Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Not so fast, Mr. Harper, it is not an endorsement!

Last night, Julian Fantino, former chief of Police in Toronto, and former Commissioner of the O.P.P. won the riding of Vaughan, a pick-up from the Liberals who, with Maritio Bevelacque, had held the riding for some fifteen years.
The Liberals picked up a seat from the NDP in Manitoba, and the Conservatives held onto another Manitoba seat.
And today, the Prime Minister is heralding the results as a full endorsement of his government's handling of both the economy and the law and order file.
Hold on, Sir. With a turn-out of merely 31% in Vaughan and even lower in the other two ridings, this can hardly be considered by anyone, or any party, as an endorsement of anything.
In fact, the number of voters would seem to indicate more of a rejection of everything "Ottawa-related" especially given the fact that the Conservative candidate in Vaughan conducted his own "peek-a-boo" campaign refusing to appear for public debates, and sliding into parliament barely ahead of his Liberal opponent.
Smoke and mirrors, inside the bubble of Ottawa mandarins and Ottawa media, may enable this government to slide along, without having to be accountable; certainly these by-elections do not either confirm Mr. Harper's contention nor do they condemn Mr. Ignatieff's leadership, although they do stink of voter apathy, and disaffection with the current government and with politics generally.
This country needs a full-scale election, with all parties submitting their best ideas, and their best way of proceeding to those objectives, with a debate on the future of health care, the environment, the travesty of building an additional 27,000 prison cells, the even greater travesty of purchasing 65 F-35 Fighter Jets at an estimated cost of $16 billion, the future of our commitment to Afghanistan, and the relationship between the provinces and the federal government especially with respect to the production and transmission of energy.
We need a government with energy, imagination, vision and compassion...and it needs to be a full replacement of the current administration, in personnel, in policy and in modus operandi.
And last night's results do not bode well for a rise in either participation or enthusiasm from the voters.

Principal cleared of parent complaint!

By Louise Brown, Education Reporter, Toronto Star, November 29, 2010
Not only has the principal of the Africentric Alternative School been cleared by school board officials of a parent complaint, but a local radio station has apologized for letting the parent repeat the accusation on live radio.
York University radio station CHRY, which has a strong following in northwest Toronto, issued a retraction and apology twice Sunday night to the Toronto District School Board for letting a mother at the Africentric school accuse principal Thando Hyman-Aman of physically mistreating her son.

The accusation, which was made on air the previous week in highly charged language, had triggered a board investigation Oct. 28, during which the popular administrator was placed on home leave. Investigators ultimately concluded the complaint was “unfounded” — but not before the radio station’s discussion show “Cutting Edge” had allowed the mother to make her claims on air.
The board warned the station it would sue unless it apologized for not muting the inflammatory charge with its time-delay switch, said board lawyer Grant Bowers
Now that the principal has been cleared of the complaint, what action is the board pursuing with the complainant?
For years now the person issuing the complaint, in all circumstances, carries the day in the public mind. The charge or complaint takes the foreground position in the public mind, and everafter that complaint or charge is what sticks, not the subsequent clearance. What have, unfortunately, not only tabloid journalism, but also tabloid gossip in most communities and organizations and such gossip, especially after a formal complaint, is difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate or to stop.
While we do enjoy Habeas Corpus, the right to innocence until proven guilty, nevertheless, as in most situations, here once again the law is a very blunt instrument. And as the evidence demonstrates, many charges, even those filed by officers of the law, do not hold up in the courtroom.
I once had the opportunity to teach something called "Ethics for Law Enforcement" in a career college. The students were paying a private college for ten months' of training in the hope that some of their number would be selected to attend the "real" police college in Aylmer, ON. Most of these students were not interested in a course that asked them to begin each investigation with a clean slate. They wanted to enter all situations with a pre-conceived mindset that held someone guilty, and that was the position from which they would begin an investigation.
I was appalled and, of course, demonstrated in as many different ways as I could, the danger of this approach. We can all only hope that none of those students will ever cross the threshold of the police college, in preparation for actual work in uniform in any province in this country or in any other country.
Issuing a complaint, whether against a school principal, or a doctor, or a police officer, or a clergy or a social worker is a very serious and often malicious act, very often based on a need for revenge, and very often based on an extremely narrow perception of the situation. Often issues with "authority" are driving the complaint, and it is the abuse of authority in completely different past situations that emerge in such complaints.
In our valiant attempt to protect against abuse by all of society's frontline workers, we have created a system that is so weighted against the person complained against that there often is no justice even with an investigation and a subsequent clearance. And the mere filing of a complaint often marks the end of the career of the person against whom the complaint has been issued.
In many organizations, there is not an effective "due process" by which complaints are dealt with, and certainly in many instances, there is no funding for adequate legal representation to defend against the complaint.
The pursuit of power, on the part of an individual who believes s/he or a member of the family has been unfairly treated, through the filing of a formal complaint, can only lead to misrepresentation of the facts, because memory and perceptions are so conflicted. Officials responsible to "process" complaints are left with the "statements" of the offended party and of the "offending" party without, in many cases either adequate training or experience to discern motives, to ascertain the relative importance of grievances and to reach conclusions that bring justice to the situation.
This is one case in which, apparently, a 'due process' has been both followed and followed effectively.
There seems also to have been a significant "bank account" of public respect for this principal prior to the complaint, which undoubtedly made the decision of the review panel much more likely to be a favourable one for the principal.
Now that principal has to return to the frontline where students and teachers will perceive her differently, and she will have to deal with those differences. And the board and the rest of those students and faculty will be fortunate to have her back in her position of considerable responsibility.
Does the "finding" include some kind of compensation for the very fact that the complaint was filed in the first place?
Does the finding include an enhanced process in the event of any additional complaint from different sources?
Does the record of this complaint become part of the personnel file of the recipient of the complaint?
Does the principal have options as to whether a return to the same school is mandatory?
Does the school board, and/or the teachers' federation carry insurance for due process representation for all officials against whom a complaint is filed? Is that the responsibility of each individual principal?
In an increasingly litigious society, is it feasible that complaints will drive many from seeking positions of responsibility, because the potential of complaints has driven the costs of insurance so high, for example, that one family practitioner of my acquaintance, stopped performing the delivery of newborn babies decades ago for that very reason.
We are continuing down a road in which our media invades the lives of our politicians leaving many to refuse to even enter the arena, and in which our professionals are targets for people seeking either power or money or both, from their malicious complaints, and they are doing so in their pursuit of "justice".
Are we bending too far in the direction of complying with the complaint?
Are we making it less safe for individuals to take risks in the perfomance of their duties as responsible leaders?
Are we creating a culture where, for example, learning takes a back seat to the scrupulous attention to political correctness, in order to protect those leading the frontline workers?
What body is charged with the legitimate task of reviewing the culture of litigious complaints and with the provision of mediation services to resolve many of those complaints, now that our court system is overwhelmed with the numbers of cases?

