Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Obama takes high road, again!

After The Speech...
And there he was again, President Obama honouring the commitment to the nation's security of his predecessor, George W. Bush, and not reminding his audience of the misleading propaganda dished out by the Bush-Cheney cabal, to "justify" the war in the first place.
And while acknowledging his own "difference of opinion with the former president" about the war itself, Obama thanked the troops for their service, including 4400+ lives sacrificed, and over 32,000 wounded, and asked for a commitment similar to that of the troops, in the home front war on the economy.
It was the analogy to the level of service of the troops that Obama tried to use as his model for the transition to the strength and security of the homeland...and the question remains, "Will the people (including especially the Republicans and the Teapartyers) join in anything that looks like a national initiative to generate more support for small business, and thereby reduce the claims on the government funds for the unemployed?"
I, along with thousands of others, seriously doubt that.
They believe that constant opposition, constant stone-walling, and constant rejection of even entering into the substance of a debate about the various measures available to the congress will serve them in the mid-term elections in November. And the goal of re-capturing both the Senate and the House of Representatives is the motive for their internal resistance movement.
And in the climate for Republican resistance, supported surreptitiously at least, and overtly at least in part by their own sources of campaign funds, is the campaign of fear that underlies the assassination of the president's character. And for that the media pays huge truckloads of money to various voices like Limbaugh and Beck not to mention Sarah Palin.
Here was a president being eminently presidential, who, in the private corridors where Republicans smoke their cigars and drink their scotch, will be heralded in guffaws of derisive laughter...for such a naive premise of inviting them to join a national effort of similar urgency as the war in Iraq, to which he was clearly and presciently opposed.
They will not join such an urgent national effort, in spite of the demonstrated and even desperate need of millions who have lost their jobs, their homes, their health care and most importantly their hope for the future.

Citizenship in a non-literate culture

By Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post, august 31, 2010 referenceing the address to college freshmen by Rick Levin, President of Yale
He really struck a chord in me when he spoke of the "emerging burden of citizenship," and of responsibilities beyond "self-gratification and personal advancement." He urged the next generation to "raise the level of public discourse." And, lamenting how "oversimplified ideology and appeal to narrow interest groups have triumphed over intelligence and moderation in civic discussion," Levin said that by demanding "serious discussion instead of slogans that mask narrow partisan interests," the new students -- and, by extension, the rest of us -- will be able to "help to make our democracy more effective."
Raising the level of public discourse is a task for all citizens, and that means saying "No" to the reductionism imposed by such social media as Twitter, and the electronicmedia's demand to crush all public discourse into 30-second sound bites, and conversation, for example conversations on MSNBC that are curtainled within three-to-four minutes, even though the quality of the guests merits longer time frames, and the media producers' perceptions of the public's "gnat-like" concentration span dumbs those guests down.
And of course the advertisers, who want to put their money into shows that have "high ratings" means that the whole process of public discourse is really governed by the need for cash...except on National Public Radio, or Public Broadcasting System (TV) in the U.S. and in Canada, the CBC, the public broadcaster. NPR, PBS and CBC are somewhat dependent on dollars from the public, in paid advertising and in donations, and in the case of the CBC government subsidy.
And it is those public broadcast outlets that bear the lion's share of the responsibility for extended discourse. Another "No" the public will have to utter, both individually and collectively, is a loud, resonant "No" to the demand of the internet communication to shorten sentences, and shorten paragraphs, and dumb down the level of the discourse permitted in that ubiquitous medium.
Literacy, the subject many boys in school resist, because it is not "hands on" as they want everything to be, is a subject never more in jeopardy than in today's electronic culture, complete with its own variation on the theme of radiation.
Only a literate public can be a responsible public, because only literate citizens have the insight, and the imagination and the necessary vocabulary to push back against the glib, simplistic and seductive talking points of the political leaders...
Tonight, Obama speaks to the nation, about the end of combat mission in Iraq, and while he must thank and legitimize the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of troops, many of whom gave their lives in this fight, he must also draw a line in the sand about American "preemptive strikes" in the minds and hearts of the whole world, not an easy or simple task.
And his capacity to draw on the examples from history and from literature will serve him well, because those are really the only "wells" from which appropriate water can be drawn for such task, in this case of national and internation leadership...when the whole world is quiverring in our boots about the next shoe to drop.

Leadership needs educated followers

Steve Paikin, host of The Agenda on TVO, hosted a panel on leadership last evening. Some important insights were shared by Janice Stein, Jeffery Simpson, Allan Bonner, Andrew Cohen, and a couple of politics professors whose names I did not write down.
In Canada, we talk a lot about leadership and yet, one has to wonder if we are serious about developing leaders, especially when, as Allan Bonner says, we do nothing about teaching followers and followership.
Bravo, also last evening, carried the story of Celia Franca, who founded the National Ballet School, and the National Ballet Company of Canada, after having served an apprenticeship with Saddler's Wells in Great Britain. "All my years with the National Ballet were years of fighting," was her summary of her history in creating the company and the supporting school.
Being prepared to fight for something worthwhile, and having a clear head about what that is, seems so obviously integral to leadership. And yet, there are those who come to people like Bonner, for example, seeking to establish their "street-cred" and want to talk about how to dress and have no idea what they believe, what they stand for, and what change they seek to implement in any leadership capacity.
Of course, in Canada, no conversation about leadership ever occurs without considerable time being devoted to Pierre Trudeau, who not only practiced effective leadership, but changed the country forever, with both the Official Languages Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Another mark of leadership is the legacy left after the curtain closes on the life of the leader.
And yet, no one on the panel talked about what it was like to live in the Trudeau era, when the arts, and the globe and the FLQ and the public mind was literally transfixed on his next "scene" in the drama. To say Trudeau was charismatic is an understatement. He captivated our hearts and our imaginations and made us pay attention to our own country's state of affairs. A civil liberties advocate, a constitutional scholar, a world traveller (verging on the bohemian) a date for Streisand and Leona Boyd et al, an articulate and curious appreciator of the arts and of his own physical regimen and conditioning, Trudeau was a role model for every Canadian.
It may sound a little trite, in such company, to speak of his impact on the individual lives of Canadians; and yet, his flashing ice blue eyes, his instant and generous and unambiguous smile, his celebration of life with risk and without compromise, his intellectual preparation by consuming the details of all files coming from his cabinet ministers, his stature on the world stage...all of these features made him a citizen of the world, in a country that shyly fashions itself as a middle but competent, and useful if not revolutionary country. Trudeau gave a face, a name a voice and a physical presence to Canada, in his own iconic and inimitable manner.
His mastery of both languages made those of us who mastered only one a little hesitant to move into the second, given the example he set, and yet he would be most distressed to learn that his excellence was a little intimidating to anyone. "Go ahead and try!" he would undoubtedly exclaim when confronted by such timidity.
It is not that we all agreed with everything he proposed or brought to the table; it is more that we were and still are proud and even a little smug and grateful that we were alive when he showed us that Canadians were, and are the equals of all others around the globe and need take a backseat to none.
So amid the ruthlessness the panel discussed, and the charisma, and the intellectual rigour...there is also the whole person and the impact of that person on the minds, hearts and perceptions of those s/he is seeking to lead that matters. And would we be honoured to have him/her to dinner in our home?
And do we trust that the leader will do what s/he says s/he will do? And does the evidence bear that out?
And do we have confidence, that illusive but essential sine qua non of all  significant relationships? And if we don't have confidence, is that lack of confidence the result of the leader's inadequacies, or our own?
And we don't want to talk about our own failure to examine our own inadequacies. Sometimes a leader will overpower through the sheer brilliance of his/her mind, or the capacity to communicate, or the capacity to inspire...and when all of those capacities are present and fully developed, watch out...because changes are on the way...provided that same leader understands his/her place in the longer history of the culture of the country, or the organization.
And does the leader work alone or with other equally competent, or perhaps even more competent colleagues? As Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in "A Team of Rivals," Lincoln provides us with an excellent example of the leader without fear of outstanding cabinet colleagues.
And then there is that thing called ambition...which can be both gift and sword...depending on the manner in which the leader uses it. If too overt, it smacks of American brashness; if too understated, it smacks of Canadian false modesty. Hemingway's heroes demonstrated "grace under fire," a quality that leaders, especially in the kind of political vortex that Obama finds himself as president, must have in significant reserve. Whether or not the electorate appreciates his capacity for "grace under fire" is still a moot point. The next few months and years will tell that story. I'm betting his success has barely been glimpsed yet...another quality of great leaders...to keep us on the edge of our seats while continuing to play out the unwritten script of the drama that will become his/her legacy.
Is is not more than a little ironic that a college like RMC, Royal Military College, in Canada, does not believe in teaching "leadership" but rather prefers to teach psychology in its place? As if our military leaders of tomorrow will not have to have leadership skills that they have learned in their training and development...or perhaps they believe that the subject cannot be taught, that it must be integral to the person....not exclusively!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Obama: presidential, not "mud-slinging" like Republicans

By E.J.Dionne, Washington Post, in Toronto Star, August 30, 2010
There was a revealing moment in early August when Obama told an audience at a Texas fundraiser: “We have spent the last 20 months governing. They spent the last 20 months politicking.” Referring to the impending elections, he added: “Well, we can politick for three months. They’ve forgotten I know how to politick pretty good.”

