Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Canada: the new destination of American Investment Capital...Who would have thunk it?

Here is a news stopper: Canada is now seen by American investors as a much better place in which to invest their money than the U.S. In fact, over the recent months since the Wall Street debacle, according to CBC's The National, June 29, 2010, some $110 billion has been invested here, because of the strength and security of Canada's"economic fundamentals". That would include our steady banking system, our plethora of natural resources, including the Oil Sands development, our strong and educated work force, our stable political system and our long-term development of the very fundamentals which seem to be missing in the U.S. economy. Another advantage is the expected rise in interest rates here, cmpared to the stagnation of those rates in the U.S. Investors really like to see those rates growing, because it is on the strength of those rates that much of their future growth is based.
There are even those investment advisors who think out loud that 2010 may be the start of a truly Canadian decade, in terms of gaining and holding respect from the U.S. investor, surprised that their northern neighbour, about whom they know so very little, has finally emerged on the radar screen known as Wall Street.
Stability and security are the new "sexy" in investment advisors' lexicons, as they move to advise their American clients to put their money in the Canadian economy.
How long will this last?  It could be a considerable time, given the lack of stability in many of the other western countries' economic futures (if you will pardon the pun!).

Quebec: Kill the Asbestos "Deal" before it kills Indian Workers

The Quebec government is poised to commit a monumental error. It is about to guarantee a $38 million loan to the city of Asbestos, in that province, for the production of, you guessed it, asbestos, for use in the third world. Using the phoney argument that the product, if handled correctly, is safe, the province is about to create 450 new jobs, mining this deadly substance, which, as one commentator put it, "Is like starting a new industry of Death!"
Two dozen doctors have written to the Quebec Minister of Health pleading with him to acknowledge his significant error in declaring the substance safe for the health of humans.
Video on CBC, The National, June, 29, 2010, shows workers in India working with asbestos without even a mask for protection.
If the Quebec government cannot see or refuses to see the error of its ways, the federal government should step in to block the deal, so that the lives of Indian workers are not compromised and/or lost through this
short-term economic gain for the long-term cancer it will cause both to the workers who handle it and to the Canadian reputation around the world.
Hopefully, the Mayor of Asbestos, himself an avid promoter of the "job creation" aspect of the project, will suffer his own political demise should the deal be finally consummated.

Dr. Robert Lanza's Introduction to Biocentrism...Who Knew?

From the Huffington Post, June 29, 2010
(I could not resist sharing this piece of thought-provoking discovery! Thank you, Dr. Lanza, Scientist, Theoretician)
 The world was once wondrous. As a boy I remember mounting the stairs that led to the legendary Harvard Medical School. The huge granite slabs were worn by past generations of scientists. Here, I fancied, the greatest minds on the planet busied themselves around electron microscopes and ultra-centrifuges, working in their laboratories on secret experiments. But I'm older now, and my colleagues tell me we're just the activity of carbon and some proteins; we live awhile and die. And the universe? It too has no meaning. They have it all worked out in the equations -- no need for woo.
But a series of new experiments suggest this may be all wrong, and that part of us exists outside of the physical world. The implications of these experiments have been downplayed because, until recently, quantum behavior was limited to the microscopic world. However, this 'two-world' view (that is, one set of physical laws for small objects, and another set of laws for the rest of the universe, including us) has no basis in reason, and more importantly, is being challenged in labs around the world.
We're trapped in an outdated paradigm. A few more equations, we're told, and we'll know it all -- any day now. There's no adventure left, no lost gardens in far away lands. But we all intuitively know there's more to existence than our science books grant. It's the same nostalgic yearning that gives religion its persistent power over humanity.
It was this search that lured me into science. My life has been a journey that began as a young boy when I persuaded myself to make a trip (by bus and trolley) to Harvard. I hoped the men of science would receive me kindly, but when I got there the guard wouldn't let me in. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, when the palace guard said "go away." I went around the building and stood by some dumpsters trying to look inconspicuous. A short balding guy came walking up with a bunch of keys -- the janitor, I thought. After I slipped in, he asked me if he could help. "No," I said "I'm looking for a Harvard doctor. I'm trying to induce melanin synthesis in albino chickens." My words met with a stare of surprise. Seeing the impact they were having, I went on, although I was certain he didn't know what DNA was. As we got to talking, I told him I worked in the school cafeteria myself, and was good friends with the janitor up the street. He asked if my father was a doctor. "No," I laughed. "He's a professional gambler. He plays poker."
I didn't know he was Stephen Kuffler, the world-famous neurobiologist who had been nominated for the Nobel Prize. At the time, however, I felt like a schoolmaster lecturing a pupil. I told him about the experiment I had performed in my basement--how I altered the genetic makeup of a white chicken to make it black. "Your parents must be proud," he said. "No, they don't care what I do," I replied. "They think I'm out in my treehouse." He insisted on introducing me to a "Harvard doctor." I hesitated -- I didn't want him to get into trouble. "Don't worry about me," he said with a little grin.
He took me into a room crammed with sophisticated equipment. A "doctor" looking through an instrument was about to insert an electrode into the nerve of a caterpillar [the "doctor," Josh Sanes, was a graduate student, now Director of Harvard's Center for Brain Science]. "I'll stop back later," my new friend said. From that moment on everything was a dream come true. The doctor and I talked all afternoon. And then I looked at the clock. "Oh no!" I said, "I have to go!" I hurried home and went straight to my treehouse. That evening, the call of my mother penetrated the woods: "Rob--by! Time for dinner!"
No one had any idea that evening - including me − that I had met one of the greatest scientists in the world. Kuffler is often referred to as the "Father of Modern Neuroscience." As a medical student I used his From Neurons to Brain as a textbook. Yet it wasn't what I learned from his book that was most relevant to understanding the world. It was startling to realize, after studying neurobiology, that objects, indeed our own bodies, are nothing but representations in our mind -− that we can't see anything through the bone surrounding the brain.
We assume there's a universe "out there" separate from what we are, and that we play no role in its appearance. Yet since the 1920s, experiments have shown just the opposite; results do depend on whether anyone is observing. This is most vividly illustrated by the famous two-hole experiment. When you watch a particle go through the holes, it behaves like a bullet, passing through one hole or the other. But if no one observes the particle, it exhibits the behavior of a wave and can pass through both holes at the same time.
This and other experiments tell us that unobserved particles exist only as "waves of probability" as Max Born demonstrated in 1926. They're statistical predictions -- nothing but a likely outcome. Until observed, they have no real existence; only when the mind sets the scaffolding in place can they be thought of as having duration or a position in space. Experiments make it increasingly clear that even mere knowledge in the experimenter's mind is sufficient to convert possibility to reality.
Importantly, this behavior isn't limited to the microscopic world. New experiments carried out with huge molecules called "Buckyballs" show that quantum reality extends into the macroscopic world we live in. In 2005, KHC0₃ crystals exhibited entanglement ridges one-half inch high, quantum behavior nudging into everyday levels of discernment.
Biocentrism tells us that reality is a process that involves our consciousness, and that space and time aren't the hard objects we think. Recent experiments show that separate particles can influence each other instantaneously over great distances, as if they're endowed with ESP. They're intimately linked in a manner suggesting there's no space or time influencing their behavior. In 1997 Nicolas Gisin sent pairs of particles zooming along optical fibers until they were seven miles apart. But whatever action one took, its twin performed the complementary action instantaneously. Since then, other researchers have duplicated Gisin's work.
All of these experiments make perfect sense from a biocentric perspective. Everything we perceive is a whirl of information in our head. Time can be defined as the summation of spatial states occurring inside the mind. But that doesn't mean there's an invisible matrix in which changes occur. We watch our loved ones age and die and assume that an external entity called time is responsible for the crime. There's a peculiar intangibility to space, as well. Like time, it's just a tool of our understanding.
Future studies may confirm this biocentric view of the universe. Just months ago, Gisin announced a new twist on his experiment, and that the results could be visible to the naked eye. Another proposed new experiment, scaled-up superposition, may confirm that quantum effects apply to human-scale objectsIt seems like yesterday that I was standing by the dumpster at Harvard; and that one of the most brilliant scientists in history let me into the world of science. In the late 1970's, the betting was that the next Nobel Prize would go to Kuffler, Wiesel and Hubel. But Nobel Prizes aren't awarded posthumously, and Kuffler died while working at his desk on October 11, 1980. (The next year, Hubel and Wiesel won the Nobel Prize.) Someday we'll realize that the questions with which he concerned himself -- the brain and how we perceive the world -- are a mystery on par with understanding the universe and the origin of life.
But the solution to this mystery lies within our grasp, a solution hinted at by the frequency with which the old paradigm breaks down. This is the underlying problem: we've ignored a critical component of the universe, shunted it out of the way because we didn't know what to do with it. This component is consciousness -- us, the great observer.
Biocentrism (BenBella Books) lays out Lanza's theory of everything.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Memo to Peter Milliken: Thanks and Farewell!