Monday, November 29, 2010

John Steinbeck...American craftsman

Just watched the last part of a John Steinbeck "bio" on the biography channel. Learned about his search for the "soul of America" through his trip with his poodle, Charley, and his discovery that, like the white bread that is good and tasteless, Steinbeck worried about the decline in localisms, especially those found in the local vernacular of the many regions of the U.S.
When he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and then asked in an public interview, "Do you deserve it?" he responded, "Frankly, no!" His critics called his work sentimental and superficial, and this criticism cut him deeply, so deeply in fact that he never wrote another word of fiction in his life afterward.
A sensitive man, who apparently had a turbulent relationship with his mother, and two divorces prior to meeting and marrying his third wife, Elaine, the producer on the original production of the musical, Oklahoma, Steinbeck's work generated much social criticism and turbulence, although to him, he was merely writing what he observed.
When he was asked to go to Moscow, as part of a cultural exchange, by then President John Kennedy, he was asked there how such a dissident could be such a patriot. His answer dumbfounded the Russians: I wrote about the situation in my country in the 30's and described what I saw truthfully, and I have done that all my life. In your country, you do not wish to really look at the conditions that exist and deal with them in their reality...(a paraphrase).
When President Johnson sought his advice, especially on VietNam, he actually went to the war zone, and pictures of him in green army fatigues in the American press seemed to solidify his "pro-war" stance while what he saw and learned from that told him that the U.S. could not and would not win that war. So his public persona and his heart's convictions were at odds again.
It was his "The Pearl" that struck me, when I read it for the first time. A story, so simple and parabolic, that confounded the reader with images of a scorpion dangling over the head of a very young child. And his capacity to write about the concrete "ground" pictures of his world are so graphic and convincing that critics have said he wrote about "Steinbeck country" in all of his work.
His capacity for compassion was gigantic, as was his own sensitivity especially to criticism. His social conscience drove much of his writing as he described horrific conditions whenever and wherever he found them. A modern Dickens perhaps, although there seems a little more bite and dry dust to his landscapes, integral to the southwest. His poverty and desperation were never merely observations; they came from his own life experiences of his own poverty and desperation.
He believed that one simply had to be conscious of whatever was going on in the world, in order to understand and to grapple with the forces that shaped those dramas.
Steinbeck's ashes are buried with his mother and father in California.
Would that all readers could taste the menu of Steinbeck's mind along with that of Hemingway, so that all males in North America could enter into their own deep and dark corners of their fears, their angers and their imaginations.

Here is the Nobel Prize Speech delivered in Stockholm, December 10, 1962 by John Steinbeck
Read and Feast on its bounty and hope!
I thank the Swedish Academy for finding my work worthy of this highest honor.

In my heart there may be doubt that I deserve the Nobel award over other men of letters whom I hold in respect and reverence - but there is no question of my pleasure and pride in having it for myself.
It is customary for the recipient of this award to offer personal or scholarly comment on the nature and the direction of literature. At this particular time, however, I think it would be well to consider the high duties and the responsibilities of the makers of literature.
Such is the prestige of the Nobel award and of this place where I stand that I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession and in the great and good men who have practiced it through the ages.
Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches - nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tinhorn mendicants of low calorie despair.
Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.
The skalds, the bards, the writers are not separate and exclusive. From the beginning, their functions, their duties, their responsibilities have been decreed by our species.
Humanity has been passing through a gray and desolate time of confusion. My great predecessor, William Faulkner, speaking here, referred to it as a tragedy of universal fear so long sustained that there were no longer problems of the spirit, so that only the human heart in conflict with itself seemed worth writing about.
Faulkner, more than most men, was aware of human strength as well as of human weakness. He knew that the understanding and the resolution of fear are a large part of the writer's reason for being.
This is not new. The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.
Furthermore, the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit - for gallantry in defeat - for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally-flags of hope and of emulation.
I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man, has no dedication nor any membership in literature.
The present universal fear has been the result of a forward surge in our knowledge and manipulation of certain dangerous factors in the physical world.
It is true that other phases of understanding have not yet caught up with this great step, but there is no reason to presume that they cannot or will not draw abreast. Indeed it is a part of the writer's responsibility to make sure that they do.
With humanity's long proud history of standing firm against natural enemies, sometimes in the face of almost certain defeat and extinction, we would be cowardly and stupid to leave the field on the eve of our greatest potential victory.
Understandably, I have been reading the life of Alfred Nobel - a solitary man, the books say, a thoughtful man. He perfected the release of explosive forces, capable of creative good or of destructive evil, but lacking choice, ungoverned by conscience or judgment.
Nobel saw some of the cruel and bloody misuses of his inventions. He may even have foreseen the end result of his probing - access to ultimate violence - to final destruction. Some say that he became cynical, but I do not believe this. I think he strove to invent a control, a safety valve. I think he found it finally only in the human mind and the human spirit. To me, his thinking is clearly indicated in the categories of these awards.
They are offered for increased and continuing knowledge of man and of his world - for understanding and communication, which are the functions of literature. And they are offered for demonstrations of the capacity for peace - the culmination of all the others.
Less than fifty years after his death, the door of nature was unlocked and we were offered the dreadful burden of choice.
We have usurped many of the powers we once ascribed to God.
Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed lordship over the life or death of the whole world - of all living things.
The danger and the glory and the choice rest finally in man. The test of his perfectibility is at hand.
Having taken Godlike power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility and the wisdom we once prayed some deity might have.
Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope.
So that today, St. John the apostle may well be paraphrased: In the end is the Word, and the Word is Man - and the Word is with Men.


Factoids and Question marks...this 29th of November

  • A quarter million documents, primarily those of a diplomatic "note" nature, to be released by WikiLeaks.
  • The U.S. Attorney General announces an official criminal investigation aimed at prosecuting those responsible for those WikiLeaks.
  • Former National Security Chief, Zbigniew Brzezinski, wonders on PBS, if the WikiLeaks might be "manipulated by some foreign government(s) for their own purposes."
  • A car bomb targets nuclear scientists in Tehran, presumably to help derail the country's nuclear weapons development.
  • A Conervative staffer fired for leaking private budget documents to Conservative lobbyists in Ottawa, prior to the budget itself.
  • A new treatment in mice to reverse the aging process, by retorin theromes on the tips of chromosomes.
  • A symbolic pay freeze on 2 million government workers in Washington, saving a mere $5 billion over two years. The measure is called a "pebble in the ocean" by co-chair of the deficit reduction commission, Simpson.
  • A former police chief in Toronto, and former Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police seems assured of victory in the by-election in Vaughan, north of Toronto, on the same day the Minister of Public Safety announces plans to build additional prisons to accommodate 27,000 more prisoners.
  • An Afghan police officer-in-training turns his gun on 6 American training officers, killing all 6, before being killed himself.
  • A handyman claims to have been given some $80 million worth of Picasso paintings by his former boss, some forty years ago, now that the statute of limitations on theft has expired, and the Picasso family claims 'foul'.
  • South Korean President, Lee, declares serious reprisals should North Korea mount another attack against his country.
  • Is the WikiLeak document suggesting that some would prefer a united Korea, under the control of South Korea a credible document?
  • Did the Saudi king really ask the president of the U.S. "to take the head off the snake" in reference to the nuclear program in Iran, prompting the Israeli Prime Minister to respond that others in the region feel the same way that we feel about Iran?
These are just a few of the "news" items making it to the top of the coverage in the current 24/7 news cycle, at least in North America....
Confusing, perplexing, annoying, even frustrating...and perhaps destabilizing to use a word from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's press conference, about WikiLeaks.