Obama’s mistake is captured by that disdainful reference to “politicking.” In a democracy, separating governing from “politicking” is impossible. “Politicking” is nothing less than the ongoing effort to persuade free citizens of the merits of a set of ideas, policies and decisions. Voters feel better about politicians who put what they are doing in a compelling context. Citizens can endure setbacks as long as they believe the overall direction of the government’s approach is right.
At little different take on the Obama derision to politicking...
It is not that he is averse to "politicking;" I believe he has a stron aversion to the kind of character assassination and refusal to debate, except by using a few "bald" and negative talking points, that merely dumb down the debate and insult the intelligence of the electorate that has been practiced by the Republicans over the last two years. Slogans about "too much government" can be and have been mouthed by the most intellectually challenged of the Republican representatives in Congress and in the Senate. Others about "take over" of GM and Chrysler and "death panels" in the Health Reform bill, and "no jobs" have resulted from the stimulus packages...all simplistic talking points that do not address the nuanced, complicated, complex and almost frightening situation about both the deficit and the national debt.
While he has been so busy, ( is has often seemed as if the government was passing and he was signing a "bill-a-day" into law) and while he has been venturing into the heartland of small towns and small factories, trying to encourage, support and raise the spirit of those suffering most profoundly, as a consequence of the disaster, both in foreign and in domestic policy, that is the George W. Bush and the Republican Party's legacy, the Republicans have grown more shrill in attacking his "person" and not so much his policies.
It is the debate about policy, about legislation, about balanced and mature and responsible governance that Mr. Obama is more than ready to engage with his opponents. He is not, and should never stoop to, lowering his ideals, his rhetoric, and his view of the 'big' picture by slugging it out with his intellectually bankrupt, and morally vaccuous oponents over character assassinations...and that is what would result from his engagememnt in the "politicking" that Mr. Dionne speaks about.
At the same time, however, the media is far more interested in character assassination, because of its capacity to sell papers, and to raise ratings, in a culture in which both information and the messengers (media) are struggling for survival. And a tour of the editorial board rooms by the President between now and November is the least the Democratic candidates, and the President's party, can expect from the President, in an all-out initiative to sell the accomplishments of the last twenty months, and not merely explain how bad it would have been under the Republicans...a non-starter in an intellectually challenged culture.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Home-grown terrorists...of course!

By Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, August 29, 2010
Baroness Manningham-Buller, former head of M15, the British security agency, said last month that Britain’s “involvement in Iraq radicalized a whole generation of young people . . . who saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as an attack on Islam.” It led to an “almost overwhelming” increase in homegrown terrorism.

Leon Panetta, director of the CIA, said in June that American authorities are alarmed at the flurry of terrorist plots, by those directed by Al Qaeda and by “self-radicalized” militants.
(Canadian Minister of Public Safety, Vic )Towes, too, talked about the threat posed by “homegrown” and “self-radicalized” terrorists in Canada.
So while Al Qaeda and its offshoots are weaker than they’ve ever been since 2001, says Panetta, the threat of the terrorist next door has increased.
Of course, war provokes retaliation. And, of course, little frightened people, mostly male, forget that when they declare war on behalf of their people, as Bush-Cheney did in 2003 against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And, yes, Hussein was an evil dictator whose use of poison gas against the Turks living in the Northern part of Iraq was, and is, both heinous and inexcusable. And that's why we have the International Court at the Hague, to try people whose leadership includes crimes against humanity. However,  a country like the U.S. with the largest inventory of military hardware, and the attitude, philosophy and mind-set to maintain its world hegemony, no matter the expense, and no matter the dubious consequences (after all it is a matter of national pride that young men and women who seek national honour and respectability through wearing the uniform, enlisting, going through bootcamp, and rising through the ranks, and also fulfilling their commitment to the constitution to "take up arms" when called upon by the country) refuses to sign on to the World Court in the Hague. Their argument has been that to do so might mean that American military personnel might be charged and tried in that venue, for crimes committed in the act of war, under orders from the leaders of the country (which really means that those same leaders would also be subject to the judicial processes of the World Court). And to their argument, the world says, "Nonsense!"
In fact, there are many around the world and in the U.S. itself, (excluding President Obama) who would like to see George W. Bush and Dick Cheney brought before the World Court in the Hague, for having committed war crimes against the humanity in Iraq for their unsupportable war against Hussein. Obama has, apparently, enough on his political plate, without adding the spectre of bring charges against a former president and vice-president within the U.S. judicial system, and the U.S. is not "subject" to the jurisdiction of The Court in the Hague.
And so, unwanted, home-grown insurrectionists, in league with, if not formally trained by radical Islamist jihadists, spring up in many liberal democracies prompting the expenditure of millions, if not billions, "to protect national security" through quasi-military measures like new "border security forces" in uniforms with vehicles, and carrying weapons "to protect against foreign as well as home-grown terrorists." And that group likely includes those trafficking in illicit drugs, also an international marketing underground. So, not only do we grow more terrorists through unprovoked wars, we also significantly expand, and justify, more and more "security forces" feeding on the public purse either directly as employees of government or as contractors, another 'growth industry' justified solely by the cover of a war, making everyone less safe and less secure.
It is little wonder that ordinary people wonder just how much fear, and how many lies we can tolerate, as part of a gigantic political thrust to move the western world to the Right, to increase our dependence on "force" as a principal, if not sole, protection, when a reversal of the official policy of governments to wage unholy wars in the name of God, freedom and security would reduce our need for such security, if not actually eliminate the need entirely.
And the Right calls their form of addressing the situation, "common sense!"  That is one of the better examples of Orwell's newspeak, when words mean the precise opposite of their intended meaning. And that same Right has both public purses and private donors to supply their "message war chest" for centuries, while the rest of us watch the tragic drama play out on the lives, families and future generations of innocent children.
We are not seduced by this game, and our grand children need to know, that there were voices protesting this suicidal self-sabotage even if those voices were never listened to. All we can do is hope that eventually our voices will rise to such a chorus that we will have to be heard because we will have drowned out the fear and the manipulation by the terrorist-provocateurs in elected offices in our own coutries.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Persona not full reality...in media

By Susan Delacourt, Toronto Star, Friday August 27, 2010
Brian Kilgore was one of them —an uncommitted voter, who showed up to see Ignatieff in Oakville at the end of July. Though the crowd was smaller than he anticipated, the Liberal leader was not what Kilgore been led to expect either.

