen trees after a wind storm,
·        a friendly inquiry to a driver of a “stalled” vehicle, to check on a need for help
Of course, none of these “things” are included as part of the basic mail-‘man’s’ “job” description. They are merely the things that come along without notice, to which any RSMC would respond. It is also not incidental that the “ergo” helper provided “companionship” that reduced the loneliness and the potential danger that can emerge at any moment. (Significantly, a law-enforcement friend asked recently, “ How secure are you and your RSMC colleagues going to be, when marijuana is legalized and flowing freely and liberally through the mail?” Even though the parcels have to be “smell-proof” those who seek to acquire such parcels will quickly learn what they are looking for.

Fear, scarcity, paranoia are qualities that profoundly influence both the decisions made by senior executives and the manner in which those decisions are made. Conditions at the bottom of the food chain in the organization rarely if ever seep into the consciousness of those executives. And the quality of the workplace (inside the office and on the road) in which they operate is literally irrelevant to their perceptions and attitudes. Are there costs to such an equation? Of course! Some are more incidental than others. Some penetrate into the attitudes of the RSMC, while others can be shrugged off as “corporate insensitivity and insensibility”.

Unfortunately, it is not only paranoia that characterizes much of Canada Post’s culture. Kets de Vries and Miller detail what they call the “depressive organization”.

Inactivity, lack of confidence, extreme conservatism and a bureaucratically motivated insularity characterize the depressive organization. There is an atmosphere of extreme passivity and purposelessness. Whatever gets done is that which has been programmed and routinized and requires no special initiative. The organization thus acquires a character of automaticity. (P.34) …The sense of aimlessness, purposelessness and apathy among top managers seems to preclude any attempts to give the firm any clear direction, orientation or goals. Strategic issues are never explicitly considered, so meaningful change does not occur. The   general outlook is one of pessimism….Managers are focused inward. …Most of their time is spent working out minor details and handling routine operative matters…Any outside observer would say that they firm seems to be in a catatonic state. (p. 36-7)

The history of at least four (not a typo) different unions to which the workers  belong  plus a history of a rigid military-model on which the corporation is based, along with having to serve different political masters in a fluctuating political environment…these are conditions which rarely if ever see the light of day in any formal corporate “critical” evaluation. Nevertheless, the implications of these imperial parameters, however, extend to the rigidity, the fear, the depression and the depressive culture of the corporation, at least at the bottom end of the operation.

No contract negotiations, focusing on the kind of “demands” that attempt to magnetize union memberships, immediately bankable, and immediately shifting the balance of spreading the revenues more equitably (a highly worthy objective) among all levels of the organization chart, are likely to address the more abstract, more subjective and less easily quantifiable aspects of corporate culture. Stability, the consciousness that no government would dare to pull the plug on this public corporation without a volcanic political fight, can and does cut two ways. It may give executives and employees some sense of security that they are engaged in a venture considered by some as a necessary public service. On the other hand, that “stability” may tend to curb or even preclude any creative adjustments, including the basic premises of the hierarchy on which the corporation has relied for longer than a century.

Paranoid bureaucracies tend, by definition, to incarnate isolated power, alienated from the street truths of their operation, obsessed with the daily balance sheet, including the number of specific mistakes accounted for by multiple monitoring persons and devices. They are not premised on a kind of mature, respectful, optimistic and supportive attitudes that seek out the talents and the ambitions of their employees. Words that proudly trumpet corporate interest in and commitment to the career growth and advancement of their workers, without a concomitant evidence of specific actions that would read resumes, conversations face to face with workers to seek out their unique talents and skills even applying those to the specific goals of the corporation, with or without new titles and offices only depict a hollowness of authenticity, integrity and trust between workers and executives.