Retiring Justice Stevens disagrees with Court on Gore v. Bush, 2000

History was made last evening, again, on the CBS program, 60 Minutes.
The guest was retiring Supreme Court Justice, John Paul Stevens, from Chicago. The son of a Chicago hotelier, who lost his income and his reputation, only to have it restored by a judge in a courtroom. Stevens, a card-carrying Republican, became one of the more moderate, even liberal voices on the bench in his thirty-five years of service.
It was, however, his strong opposition to the decision of the court in Gore v. Bush, in 2000 that stood out in my mind. He recalled meeting one of his colleagues on the bench, at a social gathering, and one of them making the comment, on the evening prior to the case coming to the court, that we will likely see that case tomorrow. And both agreed that it would not take very long, because there would be no merit to the request for a "stay" in the recount, since there were clearly no serious issues that could emergy from such a recount.
However, the court decided to stop the Florida recount, accepting the argument made on behalf of the Bush camp, and that "stay" resulted in George W. Bush's becoming the 43rd President of the United States.
Stevens maintains today, a decade later, that there would have no emergency had the recount continued in Florida.
And the rest of the world would clearly have been spared one of, if not the worst, presidential regime in the country's history. Try to imagine, dear reader, for one moment, the first eight years of this century with a President Al Gore. We would already have take giant strides toward fighting global warming, instead of being stuck in the molasses of doubt even of the scientific evidence that there is such a phenomenon. We would not have entered the war in Iraq, and likely not prosecuted the war in Afghanistan as it transpired. We would not be fighting about Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%, and the income distribution skewing in favour of the rich could conceivably have been nudged back into some equilibrium.....and the mind dances with the fantasy.

Republican Budget Chief for Reagan speaks loudly and carries a big stick

By David Stockman, New York Times, July 31, 2010
IF there were such a thing as Chapter 11 for politicians, the Republican push to extend the unaffordable Bush tax cuts would amount to a bankruptcy filing.(Chapter 11 refers to the rule under which individuals and corporations file for bankruptcy.) The nation’s public debt — if honestly reckoned to include municipal bonds and the $7 trillion of new deficits baked into the cake through 2015 — will soon reach $18 trillion. That’s a Greece-scale 120 percent of gross domestic product, and fairly screams out for austerity and sacrifice. It is therefore unseemly for the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to insist that the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers be spared even a three-percentage-point rate increase.

More fundamentally, Mr. McConnell’s stand puts the lie to the Republican pretense that its new monetarist and supply-side doctrines are rooted in its traditional financial philosophy. Republicans used to believe that prosperity depended upon the regular balancing of accounts — in government, in international trade, on the ledgers of central banks and in the financial affairs of private households and businesses, too. But the new catechism, as practiced by Republican policymakers for decades now, has amounted to little more than money printing and deficit finance — vulgar Keynesianism robed in the ideological vestments of the prosperous classes.
This approach has not simply made a mockery of traditional party ideals. It has also led to the serial financial bubbles and Wall Street depredations that have crippled our economy. More specifically, the new policy doctrines have caused four great deformations of the national economy, and modern Republicans have turned a blind eye to each one.
While we are digesting this piece of insight, that literally pulls the mask from the face of the current Republican party, let us not forget that Mr. Stockman was President Ronald Reagan's Budget Chief, who presided over the most significant tax cut in U.S. history.
Now, while appearing on CNN/GPS with Fareed Zakaria yesterday, Mr. Stockman says the U.S. has been on a spending "binge" for the last thirty years, funding that spending by borrowing and if all the notes that are outstanding were "called" (payment demanded by the lenders) the situation would amount to an 'apocalypse.'
His strong recommendations for solving the debt and deficit crisis, and there is no doubt he believes the U.S. is in a financial crisis, is to BOTH cut spending and raise taxes.
His take on the grid-lock in Washington, where the Republicans merely want to cut taxes, and the Democrats want to increase spending, is that the country has become "ungovernable" (his word).
These observations are coming from one who once served as a Member of the House of Representatives from the state of Michigan, before working in the Reagan White House.
Whether or not the current leadership of the Republican party, (McConnell in the Senate, and Boehner in the House) are about to listen to the Stockman prescription for the American economy is anyone's guess. Certainly, the energy to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, for all categories of income, including the most wealthy, is like a steam-roller, and Stockman urges President Obama to declare publically and unequivocally, that any bill that makes the Bush tax cuts permanent for the wealthiest 1% will be vetoed.
Much of the Stockman criticism seems to be directed to the Federal Reserve, currently under Ben Bernanke, and one has to wonder whether Stockman is open to serving in the Obama administration.
It says here that President Obama might do very well to reach out to Mr. Stockman, bring him inside the tent and let him work with the Republican members of both houses of Congress to reach multiple accommodations on curbing government spending and raising taxes, in order to bring the U.S. fiscal imbalance into balance.
There are certainly precedents for a Democratic president to include Republicans in their administration. Prsident Clinton was well served by Defence Secretary William Cohen, and President Obama is currently well served by Defence Secretary Robert Gates. That list is much longer, if we search the history books.
It is the balance and the seriousness and the exposing of the current republican "theology" of tax cuts as the solution to all economic woes, based on their reading of the Reagan years that struck this observer.
"That is not what the Reagan tax cuts did or were intended to do," says Stockman. "The times and conditions were very different. If you run up the balance on your credit card, you are not able to go to the credit card company and ask for two more years to find the money to pay it off," he states categorically.
And that is his analogy for the situation in the U.S. financial situation at this time.
And what he accuses the Federal Reserve of doing is to continue to "print more money" that the U.S. doesn't have and can't pay back and will not be able to pay back for the foreseeable future. In order to bring the economy back, and to meet the current budget projections, the U.S. will have to generate some 250,000 new jobs each year, while it is currently generating some 50,000 new jobs each year, with no prospects of bridging that gap.
There is maturity, responsibility and fiscal experience on which both the maturity and responsibility are based in this "witness's presentation" to the U.S. decision-makers. While the jury is still out on the verdict to be reached by those decision-makers, David Stockman's name, reputation and recommendations could well serve as a road-map for the current administration and the Congress as both political parties seek to find a way out of the current economic crisis.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Icarus and America...together at last