Dear Peter: It is with deep sadness that I learn that "you have no plans to run again" in the next election. You have served with honour, distinction and dedication for two-plus decades. And you merit all the thanks you receive from your constituents, friends supporters and donors.

The country is the loser in your retirement. One can only hope that you will now feel free to pursue other more challenging and more imaginative pursuits, at your own time and in your own way, including, one hopes, your memoir, which would also serve your successors with insight.
I have to confess that "no plans" just might mean you have left the door open...to a leadership draft. If that is the case, please count me among those who would support such an option, if events were to unfold in that manner.
It is an honour to have met you, and I wish you good health, peace and joy in your "autumn" years...they really are exciting!

Africa's plight..not touching Canadian hearts or policy?

As I listened to a story told by an African educator on NPR's "On Point" this morning, I began to weep. He told the story of a man, husband and father of three, who before he died, sold all the family's possessions, without the knowledge of his wife and children. The widow learned of his actions on the day of his burial. When she arrived home, later in the day, she turned to her children, and uttered these words, "What am I going to do, with nothing left to raise you with?"
She then hanged herself, only to be found, dead, by her eldest daughter, herself a mere child.
As the educator told the story, he remarked on the "hopeful" side of the story, that this same young girl had committed her story to music, and she is now singing her song, thereby releasing her pain, and permitting her finally to get some sleep, after her trauma.
Another story emerged from the past weekend's reporting on the African "reality":  that three-quarters of the beds of one country's hospitals are used by women suffering from back-street abortions. I'm no psychic, and certainly no genius, but it seems remarkable to me that a government from a so-called enlightened country like Canada could, in good conscience remove, "abortion" from the procedures its foreign aid will cover, in the $1 billion-plus it has committed to maternal health in Africa over the next five years.
Am I just stupid? Or is this a complete abandonment of the quality of health care to which Canadian women are entitled, simply because the Canadian government knows it will not face adequate pressure from Canadians to change their "mind" (in quotes, because of my scepticism that there is one behind the decision) and the government is committed to placating their religious and politically "right" supporters?
 So much for the separation of church and state! Not in Canada!

Usually optimistic, Krugman pessimistic after G20

Paul Krugman believes the world is now at the threshold of an all-out depression with spending cutbacks coming at the worst possible time for the economy.

“Neither the Long Depression of the 19th century nor the Great Depression of the 20th was an era of nonstop decline – on the contrary, both included periods when the economy grew. But these episodes of improvement were never enough to undo the damage from the initial slump, and were followed by relapses,” he said in a Monday column in the New York Times.
“We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost – to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs – will nonetheless be immense.
And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy. Around the world – most recently at last weekend’s deeply discouraging G-20 meeting – governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.” (From The Globe and Mail (from The New York Times), June 28, 2010)

If one were to have to choose between the opinions of the political leadership of the west, and economists like Krugman, there is no question I would opt for the latter. Krugman, from Princeton and the New York Times and Niall Ferguson, of Harvard an economic historian, are two of the principal debaters in the current popular culture about the next phase of the economic drama that is playing out on the backs of our lives.
Krugman's disappointment at the meagre results, as he sees them, of the G20 meetings in Toronto, deficit cutting in half by 2013, rather than more stimulus spending to further the creation of jobs, may have been echoed in advance when Barack Obama stated unequivocally in his press conference on Sunday, "My top priority is jobs!" Obama has also signalled his intention to cut the deficit in half by 2013, and at first blush, from the eyes of this non-economist, that might be a difficult circle to "square". It will take more money to generate more jobs, and to create more family income, and thereby more tax revenue, and that money could easily add to the already ballooning deficit.
Let's hope those whose unemployment benefits will run out in days, in the U.S., because the Congress failed to pass the bill extending them, attached to other items, will find their needs met, when that same Congress agrees to vote on only the extended benefits, without the other baggage in the bill.
As far as Krugman's prediction about a deep and long depression goes, the only hope we all have is to save, save and save some more!
If the next cold frosty blast from the economy lasts longer and cuts deeper than the last, no matter how much we have saved, it will barely cover the damage that the next storm brings.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Most readers are Women....how sad!

Here's a bit of news, at least for some of us, from Russell Smith, Globe and Mail, June 24, 2010, under the heading, "Sex and the Literati." (Smith is writing about the publishing industry in Canada.)
It's an unusual industry: one dominated by highly educated and intelligent women, many of them young. Most of the high-up executives on the commercial side of publishing are still men. The literary side is female. Most of the editors-in-chief of the major publishing houses are women; most of the publicists are women; almost all the agents are women; the powerful CBC Radio programs that discuss books are hosted by women; most of the readers are women; the single powerful bookstore chain in the country is run by a woman. And it is a highly social industry, because social events promote books: Anyone who works for a publishing house must attent, as part of work, frequent evening book launches, book fairs, and literary festivals, and they are all soaked in booze. So are most of the writers....Every female literary publicist has groan-inducing stories about the lecherous male authors she must pick up at the airport, dine with and generally take care of.
(He then goes on to ridicule the male writers who take advantage of this situation, since, as he himself says, as a writer of a recently published novel, "I want these people working for me, making me look good, so why would I be so foolish to take advantage of the situation" while working with beautiful women.)

Pragmatic, and socially and professionally responsible, Mr. Smith surely is. But, it is the culture of the industry, dominated by females (except the top jobs which the women will want, if they do not already)that disturbs. There are other industries that are similarly dominated by women; not that they are not worthy, nor appropriately qualified, nor doing a lousy job. Yet, are there no men willing to step into the fray as editors, or as hosts of "book-talk" shows on radio. I recall one such, Evan Solomon, who has since moved to "Power and Politics" on CBC television. He was both intelligent, and competent and one has to wonder if he "moved on" because of the culture.
There is a difference between an industry dominated by men, because when they arrived, women were not dominating the undergraduate programs, nor the graduate programs and this situation. Men behave differently in the workplace, from women. Men are competitive, solo-flyers, and generally do not take fools kindly. Of course, there are occasional "yes men" whose obsequiousness is obvious to everyone within a mile of the office. However, with women, there is a "pack" mentality, with all women looking out for all other women, almost as a political, cultural, economic movement.
So long as men continue to fly solo, and continue to compete with their peers, and women form alliances, circles if you like, against the enemy "men" the erosion of many workplaces, both in balanced perspectives and in balanced policies and practices will continue. In the short run, there are some significant advantages for women; however, in the long run, this "victory" in numbers will come back to haunt the society because as one U.S. college senior co-ed put it in the Altantic article, this week, entitled, "The End of Men," ...
"Men are the new ball and chain!"
Some ball, some chain! I competely reject her assertion, because if that is the summary of the attitudes of the kind of women who dominate the literary industry in Canada, the non-drinking male authors will refuse to deal with the industry as it exists. Can anyone imagine a talented male writer submitting his maniscript to a herd of female editors, like the senior co-ed from the U.S. quoted above? I can't and likley neither can you!
Let's re-examine, "Most of the readers are women!" from Smith's article.
This is a scathing criticism of the school system that produces so few male "readers". This is a social phenomenon the implications of which are tidal. It is true that books (novels, plays, poetry and short stories) are about relationships, since there are so many women interested in examining every nook and cranny of every relationship. And it is time that men began taking an interest in this very important and potentially life-giving subject,relationships, especially when, as a man, he can fully appreciate its nuances, its multiple complexities, its many gifts and it many opportunities for him to get to know himself, as never before, not to mention to get to know his partner, and his children. When fully engaged in a relationship, he will come to be "known" in ways never before even contemplated given the uniqueness of this time in his life.
And without reading, and without curiosity, and without stretching his imagination, all of this will pass over him like a rainbow over his "dazed eyes", without stirring a ripple in his consciousness. And he will blindly go out to his next design, or deal, or hiring or firing...confirming his agreement to be slotted under the file, "FUNCTION"...as if he were a human "doing" not a human being!
I recall a set of proposals for a newly generated board of directors for an arts non-profit with which I was involved. The instigator of the new board laid out a set of objectives for the first year of the board's work. One of the members, a male accountant, read the few pages dealing with "establishing and enhancing relationships" and commented, "You don't want us to do anything about this do you?" as if to say, board's deal only with money, and certainly not with relationships....Needless to say, that was my last meeting with the group. Without relationships being built, re-built, enhanced and sustained, the organization was going nowhere fast. Yet the accountant had no capacity to comprehend that concept, and he was not amenable to learning it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

In Praise of Karen Armstrong's "The Case for God"