“As a photographer, I watched his eyes and he was constantly scanning the crowd, making eye contact as much as possible, and working his way to people who seemed to ‘connect’ in some way,” Kilgore said. “This behaviour was very much in contrast to his pre-bus persona, as delivered to me by the mainstream media .... He really did seem like someone you could have dinner with on a patio in the summer, without having to be a party big shot or a major contributor.”
"This behaviour was very much in contrast to his pre-bus persona, as delivered to me by the mainstream media"...
One photog watching the eyes of a wannabe prime minister, quoted in a blog by a national reporter who accompanied the Liberal leader... and another layer of the "image" is peeled away from the severe beatings administered by the Harper gang...and in the meantime, the "mainstream media" is considered the messenger by Mr. Kilgour.
And it is that messenger, at all levels in Canadian politics, that in the small towns, and in the editorial rooms and in the coffee shops, takes a deferential stance in the face of the power of the politician. "Who knows just who puts cash in the coffers for this guy/gal?" is one of the questions running through the reporter's head. Another is, "If the story I write is favourable, in the terms of the journalism class, "balanced," what will my editor think of for my next assignment?" And also, "Will I hear and write something that will influence the vote on this issue, which is the topic of my conversation?" And..."What is the future of my reporter's career, and how will it be shaped by this interview?"...
It is the adage taught to all reporters that traps them in a "superficial" or even "infantile" or at best, "adolescent" simplicity in order not to confuse the reader, considered archetypally to be approximately twelve years of age.
"Dumb it down!" "Keep it simple stupid!" "Throw out the big words!" "Keep the sentences simple, straightforward, clear and uncomplicated." These are some of the guideposts that reporters are taught to follow.
And, for the most part, they are necessary. However, I recall one national politician, from the Trudeau government who commented, "Everything I say has to be reduced to a 30-second sound bite, in order to have a chance to make the evening news."
And then, there is the "herd" thing about the media. Those who form the national press corps or the provincial press corps, or even the municipal press corps want to be considered "mainstream" so they have to know what the public will consider "mainstream" so the conventions of the political culture, including the messages from the power-brokers who shape that culture, become even more important than the specific information that is the core of the message.
If for example, the dollars being allocated for a project is the subject of the press release (conference, interview, phone call) then that is the story...and the reporter is expected to document the statement. Of course, s/he is also expected to ask pertinent, cogent and relevant questions...like "How does that figure compare with last year's budget line for that item?" and "Your critics say your are doing a 180 from your previous position; what do you say to them?" and "In X (another similar jurisdiction in another province, or country) the figure for that item is "Y" as compared with your decision; could you explain the reasons for your decision?
What is not included in the reporters questions is one that compares that budget item with another budget item for a different project in another file and the politician knows that going in to the interview. S/He has to be prepared only for questions about the "file" and even if the question pushes the boundaries of that file, the politician can always change the topic, or perhaps more credibly request time to prepare an answer and provide it later.
Picking up on the tenor of the questions from other reporters is one way for reporters to intuit where the coverage may be going in other media organs and thereby set the tone for the listening, intuiting reporter who is preparing to write the report.
It is left to the analysts, the columnists, the pundits and the politico's to put out the "interpretative stuff:" about the story and here we get into the talking points produced by the "press office" of the particular candidate, party, or even government. And every one of them is known for the perspective normally taken to the point that some politicians actually refuse to be interviewed by certain reporters from certain media outlets, because they know it will be a hostile report. They would be venturing into enemy territory, and only if they are running as an established candidate would they have the confidence to venture into such a risk.
So when a professional photographer whose is both trained and experienced, and also without "ties" to a particular party makes an observation that says "reality is very different from that presented by the mainstream media" we can take that as a grain, or even a pound, of salt to pour into our every reading of every news report from every news reporter and organ, to render that report levened, tempered and balanced.
And when this blogger calls Harper "an attack dog" I am expressing a negative perspective of the PM's tendency to attack the jugular of his political opponents, in a mean-spirited and unprovoked manner, as his way of taking the power position. It is a tactic of war moved into the political arena. I prefer disagreements over policy rather than "ad hominum" attacks verging on character assassination. And, I would venture that most Canadians also have a similar preference. We are not raised in a war culture, with a war mentality, where the complete destruction of our political, corporate, academic or religious opponents is our only goal, as is more the case in the U.S.
Call that "more respectful" or "more gentille" or "more wimpish"  or more "civil" or (as some in the U.S. far right would say) more "pinko-socialist/communist" or... on the other hand, call it more "mature"...and more "open to ambiguity"...
And every word, just as every photo, contributes to a public "persona," an image of what the public is given of a personality and once rendered, it is often very difficult to change because the images are indeed simplistic, and embedded in our perceptions and in the age of "social media" the social image of an individual, even a political leader, is subject to a different set of criteria...based on likeability, and not on policy choices.
We are judging the image, and not the person.
We are all committing a collective "reduction" of each person, in our families, in our classrooms, in our council chambers and in our provincial and federal legislatures and that simplistic reduction is a form of  unconscious "violence" rendered by the court of public opinion...and the media feeds on that like a rabbid fox on a piece of road kill.
We have a "tabloid press" mentality that  judges violently every word, and every act of every individual and we have become, all of us, members of the paparazzi, now with cameras in all cell phones but without the same compulsion for cash for salacious photos of celebrities (is that next?). However we certainly have the appetite for the sensational, and the reduction to the simplistic is part of that appetite.
And we are all the poorer for that!
And finally, here's a quote from Michael Valpy in The Globe and Mail, August 27, 2010:
There's no doubt at all that a new political Michael Ignatieff is on stage. And no doubt at all – after 27,000 kilometres travelled and 110 events staged across the country this summer, with more to come on a tour intended to reintroduce Mr. Ignatieff to Canada – that the people he meets are responding to him with what looks to be a lot like enthusiasm.

His robotic body language has gone, along with most of his leaden phrases. He speaks with a lively cadence; he has lost the faux dropped g's. He can be genuinely funny. He shows a keen curiosity in what people tell him and feeds back what they say in his speeches.
He now sounds like the 17 books he has written, warm, engagingly anecdotal and authentic.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Of trinkets, widgets, images and disconnects!

The latest stock quotations continue to crawl across the bottom of the TV screen; the news "anchors" (as if they could provide some stability in a cataract of floods, oil leaks, wildfires, derivatives, booming unemployment figures and bombing home sales figures), detail the latest medical advance, perhaps into the potential of stem cells to cure some serious malady offset by another legal ruling that stops an executive order to permit such research. And the news chatter is interupted frequently for more 22 second commercials to sell another miracle drug whose negative side-effects far outshine the positive purpose for which it was engineered.
We are, all of us, locked in a constant, continuous and seemingly unstoppable river of current, extrinsic data about some drama or other, happening to somebody or other, in some part of the world we may never have heard about. The data flows through our eyes and ears from our blackberry, our radio, our TV screen, our newspapers and magazines, and our fragmentary snippets of conversation about the latest in this or that criminal investigation: a former military officer charged with murder and other offences, a premier charged by an opponent of fixing judicial appointments, a Prime Minister dancing in the Arctic, while a block of ice drops off Ellesmere Island, making denial of global warming a little more difficult for a PM in denial, another burp of insidious hate from the mouth Limbaugh calling the President, "Imam Obama" with impunity in the land of free speech, another voice of another pundit predicting another outcome to another "primary" race, as if there were no "secondary" ones, and as if all this static actually meant something, over which humans had a modicum of influence.
Short-term fixations on this or that widget, on this or that game, on this or that movie, or party, or dinner or...all substituting for human connections, and all of it commiting everyone to a dance of Eliot proportions... "In the room the women come and go talking of Michaelangelo" and "shall I part my hair this way or..."
and the dance, itself, is like a drug in its scintillating attempt to drown out the utter depression that we don't give a damn about 20 million people being left homeless, starved and without hope as monsoon winds and rains flood over one-fifth of a country (oh, that's right, they're Muslims and we don't trust them!) while we find millions for psychiatric counselling for the victims of Katrina, and BPslick, not that they don't need such support, but there is no, absolutely no connection between any of the responses to these flash points of trauma.
We see the world and the events and the people and hear their words as some kind of "black noise" without real meaning, rendering each of us a little more meaningless in the process...and each of the presentations of each of the stories is grasping for our attention, like another barker in another midway, in another bazarre where the trinkets are the thing, or now the "bling" ....another hotcake in another syrup, for another warm fuzzy moment of inspiration and modelling of how we came out of poverty to riches, or how we overcame failure to be redeemed, or how a family rift over a "crack in the perfection" was "healed" through an off-hand intervention....
And even the clerics are barking for more money, and for more peole to convert to the "right" religion...in another vain attempt to legitimize our (their, everyone's) existence...as if our extra efforts could achieve such a goal. And we wonder why the kids are covered in tatto's and died hair and wearing empty faces as they walk empty streets looking for some way to find themselves, and to make themselves meaningful, and to make their families proud and happy, with another "story" of success...in a universal sit-tragedy of images, both visceral and digital...like billboards passing along the highway each seeking another purchase and another sale.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ontario Schools....political ostriches?

Simcoe County parents, in the Barrie/Orillia area of Ontario are complaining to their school board officials that, since the board adopted wireless internet applications in their schools, students have been complaining about headaches, memory loss and various other physical ailments which they experience during the week, while in school, but do not experience on weekends when they are away from school. The parents claim that board officials do not even respond to their petitions for an audience.
Some researchers indicate that students are susceptible to radiation from wireless connectivity, and recommend returning to the wired portal system of internet connectivity.
In a recent story in the Toronto Star, one Ontario Ministry of Education official was quoted as recommending that local area boards and schools should be dealing with this issue. However, it is the province itself that has money for research into such issues that could be affecting students across the province. In fact, Lakehead University has banned wireless internet in the Thunder Bay campus and their Orillia campus until more research can be done to determine the relationship between wireless and its impact on students.
The Ministry of Education has, on another front, taken a stand on late assignments, granting the right to assign a zero for late assignments to teachers, in an attempt to standardize provincial practice.
It seems passing strange that a provincial government would have to step in to make a ruling on such a matter. When I had the privilege of teaching in Ontario public and private schools, for two decades plus, I faced the issue of late assignments daily. One simple approach was to deduct 5% for the first two days, 10% for the next three days, and then assign a zero.
However, I do not concur with the "zero intolerance" approach, since there is no attempt to work with the student in coming to a place where the student realizes s/he is penalizing himself by not attending to assignments.
However, when the students explained specific circumstances in their lives, I would even waive the late penalty, because I believed their story, and accepted the late assignment.
Schools are very complex organizations with many stakeholders representing various groups and their respective interests. Political considerations have far too much impact on decisions affecting students, including the "preservation of the public face" of the board officials. While they are not elected, superintendents and directors are the most politically sensitive jobs in the system. They report to the elected boards, and answer to the public media, and supervise their own appointees in the principalships, and vice-principalships.
I recall the words of one director who told his principals, "Deal with the problems in your school; don't let them come to my office!" as his way of saying, when they got to his office, those same principals might not like the results, because now the problem had become public, and had become part of the "dirty laundry" the board had to address. On the minor issues, he was probably wise; yet on the larger issues, leadership is required.
And the Ministry has a fundamental role in establishing the implementation of sound judgement in the practitioners in the field, both in demonstrating effective listening to all constituents, and in providing effective and credible processes for action, even if that includes additional research, and the suspension of a "wireless" policy until such research can be conducted, by objective, non-industry-funded laboratories.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fox News CA? Petro-dollar? And what other nightmares are in Harper's bag of tricks?