By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, November 27, 2010

I think what is driving people’s pessimism today are two intersecting concerns. The long-term concern is that people intuitively understand that what we need most now is nation-building in America. They understand it by just looking around at our crumbling infrastructure, our sputtering job-creation engines and the latest international education test results that show our peers out-educating us, which means they will eventually out-compete us. Many people understand that we are slipping as a country and what they saw in Barack Obama, or what they projected onto him, was that he had both the vision and capability to pull America together behind a plan for nation-building at home.
But I think they understand something else: that we are facing a really serious moment. We have to get this plan for nation-building right because we are driving without a spare tire or a bumper. The bailouts and stimulus that we have administered to ourselves have left us without much cushion. There may be room, and even necessity, for a little more stimulus. But we have to get this moment right. We don’t get a do-over. If we fail to come together and invest, spend and cut really wisely, we’re heading for a fall — and if America becomes weak, your kids won’t just grow up in a different country, they will grow up in a different world.
We have to manage America’s foreign policy, and plan its rebuilding at home, at a time when our financial resources and our geopolitical power are more limited than ever while our commitments abroad and entitlement promises at home are more extensive than ever.
Icarus used wax to attach his wings and then flew too close to the sun and the wax melted and the wings came off and Icarus plummeted to earth. Perhaps there might be some appropriate inferences drawn from the story of Icarus. Over-reaching befits a new nation, built on the triumph of leaving the old world, crossing the turbulent sea and landing on distant shores and then fighting with the mother country, now abandoned, for a return that was never to be, and then establishing a new kind of country, with a new set of propositions for its birth, and for its governance.
The people were to be in charge, not the king. The people had "inalienable rights" to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The people were the champions of that freedom and their insurance that they would keep that freedom came in the form of rifles, and an emotional courage and readiness to defend those freedoms to the death if necessary. After all, if this new country could be forged out of this wilderness, then what could or would ever stop us from achieving whatever goals and aspirations we might imagine?
And, for that generation of Americans, they carved their family's niche out of the forest, and the planted their crops and they fed their children and then made their own necessities.
And eventually they traded some of those necessities for food, or vice versa, and grew an economy of barter and trade. And the profit motive, in this new land, without the leg-irons of any overseer influence, grew to clearly gigantic proportions. As there had been no limit to what was possible in America, so too, there would be no limit to what was achieveable in profit terms in this new land of wealth and opportunity.
And those on whom ambition and good fortune, coupled with family name and the occasional special talent or skill, smiled grow their fortunes rather splendidly. And the nation itself smiled on those so "blessed" and an annual celebration of Thanksgiving was inaugurated, eventually to turn inward upon itself, when all the people who had very little fortune rush headlong through the doors of those box stores to grab a piece of that "good fortune" to which everyone was entitled, according to the original myth of this new land.
And soon, after the automobile and the airplane and the space rocket and many other scientific discoveries, and after the substantial growth of the universities and colleges, this new land became the most wealthy and the most free on the planet.
And, like Icarus, she wanted to fly even higher. And also like Icarus, she grew some girth around her belly, and some pride in her achievements and some belief that she would always be the most beautiful and the most powerful and the most wealthy land among all the other lands. She won wars and then helped her victims to recover from the devastation. She made treaties, both for protection and for increased trade and the accompanying profit, with various other lands.
And, like Icarus, she lost sight of what it takes to fly, leaving it all to her imagination, as the theatre had now become her new frontier. And she produced the most elegant, and the most dramatic and the most desireable theatre pieces in all the world, until finally she became her own best tragedy.
For you see, she seemed to fully enter into the belief and the cultural consciousness that sustained that belief, that she had all the right answers to all of the problems faced by any land anywhere. She had the biggest planes, and the most of them anywhere; she had the best of all the usual institutions and she had the wonderful plus of a nation of religious believers whose God supported the acquisition of more and more wealth, only the facts on the ground had changed, and other lands were now seeking and acquiring some of the means to the wealth that had for a long time been the private preserve of this one land.
And they too had answers, different from those in the best land, and they grew and prospered, while the best land suffered at their success.
And the best land became both resentful and much less resilient and much less imaginative and much less willing to work with others, even of their own people, to solve their problems, so deep had the roots of rugged individualism grown that they had replaced any sign of co-operation, which had been a landmark of the original settlers in the new land, when they all faced it together for the first time.
And so, individually, these many Icaruses started to fall from the sky, and they blanketed the light of the sun from the eyes of the people still on the ground, foraging for food, because that was all they had left to do.
They were actually fighting for what little food they could find, grow, steal, or borrow. And it was a new and hungry land.
And the freedom that had so enraptured the people had fled from their hands and from their eyes, and from their hopes and the darkness of fear of having to do without, while others became healthy and wealthy in other lands for reasons not understood in this former "new land" and they had to sit together, and actually listen to the tears and the sobs and the pleas for food from their own people, in order to find their way in this new world, only this time, the sea that had to be crossed was of their own design and construction.
They had to cross the sea of selfishness, and hubris and separateness and independence, into a land of compassion, and collaboration and selflessness and humility.
And that story is waiting to be told...so you can go back to sleep now, little boy.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Class war, from the "downside"...not really!

By Bob Herbert, New York Times, November 27, 2010
The ranks of the poor may be swelling and families forced out of their foreclosed homes may be enduring a nightmarish holiday season, but American companies have just experienced their most profitable quarter ever. As The Times reported this week, U.S. firms earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter — the highest total since the government began keeping track more than six decades ago.

Back when CNN still had a Saturday night public affairs program called Crossfire, one of the panelists, Bob Novak, could be counted on to spew venom on any liberal who mentioned the growing gap between rich and poor, as another attempt to start a "class war". Now that the gap is the largest in history, and Novak is silenced in death, Herbert has picked up the mantle for liberals and from his perch among the New York Times columnists, sounds the alarm bell.
And that bell must continue to ring in the halls of the NYSE, the White House Cabinet Room, the Financial Sector's boardrooms, not to mention the office of New York city Mayor, Michael Bloomberg (billionaire) and his new chancellor of the school system in that city.
Cathleen Black, chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, has a reputation as a crackerjack corporate executive but absolutely no background in education.

Ms. Black travels in the rarefied environs of the very rich. Her own children went to private boarding schools. She owns a penthouse on Park Avenue and a $4 million home in Southampton. She was able to loan a $47,600 Bulgari bracelet to a museum for an exhibit showing off the baubles of the city’s most successful women. (From the Herbert article, referenced above.)
Isn't it long past time for the western world to cease our addiction to the linkage of "quality" of person, family community with the "wealth" of that person, family or community. Accomplishment, achievement, a reasonably responsible and self-aware and self-examined life is not the ordinary contribution of one who has made a lot of money. That "achievement" is usually the result of narrow, driven and unexamined pursuit of single goals, similar to the pursuit of high marks in high school. It often, if not always, accompanies the rejection of deep questioning, and extensive reading, and intense discussion and debate, because the pursuit of the conventional, even cliche symbols of success trump all of those other "human activities."
The "good life" welcomes critical self-examination, and opens to extensive exploration of the views, opinions and imagination of others of different views, coming from different circumstances; the good life also walks along the same streets as both poor and rich, and takes note of the faces, and the attitudes and the vocabulary coming from both the body and the larynx of all people along the way. The "good life" has known the excruciating pain of hunger, and the hopelessness of no income, no prospects and no phone calls of support or offers of work. The "good life" knows those people living on the other side of the tracks as people, as fellow journeyers on this pilgrimage and knows their hopes and their fears and their sicknesses.
The "good life" knows about the wife who gains hundreds of pounds in order to be unattractive to her new husband whom she has just learned would prefer pornography to intimacy with her.
The "good life" knows about the clergy's wife who pitched the high-heeled shoe at her husband's head, when he entered her hospital room, immediately after the birth of their eighth child, and spoke sternly, "From now on, you will sleep in the basement!"
The "good life" knows about the hidden secrets of others, especially his own, and especially those of the people who are in 'power' positions, because it is the very pursuit of power that has left many of those people scratching their heads at their own ambivalence, ambiguity, dividedness and vulnerability.
And the children in New York schools need a chancellor who knows about their life, not from textbooks, but from his/her own life experiences.  Clearly Ms Black does not meet those criteria.
And the likelihood that those in power will select more and more of those with wealth to fill more and more posts grows, just as the line between the legislator and the corporate sponsorships that pay the bills for their campaigns blurs the clear thinking, and even the ethical decision-making capacity of the benefactors of the corporate largesse, which is not really altruistic but motivated purely by self-interest.
And as self-interest breeds with self-interest, the emotional, psychological and cultural gap between the haves and the have-nots grows with it. And soon, with the exponential growth in numbers of hungry, and homeless and uneducated and "misunderstood" poor children, not to mention "not-understood" by the rich administrators, that gap will ignite sparks of long-repressed alienation and those perfect and perfectly rich administrators will be unable to cope with the tsunami, except by rendering it "unlawful".
Ordinary people, without massive means, and without inherited or even earned privilege, with their normal and frequently painful and tragic lives are the leaven for all human enterprises. And they (we) are not impressed by the importation of "rich" overseers whose lives do not and will not intersect with our lives.
And we are not about to change to become one of them, because we know all too well, the gifts of our ordinariness, and would not give that up for a winfall of billions.
And Michael Bloomberg and his crowd do not now, and will not in the future, know what I am talking about.
And this is fine with me and all of the millions of ordinary "poor" folks, who count our own stories and our many tragedies as our "museum platinum pieces" and not the million-dollar jewellery.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard leaves in disgrace over affair