Of course, the mail must be delivered. And there is literally no excuse for a failed delivery on each and every piece entrusted to Canada Post for delivery, in the most efficient and effective manner feasible. And the fact that very few Canada Post workers would even consider defaulting on such a noble responsibility defies the attitude of Canada Post as “critical parent” and school principal and officious supervisor. Those archetypes, paradoxically, do not grow trust, loyalty and the kind of worker attitude that naturally leads to customers who are more than merely OK with their mail delivery. Customers who genuinely appreciate the work of Canada Post delivery personnel appreciate the ‘go-beyond’ the bare minimum of their task. However, if the corporation is fixed on the minimum in the incarnation of their professional attitudes, both individually and collectively, minimum based on scarcity, fear, depression and a kind of negative stasis, going beyond the minimal will not become the norm.

For the decade-plus during which I worker for Canada Post, I resisted the notion widely expressed in public media, that Canada Post has to be privatized, sold to a for-profit organization, or sold on the for-profit share and stock market to private share and stock-holders. Given the numerous and growing numbers of screw-ups in the public service, epitomized in neon lights by the Phoenix debacle in the pay-system for the public service, highlighting what the Auditor General calls a refusal to bring “truth to power” by those who knew this mess was going to happen, long before the system was implemented, my criticisms of Canada Post will of course languish in the shadows of both insouciance and pimples, compared to the tumors that shout out regularly from various government departments.

However, a healthy mail service, whether owned and operated by the federal government, or owned by private investors as a for-profit entity, with or with labour union(s), needs to move into the twenty-first century in the manner in which in operates, on the human side of the enterprise.

That argument, so silenced in a period of corporate greed, and insouciance, in which millions of workers have no health benefits, no pensions, no maternity or paternity leave, needs an active, healthy robust and determined advocate at the corporate level. Executives interact between and among diverse corporations. Cultures evolve out of the vortex of such exchanges. Leadership at the upper echelons, that respects and works toward a highly visible commitment to balancing the needs of the balance sheet with the needs of the workers, is needed more today than at any time in the last three quarters of a century.

Canada Post is in a unique position to provide such leadership, in the manner in which it addresses the current realities of both the exterior environment and the interior environment. Electric vehicles, for example, that are safe and equipped for dramatic weather changes, ‘ergo’ workers, banking facilities, as well as pharmaceutical deliveries where no pharmacy exists in the communities, even offering shares to employees, to engage those workers in the details of the operation….these are just a few minimal ideas for active consideration when digital technology has become a tidal wave of opportunity. And it has to be seen as opportunity and not merely threat. Is that too radical for this muddling corporation and country?

*Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Absolute certainty is the enemy of collaboration, measured judgements and maturity


The search for truth in a boiling cauldron of sex, power, ambition and lies is a dangerous and interminable drama.

The United States political culture, “that boiling cauldron,” is not a culture that either supports or enables the discovery of ‘the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” so help me God! Sending the FBI off to do what is termed a further background investigation of one, Brett Kavanaugh, restricted to the names already known through the courageous evidence of one Dr. Christine Blassy Ford, under the political pressure of irate phone calls, emails and direct confrontations at Senate Office Building elevator doors (Sen. Jeff Flake) was clearly not on the agenda of the sexual-predator president’s radar.

And then, in an off-handed manner to reporters on his way to another campaign rally in West Virginia, for the president to say ‘they have a free hand to go wherever they have to’ is more than disingenuous; it is another of the litany of deceptions, cover-ups and dissemblings that characterize both the chief executive and his nominee’s defense of his appointment to the Supreme Court. As James Comey, fired FBI Director tweeted, “Small lies matter!”

Much has been written and pontificated by talking heads on television, about the dramatic differences in the demeanour of Kavanaugh and Blassy Ford in their respective testimonies. Responses from Republican Senators especially, has been predictably supportive of Kavanaugh, while the Democrats and the #MeTooMovement have almost universally supported Blassy Ford. The line, “A house divided against itself cannot stand!” from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address seems to echo in one’s mind as one attempts to ingest and to digest the ramifications of the current tabloid-type tragedy.