With news that Stephen Harper wants both Konrad von Finkelstein, and his deputy removed from the head of the CRTC, coupled with news that the P.M. in 2009 lunched with Rupert Murdoch, owner, and Roger Ailes General Manager of Fox News, the right wing's broadcast facility in the U.S. is it any wonder there is rampant speculation that Harper supports a bid by Quebecor to bring a "Fox-North" television channel to Canada, for broadcast to cable subscribers across the country?
True, Harper does not directly appoint the Head of the CRTC, but there is little doubt that the PMO will have undue, and unmeasureable influence on any decision at that rank in the civil service. And he clearly wants a CRTC that supports the granting of a license to Fox News, Canada.
True also that Harper is documented as supporting the religious fundamentalists in their attempt to wrest political power and influence from the small-l liberals, (See Marci MacDonald's The Armageddon Factor).
True also is the theme of "vandalizing Canada" in the words of Jim Travers, Ottawa columnist for the Toronto Star in his analysis of what Harper is actually doing in his decisions...
And the sum total of all of these (and likely many more still to be revealed) is that with a Fox-north Canadian television channel, Harper's ideological stance, including his long-term goal of making the re-election of the Liberal Party of Canada a virtual impossibility, stands a much more likely chance of success, than it does without such a broadcast outlet.
The current federal Conservative Party looks more like the Mike Harris Conservatives of Ontario infamy than it does the Stanfield Tories, or the Diefenbaker Tories, or even the Mulroney Tories, or the Joe Clark Tories. And with the news that the Koch family (oil magnates) in the U.S. supports both the heavy crude from the Canadian Tar Sands, and the U.S. Teaparty movement, along with the lobbying against the Health Reform Bill that passed congress in a weakened state, it is not hard to draw a line between the dots of a Fox News North outlet and the Koch money flow into the Canadian lobbying scene, for convergent purposes to those of Harper and his neo-con cronies...and  just watch the death of Canadian health care, as we now know it, and the rise of the Canadian military from its honoured and honourable history of peace-keeping to entering the war movement with the U.S., and the phony war to secure sovereignty of the Arctic, amid the plethora of national interests vying for hegemony there, and the virtual demise of the middle class, as anyone wishing to notice will see has already happened in the U.S.
Andrew Nikiforuk, in a stunning piece in The Tyee on-line journal, points out the fact that the Canadian dollar is now already a petro-dollar, pegged as it is not to manufacturing but to the export of Canadian Crude from the Tar Sands, exported to the U.S. at the rate of 1,300,000 barrels a day, up from only 600,000 barrels in the last year alone. Nikiforuk compares the increase in jobs in the Tar Sands at 100,000 with the concomitant loss of manufacturing jobs in Ontario and Quebec of 300,000...to which the Quebec financial giant, Desjardins pointed a nervous finger as they noticed this frightening trend, and were paid not a whit of notice for their concern by the federal Conservatives under Harper....
Canada...quo vadis?

Aislin's got it, again!

  Aislin, Montreal Gazette, Aug. 24, 2010


Monday, August 23, 2010

Bigotry, intolerance...hurt feelings?

Watching the protests between the two opposing factions in the fight to build an Islamic Cultural Centre some two or three blocks from Ground Zero, reminds me of a wrestling match, where the fight is more for theatre than substance.
Religious tolerance, George Will, is not the same thing as "hurt feelings" on the part of those whose religion is the one experiencing the intolerance. Will announced on ABC's This Week, Sunday, that no one is entitled to go through life without having his feelings hurt. To which, to his everlasting credit, Robert Reich, sitting just to Will's "right" (as if there were any room to Will's right) retorted, "It's not feelings, George, it's about tolerance!"
And therein lies the crux of the debate. Whether feelings equal tolerance...and one can only try to deconstruct Reich's perspective by noting that the debate is not about hurting the feelings of the other, in this case the Islamic faith leaders who want to build the I.C.C., but rather about tolerating the faith, religion, right to worship, of a large group of Americans.
The building permits needed for expansion of mosques across America are being blocked by the same people who were carrying placards opposing the building of the centre "so close" to Ground Zero. And the New York opponents, just as their rural colleagues, are hiding their bigotry under the cover of "honouring the families of those who lost loved ones" in the 9-11 attack.
And the rabbi who represents the Jewish Cultural Centre, built in the early 1990's, recounts, on the same ABC program, a storied history of opposition to their centre.
Putting the appropriate words into the constitution, guaranteeing religious freedom of worship and of expression, and then blocking the application of that "right" is sending a message out of both sides of the nation's mouth. The founding fathers wrote the constitution; the contemporary intolerance is the expression of a different time.
Ideals everywhere are tarnished. Churches no longer wear the mantle of "holiness" they never deserved in the first place. And only those churches prepared to acknowledge their imperfections publicly and honestly will have any chance of survival. Those clinging to a "perfect image" will burn in the fire of their own pride and denial.
Banks, likewise, are the greedy graspers their board members would like hidden from public view. In the words of a radiologist, in a conversation just last week, "I have come to believe that if all the medical specialists were taken out and shot, the world would be a better place." Corporations hide their secrets from public view, even, and perhaps especially when those secrets would demonstrate their conscious choice to put profit ahead of human lives, both workers and clients/customers. Sports franchises, also, have members on their rosters who would find it troublesome to work in a normal work environment, given their lifestyle and self-interest.
Our's is a sullied world, with the reputations of those placed on pedestals inevitably falling back to "just like all others" and thereby much less than perfect.
What has, however, gone the other way, in an inflation of the desire to hide, is our tolerance of the failures, sins and attacks of others. We have become a society of intolerance, of even the slightest imperfection.
And George Will's perfect argument about no one having the right to go through life without having his feelings hurt, is precisely the opposite of the more appropriate, "No one can deny his own imperfections, and no one is entitled to the perfect intellectual argument, or the perfect faith, or the perfect holy writ, or the perfect mask in any sense!"
And because we are all imperfect, and all sinners, it is time to stop pointing the fingers thereby demonstrating our own lack of tolerance.
Bigotry, as Joe Biden once put it while running for president, has become so highly sophisticated that it no longer can be detected as what it truly is, in most cases. Nevertheless, the bigotry of some is only the sign of the bigotry of all, perhaps toward different targets. And we choose the objects of our intolerance...and were we to choose bigotry instead of another faith to fight against, we would at least have climbed up one step on the ladder towards maturity.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Harper Conservatives sliding down the opinion polls

The exit of mandarins, those senior civil servants, whose appointments come from the government, is causing some ripples in the calm of the Rideau Canal this long hot summer.
Not getting along with your political masters is lesson one in a rather short list of imperatives for mandarins, unless and until the integrity of the post one holds is being sacrificed to the political agenda of those same political masters.
Ottawa has a history of depending on the mandarins; successive governments of all stripes have counted on their objectivity, their willingness to bring "truth to power" and their discretionary and confidential memo's to their respective cabinet ministers, and especially to the Prime Minister.
These are not the "nobodies" of parliament, as Trudeau once dubbed the members of the House of Commons, when they were one hundred miles from the "hill". These are the lynch-pins of the political system. It is the respect for and from these civil servants that has guided many governments through often turbulent waters, in the middle of the night, amid circling storms that could have brought those governments down.
Watching so many of their number become "ghosts" in the night is like watching the rats leave a sinking ship....and to mix our metaphors, while their leaving provides orchestral symphonic music to the ears of Liberal operatives. The silence of Ignatieff, while he munches on backyard hamburgers and sipps Molson Canadian, complete with the built-in maple leaf on the bottle (and can), has been seen by some evidence of his missing some golden political opportunities. One such view came from Haroon Siddiqui earlier this week in the Toronto Star over the census fiasco.
Maybe, just maybe, the Ignatieff advisors have got this one right: let the civil servants leave, under various clouds of disagreement with their political masters, the Conservatives, and particularly Stephen Harper, and let the chattering classes talk about the potential embarrassments to the goverment, while it continues to provide fodder for its own demise, and wait until the fall winds begin to blow when parliament returns and then use all the accumulated "evidence" for a massive attack, using the Conservatives own stupidity, arrogance, isolation and self-inflicted wounds to create a sizeable shift in public opinion away from the government and in favour of the (legitimate) alternative, under Ignatieff.
Who knows? It is certainly time for the Liberal Party of Canada to demonstrate that is has the smarts and the kohones to form a legitimate government in which Canadians can have trust and confidence...something the Conservatives are demonstrating every day they are losing, in poll numbers dropping like the rogue Jet-Blue flight-attendant, down the escape slide. And the analogy does not stop there: like him they started this fight, and like him they have been angry for a very long time, and are only now letting their true colours show to their own demise. And like him, when he asks for his job back, the employer, in this case the Canadian people, will not comply with his request.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On-line gambling...cash grab in lieu of courageous leadership