By Rossi DiManno, Toronto Star, Novemerb 26, 2010
Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard allegedly made love to a woman in uniform — or, presumably, out of uniform — and some people are tossing around the prospect of rotting behind bars: consecutive maximum sentences that could, theoretically, add up to 40 years before the mast, hoisted by his own petard....

It’s preposterous, of course....
Although the no-nookie directive is not mentioned in the Defence Act, what exists is a policy forbidding romance or sex between deployed soldiers — even married personnel — when posted overseas....

From my own nocturnal meanderings around KAF, the huge military base outside Kandahar city, I can emphatically report that this is not a policy directive being followed to the letter — at least not judging from the amorous sounds filtering out of tents and Quonset huts.

Let’s get realistic here: Far from home, living in close quarters, physically fit men and women coping with boredom punctuated by the occasional sharp up-tick of adrenalin and the very real threat of danger, it is entirely human nature to seek out comforts of the flesh.
Proscriptions against physical intimacy may be intended to safeguard morale — or so the tall forehead brass claim — but the opposite is true in practice; a good fraternizing snog can do wonders for esprit de corps. Further, because the ban has never been tested in court, it’s entirely possible the no-sex rule could run afoul of freedom of association rights in the Canadian charter.
Menard’s sin, the reason they’re throwing the book at him, clearly derives from the über-offence of shagging down — the general and the master-corporal, with its implicit aye-aye-sir power dynamics.
Ms DiManno's perspective, while "spot-on," will not prevent the rising star of the Canadian military from formally departing from further service in the forces.
There is something very foul in the whole affair.
  • That it was so publicized, even through a Candian Forces Press Release;
  • That the Kandahar base, according to DiManno, is full of conjugal relationships, presumably of the peer-to-peer and the higher rank-lower rank variety, with both genders involved;
  • That the matter of sexual relations is a matter for criminal code inclusion at all, except in non-consenting situations when it surely does belong
  • That someone had to be "anxious" to bring the affair to the attention of the "brass" for whatever reasons that will remain a closed file;
  • And, if further investigation were ever to be permitted, one might find a different kind of motive...one just perhaps of jealousy or revenge.
There is a cultural tradition in the military's stereotypical position. It comes from the church's long-standing contempt for intimacy outside of the boundaries of marriage.
And this contempt is not restricted to the church's view of morality. It has been brought in all its RED-LETTER glory into several other hierarchical organizations. And the last twenty-five or thirty years of feminism, linked to the hierarchical nature of many pyramidal structures, casts a spurious eye on anything close to intimacy between members of those structures. In many cases, since men were in positions of "power" they were considered, by many feminists, to be "taking advantage of their "lower-ranking" female partners, when both parties could and in many cases were, fully consenting adults.
The real consequences of this "prohibition" like those of all other prohibitions of natural human behaviour, is that those seeking to engage in prohibited liaisons will do so, under both the risk of being discovered and the punishment(s) that flow from that discovery, even if both parties were adult and consenting.
Both the culture and the institutions that believe they are charged with the burden of representing the highest standards in any culture would do well to review the observations of Lionel Tiger, anthropologist from Rutgers University in his book, The Manufacture of Evil.
It is possible that we have been systematically misled about our morality from the very beginning. Why should God have interfered with Eden as he did, evidently for the dual offences of sexual awareness (sexual anxiety again!) and empirical scepticism, that forbidden fruit? And why blame poor Adam, whom after all God made? And why was what happened in Eden the "Fall"? And why were Adam and Eve so harshly and disproportionately ridiculed for their sexual frisson? Were not those perplexingly pleasureable nerve endings in their genitalia there for a purpose? Was orgasm an accidental spasm, which happened to be so mightily pleasing that (later on when churches got going) its occurrence or not could be held up as a measure of obedience to God?

This is mad. No wonder practitioners of the morality trades have so enthusiastially separated man from animal, culture from nature, devotion from innocence. If morality is natural, then you don't need priests as much as you're likely to enjoy being informed by scientists. If morality is a biological phenomenon, then it is merely insulting to harass mankind for its current condition because of an historic Fall in the past and a putative Heaven in the future. When spirituality became a special flavour and ceased being fun, when mystical congregation and speculation became instead a matter of bare knees on cold stone and varying renunciations; when involvement with the seasons and the other subtle rhythms of nature became formalized into arbitrary rituals governed by functionaries, then the classical impulse for moral affiliation became translated into something else: into a calculation of ethical profit and loss supervised by an accountant Church and a demanding God. A new tax was born. The tithe. Ten percent for the first agents.(p.32-33)

One has to wonder if the theologians, and the brass of the Canadian military establishment, and the leaders of the churches have thought about what Tiger is writing. Perhaps some have, and have not taken the matter further because to do so would be to bring contempt from the rafters of the hierarchical establishment.
Unless and until the natural and the moral are respectfully linked in their own unique intimacy all "establishments" will suffer continuing ignominy from their prosecution of 'affairs of the heart' that do not fit their definition of obedience, loyalty and trust.
And more men and women of high calibre will quietly leave their callings, thereby removing considerable talent, energy, imagination and service from the ranks of those bureaucracies.

Fox North Gets License...sadly!

By the Canadian Press, in Toronto Star, November 26, 2010
The CRTC has given the green light to Sun TV’s new conservative 24-hour television news service.

The federal regulator’s approval was considered a sure thing after Quebecor Inc. dropped its request for a special licence that would have required cable and satellite carriers to offer the service.
Quebecor has previously announced it wants the network —sometimes called Fox News North because of its pre-announced conservative slant — to begin airing Jan. 1.
The CRTC said it was granting the network a Category 2 specialty service licence for five years.
That means the new station will need to negotiate with cable and satellite carriers for a place in their line-up.
Now the PM will have his own "private" network on which to air his propaganda, just like Palin and Beck and all the other right-wing nuts south of the border. Just what the Canadian air waves needs, a constant barrage of neo-con propaganda not even vaguely disguised as news.