Just had to share this beautiful piece of writing by Karen Armstrong, in her recent book, The Case for God p. xiv:
One of the peculiar characteristics of the human mind is its ability to have ideas and experiences that exceed our conceptual gasp. We constantly push our thought to an extreme, so that our minds seem to elide naturally into an apprehension of transcendence. Music has always been inseparable from religious expression, since, like religion at its best, music marks the "limits of reason."* Because a territory is defined by its extremities, it follows that music must be "definitively" rational. It is the most corporeal of the arts: it is produced by breath, voice, horsehair, shells, guts, and skins and reaches "resonances in our bodies at levels deeper than will or consciousness."** But it is also highly cerebral, requiring the balance of intricately complex energies and form-relations, and is intimately connected with mathematics. Yet this intensely rational activity segues into transcendence. Music goes beyond the reach of words: it is not about anything. A late Beethoven quartet does not represent sorrow but elicits it in hearer and player alike, and yet it is emphatically not a sad experience. Like tragedy, it brings intense pleasure and insight. We seem to experience sadness directly in a way that transcends ego, because this is not my sadness but sorrow itself. In music, therefore, subjective and objective become one. Language has borders that we cannot cross. When we listen critically to our stuttering attempts to express ourselves, we become aware of an inexpressible otherness. "It is decisively the fact the language does have frontiers," explains the British critic George Steiner, "that gives proof of a transcendent presence in the fabric of the world. It is just because we can go no further, because speech so marvellously fails us, that we experience the certitude of a divine meaning surpassing and enfolding ours."***Every day, music confronts us with a mode of knowledge that defies logical analysis and empirical proof. It is "brimful of meanings which will not translate into logical structures or verbal expression."**** Hence all art constantly aspires to the condition of music; so too, at its best, does theology.
*Denys Turner, Faith reason and the Existence of God (Cambridge, U.K. 2004), p. 217
**George Steiner, Real Presences: Is there ZAnything in What We Say? (London, 1989), p.217
*** George Steiner, Language and Silence (London, 1967) pp 58-59
****Steiner, Real Presences, p.217
The inexpressible otherness, transcendence, meaning surpassing and enfolding ours...a mode of knowledge that defies logical analysis and empirical proof...and it is our relationship to this that extends our lives and our imaginations and our hopelessness into the realm of hope.
Even for the empiricists, this is where hope and dream and God exist!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

G8/G20 obsolete, fatuous, self-indulgent and ineffective...bury it!

There is a disconnect between the language of the political leaders meeting at the G8/G20 and the "street people"whose lives their decisions impact.
First, there is the abstract notion that throwing billions (at least in promises) at any problem like hunger, poverty, disease especially HIV/AIDS, or even maternal health will bring about the kind of results that "ordinary people" would like to see. It wont and doesn't partly because those leaders pictured in the photo-ops do not deliver on their word; partly, the notion of a tonne of money thrown at a problem, without the appropriate infrastructure (delivery mechanisms, monitoring systems, research before during and after the infusion of the money, political will and co-operation of the recipient countries, the peace and security of those recipient countries, and a fourth estate to keep the leaders' feet to the fire for the whole world to make them accountable) is like throwing a box-car-load of feathers at a wind storm...much flurry at the front end, and a little 'sweeping up' at the back end, and no real change.
Second, the level of understanding, comprehension and political literacy around the globe has so significantly grown in the last decade that no journalist, and certainly no politician worthy of the name, would or could continue to perpetuate the "faux" presentation of "action" in the face of clear lack of both commitment and follow-through. Hypocrisy simply will not "sell" anywhere in the world, and the global media's job is to guarantee that it doesn't.
Third, the real action is not with the governmental leaders, but with the NGO's whose people know the people on the ground, and the nuances of how to get co-operation between the donors and the people with the real needs.
The level of patronizing of the people in the third world by the leaders of the wealthy nations is so heinous it is insufferable. The old premise of these conferences, that the rich have the money and the answers for the problems of the poor, no longer holds true. It is the rich countries that are verging, many of them, on bankruptcy, so they cannot even afford this facade of benevolence. As is always the case, the agent presuming superiority is never able to sustain his case, since it is based primarily on hubris. To humble the mighty would be a far better raison d'etre for such meetings.
Truly, there is an obvious obsolescence to these fatuous, self-indulgent and play-acting charades known as "summits" that begs their death and burial, for the sake of the "suits" playing the roles, and the starving and dying around the world who really do need our attention and commitment. Even the security budget would save thousands of lives, if spent on the need, and not on polishing the egos of the 'mighty.'
P.S. Monday Morning after the event(s)
Leaders came, ate, talked and reported through a press conference. Protesters came, walked, talked, burned cars and trashed some Toronto businesses with their bricks, sticks, hatchets.
The President of the U.S. handled his questioners with a professionalism, including detailed, balanced even nuanced responses to each question, and they came from all fields, international, domestic, security, and although Peter Mansbridge thinks "he likes to talk" so his answers were long and detailed, ( a fatuous and undeserved sniping), he still was the 'star' on the block for this listener.
However, one very sad note: the Canadian government's withdrawal of "abortion" from its maternal health initiative is one of the sadest days in Canadian history, given the comments of an African doctor, that whatever healthy means is needed to support women who are struggling to raise a family, without support and without financial assistance, whose carrying and delivering another child would merely reduce the chances of the other children from survival...such a woman needs to have the option of abortion. Also given the fact that three-quarters of all hospital beds are occupied by women who are suffering from a "back-street" abortion...there is no logic or sustainable justification for the Canadian government's position...except a possible clinging to an ideological dogma that pleases some of its supporters.

Call to Research and to Inspire Males to learn, grow and become the best partners

Some basic questions requiring detailed research:
What is the current enrolment in Canadian medical schools, by gender?
What is the current enrolment in Canadian Faculties of Education, by gender?
What is the current enrolment in Psychology departments, in Canadian universities, by gender?
What is the current enrolmeent in Social Work, in Canadian universities, by gender?
What is the current enrolment in Canadian Veterinary Colleges, by gender?

And why are these questions so important? It is apparent that the next twenty or thirty years will witness a deep imbalance, showing a significantly lower number of male candidates in the above schools. We already know that large animals will have a hard time finding a veterinarian when they need one, because most graduates are female, and refuse to work on farm animals.
Will the same situation exist for young boys in both elementary and secondary schools? Why is there not an active public, financially supported recruitment program to recruit male students for these programs, in all Canadian provinces and territories, especially for the Faculties of Education since male teachers, one would assume, could have a significant impact on boys' decisions to remain in school, and to proceed to post-secondary education.
What is being done, currently, to the curricula being offered by those same Faculties of Education, to educate their prospective teachers about the needs of boys in the classroom?
What, for example, is being done to research and to design curriculum that will achieve the goal of increasing literarcy rates among male students in both elementary and secondary schools, so that those boys will have a wider range of options from which to choose when they enter post-secondary schools?
Is it time for public universities and colleges in Canada to being to consider a program of "affirmative action" in order to engender more applications from male students, and to consider curricular options that will enhance the likelihood of success of those they do attract?

Having taught English Compostion and Literature for nearly a quarter century in Ontario private and public schools, I am deeply aware of the difficulty of "turning on" male adolescents to the mysteries and the wonder of the human imagination as we find it in novels, plays, poems and short stories. Most young men believe, (not think, or speculate or feel, but believe) that such subjects are "for girls" because they concern themselves with matters of emotion and the heart. This truth does not change when those males become husbands and fathers, and if those same men wish to have an option of whether to see a male or a female physician, or a male or female counsellor, or Social Worker...it is time for them to take up some responsibility for bringing literacy to the forefront of their young male children.
Social intelligence, and communications skills are at the centre of the economic life of North American for the foreseeable future, and boys are just as capable as girls of filling the jobs and careers that specifically require those skills. We may do it differently; we may use different vocabularly, and read different books, and watch different movies and plays, and read different poems, but there is no reason why boys cannot grasp both the literal and the symbolic meanings of the writers' chosen words, or his/her brush strokes on the canvas, or his director's notes for the actors in a film.
We humans must not permit the mind-set of the society to be reduced to a definition of a male as a "paycheck" or a mere function, as in construction worker, or electronic engineer.... serving the needs of the "mother corporation".
 Males and females, both, are the repository of all things aesthetic, and all things spiritual and all things of the heart, and when women start to obssess about their specific piece of real estate, rather than their marriage and their family, it is  partly because they do not find their male partner to be "listening" or "present" or "compassionate" or "empathic" or "interested" in things of the heart/spirit/imagination...or willing to converse about those life issues.
And if men either deliberately or by default give up on these various, over-lapping capacities, and characteristics, then our children and grandchildren will indeed begin to wonder, "Where have all the men really gone?"

Men: Quo Vadis?