First, it was licensing casinos (some of them on First Nations lands) as a means to generating income for the inhabitants as well as income for the province (of Ontario, and likely other provinces as well) because, well, the province was running out of cash to provide the services the people demanded.
And, then, more recently, given the evidence of billions of dollars being spent on lottery tickets, and at casinos, the province of Ontario has decided, in its "wisdom" to license on-line gambling, in another cash grab because, once again, the bank accounts are running nearly on empty.
Back in the 1980's, when I had the opportunity to report from city hall, and the city of North Bay needed to replace the infrastructure in its downtown core, it became well documented that the sewer and water pipes along the main commercial district had completely rotted away leaving only the earth "tubes" to facilitate the flow of both raw sewage and storm water, because....well, because the people who had been elected to city council for the past half century plus, did not wish to raise taxes because they knew that if they raised taxes, the voters would turn them out, even though those pipes desperately needed replacing.
Politicans for the last century, in Ontario towns, cities, and in the provincial legislature were almost exclusively men. And those men, appearing probably to themselves if to no one else, as wily and cunning in their own self-interest, were primarily interested in being re-elected. And they knew, without the benefit of focus groups and polling surveys, just from their conversations with the voters, that raising taxes more than a percentage point or two would find them being replaced at the next election.
And so, like the spineless provincial leaders of today, they resisted needed projects, prefering to tinker with the granting of rights of way, and the sale of city property and the developers proposals to "build" new developments, and "grow" the city and in the process generate new revenue, thereby reducing the budgetary need for new levies on their "people" all the while enhancing their chances of being re-elected.
Self-interest, without courage, demeans both the politicians and the voters. And we need men and women who are prepared to step into the breach, even when that breach does not include a formal declaration of war against an invading army, to tackle the highly unsexy construction, and reconstruction of water and sewer pipes, and pumping stations, and snow plows and sidewalk sanders in winter, and city crews for gardens and flowers and landscaping and garbage removal and recycling. Jean Chretien's primary legacy is his courageous decision to resist Canada's formally engaging in the Iraq war and a similar kind of courage is needed by all politicians, even when there is no apparent global conflict at stake.
And the voters, now highly charged and relentless in their contempt for all politicians of all colours and stripes and philosophies, need to wake up to their part in their own sabotage. And that means becoming familiar with the condition of the hard and the soft services in their municipalities, and the capacity of their elected officials to generate both the vision and the strategies to provide in the short, medium and long term for those services.
And in the case of the provincial legislature, if Dalton McGuinty thinks he had a problem with the eco-fee fiasco, that will look like a zit on an elephant, when compared with the eventual outrage, at the ballot box, when people come to realise how spineless it was for their leaders to take the route of robbing the very poor (those who purchase the lottery tickets and who will fill the OLG coffers with their on-line gasping for the golden bail-out) instead of stepping up to the plate and raising taxes and preventing the default position of watching the province slide slowly and inexorably into one giant casino, both in concrete and in virtual reality.
We need a healthy health care system, and a healthy school system and better roads and bridges and, yes, upgraded sewer and water lines, and more arenas, and more and better art galleries, and libraries. And the spectre of the demise of many of these hard and soft services in many U.S. towns and cities is looming on the southern horizon, where the war on big government and high taxes is a religion for the Teapartiers, and their more reasonable and more responsible political leaders know that raising taxes is only a part of the solution to the current fiscal crisis.
Perhaps, it will be, as is so many instances in the last couple of decades, that the women politicians will have to take the hands of their male colleagues and overturn the co-dependent relationship with voters, while they educate and enlighted both those voters and their spineless men in the realities of leadership in troubled times.
When a child is extremely ill, it is not enough to say, give it time, and he will recover, and all women, whether they are mothers or not, know this intimately. Men, on the other hand, will too often seek to defer the problem to another, so that we can look strong in our denial and avoidance of the depth of the problem...
wake up "guys" ....the world is passing us by and we are sleep-walking through the storm!

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Is Pakistan the locus of the perfect storm?

The Pakistan floods, according to some people who should know, are the result of both climate and human failure. So far as climate is concerned, there are very hot temperatures and excessive rainfalls overflowing the banks of the Indus River; human failure to build the required dams and river bank supports has exacerbated the problem. It is only the beginning of what could be a monumental human disaster, especially since Pakistan is a country which does not trust and is not trusted by the west. There are too many stories of collaboration with the Taliban, and harbouring Al Quaeda, and playing the west off against the Afghans, sales of nuclear secrets to rogue states, and the long-standing conflict with India over Kashmir, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and the potential loss of control over the country's nuclear weapons (especially if the government were to fall and the Taliban were to take control) on which to build a relationship of confidence, trust, mutual respect and stability.
Foreign aid merely trickles into the country as people struggle to survive, and the danger of disease grows.
The West, including the U.S., Canada, The European Union...through the International Monetary Fund have provided some relief, but the contributions of individual states lag far behind the massive outpouring of aid that came in the wake of the Haitian disaster.
As one native of Pakistan, now working in the U.S. put it, on "On Point" on NPR, this is a time for the building of a new relationship between America and Pakistan, (and it is not about the amount of money that is poured into Pakistan), but he then goes on to caution, 'If the humanitarian crisis does not provoke genuine compassion and the desire to help, then individuals should not help, because if the offer of aid is not sincere, authentic and motivated by genuine compassion, then it will be seen for what it is, tokenism."
Pakistan has seen and heard the American drones overhead, complete with their cargo of bombs, for many months, and this drama does not enhance the potential of trust from the Pakistani's to America. And yet...
  • Should the government of Pakistan actually fall, and the evidence is that this is one possibility;
  • Should the government be replaced by a group like, or allied to, the Taliban;
  • And Should those nuclear warheads fall into the hands of the new, and clearly then hostile government,
the "west" (especially the United States) would have the kind of wake-up call that it does not want and is clearly not capable of confronting. It is not that the U.S. military is not capable, but that the shift in geopolitics, and the balance of power would be seismic in dimension.
While no one expects an apocalyptic scenario to unfold fully, it is the kind of convergence of so many factors that creates the perfect storm that no one seeks and virtually no one can fully comprehend. And here we have the makings of that perfect storm:
  1. climate change,
  2. national government weakness and incompetence verging on incapacity to govern,
  3. lost income both to families and to the nation,
  4. starvation and mounting spectre of mortality rates of unconscionable proportions,
  5. excessive rains for at least the rest of this month according to reasonable estimates,
  6. a kind of "untouchable" quality to the state in relation to the rest of the world,
  7. the existence of a small number of nuclear weapons
  8. the proximity to an extremely unstable Afghanistan
  9. the clear motivation of both Taliban and Al Quaeda to acquire nuclear weapons, whether on the open market, or under the table, with the complicity of rebel insurgents in Pakistan
  10. a large Muslim population, under attack in the public mind in the west, regardless of how unfair that bigotry really is
  11. a world tired of multiple cosmic forces seemingly released in many different corners, needing massive human assistance to avoid further disaster
  12. a fragile, at best, global political system and will, to address common problems with a joint concerted plan
and I am confident that the above list is only a beginning, and that more expert witnesses than this one could provide even more factors playing into the centrifuge that could quickly become the top story in all countries...
 One is moved to ask, "Where does the world turn, when the humanitarian resources are stretched to their limit, and the United Nations is limping along at least in public opinion, and the U.S. is already fully engaged in a decade plus of war, depression, obesity, debt, and unemployment....and the G8/G20 leaves individual states to their own plans without concurring even on a common accountable approach to national and international debt?

Here is a piece of motivation for every human to read, digest, and then act upon, by the former Prime Minister of Great Britain. Posted August 25, 2010, from The Huffington Post

The World's Biggest Emergency

Gordon Brown
We can't carry on like this: an emergency of incredible proportions only half funded; vital days used up talking about aid fatigue -- and what we have not done -- instead of urgent need -- what we now have to do.
The Pakistan floods are the world's biggest emergency -- 60,000 square miles under water, 20 million people displaced, 14 million in need of emergency health care, six million short of food, two and a half million homeless. It is a tragedy whose book of names of lives lost, presumed dead, will never be complete. And my abiding image is of the outstretched hand of a young child begging for food that will arrive too late.
Too many are without help and also without hope. And the worst condition of all is sorrow without hope, pain without end, suffering without relief. In my view four steps must be taken urgently. Every country should commit this week to double its aid and offer to match private contributions dollar for dollar. With president Zardari's agreement governments should offer military as well as civilian support to repair the damage. Governments must now agree to pre-finance the Central Emergency Response Fund. We should agree on the need for a new UN civilian reconstruction agency drawing on the world's engineers, builders and public health workers to repair bridges, roads, houses, schools and farms.
Of course I understand that this time the destruction has come not in a few cataclysmic moments or hours, but over many days in a relentless and rising tide of catastrophe. And so this is a tragedy compounded by paradox. For while the scale of the casualties gets greater and greater, the steadily evolving nature of this crisis -- the spreading floods, the constantly higher water levels, the gathering hunger crisis -- have made the sense of emergency seem less.
The crisis did not appear in a flash that shocked the world's conscience; but it must now command the world's most urgent resolve.
We know Pakistan cannot cope on its own. UN agencies, global aid organizations and individual governments have provided food rations for one million of the hungry, and one million of the homeless have some kind of shelter. But the need is so much more and the lives, livelihoods and health of millions more hang in the balance. A crisis this great demands what President Kennedy called "A grand and global alliance...against the common enemies of man."
First the way to help all aid organizations on the ground move more aid further and more quickly is to send a signal of enhanced help now and in weeks to come: to announce both an immediate doubling of aid contributions and that governments will match dollar for dollar every dollar donated privately to the organizations on the ground. Potential donors should be reminded constantly that one payment of $25 will feed a family of six for a week and one payment of $250 could house a family long into the future. And we should not say this once, but over and over. Attention must be paid for as long as the crisis lasts and the recovery takes.
Second, mobilization of the scale of aid we need requires not just civilian organizations, but the armies and air forces of the world bringing not weapons but sustenance. And while they must respect the independence of the humanitarian agencies, only they can provide the heavy lift capacity that is needed. The reconstruction work still to be done in Haiti is not an excuse: a world that can fight so many wars simultaneously can answer two great crises at the same time.
Third we must support the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund with greater backstop reserves to provide immediate help without waiting for the usual whip-round of nations. Because this is not the first nor the last of sudden emergencies, we need to properly pre-fund this agency without delay.
Fourth, schools and hospitals, canals, roads and communications must all be repaired. This requires expertise as well as resources. I have proposed a global reconstruction corps to offer civilian help -- engineers, doctors, builders -- to build homes, rebuild the schools, staff the hospitals and get agriculture and industry moving again. We have set up a British corps -- and a global volunteer corps is more important and imperative than ever. To make it effective on the ground in Pakistan we need of course an agreement with all Pakistani parties that they will use and work with a Reconstruction Corps.
But we do have to ask ourselves one big question: If we cannot be moved to do more when 20 million people are stranded, some under water, all homeless, then when will be do more? If we cannot the answer the summons of a global ethic that, no matter how distant we are all neighbors -- if we cannot see that when we see people dying on our TV screens -- when will we as a global community rise to our shared humanity? In words we have heard before, if not now, when? and where and how?