Liberal Party "Service Canada," Part 2

We have all heard the phrase, "retail politics," about the concept of politicians and their respective parties meeting, greeting, and listening to the thoughts, feelings, beliefs and hopes and fears of the electorate, when the writ has been issued for the election.
And we have also heard that ordinary people, members of a political party, show up only when they are moved to support or reject a candidate, a policy or a cluster of proposals. So the graph of policial contributions, and policy and candidate recruitment would be rather flat for years between elections, and then spike a few weeks or months prior to the election.
While there are advantages for both citizens and political parties with that graph, the country is not served as well as it would be with a longer and more sustained "participaction"....
And, we all know that a mere 2% of this country considers itself a member of a political party...really a sad statistic. And we all know that much of political involvement is "thankless" to say the least. Nevertheless, if there ever were a time when political membership, and political activism, and political contributions needed a shot of adrenalin, it is the convergence of both the current national and geopolitical situations, right now, that such a shot is necessary.
And, while the Liberal Party of Canada has suffered ignominiously, through "paper-bag" cash scandals, and leadership changes, there is no doubt its phoenix-rise from its own ashes is both necessary and worthy of considerable individual and collective effort.
"Service Canada" for those unfamiliar, is based on a text entitled "Service America" in which the authors proposed specific measures for small and medium-sized businesses to "service" their clients. Although the proposals were made some two decades ago, the business of politics is nothing, if not the ultimate "service business."
It relies on those who generate the ideas, and the door-knockings and the letter writings and the phone calls, and now the e-mails, and the policy proposals and the fund-raising to not only "provide" those services, but to actually access "service" as well. And in order to accomplish those specific goals, one needs not only to believe in the direction of the party, and its official spokespeople, and also the potential of those people to generate enthusiasm among independent and disaffected and cynical and sceptical citizens. And in order for that to become feasible, there has to be more than a "bus tour" of barbecues to sustain the effort.
A bus tour generates some "media" stories, but little real activity that captures the imagination and the hearts of those who still consider themselves spectators to the process.
We do not need a Liberal policy conference in Montreal, for example, once every four years; we need a Liberal think tank in every province, and in some provinces more than one, with franchised outlets generating public lectures and book signings and television interviews and listening opportunities that generate new ideas, and new proposals and new ways of both doing the party and of doing the country's business.
And we need an infrastructure that supports that "franchised" think-tank operation. We all know that service clubs are having trouble, generally, recruiting new memberships, as are churches. Nevertheless, we also know that franchises like Tim Horton's with over 3000 outlets across the country, are thriving as hubs of discussion, and as hubs of little communities of various interests and they are one of this country's best business models.
Retail politics when there is a growing "regionalism" and a potential decline, if not already realized, in the esteem and in the cache and in the effective instrumentality of the federal government to actually govern, needs retail outlets, even if they spring up in living rooms of interested hosts across the country where dialogue and even mentoring for new candidates and generation of new ideas, relationships and dollars can occur.
I once submitted a proposal to a neophyte board of a non-profit, detailing some goals that needed attention. While fund-raising was near the top, the "building of relationships" was at the very top. And to my chagrin, and disappointment, the accountants in the group immediately glanced at that section of the report's proposals, and commented, "Oh well, there is nothing here that you want us to do, is there?"
And my heart and my hopes and my energies and even my commitment to the organzation plummeted. It was only through the "building of relationships" that all of the other goals, including fund-raising, were going to be accomplished. And if the "board" were not interested in that somewhat abstract and somewhat immeasureable and intangible goal of building relationships with the various individuals and constituencies connected to the project, there was no way a single "executive" or co-ordinator would ever be able to accomplish the needed revival of the project's future. Ironically, we all know that it is the relationships that will endure long after the engagement with the project, or the party, has ended...so why do we consider this aspect to be so unimportant!
Similarly, the culture of the Liberal party has not been to build relationships, except perhaps with giant donors, and with those who can obviously make a difference in the profile of the candidate and the party when it is needed. And that culture has to change.
The Liberal Party has, right now, the opportunity to transform itself into the most effective "service" provider in Canadian history. And in order to do that, it will have to take off the "suits" and the platform rhetoric and the detachment and the boardroom culture that may have served it very well, and move to a "Timmy" attitude, in which every human encounter is potentially another great step forward in this project called nation building. And that attitude has to accompany each and every letter, and every e-mail and every phone call that all members in all constituencies and regions in the country enter into. We have to renew our commitment to the street and the needs of the people living both on the street, and in the houses on the streets in every village and town and suburb and city.
We have to build bridges between rural and urban, and between young and old, and between east and west and between and among various ethnicities by bringing them together in living rooms, (yes with Timmy's timbits and coffee if desired) and discussions and active listening, a skill that needs to be taught in every interview with every new party member. It is not only the policy positions that matter to Canadians; it is the question of whether those who represent us know and care about what we think, and feel and hope and fear. And it is those intimate hopes and fears that form the kernels of policy papers. And in order to write the policy papers, those writing them need the intimate details of the hopes and fears of those willing to share.
And so we have to drop the mantle of the intellect, at the front end, in order to listen to the hidden meanings from the ordinary people, that can translate into a national direction and policy proposals.
And we need much more than "polling" to accomplish that end.
In fact, it is when and how we use polling that has to change. People have grown cynical about both the exercise and the professionals engaged in the profession. It has become too invasive, and to slick and too profit-centered.
And too dehumanized!
It needs to be used only after the policy proposals have been generated, and the informal relationships have 'vetted' the proposals.
And people, everywhere are starving to be listened to, to  be heard, and to be thinking of and seeing themselves as "making a difference" and that difference cannot be tokenism.
If we can generate volounteers to re-build Haiti, and Angola and Somalia, perhaps the next generations of volunteers can be trained by the Liberal Party of Canada through the provision of real service and real learning and real opportunity for making a difference right here at home.
And the needs of this country are legion. As is the potential of its people. And the Liberal Party can and must become, once again, a vehicle for the unpacking and the release of that energy both in its own interests and in the interests of the country and the globe.
As others have said, "The world needs more of Canada" and the traditions of the Liberal Party of Canada are in great need of being unlocked and released  here at home and around the world.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Liberal Party "Service Canada" proposal