And it is and will be a tragedy no matter how it is ‘resolved. If the FBI reports nothing additional, and Kavanaugh is confirmed, a higher than 50% of America will consider the process a miscarriage of justice. Ironic, that word ‘miscarriage,’ given that the long-term goal of the right-wing cabal that currently has control of all three institutions of the United States government is to ‘kill’ Roe v. Wade, that so-called ‘settled law’ that permits therapeutic abortions and ensures a woman’s right to choose about her own body.

If, on the other hand, Blassy Ford’s riveting testimony is upheld by even one witness, or the circumstantial evidence tilts in her direction so far that the nominee’s name is withdrawn, voluntarily or peremptorily by the president, Kavanaugh’s supporters will be enraged, potentially hostile and even potentially violent. If the nominee’s demeanour in the afternoon of Thursday’s addended hearing is any indication, and the responses from the lobby that supports his nomination through a media blitz of advertising combine to provide any indication of probable outcomes should his nomination be derailed, this issue, this nomination and this historic moment will continue to fester, to boil and to potentially boil over in the November mid-term elections.

Senator Flake’s move to seek a pause through time for a further investigation, while noble and even honourable, will be a mere hiccup, depending on the evidence that is uncovered, reported to the White House and then, hopefully completely and accurately conveyed to the Senate Judicial Committee. Should Kavanaugh’s nomination founder on the shoal of public opinion, we all know that another equally if not even more conservative nominee will be proferred by the White House with an even more intemperate demand that s/he be confirmed prior to the mid-term elections.

Ironic isn’t it that compressed time, almost into mere seconds, is now the imperative of the Republicans, those same mostly old white men, who considered a full calendar year not to be a problem given the nomination of Merrick Garland by then president Obama on the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Time, like money, is a moveable feast or famine, depending on one’s point of view. And in this case, one’s point of view is a direct reflection of one’s estimate of what the public will tolerate.

Rex Murphy has written about the inadequate way in which the media has operated in this debacle. It says here that the public’s insatiable appetite for a trump-infested diet of lies and braggadocio is also an underlying and significant motivation for the other older white men who sit in the board rooms of the major media conglomerates to pursue ratings and profits, regardless of their source or their integrity. Hourly tweeting by the president is not, and never should have been, the staple diet of serious media editors and executives. Just because there is a new technology to which a majority of people are addicted, and to which the media sources have yet to develop a responsible filtering process, we and they ought not to have been overwhelmed and seduced by the president’s narcissistic and tragic ambition. And the Kavanaugh nomination, albeit one for an important life-long position of serious judgement, needed as much as any single piece of business and decision, the kind of serious reflection by the administration, and even more serious reflection by the media. Jammed into a multi-layered sandwich of tweets and rally-blusters-bombs about North Korea, Rosenstein, Mueller, Manafort, Cohen, Flynn, Cushner, NAFTA, and impeachment, the reflective processes of a serious and stable nation have become unravelled and lie in the newsrooms and in the bars and even the lecture halls in tatters and shreds.

The demise of truth, one of the more significant casualties of the war on the establishment perpetrated by the trump-bannon “axis of evil,” and the concomitant rise of “fake news” to take its place has contributed significantly to the great divide in public opinion. Each side considers its view to be based on the facts, when each side demonizes the other, and bases its view on the “justified” opposition to the other.

Partisanship, to the degree that it has not only permitted but exacerbated the breakdown in the functioning of the democratic institutions, showed its pre-eminence in the vitriolic self-defence offered by Kavanaugh on Thursday afternoon. Touted by some as the ‘new leader of the Republican Party, Kavanaugh may have, consciously or not, traded in his application for the Supreme Court job for a new office, as Chairman of the Republican Party under trump.

If that is what happens, Kavanaugh will have written his own career biography, given the obvious vacancy of leadership in the Republican Party and the minimal qualifications for any aspirant, following the example of the president, to avoid, pay off or simply deny criminal, moral, ethical turpitude, mostly with cash a willing dupes.