No money for vets? Scrap the $16 billion for jets!

When I hear a feeral government spokesperson, like Laurie Hahn, on CBC's Power and Politics yesterday decrying the lack of money, in this case, for the treatment of physical and emotional and psychological illnesses being experienced by Canada'a veterans, I want to kick the screen in. The hypocrisy of a government crying "poor" when they have the gall to purchase $16 billion worth of 65 fighter jets, without evening carrying out a tendering process is simply amazing. And even the military are very sceptical about the need for those net jets.
I know I am just another voice "crying in the wilderness" when it comes to government priorities but let's not hear another word about "lack of funds" from this government for homeless veterans, and victims of agent orange, and veterans with PTSD, something that was not diagnosed during the Korean War.
These are conscious choices and they are not made without taking stock of available resources, projected budgets and cost-benefit analyses.
There is just no justification for putting anyone on a public information program having to mouth such dishonesty and such hypocrisy. Do the Canadian people not deserve better from our government?


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Religious tolerance and respect...submerged by fear and bigotry

Religious intolerance, bigotry, contempt, hate crimes....these are subjects begging for a moderate perspective. The acts behind the emotions are contemptible, and those who commit them are much more to be pitied than scorned.
And yet....
There is a kind of righteous indignation that is aroused within each thinking, somewhat rational somewhat enlightened and somewhat tolerant and liberal person who wants to enter the fray, into the heat of the furnace, perhaps partly for the drama, certainly for the crushing boredom and even possibly for the fight for something worth fighting for.
And that something, underpinned by the constitutions of liberal democracies, is religious freedom and tolerance. But no matter how indelibly the words religious freedom and tolerance are imbedded in the legal documents, or even in this culture, and in the history of a country, there is an even deeper fear that grips many of those whose lives are, or for them, seem, threatened by the faces, apparel and beliefs of those of a different faith, culture, ethnicity and race. And this is especially true when radical elements of any group have, or plan to wreak havoc among those they consider the devil incarnate.
In fact, it says here, that there is even more danger among people of faith, that the language of the projection of  "evil" will emerge when the status quo is treatened. Those whose lives represent a deep and profound commitment to a faith, and to the study of its scriptures, and to the observance of its liturgies, and to the sacraments of its observance, and to the hierarchy of its institution, run a rather significant risk of becoming apostles, evangelists, even shamans on behalf of that faith, and thereby also run the risk of considering other opposing faiths, the agent(s) of the devil. The afficionadoes, if you like, of a specific faith, provide much of the fire, both heat and light, that keeps the faith alive, and generates new adherents. In the lives of uninitiated recruits, the words, actions and role modelling of the "leaders" take on a life of their own. Much has been written about the projections of individuals, especially those seeking comfort, solace and guidance out of their painful situations, onto the leaders in faith communities. This is true in Christian, Muslim and, undoubtedly to a lesser extent in Jewish communities, for the simple and profound reason that the Jewish faith community does not seek to convert others. They examine, fairly critically, the lives and the intentions of those seeking admission to their faith.
Yet among the more dominant, in numbers at least, two faiths, at least, there is an apparent clash of both motives and agendas. Both believe that their faith offers the best, and perhaps the only, route to salvation, for the world. Consequently, they wish to propagate their beliefs, their knowledge of their respective holy writs (Bible and Koran), their histories including their scholarship, and their vision, apparently gleaned from God, through Jesus Christ Resurrected, or through the prophet Mohammed, of the "new world", the new Jerusalem...through the acceptance, practice, discipline and engagement with the faith community of adherents. And, as Karen Armstrong points out in her insightful and compelling "The Case for God," whenever a group of fundamentalists is threatened, they reply by becoming even more aggressive in their presentation of their particular case for their brand of religion, faith, holiness and salvation.
The dozens of attacks on Islamic centres and mosques across the United States, most of them unreported nationally, and the growing threat to the physical expansion of others (through proposed changes to zoning laws in municipalities) and the strong wave of opposition to the construction of a Moslem Holy Centre in some relative proximity to the Ground Zero site of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, prompted one Muslim observer to note that if these statements and actions, in opposition to a particular faith project, were being uttered by Moslems against Christians, the reaction would be very different, and who can legitimately and confidently disagree with him?
I grew up in a fundamentalist, evangelical christian church, in which expressions of bigotry and contempt were uttered publicly and formally in homilies from the pulpit. As a member of that church, in my early teens, a friend and I, while swimming at the local town beach, were assaulted with rocks from what I now know to have been a group of Roman Catholic kids who were venting their form of religious bigotry. One of those rocks actually landed, somewhat violently, on my forehead, in spite of my ducking under water to avoid the attack. I never reported the incident to my family, or to the authorities, probably for the simple reason that I did not understand it, and was somewhat embarrassed that it even occurred.
Later in midlife, as a deacon in what I then naively believed was a searching and questioning faith, The Anglican church, I encountered "christian" fundamentalist evangelical lay people whose grasp of the faith was  infantile at best and frightened and insecure at worst, and their receptivity to challenge was to push back in the only way they knew how: through name calling, and through character assassination. I was called "the anti-christ," a "heathen" and "fag" and a "new-age" cultist by people whose complete control of their church communities was being threatened. The drama that ensued not only engulfed me but also my successor who, allegedly, suffered a nervous breakdown, or nearly, and formally requested a new assignment. Had I been more capable of self-care, I would have taken a similar route to re-assignement much earlier.
In another situation, in the mid-nineties, I encountered a backlash of clergy loyalists, when I merely requested an honorarium for travel. When the clergy received unprompted and blind calls from parishioners, who used words like, "He is a leader and you (the incumbent priest) are not!" I was immediately removed from duties in the parish. Jealousy is another of the sparks that ignites the dry wood that encases much of christian architecture and especially feminist theology in the absence of self-repecting male leadership.
In another situation, after having confronted U.S. parishioners for nearly four years in a concerted and only somewhat supported effort to revive a dying mission, I was, once again, dubbed a "fag" and ambushed out of the situation by people whose wannabe leadership was not supported by their commitment to their own spiritual growth and development, thereby, in my view, rendering them unfit for faith leadership at that time. Bringing in more money and more people is not an adequate benchmark for a faith community's leaders! It is simply another form of the profit-driven corporation, under the guise of a faith community.
Once again, their revenge, based on jealousy, and my failure to take appropriate steps to secure adequate support, resulted in my resignation.
In the course of my training, I was assigned to a parish in which the previous clergy had taken his own life at the altar, in the only known liturgical suicide in North American church history, at the time. He had been directed by the bishop to fill the coffers and the pews, and had commented to his secertary at noon on the day of his death, that he refused to manipulate the people into filling the coffers and the pews, although he know how to accomplish that goal. I remain humbled by his sacrifice, his integrity, and his tragedy and I was supported by my faculty advisor in the writing of my graduate thesis on the subject of death and resurrection in that parish.
The christian church has been, is, and continues to be, a place where violence of words, of belief, of emotions and of human conflict in its ugliest forms plays out. And one can only take the position that eventually tolerance and respect, two of the necessary cornerstones for "agape" loving relationships will become strong enough to replace fear, intolerance, bigotry and suspicion within and between all faiths...surely that is not another naive and innocent hope?
Even if it is, it is worth hanging onto!

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Countdown to Iran's nuclear achievement....