The End of Men
Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?(By Hanna Rosin in the June 24 edition of The Atlantic)
In her piece, Rosin cites social intelligence and communication skills as core values in the postmodern society, and that women have proven to "shine" in these areas, more than men. She also cites the decline of economic sectors like construction and real estate where men have prospered. It is also men who have taken the largest hit in both the dot.com bubble and the Wall Street debacle, with the largest number of job losses falling to men.
Rosin also visits classes, some ordered by the court, where men are being coached to re-evaluate their place in the family, where the female partner's income trumps the male's, and where, if the woman is challenged by her partner, she threatens to call 911. And potentially, to prove the point of the lower class turnaround, she even calls him a "bitch" when she throws him out.
But it is the statistics about undergraduate degrees, 60% now going to female students, who flock to the study halls, while their male peers play video games in each other's rooms, and where the women find the advisors, counsellors and all the steps to complete in the registration process and beyond, while their male peers fail even to make contact with their male peers that is bothersome.
When a college senior reports to Rosin that "Men are the new ball and chain," you know that the attitudes of these women towards men have gone over the top, and the part that men have played in the development of this attitude is tragic.
Have men given up on themselves?
Have men accepted their "assigned" role and status as "the third thumb"?
Have men retreated to the seclusion of their video games?
Have men forgotten how important they are to the family structure, culture and stability?
And more importantly, are men now beyond reach, in any attempt to balance the enrolment stats, in colleges and universities?
One community college president, when he began, initiated a program to recruit male students, provide mentors and coaches, and after a few years, the female enrolment was still far ahead of the male enrolment. And of those male students who did enrol, including the best brains, some dropped out because they lacked both motivation and support systems.
As one professional candidate (female) put it, "I want to date after graduation but I know I am putting myself in a very small pool." (In other words, will there be a pool of equally qualified men from which to select a dating partner and eventually a marriage partner, especially given the high percentage of families now headed by single women.
How does this society reclaim the engagement of one half of the gender pool, so that our children are given a full range of opportunities to develop their whole person?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fadden worries about Canada's security clearance!

So Canada does not have an agency spying on other countries, and the Brits accuse us of having a free ride, because we receive intelligence from our allies, who do have spy agencies.
As former Solicitor General, and intelligence expert, Ron Atkey puts it, in a CBC interview, we might want to be a little suspicious as to whether or not our allies are providing that information "in the light of their best interests" or "in the light of Canada's best interests." Quite obviously, there is a huge difference.
If we don't spy on other countries, that apparently does not exempt us from being spied on by various governments, (hint, hint, wink, wink) likely, among others, China.
In a recorded segment of an address to the chiefs of police and others interested in intelligence in Canada, aired tonight on CBC, the head of CSIS, Richard B. Fadden, informed his audience that China is in fact setting up "Confucius Clubs" on university campuses in this country, funding those clubs and using them to carry out active protests against certain government of Canada policies and practices.
If we recall, and connect the dots, to the stories from Richard Clark, former head of intelligence in the Bush and Obama White Houses, China has already penetrated the computers of national security and the pentagon in the U.S., several hundreds of times over the last year. According to credible sources, the Chinese have made a publicly announced decision not to engage in an arms race with the U.S. but to continue to attempt to both steel secrets and plant implants that could, if they wished, disable such infrastructure as the power grid in the U.S.
Fadden's open admission that China may already have sought and secured undue influence over provincial politicians, specifically cabinet ministers, and public servants, in order to further their country's national interests in this country comes as a "shock" as Peter Mansbridge correctly put it, in his interview with the CSIS Chief.
Part 2, June 23
CBC reports that Fadden has recanted on his statement that he is in discussion with the PMO about the infiltration of foreign agents with provincial politicians in B.C. The PMO has no knowledge of these matters, and now the question is whether the head of CSIS can and will keep his job. If his appointment is at the pleasure of the Prime Minister, there is a strong possibility that he will be moving out of his current appointment, given the apparent "free reign" of his public tongue.

Fire McCrystal tomorrow morning, Mr. President

Michael Hastings' piece entitled "The Runaway General" profiling General Stanley McCrystal the military honcho in Afghanistan, in the latest edition of Rolling Stone (RollingStone.com) depicts a runaway tongue, a runaway ego and a runaway (as in fired!) generally; at least the firing ought to follow such an outburst.
Comparisons with General Douglas MacArthur, fired by President Harry Truman in 1951 over a disagreement about the strategy to follow in the Korean War, are somewhat irrelevant. This is not about military strategy, or tactics.
It is about TRUST, and clearly this man, McCrystal, cannot be trusted. While he criticizes the U.S. Ambassador for covering his "flank" so that they can blame McCrystal if the war goes sour, McCrystal seems to be spewing blame on all the "wimps" in the administration, Biden, Obama, Hollbrook, the Ambassador, with a disdain that an apology cannot and will not cover.
If Obama does not fire him, in his meeting in the Oval Office tomorrow morning, he risks losing the confidence and trust of the hundreds of thousands of parents and families of the military personnel who serve with honour and distinction in the war. He also risks the contempt of the rest of the military for "preserving" the honour of a man who no longer deserves such support.
In firing him, however, Obama also faces risks: that he looks thin-skinned, since these are mere comments of disdain and contempt for the Commander-in-Chief and his team. This is an argument that bears less weight than the loss of confidence, especially at a time when the war is supposed to be ramping up in what is supposed to look like another "surge" in Kandahar province.
Betraying the President, in the middle of a war is inexcusable, unconscionable and irreversible.
McCrystal has to go!
Part 2, 24 hours later
It was a professional and dignified statesman, The President, who spoke of his acceptance of McCrystal's resignation, "with regret" and who nominated General David Petraeus to succeed McCrystal. This was a president who could not "command" BP to bring her to "heel" after the Gulf oil spill. It was also the president who sought, relentlessly, to obtain Republican support for a more balanced Health Care Reform Act, without a public option. This is also the president who, only hours before his meeting with McCrystal, was receiving "doubtful" critiques about his "political courage" or the lack thereof by some heavy hitters in Washington, including General Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff for Secretary of State, Colin Powell, on NPR's "On Point" radio program.
Obama may have bought some public respect with this latest chapter in the on-going story of his "watch" because the one quality for which there was public scepticism finally asserted itself. The commander-in-chief is, after all, just that, and the civilian control of the military must be maintained, especially in the face of a Special Operations General, about which segment of the forces, many doubt the capacity to rise to the level of three or four-star general.
Was this the triumph of politics, and finesse, or the triumph of a military strategy to begin the draw-down of troops in July 2011, a condition Petraeus has accepted with his new appointment? Time will tell.

Hillary and Biden to Switch Posts?

About.com, the Liberal blog about American politics published some White House rumours today:
  1. that Rahm Emmanuel will be leaving his post as Chief of Staff in the Obama White House within the year;
  2. that David Axelrod will be leaving as Chief Advisor to the President within the year to return to Chicago;
  3. that Vice-president Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will change places before the end of 2011.
It is the third of these rumours that is most interesting and exciting. If Hillary were to become Vice-president in time to campaign with the President for 2012, the Republicans would have an extremely difficult chore to defeat the Democrats. Secondly, after a full term as Vice-president, Hillary would be poised to make her own independent run for the White House, in 2016. She has done a platinum job in "State" as has Biden as #2 under Obama; and Biden brings over 36 years of successful experience in foreign affairs from his years in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, some of those years as Chair.
The "Left" is ecstatic just to hear the whispers; everyone knows that Obama's approval ratings have taken a substantial "hit" in recent weeks, and gearing up for congressional elections in November of 2010 has already begun. Moving both Emmanuel and Axelrod will open desks that can be filled by more diplomatic, creative and professional political pros and that will help to provide new creative options for both policy and for campaigning.
We're not quite sure who is providing the music in the White House, although Paul McCartney was recently feted there, but the musical chairs have just begun. Stay "tuned"...and pardon the pun!