On the other side, Dr. Blassy Ford, trembling, frightened, tremulous and clearly authentic in both her narrative and her demeanour, generated a 201% increase in the calls coming into the National Sexual Assault hotline on the day of the joint testimony. Sexual assault, sexual impropriety, sexual entitlement and sexual relations have become so radioactive, politically, legally, culturally in this climate that the lives of both protagonist (Kavanaugh) and antagonist (Blassy Ford) have been threatened. Inevitably, also, that radioactivity has over-flowed into this nomination and confirmation process.

To turn a blind eye to the direct and indirect responsibility on the president’s shoulders for the current state of the union would be irresponsible. To turn a deaf ear to the calls for an FBI investigation, as the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee were determined to do until Sen. Flake called a “time out,” would also be irresponsible. In a nation in which mental health treatment is so glaringly and blatantly and deliberately absent along with any tolerance and acceptance of ambiguity, uncertainty, balance, and shared responsibility, a measured consideration of the complex and mutually exclusive narratives by the Senate, the media, the #MeTooMovement, the #TimesUp movement and the opinion polls  seems inconceivable.

The archetype of the war model of “fight-to-the-death” pervades American history, including the Civil War and ensuring battle for civil rights that continues today, including the incarceration of thousands of innocent and mostly men too poor to be able to fund bail, including the willful murder of innocent black men by white law enforcement officers, including the addiction to video war games. The income war of disparity between the rich and powerful against those without political voice, clout, cash and connections, and the ubiquitous power dominance of white males, as evidenced by the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee….all of this portends a protracted conflict, without even a glimpse of reconciliation, between the genders.

Reporting, and making judgements on the reporting that distorts/omits/distracts from so much of the nuanced complexities and ambiguities only serves the intellectual appetite and capacity for reductionism, simplicity, and a binary view of the universe.

Unless and until some significant steps are envisioned, written about and tolerated in the public media that embrace uncertainly, ambiguity, tolerance of different opinions, along with the capacity to debate with authentic dignity, including the deployment of an agreed body of facts, there is little likelihood that this historic moment will resolve in a way that provides light in a pitch-dark tunnel where a trump presidency is not only possible, but apparently looking forward to a second term.

And, for the trump cult, sexual assaults, innuendo, and mal-feasance be damned!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Kudo's to Bob Woodward...and NO mr trump it is not fiction


Scheduled to appear in bookstores on the anniversary of 9/11, Bob Woodward’s latest OPUS, Fear, could be more devastating to the current administration than those four hijacked were to the nation back in 2001.

Reputed for this obsessive concentration on detail, carefully checking of sources (not merely a corroborating single, but multiples), Woodward is by far the most credible, trustworthy and serious scribe to put a journalistic microscope on the White House since the inauguration in January 2017. Airing taped “teasers” from the hundreds of hours of tapes he amassed while researching this tome, Woodward has also provided what could be a fatal blow, in the public arena, where the question of the tenure of the administration will be decided, indirectly, if not directly.

Quoting Mattis and Kelly, (Defense Secretary and Chief of Staff respectively) on trump, Woodward notes Mattis’ having answered the president about why the U.S. is friendly to South Korea, “Because we are trying to prevent WWIII!” Kelly, in another episode aired during the last twelve hours, acknowledges this is the worst job of his life, and wonders what they are doing there.

Woodward’s voice on the brief audio clip with the president, points out that he tried to reach the “boss” by contacting several people, including a lunch with Kellyanne Conway, who, “surprisingly” failed to pass the message along the pipeline paving the way for Woodward to speak directly to trump. While sorry that they were unable to speak directly, Woodward clearly wants both the president and the world to know that “I have been very careful” in his work. When asked, ‘Do you name people, or just say ‘sources say’? Woodward points out that he asserts in the book that on a specific day, the named people met to discuss, including the name of the president” and then goes on to detail the discussion.