I have just read Jeffrry Goldberg's piece, the cover story in this week's Atlantic, about the potential of either or both an Israeli and/or and American attack on the nuclear production facilities in Iran. It is so compelling reading that all who are interested in the geopolitical forces moving this decision would do well to study and absorb its complexities.
At the core of the debate, from the Israeli perspective, is the question of understanding President Obama. As one source told Goldberg in general, we pack our thermometers and go to Washington to take the temperatures of all the players many times. Rahm Emmanuel argues that Israel can walk and chew gum at the same time, so they can both prepare their position on an Israeli attack on Iran while simultaneously preparing for peace with the Palestinians. The U.S.'s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admirable Mullin, indicates his ambivalence by declaring that an Iran with nuclear weapons and an attack on those weapons by anyone, would both have disastrous consequences in the Middle East and around the globe. When asked by David Gregory, on Meet the Press, which alternative he would recommend to the president, he deferred.
Obama has indicated that no options, including the use of military force, are off the table. And yet, he consistently urges the ramping up of sanctions against the Iranians in the hope that they will come to their senses and stop their headlong pursuit of nuclear weapons and the production facilities needed for them.
The Pentagon seems to oppose a military strike; Defence Secretary Gates indicates a military strike would merely postpone the successful development of Iran's nuclear weapons by one year.
On the other side, is Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu whose brother was killed in the Entebbe raid in the Uganda of Idi Amin, and whose father has written a history of the Jewish extermination in Spain in the 12th and 13th centuries. Some Jewish observers have indicated that peace with the Palestinians will come only after the Prime Minister's father dies, because one of the centreal tenets of the PM's life, is to demonstrate that he is not weak to his father.
There seems to be general agreement that sometime in the next twelve months, probably closer to March 2011, the Iranians will have achieved nuclear capability. Whether that means one device or more, is still uncertain. What seems more certain is that Israel, if it undertakes a military strike, will have only one window of opportunity, especially since it will requires Saudi airspace for its jet fighters, and the Saudi's would look badly in world opinion to be permitting multiple passes over its territory by Israeli jets, in their attack on Iran.
But even the Arab states are upset by the spectre of an Iran with nuclear weapons and support the proposal of a strike by the U.S. And they, too want to know the intentions of the Americans, through their president.
The Israelis do not want to formally inform the U.S. of a specific plan to strike, because that U.S. does not want to be facing the spectre of an Israeli attack without its "knowledge"...so the game of talking, without formally talking, and listening without hearing anything goes round and round.
Meanwhile, the intelligence seems to suggest that the Iranians are having some difficulty with their centrifuges, after the Americans made it difficult for them to acquire the needed materials as part of their sanctions.
Yet, the Iranian desire to eliminate the Jewish state, whether through nuclear attack or not, will, over the long term, drive many educated professional Jews from the homeland, thereby reducing the state of Israel to a lesser grade state than it is at present. Scattering the Jews to all corners of the world will change, forever, the nature of the Jewish people and their claim to a homeland. Nevertheless the Iranian threat is real, and as Netanyahu asks, "Who wants a crazed bunch of mullahs holding nuclear weapons in Tehran?" or words to that effect.
And the world will watch, and wait adn speculate while many in the Israeli military display a photo of three Israeli jet flying over Auschwitz, at the invitation of the Austrian government in World War II...as their current spokepersons say, "We were too late then, but now we are ready!" Is Iran the newest version of Auschwitz?

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bacevich: U.S. too wedded to war!

From WBUR/NPR's On  Point with Tom Ashbrook, Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Andrew Bacevich: U.S. Militarism
Retired Army colonel and big thinker Andrew Bacevich on why it’s time to throw out the playbook on American military policy.
American makes too much war, says former soldier now scholar Andrew Bacevich. The country can’t afford it, he says. It’s not even good strategy anymore, he says. But it doesn’t stop.
And it doesn’t stop for a reason. A whole matrix of interests and assumptions, writes Bacevich, propel the United States toward power projection and war – even when it’s not working.
Bacevich lost his own son in Iraq. But this is not about one family. It’s about a nation, he says, too wedded to war.
Andrew Bacevich, retired U.S. Army colonel is professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His new book is “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.”
Finally, someone who has served, and continues as a retired military colonel, is speaking truth to power about the U.S. over-commitment, practical addition to military power, military culture, military archetypes in athletic, corporate and civilian, (even church) life.
From one who has worked in the U.S. for a few years, it is abundantly clear that, for many who do not choose university, post-secondary education is a stint in the military. And that includes boot camp, stationing at one of hundreds of posts around the world, and then returning with a new-found "perspective" that continues the power of the gun, the power of the uniform, and the power of the blind commitment to a kind of black-and-white authority in local organizations and within families.
It has been said that the NFL is a form of religion for U.S. patrons. It says here that the military is an even more revered, sacred form of religion. Fighting for "American values" no matter where they might be threatened, or perceived to be threatened, including the taumatic and dishonestly-based war on Iraq, from which the U.S. will need probably a century to extricate itself from the shame of that military intervention, is so intimately woven into the country's belief in itself, that the constitution even states it is a requirement for all citizens "to take up arms" if and when the government demands.
Bacevich's argument, however, goes far beyond mere individual attitudes, metaphors and symbols. It goes to the heart of the effectiveness and even advisability of using war as an instrument of global policing, of global insistence on keeping America safe and secure. It simply doesn't.
And that Americans, collectively, politically and ethically, will have to "get over it!"
Having the largest military arsenal, and spending more on military budgets that all of the other world powers combined, has not, and is not, and will not in the future keep America safe. Even Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, has announced a (for America) dramatic cut in miltiary spending of some ten percent.
There is a history to the "war commitment" that Bacevich's book outlines, but coming from one who has served, and who has lost a son in the second Iraq conflict, this piece of courage, even prayer, of the highest intelligence and the highest patriotism and the highest motives, will have to be noticed by the "establishment."
Politicians and leaders of corporations have come from the military, even the reserve military. The uniform is a symbol of respect and a symbol of a calling that, although brutal and bloody and often tragic, evokes dreams of heroism, and of romance and of travel and of the latest technoloigcal hardware and skills to deploy that hardware, and then dreams of returning to civilian life with a career and a philosophical and practical training suited for any vocation.
Begun in revolution, the country continues to believe, wrongly, that a point of view is effectively driven home with the point of a rifle, a machine gun, an AK-47, or a rocket, or a fighter jet or missile, a nuclear submarine, an unmanned drone, or...and who knows what the next vision/version of 'star wars' might look like, with the U.S. military's budget and call to dreamers.
And the chickens are coming home to roost. Bacevich contends that the whole culture, including the playbook, has to be re-thought. He wants to increase defences, and argues that 9-11 resulted from unprepared defences. He wants a severely scaled-down operational capacity for more limited interventions and he wants a rethinking of the "rush" to large military interventions "to defend the interests of the United States."
Now, with such radical proposals, especially for a country steeped in the miltiary traditions, there may even be such a significant reduction in both military spending and in threats to foreign powers that more and effective attention can be paid to teaching, health care, nutrition, and the restoring of the middle class to a position of respect, while America's respect in the councils of power around the world is enhanced.
How ironic that would be. And also how much safer would that make both Americans and those of us who live in such close proximity to the giant Pentagon, the symbol at the heart of the American experience.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"third world," now the norm everywhere!

(Quoted by Arianna Huffington, in Huffington Post, August 10, 2010)
As the New York Times reported last week, Hawaii has gone beyond laying off teachers and has begun laying off students -- closing its public schools on 17 Fridays during the last school year. In the Atlanta suburb of Clayton County, the entire bus system was shut down. Colorado Springs turned off over 24,000 of its streetlights. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Camden, New Jersey is soon to permanently shutter its entire library system. And last month the Wall Street Journal reported on the trend of cash-strapped states and counties giving up on the idea of maintaining paved roads, allowing them instead to turn back into gravel. And those localities that can't even afford to put gravel down are just letting the roads, as the Journal put it, "return to nature." A seminar at Purdue University on this trend was entitled "Back to the Stone Age."
Congress, this week, passed a $26 billion stimulus bill to keep teachers and police and firemen on the job in the states. And yet, this litany of cut-backs continues across the country. And there is a clear disconnect. The people at the top, those with the six-figure incomes, in the U.S., are content with the slow rate of recovery of the economy, because the flow of their incomes from multiple sources continues unabated. It is the gutting of the middle class, almost as a kind of silent coup, given the powerlessness of the largest group in the country to push back against the policies, the reversals and the trashing of their long-standing contribution to the economic, political and cultural health of the nation that we are going through.
We, the collective body politic, have witnessed one of the most significant purges in the history of the world. Only this purge is not specifically ethnic. It is a kind of silent shoving aside of the people who trusted that the system would continue to operate on the kind of premises and rules that had been in operation for the last half century. Labour unions fighting for reasonable contracts, (without the scourge of private corruption and greed) , corporations operating with one eye on the balance sheet, and the other on the health and wellbeing of the people in their employ, the government balancing ideology with pragmatism to reach effective and needed compromises, and the GDP, GNP, Employment rates, mortality rates and all the other statistical data to which we have grown so boringly familiar, sounding within the range of normal.
That is all gone! And it is never going to return, not, at least in our lifetimes.
We are leaving to our grandchildren a new world where Darwinism, the law of the jungle, has now morphed into the "law of the rich" because they have the investment accounts, and the private schools, and the access to the museums and art galleries, and the symphonies and the best universities, and, naturally the best networks, and consequentially, the best jobs, certainly the only jobs of consequence.
The rest, and that includes nearly 80% of all people, will provide service, at very modest wages, for the wealthy.
This is not the movie I signed up for, when I ventured off to university in 1959, and then again in 1968, and then again in 1987. I believed then, and continue with this outmoded and antiquated belief and perception that I would continue to have a contribution to make, in a reasonably productive and reasonably rewarded career, first in teaching and later in community development. And that was true for a period.
And then, first came the likes of Mike Harris, and then George W. Bush, and the triumph of the dollar seemed to purge the consciousness of the North American society of the capacity to see what was really happening.
As the media, the politicians and the wealthy slipped into the same bed, seemingly for the next generation, I as one incredulous observer, cried, "Wait, this is not any more a liberal democracy, where both sides have an equal opportunity to have their voices heard, respected and integrated with policy!" This is now an oligarchy of the rich!
Somewhere, somehow, the train ran off the track, and I point the finger at the Bushes, the Harrises, and their seduction by the financial sector manipulators whose own greed set the pace and the pattern for the rape of the middle class.
And now, all we can hear are the faint whispers of, "This hurts, and it is going to hurt for a very long time!" coming from the coffee shops, and the bars and the casino's, and now the on-line casino's.
Like the reservations of the First Nations, we have all been "given," courtesy of the magnanimity of the rich and the powerful, the opportunity to make our wealth grow, with odds that preclude even rational thought, at the crap table, on e-bay, or maybe by boot-legging, or if we still have some pride, serving burgers in a fast-food hut.
And we still hear talk of the wise stewardship of our natural resources....like brains, and imaginations and skills!
It is all a sham! And we have all paid the price of sleeping through the revolution, while the most crass took us to the cleaners.
And we have the Sermon on the Mount telling us "the meek shall inherit the earth" and we believe it in the poetic abstraction, but not in this lifetime, and not on this planet.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More sinned against than sinners, ALL!