Ethics curriculum through a religious/faith lens

By Ingrid Peritz
Montreal — From  Globe and Mail  Jun. 21, 2010
In a decision that sets back Quebec’s efforts to strip religion from the province’s institutions, a judge has ruled that the government showed Inquisition-like intolerance in the way it imposed a secular ethics course on a private Roman Catholic school.
The ironic reference to religious zealotry in the pursuit of secularism came in a ruling that handed a victory to Montreal’s Loyola High School. The Jesuit boy’s school went to court for the right to keep teaching its ethics course from a Roman Catholic perspective.
In a decision handed down Friday, Superior Court Judge Gérard Dugré said that not only did Quebec violate Loyola’s religious freedoms by insisting it teach the secular course, but also it went about it in a “totalitarian” manner.
“In this age of the respect of fundamental rights, of tolerance, reasonable accommodation and multiculturalism, the attitude adopted by the [education] minister is surprising,” Judge Dugré wrote.
“The obligation imposed on Loyola to teach the ethics and religious culture course in a lay fashion assumes a totalitarian character essentially equivalent to Galileo’s being ordered by the Inquisition to deny the Copernican universe.”
Premier Charest says the Quebec government will appeal.
Stripping religion/faith from the school system has become a goal of many political leaders in Canada over the last two or three decades. Prayer, specifically the Lord's Prayer, has been replaced by a multitude of prayer samples, paying deference to the multitude of religions in a multicultural society. Now, this judge has drawn a line in the sand, both about imposing a "secular" curriculum of Ethics on a Roman Catholic/Jesuit boys school, which does receive funds from the provincial government, and about the manner in which the government bureaucrats imposed their ruling.
One implication is that the multiple perspectives of various religious faiths in the government curriculum, on a subject like abortion, can be replaced with the Roman Catholic perspective, specifically opposed.
Curricular matters are only one aspect of the question. The lawyer acting for the Catholic school argued that the teacher of the government curriculum acted merely as an "emcee" introducing the various points of view. The ruling would permit the Jesuit instructor(s) to state their own personal view.
So, what is the role of the public education system? And what of the public's dollars spent in the pursuit of an ethical curriculum in a multi-religious, multi-cultural milieu?
There are serious ethical questions about the larger question...and is democracy the best instrument to determine the answer to such questions. If a majority of a voting public holds a particular religious view, do they have the right to impose that view on the schools receiving public dollars to operate? Would that not potentially lead to specific groups dominating a school district, and forming a majority of the school board, and voting to permit "their" specific approach to ethical questions to be taught in their school district, where students of different religious backgrounds and preferences, including no religious preference, attend?
Many years ago, Margaret Laurence's novels were banned in Peterborough secondary schools because they contained descriptions of  human sexual activity. These protests came from another, and different, religious lobby, the fundamentalist, evangelical Christian brand.
It says here that when a specific religious "group" seizes control of the public education system, and imposes its curricular agenda, whether through the courts or through some jerrymandered voting mechanism, then students in such schools have become pawns of that "belief system". And if  the society is going to permit the expenditure of public funds for specific religious expression of ethical perspectives, then it must permit such rules to apply to all religious persuasions. If not to one, then not to any, would be the clear corrolorary.
If we want, and do have, Hindu students sitting beside Moslem students and beside Jewish and Catholic students and beside atheists in the same classroom, then any ethical program worthy of the name has to include the ethical perspectives of all represented faiths, and perhaps even those not specifically represented.
Especially at the senior levels where these matters ought to be taught, students will be quite capable of discerning both similarities and differences, and of making mature judgements of how to compose their own ethical standards, most likely choosing from different faith perspectives.
However, once the school system is and/or appears to be "taken over" by a particular faith, then there is no place for a different perspective, at least officially.
Do all Roman Catholic teachers, for example, follow the church's teaching about abortion? I doubt it.
Does that mean that, at Loyola in Quebec, the teacher of ethics must advocate the Roman Catholic position, as the only "ethical" one. Probably.
And just how "ethical" is that?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Poverty & Protest under radar at "corporate" G8/G20

Two representatives from organizations fighting for an end to poverty appeared this afternoon on CBC's Power and Politics "show" with Evan Solomon.
One, head of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, the other the head of Making Poverty History, were both asked about their sense of the likelihood of open protest, including possible violence at the upcoming G8/G20 conference.
One made an especially telling point: that any violence like a broken window or the potential of "instigated violence" by the authorities to provide opportunity for a "show" of force against rowdies and thugs, would be small potatoes compared with the structural violence of poverty and death that was being engineered by the world leaders in their deliberations.
The other, more moderate, urged supporters to avoid violence if at all possible, because that would make it more difficult to get the message out, since violence would cast a shadow on their efforts and the people involved in getting the message about poverty out.
What was shocking was that they had been informed, last Friday, that there were no facilities for them to hold a press conference during the conference. One has to assume that the federal government does not want the world media to hear a different position from their's, that all-out global trade, and more power through fewer controls and regulations on corporations that spew greenhouse gasses, or that use labour like pieces of iron ore, to be mined and discarded.
There are different points of view in Canada, and the world press needs to hear those differences. For example, it would be a great opportunity for the First Nations leaders to point to the failure/refusal of Canada to sign the United Nations Declaration of Aboriginal Rights, which has been signed by some 140-plus countries, while Canada remains the single completly objecting non-signatory. Since Canada likes to prompt other countries into acknowleding their human rights violations, what about our own refusal to sign on to that document? Why not sign?
Poverty, racism, ageism, maternal health, climate change and global warming...all pressing issues, and yet, we will get more talk about enhancing the positions of the corporations in the midst of these pressing issues...

Summer Solstice June 21, 2010

Solstice....that pivotal day in the year, when the seasons change...
and when the daylight is longest
and when the cycle of the planets shifts so that the
earth's relation to the sun shifts....
and we are reminded of change
in light, in temperature and in growing patterns
and we are reminded that we are part of this
shifting cyclical pattern
both men and women,
our thoughts move outdoors
especially in the northern hemisphere
and while we watch flowers and fruit
and vegetables grow, we know
that this is the peek of the growing season
and from henceforth, for this year, we are
moving to the darker, colder first
harvesting and then frost and snow
when the earth and many animals go
quiet
resting to begin another growth
pattern with new life and new birth and new
leaves, blooms and bounty...
and we speculate and pray and observe
joining the natural with the mystical and
the overwhelming majesty of the universe...
whose fragility we dare not take as given
as we belch our gazillions of tonnes of carbon
into its breathing spaces
wantonly, unconsciously and
relentlessly....

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Happy Father's Day, Dad, in what would have been your 105th year!

He passed away in July, 1996, after a brief illness. He died of three cancer tumours, and because of his age, no surgery nor testing proved which was primary and which secondary. In his 91st year, the eldest child of a Baptist pastor and his kindergarten-teacher wife, he was a man of honour, good humour and exceptional tolerance; one of those people from whom no one ever heard a negative word about another.
He went to work at seventeen, helping his mother with household bills, and providing a little extra for his two sisters each to acquire Nursing Degrees. Starting in a lumber yard, he transferred to a hardware/general store, where he remained for fifty years, rising to the level of manager of several departments including hardware,sporting goods including fishing tackle, and building products, as well as fine china.
The business operated in a "tourist" town, in which at least 75% of total sales were transacted between the 24th of May and Labour Day each year, with American tourists spending the large proportion of those dollars. A few platinum Canadian customers, like John David Eaton and the rest of the Eaton family were among those who asked for "George" when they returned after the winter.
He loved a good joke, and when he told one, he rarely released a smile, so dry was his wit. Once, while watching television after moving from our home town approximately 90 miles northeast, he heard a news story about a casino coming to a First Nations reserve just north of the town they had left. Quietly, almost whispering, he spoke so my mother could hear, "Gee, it's too bad we moved; we could have gone there!"
Neither of them ever even thought about going to a casino for their entertainment.
With his large arms and hands, he carried tonnes of cement bags to his customers' vehicles, hundreds of pounds of nails to their waiting trucks, and then, in his spare time, polished a piece of ironwood driftwood into a beautiful table lamp which sits proudly in the corner of our living room.
An avid sportsman, he helped with regattas in his youth, fished and boated on the Georgian Bay, even when the wind and weather warned against it, walked gingerly and quickly across the top of a CPR freight train, across the high bridge over the Seguin River, at its mouth into the Georgian Bay, in order not to be caught in the box car he and his friend had ridden from MacTier, following an evening baseball game, in order to be back in town in time for a local dance. They sat and waited, once debarked, in order to determine the speed of the train when it passed after taking on water, in order to confirm the sound judgement of their decision.
They would have been killed, had they waited to jump, judging by the speed of the train, was their verdict.
He loved to play golf, and joined me once; he loved to listen to and watch Toronto Maple Leaf hockey games on radio and later on television. And he was devoted to his five grand children, four girls and one boy, each of whom would have made him proud with their adult lives. Also he would have dearly loved and enjoyed his three great grand daughters.
Leaving school before finishing high school left him a little shy about his own intellectual capacity which no one on earth would, could or ever did question. He dreamt of graduating from dentistry, but could not, or did not summon the courage to attend, when prompted by his wife, after their marriage, and her graduation from St. Michael's Hospital School Of Nursing.
Finding himself the only sibling still alive, after the death and burial of his brother and two sisters, he complained about being the last.
" Why did I have to bury all three of them?" he would mutter rhetorically.
Years before his health failed, he was busy cleaning out his closet, "with these things that I wont need any more" and after one final lunch at home, breaking up his last hospital stay, when asked, "Would you like to do that again?" he replied matter-of-factly, "No, thanks."
We knew that he knew that his days were short, numbered, and were constantly reminded by his own mantra: "Too soon old, and too late schmart" as the Pennsylvania Dutch would have said it.
He was a model of measured approach to everything with which he felt familiar, and remained frustrated to the end, about those things over which he had no control and with which he had no idea how to cope.
A driver to music festivals in my youth, a spectator at hockey games in early adulthood, a quiet and attentive listener to the poetry of Robert Service as his father had been, a student of the latest technological advances in the hardware industry, he invited me to join him in his own hardware store, when I was nineteen and there was a store for sale across the main street from where he worked.
I turned his invitation down, because I had no knowledge of hardware, and no interest in learning about it, to the degree he had achieved; however, in any other endeavor, I would have walked across hot white coals to be with and to support his wishes, and I trust he knew that.
Happy Father's Day, Dad, in what would have been your 105th year!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Liberal Party of Canda a dinosaur? Andrew Coyne thinks perhaps!