This is no Hollywood reporter (ala Wolfe) nor an ambitious and transformed acolyte and former Apprentice show participant (Amarossa), nor is it a vengeful Comey emerging from a high profile firing as Director of the F.B.I. This reporter, now Associate Editor of the Washington  Post, is revered (along with Carl Bernstein) for this work on Watergate. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for the administration, despite all the cataract of denials already beginning to flow (Mattis says he would never speak about the elected president in such contemptuous terms), to shove this piece of work into the trash-bin of “fake news”. And even among the trump cult, (it has to be named as such, given the obsessive-compulsive consumption of the tsunami of lies, deceptions, cover-ups, projections and outright braggadocio of what Megan McCain aptly dubbed the “tyranny of the tweets” in her father’s eulogy), there will have be  some, however miniscule, elevation of consciousness, perhaps just to the point where they might consider calling, emailing, texting or even tweeting their member of Congress, too long asleep, and too long self-gagged to begin to utter opposition and even penetrating public criticism of the president.

Yesterday’s opening of the public confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, including the arrest of some 70 protesters who interrupted the chair several times, laid bare several important facts, for all to see.

First, one has to wonder the size of personal ambition of a man (reportedly a strong family man, youth athletic coach, former alter-boy and former White House staffer under George W. Bush) to permit his name to go forward under a nomination from a president who is already an unindicted conspirator (re. Michael Cohen). Would Kavanaugh not know, as anyone who has not been living under a rock for the last eighteen months would know, that the clouds of suspicion, interrogation, investigation, accusation and even potential conspiracy/collusion have been gathering over the White House since before the 2016 election.

Of course, a life-time appointment to the United States Supreme Court is the holy grail for legal minds in the United States, the highest rung on a very steep and long ladder of accomplishment, status, recognition, professional security and reputation. And for conservatives, the opportunity to “stack” the nine-member body with right-leaning legal judgements for the next half-century is a prospect that many of the trump and Republican marching band would almost literally “die for.”

Nevertheless, having not only permitted his name to go forward, but gratefully praised the president for the “confidence placed in me,” Kavanaugh has stepped into a very tippy canoe, to say the least. And the irony and the historic significance of the release of the Woodward book on the opening day of his confirmation hearings cannot be either missed or ignored by the American people, and especially the U.S. members of Congress.

Having already served under former Special Prosecutor, Ken Starr, in the Clinton debacle,  and already written both in favour of and in opposition to the chief executive’s legal  for investigation, subpoena, indictment while in office, Kavanaugh has already exposed both himself and the president to the obvious and legitimate charge, already voiced by many Democrats and a few lonely Republicans, that he has been nominated by a president seeking protection should a subpoena land on his desk from Special Prosecutor Mueller, be refused and then litigated in the Supreme Court, following his possible confirmation.

Having also written thousands of opinions on such significant subjects as torture, Roe v. Wade, gun control and the already mentioned presidential immunity, (many of which pages have been embargoed by the White House) and also having  written some 300-plus decisions as a member of the Court of Appeals of the Third District, presided over by Merrick Garland,( the Obama nominee who suffered the ignominy of complete and utter excommunication by Republican senators, prior to the 2016 election) Kavanaugh is a legitimate target for serious challenge by Senate Democrats.

Women, especially, are concerned that Kavanaugh will become the final nail in the coffin of a woman’s right to choose to have a therapeutic abortion. Access to this service is already being curtailed in many states through decisions of state legislatures to restrict permission to doctors who also have “privileges” at local hospitals, and to demand the conditions in clinics meet or exceed those in hospitals for the right to be licensed to perform abortions. Planned Parenthood, for example, is highly vocal, incensed that what had been considered “established law,” Roe v Wade will be chipped away into oblivion, with a guaranteed five conservative votes on the Supreme Court, should Kavanaugh be confirmed.