Oprah seemed to be as good as yesterday's TV provided, at a time when my wife and I were just finishing dinner. And there we found Geneen Roth, author of another New York Times bestseller, Women, Food and God. Oprah's history of "yo-yoing" (her word, not mine) up and down the scales (the bathroom scales that is!) over the last three decades makes her an eloquent spokesperson for all those who struggle with gaining weight, then dieting, and gaining it all (and sometimes more) back again.
And the central theme of this book, if I was listening carefully and taking in what I was hearing, is that many people have dumped on themselves for not being "enough" or "good enough" or "in pain" or "struggling with a bad day, event, loss, death, failure....(you fill in your own blank with the appropriate noun and food has been a way of reducing the pain, denying the pain, avoiding the pain, putting the pain aside, burying the pain for the moment. And food could be any of several pain "medications" that do not come with a doctor's prescription.
And, according to Roth, "Kindness, (and not more self-flagellation) is the answer." Only if we begin to treat ourselves more kindly will we enter into the pain that is our own inner work, and that is required of us, and only by doing the hard inner work will we begin to see our own inner "gifts," or as Carl Jung put it, our "gold."
Imagine, a society beginning to treat itself with kindness, and not consider such kindness narcissistic.
The christian church has much to answer for in generating several hundreds of generations of people "who have sinned and come short of the glory of God" as Paul put it, in his own self-flaggellating perfectionism. Of course, we have sinned, all of us, without exception, and will continue to "sin" in the overt and in the more covert manners available to all of us. We are not OUR SINS! We have responsibility for them, but they do not define us, even before God.
And we will all find people whose self-loathing has been and will continue to be "projected" onto us, and until we come to full awareness that their aspersions have absolutely nothing to do with us, and everything to do with them, we will continue to writhe under the "weight" of that projected judgement. And that weight contributes mightily to our sense of ourself. And that pain adds to the embarrassment, shame, guilt or whatever word seems to best fit, (meaning self-criticism, self-judgement, self-contempt) all of it generating more pain, and all of it worthless, because it is not our true picture of ourselves.
Imagine, if we could become a society in which we could see every other person, including those in prison, and those who whipped us, and those who spat upon us, or threw rocks at our heads at the town beach, or who pounded us in jealous anger because we had friends they wanted, and those who maligned us with gossip and those who raped us sexually or through stripping away our reputation with false or exaggerated accusations, or who stripped away the respect of our children, for their own "self-loathing" purposes, as more sinned against than sinners!
You see, this is not merely an issue of weight gain and loss; it is a matter that seeks expression in all phases, stages and arenas of our existence. And when we have all taken the oath to begin to purge our hearts, minds and bodies of the self-loathing that is woven into every cell of every organ, especially the organ between our ears, the brain, only then will we stop waging wars without cause, and only then will we stop building prisons for prisoners whose crimes were never reported, and only then will we find in our religious, political, corporate, scientific and academic opponents, the same capacity to see us in the way that we are attempting to see him/her, as more sinned against than sinner, and only then will we begin to see the vision of a world where agape love can and does operate and that world (community, town village, family) will not have a specific religious institutional "sign" over the entrance, because the entrance will be a rainbow which does not need a sign to remind those near that they are in the presence of the God of their own belief system.
As the Rabbi put it to the Abbot, whose monastery was nearly empty of brothers, while his synagogue was also nearly empty of faithful, "Just remember, the Messiah is among you!" (Quoted in Scott Peck's, The Different Drum)


Homelessness, a silent scream!

Excerpt from 2006 paper from Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto, in Toronto Star, August 9, 2010
...Homeless people are more often victims of crime than housed people.
Numerous studies have established that homeless individuals have experienced high levels of violence and victimization both before and after becoming homeless. In 1992, the Toronto Street Health Report included the results of a survey of homeless single adults that asked about their experiences of victimization during the previous year. Among the sample of 106 women and 352 men, 46% of the women and 39% of the men said they had been physically assaulted. One-tenth of the respondents reported that they had been assaulted by police, some more than once. Sexual assault and violence were common experiences for women — 43% of women and 14% of men said they had been sexually harassed, usually multiple times. Even more disturbing, 21% of the women said they had been raped. The survey respondents described instances of being assaulted by security guards in shopping centres, beaten with nightsticks by police officers, and sexually harassed on public sidewalks. It is unclear how many of these assaults caused injury, but one-tenth of the respondents said they had gone to a hospital emergency room for assault-related injuries, and about half of them were admitted to hospital for treatment.
The paper was prepared by four researchers:
Sylvia Novac is an independent research consultant specializing in housing, gender, and equity

issues and a Research Associate at the Centre for Urban and Community Studies.
Joe Hermer is a Professor in Criminology at the University of Toronto.
Emily Paradis is a doctoral candidate in at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of
Toronto. Her research focuses on the experiences of women who are homeless and marginalized.
Amber Kellen is Supervisor of Advocacy/Community Programs at the John Howard Society of
CUCS Research Bulletins are available at http://www.urbancentre.utoronto.ca/

What is this? The kick-the-Dog syndrome, or it is more like "these are people on whom I can inflict pain and not have to take responsibility, because they have no power, and no resources to fight back?"
Homelessness, a condition of thousands in North America, is often the cumulative result of many external circumstanaces, but it is certainly a condition for living that results, in part, from an individual's inability to seek and to grasp different options. Some have been "on the street" for decades, because, as some have told me directly, they prefer to live on the street than to sleep in official shelters where they are not as safe, and their few belongings are not as secure as they might be on the street. Some are simply unable to function because they cannot read, they cannot compute, they cannot find work because they have no address and no phone and no support system. Some cannot even speak the language of the street. I have witnessed one incident that I cannot forget in which a middle-aged man was struck by a vehicle while crossing a downtown Toronto street, and he crawled into a "cave" at the base of a turret on an adjacent church, behind a ballustrade, like a wounded animal, only to be rescued by those then operating "Street Health" a health care facility providing third world care, through the donation of redundant hospital materials, to those living on the street. Animals in a zoo would be treated better than we treat the homeless in this country.
One can visit most major cities in North America and find people, yes real people, sleeping on subway grates, taking advantage of the heat that emerges from the underground, on cold winter nights. And their condition is one for which the society, and that includes each of us, collectively, through our elected representatives, has to take responsibility to amend, and to change permanently.
Homelessness is not a condition that a healthy society can tolerate.
Never mind the police costs, and the health care costs, and the face that homeless people cast upon the reputation of the city, province or country. It is the simple fact of its existence, and the full knowledge that it can be easily, reasonably and ethically eliminated if we had the political will to provide housing for all.
And in a culture of greed, and profit-gouging, and affluence especially for the very rich, it is time for the political leaders of all stripes, to find common ground to provide both the shelter and the life skills for individuals to be able to begin to find different options for their lives.
Begging by the homeless and tossing a few coins into a hat, while passing a homeless person, is nothing if not the highest form of tokenism; it placates guilt, shame and even sometimes fear. It patronizes those who have nothing left to lose by those of us who have nothing really to give, because our hearts have become numb and hardened to such "deplorable" examples of what our society can and will tolerate, in order to continue to ignore, deny and avoid its compassion for the "least" among us.
And it is by our treatment of those with the least, not the "least," per se, that we can evaluate our own maturity, health and well-being.
While studies, papers and both formal and informal research are important, because they cast light into the shadows of our streets, under our bridges and overpasses, into the cardboard boxes, into the railway station benches, behind shopping malls, stores and offices, the real action can and will only come when it becomes acceptable to admit, to acknowledge responsibility for, and to take action to eliminate homelessness from our cities. And that will take all three levels of government, municipal, provincial and federal. And that will mean that those who support those govenments, including those who fund their campaigns for election, will have been sufficiently educated, reformed and transformed in their attitudes, into an open admission, and acknowledgement of the need for radical change.
It is long past time!