Andrew Coyne, the editor of Maclean's, has a piece in this week's edition about the demise of the Liberal Party as we have known it. He cites the unrestrained talk of merger with the NDP as one of many failures of Party Leader Michael Ignatieff, along with fuzzy thinking and talking about a variety of issues. He also cites the entry of former leader Jean Chretien into the merger talks as a sign of how troubled he is about the current state of the Liberal Party.
Noting that the Liberals and the NDP have some common interests, Coyne also points to the fact of the "big tent" of the Liberal Party, with a sizeable number of small "c" conservative-leaning MP's. With this in mind, Coyne simply does not believe that the Liberal Party will ever merge with the NDP with the possible exception of a minority parliament and a need (urgent) to make arrangements to form a government with NDP support.
While it is easy to trash Ignatieff (stuffy, intellectual, untried, snob etc.), it is the complete lack of a clearly defined goal, including party platform and the mechanisms and dollars to deliver it to the Canadian people that is so tragically missing.
SOME IDEAS FOR A LIBERAL PARTY PLATFORM
Medicare needs federal Liberal Party support and strengthening with dental and drug benefits;
a green cap-and-trade approach to green house gases is long overdue;
Some Liberals themselves, have long advocated a guaranteed annual income;
 Post-secondary education has become a finishing school for white collar workers, and has witnessed the virtual death of the traditional "liberal arts" education, a basis for any active and challenging citizenship;
Research dollars are in short supply for the "arts" research and creativity that undergirds all university educations;
Afghanistan is continuing as an open sore, with bodies returning every week in caskets, for their ride along the highway of heroes, and the Liberals are unclear about their stance on the future of Canda's mission;
The separatist threat in Quebec has not been removed with the "Nation Status" bill from the House of Commons. What would the Liberals do to eliminate the continuing "threat" that hangs above the head of all Canadian Parliaments?
The Oil Sands needs much greater controls to preserve and protect the environment;
Canada needs a foreign policy that brings our interests, policies and actions in line with most of the countries of the "west" in such areas a financial services, including the bank fund for future bank-spurred debacles.
The Arts Community is crying out for legitimate public support from the federal government, since the Conservatives are "aesthetic" Philistines and cannot see past the bottom line of the accounts to the significant contribution of the arts to the life of every city and town in the country.
The country still has an high illiteracy rate, and the feds could do much more to shore that important skill in all sections of the land.
Canadian water is soon to be commodified, and sold; the federal government needs to stop that urge in its tracks, and declare water a human "right" not just another product for sale.
New arrangements are still needed with the First Nations peoples.
There is a place for the Liberal Party, with a clear, unequivocal call to action in the long-term interests of the people of this country...it is relatively easy to imagine an effective program on which to base both fund-raising and electioneering.
Whether anyone has the political smarts, the street smarts and the courage to take on such a project, given the forlorn state of the party, is a matter of considerable doubt and debate.
The NDP is only chomping at the "bit" to be given a serious opportunity.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Death by Firing Squad in Utah, TODAY! Despicable!

Today, in Utah, a man will die before a firing squad! No, this is not 1810, or even 1910, but 2010 and this barbarism continues.
I do not even want to know the circumstances of the case. I do not wish to contemplate the thinking of those who continue to permit the death penalty by any means, let alone a FIRING SQUAD!
Apparently, there is some connection between the method and the Mormon church, and once again, I do not wish to probe the connection.
It is enough for this Canadian, where the death penalty was abolished, thankfully, at least thirty years ago, to put our country up beside the U.S., where at approximately the same time, the Supreme Court permitted the states to bring the death penalty back. Some thirty-eight states have re-instituted it, but only one retains the firing squad.
If Pearl Harbour has gone down in U.S. history, in the words of F.D.R. as a "day of infamy," what title does this day deserve? There are so many examples of man's utter inhumanity to man; however, the mind boggles at the vindictiveness implicit in this sentence as punishment.
And to think that the state of Utah is the executioner! And to think that a squad of men, each of them armed with rifles, will cut down another human is beyond the pale.
I hope and trust that all Americans everywhere will protest in the loudest voice, for as long as it takes, so that this kind of publicly sanctioned act will never be repeated.
Just try to imagine those living in a third world country where both legal system and governance are fragile, and where those responsible would be looking to the first world, particularly to the U.S. for guidance, and they see this example. It is as if the whole world has regressed at least one hundred years...and there is very little coverage of the event in the American press. Shame!

Saul: "abnormal to say no" when we need NO!

There is a fascinating development occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. Those whose lives have depended on the fishery including all species, and are now begging for clean-up jobs with BP, are telling anyone who asks questions of them, specifically reporters seeking the story behind the story, "I cannot talk to you because I am forbidden to talk to you!" At the same time, BP denies it is muzzling anyone!
John Ralson Saul, in his penetrating work, Equilibrium, prophetically wrote these words, back in 2001,
...the people who have specialist skills and knowledge on any side of a debate are not free to take part (in public debate). Why? Because they are contracted to one side or the other. And employment regulations determine the nature of their public involvement. If they are present, it is only as 'spokespeople' for interests. There is almost no possibility of disinterested participation.
In short, our society has structured itself to prevent most people who know something about a given issue from expressing their concerns, their disagreement, even their real agreement. We have created a structure which removes ethics from our daily life and makes it abnormal to flex our ethical muscle, abnormal to say no.
Loyalty replaces ethics. Only through heroic opposition, which will probably damage her career and the well-being of her family, can a citizen express concerns in the areas she knows best. (p.112)

Saul argues that the employment contract is the single largest obstacle to truth telling in a democratic society that depends extensively on truth telling. Our dependency on that employment contract, just like those out-of-work fishers in the Gulf, is monumental. They dare not speak, simply because their family's next meal depends on their silence.
While there is no specific sale price for such a worker, what is the real difference between their being muzzled, about the profound and complex truth of this great public disaster, and the silence of the slaves, before the Civil War? Instead of the slave owners, we now have the corporation (legally considered equal to a human being) controlling the free flow of public information, in order to protect its "ASSets" from legal liability.
You say, that is an exaggeration. And you may be right. However, the legal protection of the corporate employer has become one of, if not the single most protected "value" in the society. The shift from normal flexing of the ethical muscle, to the abnormal, leaves the biggest sharks in the tank in charge of the tank, protected by the rules that all the other sharks support.
While the vibrant and living organism of the democractic society depends on the free flow of information generated by the single, simply un-attached, independent person, with an intelligence, a curiosity, a capacity to compare various pieces of information, and a capacity and courage to speak his/her truth to those needing to know that truth, it is that vey truth that is being "cut-off", blocked from dispersal, by the silent, even unwritten but certainly obeyed rule that says "the corporation is KING!"
Can anyone then be surprised that those responsible for the safety standards of deep-water drilling in the Mining and Minerals Service (created for the express purpose of supporting the large companies in the first place!) have sold out to those very interests who wrote their own "specs" in order to maximize profit and minimize safety precautions, especially those needed in this very different, and very challenging deep-water environment.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Obama speech uses epidemic, not "war" and the 'hawks' balk

Obama, as in President Barrack Obama, took seventeen minutes tonight to sketch some lines on a canvas about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in his speech to the nation from the Oval Office. And then he was followed on MSNBC by Democratic apologists, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann who claimed "no specifics" and no "target" and no aim to the address.
An FDR, at the time of Pearl Harbour, with the specific numbers of planes and ships and soldiers and guns and bullets...is/was their model for the speech. And "WAR" was/is their metaphor. And there is no doubt that a massive intervention is being carried out, with more planned.
Obama, on the other hand, used the metaphor of an "epidemic" which continues to spew into the waters, and onto the shorelines around the Gulf. Changing the U.S. culture from that of demanding a "military general to be in charge" to one of a team of untried experts in unchartered "waters" if you will pardon the pun, is no little task.
In fact, Obama is on target to use 'epidemic' and not war: the U.S. is already engaged, sadly, in two military combat operations, in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and putting a third "war" on the table, and more importantly on top of the spiralling debt and deficit is unrealistic, and more than the country can bear. An 'epidemic' has the capacity to keep on keeping on, and the measures, both strategy and tactics available for intervention are limited, untried and extremely difficult to execute, some one mile under the sea's surface.
Urgency is certainly the order of the day, but the pundits, and this time sadly from his own political constituency, seem to have moved from urgency to "desperation" verging on panic. Those are not the qualities of a responsible leader, in this multiple-crisis political environment. And, whatever else his critics may say about him, President Obama is demonstrating an amazing capacity for "grace under fire," that Hemingway touchstone of the hero, and  Americans and citizens of the world can be thankful it is he who is sitting in the Oval Office, and not either his predecessor, nor his opponent in the 2008 election, John McCain.
Real strength is not demonstrated only through a Patton or a MacArthur; real strength is demonstrated by tough negotiations, by persistent attention to the fine print, and not always in public, and by helping to create a cultural climate of optimism, hope and trust.
And in that more important, if less immediate, goal, he succeeded in his seventeen minutes of national air time.
24 hours later:
A $20 billion commitment from unpaid dividends has been made by BP to fund the clean-up over the next four years, and that number is not "capped" according to the White House. Additionally, BP has committed another $100 million to offset the damages to the incomes of those whose livelihoods have been removed by the suspension of deep-water drilling for oil.
Even Robert Reich, and Keith Olbermann, both harsh critics of the speech, were eating a little crow, at least in their tone, appearing together on Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. Both are hoping for a deft political move that would see the Environment Bill, already passed by the House of Representatives brought swiftly to the Senate for a vote, to be followed by an introduction of "cap and trade" (effectively a carbon tax) when the bill goes to "conference" when both bills are reconciled.
Presidential muscle that did not appear to the pundits, almost universally, in the speech, has magically appeared from the meeting with BP executives...Imagine a president who is not addicted to the convention of self-serving, by making the speech after the BP commitment so that he could bask in the glory, and letting BP proudly make the announcement themsevles, since it is, after all, their money and commitment.
Maybe, just maybe, Olbermann got it right when he allowed, "This may by one of the country's 100 most intelligent people who sits in the Oval Office!" And his capacity to see farther than the next news cycle far outstrips his most unbalanced critics.