The forces of dissent, disapproval, disparagement and even impeachment continue to grow, not to be dimmed either by the publication of the Woodward tome, or by the mounting evidence of a “blue wave” of energized Democratic voters who have already secured the nominations of surprisingly visionary candidates in New York, Boston, and potentially even in the south.

Woodward’s exhaustive work, coupled with his platinum reputation, and his professional gravitas, landing on 9/11, 2018, only 60 days prior to the Mid-term elections is undoubtedly going to fuel animus among trump voters as well as among the growing millions of voters, both Independent and Democratic, who, hopefully, are awakening to the seriousness of the tightening noose around the administration’s collective and singular neck.

Citing “fear” as his title, and diagnosing the “nervous breakdown” of the administration, Woodward has pounded his key-pad hammer into the two most  vulnerable spots in the administration’s body politic. It is the paradox and irony that the fear within the president (the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader, according to John Kelly) projected onto the American people, as a methamphetamine concocted in the White House basement, to vacuum all those  free-floating fear radicals that haunt the middle of the country, the outback, the angry white men and women who have already taken their trump-toxin that, taken together, could render the administration the author of its own ultimate demise. With all the growing and credible evidence of a “nervous breakdown” claimed by Woodward, people inside the country and around the world have to be both worried and exercised about the potential damage trump and his band of thugs have already, and continue to inflict.

Woodward, almost single-handedly, has turned the tide against the charge of fake news levelled hourly against the national media. Woodward has also compiled and published a compendium of more than circumstantial evidence, available to everyone able to read to reflect upon personal civic responsibility, and take hold of that most valued democratic right, the vote, in November.

 Should the legal charges process either take too long or subvert the public’s collective wisdom, the ballot box is the last and best resort for a nation on the brink of disaster.

Is there a Medal of Honour of a Purple Heart equivalent for journalists? If not, it is time to create one!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Ode to high school principals...


Let’s take a look at the self-sabotaging structure that breeds leaders in education in Ontario, and one can extrapolate, also other North American jurisdictions. Under such criteria as “ambitious,” and “responsible,” “politically correct,” and “trustworthy” as well as “personable” and “relates well to many different groups,” we can add, the requisite professional development “courses” that stress the law, school budgeting, curriculum design and scheduling, leadership and “moral purity.”

Of course, these attributes shift and shape in their relative importance given the “crop” of eager applicants, the local culture, including the local political requirements, and the “insider” connections and community family status. Small towns, especially, revert to their “own” as do private schools, preferring their graduates, “because they already know the school culture, the expectations and the specific requirements of that “body” of taxpayers and/or benefactors and tuition-paying parents.

From the perspective of the “upper” administration, the primary determining factor is the potential of the candidate to “keep all issues, problems, controversies and turbulence” inside the school, so that it does not boil over into a major issue that bruises the reputation of the “board”…and its functionaries, all of them extremely highly imbursed with public dollars. In the private school, “connections” to preserve some facsimile of the historic “family compact” still reigns. So, at minimum, a history “inside” the private school system still gives one a “lep up” on other candidates, with the potential exception of a “star” candidate with a high profile who could/would/will? generate millions for the trust account, and any future building prospects. In the private school world, selling “seats” at thousands of dollars is still the name of the game, and this includes scholarships, bursaries, and legacy donations. In the public schools, there is considerable competition between schools within the same board, and between schools between competing boards, (geographically, curricularly and religiously). Schools offering the Baccalaureate, for example, will have a marketing “edge” among a certain demographic, while those offering science and technology specialties, will have an edge among a different demographic. Parents who seek a “morally strong” school system, in some towns, prefer the Roman Catholic Separate School system, whether or not they belong to that religion.

And so, it is easy to see that “politics” both internal and external, both fiscal and curricular, balancing human interests and competencies among staff with the requirements of a timetable that serves usually well over 1000-2000 students, play a highly significant role both in the operation of the school, and in its “social and political standing” in the community. Depending on the size of the community, the very existence of the secondary school, likely only one in many small communities, will attract considerable public notice, interest and potential criticism.