By Robert Silver, Globe and Mail, November 23, 2010
Who are our target voters? This drives me crazy. If you want to pick up 5 per cent more support, isn’t a reasonable first step to stop and ask yourself “who makes up that 5 per cent”? If your answer is “women” or “Ontarians” let me give you a clue – too broad, you can’t call 40 or 52 per cent of the electorate a target group. I’m not suggesting that we need to go quite as far as the Conservative Party in terms of micro-targeting or psychographic segmentation but the Liberal Party of 2010 has no idea what our winning voter coalition is never mind who our next 5-per-cent slice of the electorate might be. We still act as if the winning coalitions from 1968, 1980 or even 1993 exists today.
 Who are our current voters? This drives me just as crazy. The Liberal Party elites do not understand our own current supporters. They don’t understand who they are or their views on a whole range of issues. They think they do – are absolutely convinced of it – but they don’t. This is the single largest reason we can’t raise money as a party. That’s different from saying the only reason but it is the biggest one.
Mr.  Silver, among other things, seems quite disenchanted by the "elites" in the Liberal party. I would be extremely concerned that the "elites" would be in charge of the party. This concept of "elites" is so offensive, and so contrary to the principles of democracy and so endemic to most political parties, that it turns new-comers and any potential new donors off, from contributing and from policy participation.
In each city and town across the country, everyone knows who is part of the "Liberal party machine" and in each of these towns and cities, that very fact discourages new membership, and it may be that those inside the "circle" of the elites are relatively unconscious of their capacity to block new memberships.
A few new candidates will generate support from new-comers to the party, just because they, themselves, are also relatively new, and not completely identified with the "party machine" although I have noticed that in order to have "credibility" with the party "establishment" one has to serve at least five years in a riding executive before earning some kind of unspoken and unwritten "stripes" of apprenticeship.
And yet, new-comers may have  earned "stripes" in more than one professional career, and be willing to bring those credentials into the party, if invited; however, it is Liberal Party "stripes" that are the only ones that count, with most party executives.
How sad, especially when the party is in desperate need of new blood, new ideas, new policies, and more than a few new dollars.
No political party can have it both ways: that is, continue to regard some as "insiders" (the elite) and some as "outsiders" those whose membership is less than one year old, and at the same time, continue to pitch to new people both to join and to contribute dollars to the party coffers. These two concepts are mutually exclusive, and it does not take a philadelphia lawyer to recognize their mutual exclusion.
In a recent nomination contest, several comments were bandied about by party members that "X candidate joined the party only months before the nomination" and "Y candidate is not a home-brew"....if those comments were to be turned into headlines, that would be devastating to the political party in question. Naive me, I actually thought that we might evaluate candidates on their "merit" not on their place of birth or the longevity of their party affiliation. If that were still the case, in 1968, Pierre Trudeau would never have become Prime Minister.
When are the political parties, those vehicles that carry the policies and the hopes of the next generation, going to come to terms with the fact that "former establishments" have to give way to contemporary conditions. Party loyalties no longer go back three or four generations. A recent comment heard by this observer sounds like this: "I have worn a red tie all my life (the man is in his mid-forties) and I will never wear one again!" (Red Tie, in his mind, is symbolic of membership and loyalty to the Liberal Party, and in his case, it was to the provincal wing of the party the he referred.)
One of the skills needed by the Liberal party, and presumably all other political parties, is that of community building. It may sound like nothing important to many who think and believe that as long as the numbers of memberships and dollars continue to grow to keep pace with the need for political success, there is no need to build community. That is not the same thing as "family" as Mr. Silver states above.
In a community, no one has a monopoly on good ideas; and no one has a monopoly on access to those in the executive of the party, locally, provincially or nationally. No one has more influence on party direction at the grass roots level than anyone else. Call this view "polyanna" if you like; nevertheless, every political party needs a constant, vibrant and vital, and constantly monitored system for inquiring into the nuanced thinking of its members, and those making decisions about all matters facing the party need to pay close attention to the data coming into party headquarters.
I recently attended a nomination meeting where five excellent candidates were offering their names as potential candidates. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the federal leader of the party was not present, to say a few words, to shake a few hands, and to make his pitch for those dollars that will be necessary not only to sustain his leadership but also to sustain the party in the fight with the Liberal-HATING prime minister, whose party coffers will be filled in part because of his well-known contempt for the Liberal brand.
There is literally NO EXCUSE for such an oversight! The party leadership has to be scrupulous about attending to such details, and if the oversight was that the leader was not invited, then the local officials need to count themselves "ashamed of such oversight."
Our expectations of new government, provided by the National Liberal Party, are real and extraordinarily high. We simply must have a new government, and we simply must remove Harper and his band of power-hungry, deceptive neo-cons and restore some confidence among the whole range of Canadian people in the future of this country, for their children and their grandchildren....and that means paying very close attention to all Canadians, in a disciplined, formal and informal manner.
And the technology has never been more available, more accessible to more people, and more adaptable to the constant flow of thoughts, feelings, beliefs and debate...and the flow of that "data stream" does not have to be available in the public arena. It can remain private to those who are members in good standing...Even groups like Salon.com have their own "open blog" site, and a similar site would be very useful to the Liberal Party. But that does not reduce or eliminate the need for face-to-face encounters, affordable, provocative and structured on measureable results.
Failure of the party to accomplish these intermediate goals will go a long way to ensuring the failure of the party to take power in the House of Commons in Ottawa. And the country simply cannot stand that!
"Customer Service" as envisaged by the proponents of a video conference in the late 1980's from the University of Tennessee, could serve as Customer Service 101 for the Liberal Party of Canada. And the benefits would go a long way to enhancing membership numbers, confidence and participaction.

Women political candidates tell their male opponents to "man-up"...UGH!

Just happened to listen for a few moments to a conversation between Chris Matthews of MSNBC, Joan Walsh of Salon.com and Michelle Bernard on "Hardball" yesterday. The subject was "sexual politics" and the 'set-up' pieces were about women candidates in the recent election campaign "calling out" their male opponents in phrases like "man-up" or "be a man" or "be a real man"....
I was struck by the observation of Ms Walsh who was appalled by such phrases, because, as she put it, women have tried very hard to be judged in politics on their merit, and have tried to keep their sexuality out of the debate, and here were women candidates judging the "masculinity" of their male counterparts.
I have often observed that the question of whether a candidate, especially for president, was "man enough" was crucial to the republican constituency. That party prides itself on being strong in the public eye on national security and keeping the military strong, both qualities traditionally considered masculine qualities, and at the same time, that party has painted the democrats as 'weak' on national security and strong on something called the 'nanny state' in which the government did too much to protect the citizens, acting too much like the stereotypical 'nanny'.
The republicans also take pride, traditionally, in providing legislation that would keep the rich, rich and even grow that wealth exponentially, a kind of after-school competition to replace the stereotypical football successes of adolescence.
The republicans have been quite successful, for example, in painting John Kerry in 2004, as "unmanly" for his protest against the VietNam war, even though he fought valiantly as an American soldier in that war. They also painted him as "wishy-washy" because he misspoke, "I was 'for' the Iraq war before and now I am against it" as if that kind of indecision was a weakness, and he was therefore not 'fit' for the White House, when everyone knows that politicians change their minds with new evidence all the time.
When a female republican candidate uses a phrase like "man-up" to stimulate her opponent to "tell the truth" she is counting on a cultural resiliency that understands her real, although underlying inference, "that he is not a real man, that he is a wimp, that he is not to be trusted."
The culture is now filled with commercial sales messages for various drugs for men who struggle with their masculinity. These drugs include names like Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis, and there is a well-known stereotypical joke about men "not being able to perform" effectively in bed, just as there has been in high school phys-ed classes in the male showers, about the size of a young boy's "junk" to use a word currently bandied about in the 'pat-down' controversy in airports. 
There are also a plethora of commercials, for different products, portraying men as 'idiots', 'dumbsters' 'clutzes' and simpletons as a way of perpetuating the stereotype of male incompetence. The Berenstain Bears children's books were ones I refused to read to my three daughters when they were pre-schoolers for that very reason.
While it is very true that men who try too hard to demonstrate their invulnerability and their (our) caring can and often do go "too far" in their attempt, and render ourselves comical and clutzy and highly imperfect and vulnerable, men, as a gender, struggle with the perceptions of derision and even contempt for weakness of any kind, from our own gender. Nothing is more hurtful than a male being named "unmanly" by another male, in whatever form that might take. It is the unforgiveable sin, in masculine culture.
It is males who hate gay men, not women; it is males who perpetuate the myth of the 'invulnerable' and therefore strong man. It is males who have an DNA-held need for expressing our power and our strength, and we often do that in ways, that upon reflection, we wish we hadn't.
But just think of the current situation, with women calling out men for their lack of masculinity in political debates from the reverse perspective...what would happen if men turned the tables and told their female political opponents to "woman-up" meaning to be "more like a traditional woman"?....there would be 72 point headlines screaming of sexism, and the candidate who actually uttered such a statement would be forced to withdraw.
We have come a long way in our political discourse when the public airwaves can be and are dedicated to the discussion of the public put-downs of males for their lack of masculinity...and it is not a place from which we will emerge quickly or easily.
Power is the essence of the game of politics, and the winner does indeed take all, and whatever it takes to be the winner, in the election, like whatever it takes to take home the largest paycheck on Wall Street, goes.
And in the game of corporate profits, another of the measuring sticks of success and power and invulnerability and, by inference, masculinity, the corporate profit figures for the third quarter in the U.S. reached $1.6 trillion dollars, the highest in history, so at least for a few, the recession is over.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