Churches: Meet separately from victims at Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Today we read that First Nations people are having trouble attending the Truth and Reconciliation Commission over their treatment in church-operated residential schools. There is no surprise there.
What is surprising is that the churches are continuing in their 'superior' role, that assumes, although they may have some 'humility,' they are continuing to "provide resources" for the victims to tell their stories.
Many First Nations people would prefer the churches to stay away and leave them to their own grieving, and their own healing.
It seems impossible for churches ever to have to come to terms with their own evil actions, attitudes, and perceptions.
Do they think they are exempt from ever having done wrong? Or do they believe that, because they are/were acting "for God" that they do not have to atone for their abusive behaviour?
There is no institution more abusive in the history of the western world than the Christian church. It has killed, and maimed for centuries, with impunity, except, of course, in the eyes of God. It has abused its priests, in so many ways that everyone has lost count. It has also abused parishoners and for centuries it has "remained" above the fray.
A recent cover of Time magazine had a photo of the Pope, Benedict XVI, with the caption, "Being Pope means you never have to say you're sorry."
Who do these church leaders think they are that they can "facilitate" the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's work? One victim expressed the legitimate view that it might be a little difficult to heal with the perpetrators sitting across the table.
Why does the commission not provide a forum for the victims, without the presence of any church representatives, and if needed, let the churches request their own section of the TRC. Of course, that would reduce the churches to the same level as the native victims...and isn't that what the churches are trying to avoid.
If both groups were to meet privately, then the victim's group might, voluntarily, if and when they are ready, invite one or two from the other side to sit and to pray and to reflect...but only on the initiative of the individual victims. Victims have to come to their own stripe of forgiveness, if and when they are ready; the churches have to come to the place where they can forgive themselves, their predecessors, and their institution, and that might take more time than whatever the schedule calls for.
When the churches take off their mitres, and their chasables, and their albs and their cinctures and their titles and become "one" with their faithful, including their victims, perhaps some healing and reconciliation might occur.

Birth in a threatening world

Her mother moaned for fourteen hours
her father breathed with every breath
their Mila lept into a world of
welcoming love
                       at least inside the circle
of their home
while outside the venom of bigotry
brought military materiel through
blockades, secretly
to anniliate the country of
her ancestors
and the courage of love and its
meaning lept beyond the barbed
wire and the political and military
terrorism
into a bassinette and a change-table
and a piece of  her father's abstract art that
magnetically drew her eyes
and I felt my own hope and courage
grow, again
and life was renewed in God's eyes
once again!

Ageism: another significant waste in a disposable society

There is a story told, recently, of another "sixty-something" who is "out of work" after forty-plus years of serving his employers with honour, loyalty and mutual trust. And the story continues, "He is quite depressed because his life has been his work and now there is none."
Ageism, another of the virulent forms of prejudice, bigotry and mindless pursuit of the present moment and its potential for providing the latest "gratification" to the decision-makers, has reared its ugly head once again.
The deplorable waste of human capital, from the abuse of the young by the "fast-buck" fast-food outlets, to the utter expendability of those who, by doing their jobs with courage, imagination and integrity, happen to embarrass some political apparatchek, and every organization has several, to the untapped veins of experience, wisdom and creativity, especially in leadership, and in strategic decision-making still vibrantly seeking usefulness...is a tragedy of our time.
Experts, in specific files or academic fields now trump generalists.
Middle managers and upper management lack the kind of imagination and creativity that permits them to "draw outside the lines" and contract the grey-beards for projects beggining attention in every organization.
And the culture of "youth" and conventional behaviour which traps most corporations in boxes of their own sabotage helps to preclude a liberal sprinkling of the sixty-something set among the conversations and the searches for options in all the fields in which we have already a history, mostly of success.
Of course, there is volunteering, with as little dignity and respect as possible, and as much patronizing as can be "stomached" without a revolt. And there is "blogging" for those of us so inclined.
But real work, with real responsibility for real decisions, based on four, and sometimes five decades of a variety of experiences...that's gone forever.
While Canada is not like China where the elderly have legitimate honour and respect, there is a page that we could adopt from their cultural playbook, and that is an initiative to deploy healthy, sane and experienced "sixty-somethings" in creative ways in our workplaces....like schools, hospitals, corporations, libraries and even political think-tanks.
Just think of the savings in health care costs, pharmacentical bills, warehousing costs (because most seniors are plugged into mere warehouses!) and the positive benefits to the organization's bottom line.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Scarcity vs Plenty in Accounting/Profit Mind-set

By John Allemang
From  Globe and Mail Saturday June 12, 2010 
University students worried about getting a job see the study of the humanities as a waste of precious time. Research funding (of the new $200-million Canada Excellence Research Chairs, for example) overwhelmingly favour the useful sciences, politicians see technical skills as the key to global economic success and cultural commentators bash the liberal arts as a naval-gazing luxury. Times are hard for humanists.
But when economic growth becomes the focus of education, both democracy and human decency are in jeopardy. In her new book, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton), acclaimed University of Chicago philosopher and legal scholar Martha Nussbaum argues that our culture of market-driven schooling is headed for a fall.
As the critical thinking taught by the humanities is replaced by the unexamined life of the job-seekers, our ability to argue rights and wrongs is silenced. In a society of unreflective, undiscerning yes-men and yes-women, politics becomes meaner and business can invite disasters such as the economic meltdown or the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
It is the rifle-like mind-set dedicated to the pursuit of "profit" that drives the corporations, and for the last twenty-five or thirty years has driven the best and brightest of the students to work for hedge funds, the financial services sector. In fact, the CEO of Citigroup earned some $54 million last year, while the 25th ranked person in the hedge funds industry "earned" $154 million last year, according to a book entitled "More Money than God".
There are visionary CEO's who will argue that if you give them a graduate of English Literature who has found and can find the patterns of metaphors in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales from his/her liberal arts education, they can teach such candidates how to read a financial statement in a mere half-day.
It is not only the capacity to argue the ethics of a situation; it is also the capacity to see beyond the literal.
I had the opportunity to provide some assistance for a small music festival within the last twenty-four months.
A group of dedicated women had done the "trench work" for the festival for the last quarter century, and were getting tired. The service club that was supposed to be provinding the financial backing had been selling a form of lottery ticket, long past its prime in the marketplace, with the surge of 649 and Max Lotteries in Ontario.
Having been a youthful candidate in such festivals, I know first-hand of the personal preparation that is required to enter, and the benefits from a useful and insightful adjudication. I also had a clear vision of how the festival could reach more, and less affluent young musicians. After making as few recommendations, and generating a new "look" to the festival publications, I found that those who had previously been involved, especially from the service club side, were getting nervous about the changes.
Acountants and business people are victims of their own limited vision; they are bound by the mind-set of the balance sheet, which governs all organizations, including the non-profits. However, there are times when change requires a little imagination, and a little faith and a little risk-taking, and the mind-set and attitude of these people, as far removed from the "music" at the core of the project as they could be, (some would call it a "tin-ear" mentality) was going to "cap" the project's potential for a very long time.
Such a mind-set is, unfortunately at the core of much of our public debate. "Penny-wise, and pound-foolish" was the way the aphorism went fifty years ago. Today, only the penurious have any kind of influence...certainly those with vision are kept in the backroom, muzzled and brought out only if and when those in charge need some "revitalizating" project for their political cache.
The straight-line mentality of the accountants does not reduce the potential for curves and three-dimensional thinking and executing; it eliminates such potential.
And we are all the poorer for having succumbed to their "parsimonious" attitude of "scarcity" leaving the potential for "plenty" writhing in pain on the sidelines from "lack of use".
Their imaginations have become as parched as their balance sheets, and the projects, including their own corporations are suffering from their "inside-the-box" religiosity, something they want us to name as "responsibility"....and we dare not, at our own peril!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cyber-War...has it already begun?