The ability, and the willingness to navigate the “white waters” of the many “rocks” along the stream of a single leader’s tenures, then is paramount in his or her submission of his/her name for consideration. Of course, there will be endless meetings, many of which will be in the evening, memo’s to write and read, legislation and board policy to read, digest and both comply with and apply. And there are the inevitable IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices) among the parents, board members, and potentially reporters who are all seeking to promote some agenda, even as base at times as a personal resume.

In such a closed environment, (ironically much more closed that the diversity of the student population would suggest on first look) there are cliques, “friends” of the administration, enemies of the administration, free spirits who could care less who occupies the principal’s office, and “shit-disturbers” who are never happy unless and until they have blown waves into another teacup. Also like a small community, however, each wind/wave in each teacup will garner the notice of everyone in the building, including the janitorial staff, who usually have the scuttlebutt about all rumours before many of the “officialdom”. Among students, also, there are cliques of interests, hobbies, activities and social strata including dress, makeup, whether or not to “join” teams, clubs or to resist all “alliances” as a statement of either or both independence or rebellion and ‘anarchy’.

Of course, all of the candidates for “promotion” to school administrator, vice-principal, principal, superintendent and director will have spent time in those “teacher prep” courses, formerly at Ontario College of Education and back when there was a shortage of teachers, many of courses were ‘summer school’ type. So imagine sitting in a classroom at Jarvis Collegiate, without air conditioning, through a hot summer in July and August back in 1968.

Education philosophy at that time touched on Dewey, and on “not smiling until at least the end of the first term” (so that kids will not take advantage of the teacher), and practice teaching, without video-recording at that time. Master teacher and classmates did the ratings, and  mostly I recall the drive from Oakville into the city in traffic that would pale to the volumes of these days.

Of course, while on the job, principals and vice-principals were responsible for student and teacher ‘discipline’….making sure the machine ran on time, without hiccups, hitches or actually walk-outs. Waling the halls was an integral part of the job, casting about looking for “trouble” in order to strike before it became a real problem. And there were always students being “sent to the office” for disrupting some class or other, often from the same teachers, who were attempting to be “buddies” with their students. 
Staff meetings were another occasion for these mostly men to demonstrate their “leadership” although proposals were modest, meek in the extreme and hardly revolutionary. One I recall was called Quest, when it was planned that grade twelve students would be encouraged to spend a day at the workplace of one of their parents, or a close family friend with the hope that they would “discover” whether or not they might like to take up that kind of profession or employment. This was decades prior to the “resume-padding” extracurricular activities that generate actual credits, and highlight a university or college application.

I recall returning one September from as summer vacation part of which was spent driving through the upper states of New England, where, surprisingly to this small-town kid from Ontario, I found a shoe “factory outlet” and purchased a brand new pair of hiking boots with bright red laces. (Remember this was a half century ago!) Proudly sitting in the staff room wearing the new boots, I recall the vice-principal’s scathing and scornful ridiculing snicker, as he asked, “So where are you intending to go with those?” I was dressed in what apparently was something “too loud” for the conservative ambience desired at least by this VP.

Details on attendance sheets, including all students absent every morning, were to be sent immediately after “home form” so that the office could follow up on whether or not the parents were aware their child did not show up. And, on a master clipboard, such sheets accompanied each class, expecting the teacher to complete the “attendance” for each period taught. Similarly, absentees were noted, and often called in for explanation and detentions. Punishments too often, as I recall, required the writing of an essay by the delinquent, an approach I always found counter-intuitive to keeping English as a positive learning experience.

Schedules for “detention room” monitoring, as well as examination proctoring, dance supervision, and after school advisors were also among the duties of these men as well as following up to assure everyone was in the proper place at the proper time. Details, details, details…..literally “managing” and clearly very little if any time to “wonder” or to “lead” or to develop teaching staff. There was the proverbial “teacher inspection” session in which the principal paid a visit to the classroom to assess the performance of the teacher. Sometimes these were by appointment; occasionally they were impromptu especially if the teacher were already on a short leash.

Time to read, time for relaxation (curling or playing hockey with staff) were both limited. Board meetings, dinners to celebrate some long-serving board member, or a retiring teacher, presentations to board meetings, and of course, meetings with parents especially those whose children were graduating from elementary school and entering high school. And then there were “parents nights” to schedule, announce, organize and host, especially those parents whose child might be having some difficulty with academics or with deportment.

Private offices were the private locus of these “officials” and neither student nor teacher looked forward to a summons to their rooms: that usually meant something had gone awry and needed an explanation and/or some corrective.
Morning announcements over the public address system were the exclusive purview of the principal, or in his absence in the vice-principal, with the occasional student announcement to offer a little variety.

Keeping the lid on, making sure everything ran smoothly, making sure exams were submitted for typing and copying in time for the students to write, and then making sure the marks were submitted in time to prepare reports to parents…..these are just a few more of the “verbals that needed attending.

On a regular, but not often basis, the school leaders would “host” a visit from a superintendent and/or director, the duet making the requisite appearance in the halls between class, and likely in the office to “talk things over” afterwards.
And then there were the Department of Education (Ontario) inspectors who also needed to be scheduled into classrooms, to assess the performance of especially new teachers, on probationary contracts, hoping to morph them into a permanent contract.

Federation meetings were another expected place to attend for principals and vice-principals, partly to keep informed of the issues about which the federation was concerned, and partly to learn how their “staff” were getting along with their colleagues in such meetings. They also needed to know if some labour dispute were brewing, or a strike planned.

Staff parties, graduations, student dances, Christmas and Spring formals all required staff planning and supervision and concurrence from administration.

Do ya’think these were “tight ships” to cite a proverbial colloquial metaphor?

Of course, and the men who ran them were under extreme psychological pressure, from the various audiences scrutinizing them as men, and detailing their every public performance. For their commitment, they were paid handsomely in dollars and pensions. However, one has to wonder whether or not they were allowed to develop past their initial excitement of the first five years. It is often said of teachers: some have a record of teaching for 10 years, but really only repeated their first year, others actually taught differently and developed new strategies and techniques every year, just to keep themselves engaged.

A now retired education professor at Columbia postulated back in the 1970’s that every teacher needed to be schooled in basic research methods, in order to be able to carry out formal scientific learning experiments in the classroom. Such a background would serve both teachers and students admirably, and go a long way to preventing that horrendous development called “teacher burn-out.”

Clearly, since back then computers and digital media have taken a much more central role in the education process. However, principals and educational leaders area still charged with substituting for parents of their most precious family members. And their success, not as readily determined by the number of Ontario scholars, is really to be measured by the growth and development of their former faculty and former students.

Sadly, some of them have appeared a little put off by the lives chosen by the men and women of their former staffs. However, having been asked to submit an application for the first step in the long process of becoming a high school vice-principal and then principal, I never put a letter on the application, and certainly never submitted it for consideration. I have never once, not for a single moment, regretted saying “NO” to the application and to the encouragement of a spouse to begin the process. Something inside told me it was not “for me” and the last half century would concur.

And, two decades after leaving teaching when I visited a former colleague who had become the new occupant of the principal’s office, I asked him what he would do with his life if he had a choice. He looked at me blankly, said he had no clue, and uttered something about being chained to a management role, and certainly not a leadership role. His response was not a surprise although he had been a member of the marching band at a Toronto school noted for the precision of its band.

I actually believe that education is less a “conserving” activity and more of a releasing and liberating and exploratory activity….and will leave it to the “conservers” to provide the energy for that kind of learning ambience. A little turbulence, a little colouring outside the lines, a little less compliant deference to the establishment and the status quo (that seeks primarily its own success and reputation) seem not to revolutionary to dream. I wonder if there are still dreamers submitting to the classroom rigours today?