Of the $80 billion the U.S. spends each year in military research, according to 60 Minutes, some $11 Billion is dedicated to researching and combating cyber-war. (60 Minutes, Sunday, June 13, 2010)
Each day, reportedly hundreds of thousands of "hits" are made against the electrical power grid, the financial system, the military system and many (unknown number) of "penetrations" are successful. The names of the perpetrators of these hits and penetrations is either unknown, or being kept secret; however, there is little doubt that "implants" have been found inside existing systems that could, if activated, derail the existing system.
By cracking the financial system, for example, professional hackers have been able to rob existing bank accounts after having stolen the pin security numbers, and having penetrated the bank's accounting system.
As one expert put it, "The banking system is based on confidence; what happens when that confidence is removed?" There is more money stolen through the internet from existing bank accounts than there is from "over-the-counter" walk-in robbers.
And to top the story off, one of the writers of a report requested by the Obama administration into this danger zone, the U.S. is "at the top of the league" that is involved in this form of espionage. In other words, if the U.S. were to complain that another country were involved in sabotaging the American security system, the recipient of such a complaint could and likely would respond, "How can you complain about us when you are doing the same thing to us and to other countries?" And they would have a legitimate case.
So, will the next war be fought exclusively from the key-pad of some very sophisticated computers, without a single "shot" being fired in the tradiional sense? If so, why is Lockheed-Martin proudly announcing the "fighter" that will preserve American dominance of the skies for the next forty years?
Makes a head spin, realizing the size of the different initiatives being undertaken by the Pentagon, "over-seen" by the U.S. Senate, including the complexity of the differing and likely even conflicting scenarios for which the government is "planning" and "researching."
Is the oversight necessary even feasible, given the degree of sophistication achieved among the "experts" compared to the relative naivety of the over-seers? Have the experts out-stripped the capacity of the overseers to do their job?

U.S. continues to worship at Military Altar

Bill Gates, being interviewed on ABC's "This Week" by Jake Tapper, just released an explosive piece of information that brings many dots together. He was pitching for the scientific community for an additional $11 billion in research in new energy by the American government. Currently, only $4 billion is spent on energy research. By comparison, America spends $30 billion on health research, and a whopping $80 billion on military R & D!
If you want to find a country that has lost its way, look no further than the U.S., a country that has virtually made a "sacred cow" of the military. No expenditure is too large for the American apetitite for increased military strength, enhanced military capability, and a more muscular military. Worshipping at the altar of the Pentagon, especially as disclosed by such a monstrous figure as the $80 billion for military research and development is, to put it mildly and bluntly, wrong...it utters and underlines a funamental misperception of reality: that the U.S. is only safe if and when it has the most outrageous military arsenal.
It was in the 1960, after John Kennedy's election to the Presidency, that out-going President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the U.S. against the dangers of the military-industrial complex. This was one of the America's most valued military leaders, elevated to the Presidency, uttering one of the most profound and insightful observations to his own people. Beware of the military-industrial complex.
However, given the American addiction to profit through industrial sales and world dominance, funded by the research and development carried out for "national security" purposes, this two-headed monster continues to dominate the U.S. budget.
And just why is the rest of the world looking to America for political, ethical, moral and responsible leadership for countries trying to emerge from their poverty, disease, famine and war?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Canada: new relationships without threats

Of course, there is a Canadian currency, and a Canadian Post Office, Military, Revenue Department, Foreign Affairs Department, etc...and the federal government is responsible for all navigable waters, and the national parks.
But think of the erosion of the Canada Health Act and its implications, the different kinds of education systems in each province, the different approach to two languages in the provinces, the different approach to Quebec and to the U.S. and to other provinces by each province. Examine the limited capacity of the federal government to get agreement on such matters as a national strategy for governing the financial services sector...
The threat from Quebec to separate is not merely a literal threat, it is also a metaphoric and a symbolic threat. The threat hangs over all decisions of the federal government, creating a milieu of anxiety, as well as a culture of provincial autonomy that handicaps the federal government, regardless of the party in power providing a model for the other provinces to push the envelope. No one can operate optimally in any organization under the threat of "break-up" of that organization. The threat colours every decision.
There is no doubt she (Quebec) is different culturally, and very important historically and she has generated new ideas for the federation and none of us wants to see her leave.
However, if we had treated our aboriginal peoples just half as courteously, compassionately and co-operatively as we have the people of Quebec, this would be a country of which we could be extremely proud!
However, holding the country hostage, virtually since 1970, is not an approach "up with which the rest of us can put".
We need a new arrangement for the federation, putting to rest the notion of secession from all provinces and territories for at least the next hundred years. If that means each government has to bend a little, to create a satisfactory compromise, to which all Canadian governments can and do agree, then let's assemble the best minds, the best negotiators,including a sizeable component of First Nations leaders, and the optimum strategic and tactical decisions as to process, and re-create the federation. And let's keep the media as far away from the conversations as possible, until an agreement is reached, signed, sealed and delivered. They have become a huge part of the problem of running any country! (But that is for another blog!)
For this writer, a new Canada would have a slightly more centralized focus, simply because we have much more in common to be proud of than we have to bicker about. And bickering, as we have done for the last two or three decades would never have brought about the creation of the country in the first place. Statemanship, the long view, the view that balances short, medium and long-term needs, and proposes new structures for research and for decision-making among Canadian leaders as well as providing a model for world leaders is necessary.
A shrinking world demands a new generation of structures and processes to keep us safe, fed, with access to clean water, clean air, effective health care and universal educational and employment opportunities and a guaranteed annual income.
This is no time for a country to be engaged in the kind of global threats we face, while also engaged in an internal struggle for power. It is not about "walking and chewing gum;" it is more about focussing the country on very significant goals, including greenhouse gases and climate change, preserving and enhancing the Canada Health Act, transitioning the education system from one that seeks to fill trade and professional holes, to one that generates creative problem-solvers, visionaries and artistic imaginations We need to have people highly educated in how to use the new technology, and how to prevent its domination of the human lives with which it interacts.Our universities have virtually become "trade schools" although the trades being taught and learned are the white collar variety.
We have become myopic micro-managers with a cynicism that precludes courage, vision and imagination, the three values all graduates of all programs, at all levels will need to survive, and to bring the best ideas to the world's decision-making fora. And Canada's contribution could be as a modest, creative and courageous visionary.

Canada: a country, or a bunch of spoiled, petulant provinces?

CBC At Issue Panelists did their last "show" for the Spring season, last night, rating some of the best and the worst of Canadian political issues, persons and incidents.
Most over-rated politician for some, Gilles Duceppe, because he is guaranteed 50+ seats from any election, out of the province of Quebec, without having to do anything except claim that Ottawa is not doing enough for Quebec. If we look at 50 members, their salaries, their pensions and the balance sheet of their singular claim to existence, "to tear Canada apart" the price seems inordinately high.
Some have argued that by admitting this party to the House of Commons, we have been spared the separation of Quebec from the rest of the country. However, at least one panelist, Chantal Hebert, envisions that, given Premier Charest's extremely low public support, the election of a PQ government at the next Quebec election is not too far-fetched. And then, we could be back into another round of initiatives to separate.
Furthermore, it says here, that there is not another country in the world which would countenance the election of members to the government of those seeking to break up the union of that country! This approach, while presumably within the bounds of the constitution, is demonstrating to the rest of the world that the country will bend over backwards, even bend itself completely "out of shape" to accommodate a group whose single stated purpose is to dismember the country.
In fact, another of the CBC panel's visionings was the balkanization of the Canada Health system, as the provinces act to impose their own individual stamp on the way the system will operate in their respective provinces..with Quebec and Alberta leading the way.
At the grass roots level of the political parties the leadership of all parties is suspect, verging on nit-picking and hypocrisy and yelling about "fake lakes" and discredited Cabinet ministers..and not a word is heard about such a significant proposals as those coming from the GPS Project earlier this week:
to wit:
the proposal of dual citizenship of Canada with China
the turning over of the patrolling of the Artic to NORAD, given that Canada does not have adequate resources to accomplish the mission...
and that's only for starters...
When are the political leaders going to debate substantive, long-range issues and proposals, rather than focussing on the "hot-button" items that provoke knee-jerk and instant responses from the mindless media?
At least Duceppe qualifies as the least hypocritical, given his single stated aim of the break-up of the country...what a dismal picture of our capacity to govern, our capacity to demand better decisions from our leaders and our prospects for making a significant contribution to the debates in the global community.
One has to wonder if we are still a country or have become a cluster of spoiled, petulant provinces at war with the feds over nearly everything.