N-S Korea exchange fire as part of global power play

By Paul Koring, Globe and Mail, November 23, 2010
(The Koring piece outlined today's Korean skirmish as a failure of non-proliferation)
For decades, the big powers have tried, and failed, to keep rogue states and regional actors from secretly building nuclear arsenals, usually under the guise of power generation.

Only five nations – Britain, China, France, the United States and Russia – the victorious Second World War allies who appointed themselves as the only legal possessors of nuclear weapons, are supposed to have them.
But the actual list is far longer; starting with India, which used Canadian-supplied technology to build its first atomic bomb, followed by Israel, Pakistan and North Korea.
“The old, nonproliferation regime just didn’t work,” said Anthony Seaboyer, head of the Proliferation and Security Research Unit at Queen’s University in Kingston.....
“How will the world be able to stop Iran if it can’t stop North Korea,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said yesterday. “North Korea is part of an axis of evil together with Iran and Syria whose close co-operation includes nuclear distribution, missile and combat capabilities.”

If it is true that North Korea has significantly updated its resources to enrich uranium, and is on its way to building even more nuclear weapons (it already has 7 or 8), and today's artillery shots are a "finger" to the world saying, "Just try to stop us!" and if the more macro issue is how the world will respond to this defiance, then the question of Iran's defiance of world opinion cannot be excluded from analysis of the Korean North-South reciprocal shellings.
Rogue states' determination to possess nuclear weapons, without any sign of a reasonably effective plan to stop them, leaves us all in a very dangerous position. (Duh!) Rogue states can and will find other "rogues" who seek to do damage, and will acquire access to those weapons at any price.
If Israel's Foreign Minister Lieberman is asking the right question, "How will the world be able to stop Iran if it can't stop North Korea?" and if he is also right in linking Iran, Syria and North Korea in a conspiracy "including nuclear distribution, missile and combat capabilities," then it is incumbent on all world leaders to provide a unified, coherent and enforceable strategy to stop that endeavour. And this effort, while far more complex and far more dangerous and also far more difficult to enact than airplane "security scanning," seems even more urgent in a global cauldron of boiling "pots" of existential proportion, than it might have in 1953 when the Korean Armistice was signed, but not a peace treaty betwen North and South Korea.
The number of members of the nuclear club has grown; it now includes India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea (Libya, and Brazil and Iraq having abandoned their programs, along with South Africa) along with the original five: Britain, China, France, the United States and Russia.
Military, and quasi-military attacks have been carried out by small cells of terrorists, funded by a variety of sources, and these cells are waiting with baited breath, to get their hands on a nuclear device. We already know that nuclear capability has been shared, under the table, and unofficially, and the level of santions, for example against Pakistan's nuclear "expert" (Dr. Khan) for such activity is merely "house arrest".
Let's hope that this latest exchange of artillery, killing at least two South Korean soldiers, following the sinking of a South Korean ship by the North, is considered another "shot across the bow" of the conscience and the conscious joint political will of the world community, as it prepares for hard-nosed negotiation in the
six party talks over North Korea, not the bilateral talks with the U.S. that Kim Jong Il and his young son, the new "leader" seem to be leveraging toward.

Stability AND Justice necessary in Afghanistan

By James Travers, Toronto Star, November 23, 2010
One of Afghanistan’s two big secrets is now out in the open. No matter how many deadlines NATO sets for withdrawal, the country will be hugely dependent on the international community far into the future.

Long whispered behind closed doors, that dark reality poked through the predictably sunny forecasts of the latest summit. It was couched as a warning to the Taliban that merely waiting in the weeds until NATO departs in 2014 won’t secure a default victory. But the caveat that circumstances, not time, will ultimately determine when western forces leave also obliquely acknowledges what is now obvious: Afghanistan is many years, if not many decades, away from standing steadily alone.
In the short run, Afghanistan is the place where young men and women in the Canadian military go to serve one or more deployments, some of them never to return, some to return wounded and all who do return will have been changed forever by the experience. We see a country ripe with corruption, ripe with poppies and heroine production and an illicit drug trade, ripe with the sound of sloshing U.S. dollars making their way into the pockets of the same people with whom they are fighting, and ripe with a failed, or certainly failing government. And we see no end either to the fighting, or to the half-baked "nation-building" efforts of the U.S. and NATO while AlQaeda has moved into the northern provinces of Pakistan, where they have found "cover" once again.
Now NATO has declared an end to combat in 2014, when we in North American believed the Canadian military commitment was to end in 2011. And the Canadian government announces a changed mission from combat to "training." And, presumably, if fired upon, Canadians will be empowered to return the fire.
At what point do NATO and the countries subscribing to this latest "plan" run out of dollars and political and national/international will to continue to prop this country up? Of course, if we leave, the Taliban who were in power when Al Qaeda did much of its terror, will return to power. Of course, the conflict and the nation- building in that country will be compounded by competing interests from Iran, possibly even North Korea and other rogues who will do whatever it takes to find a theatre for their dangerous war games. Failed states attract the least civilized players, just as failed communities attract the most unseemly human elements, playing on the tragedy they find in those failures.
As countries like Ireland, and Portugal teeter on the brink of an broken "balance sheet" and that list grows to include the U.S. with its mounting debt and deficit, both fiscally and also politically (as the country veers towards being "ungovernable", being held hostage as it is to selfish Republican political interests), and the G8/G20, the U.N. and the several other "national groupings" seem relatively powerless to move the international community towards collaboration in the face of extremely complex and competing and relentless forces, it is not hard to see both a rise in geopolitical turbulence and a fall in confidence everywhere that there is a resolution, or a period of relative stability on the horizon.
As one reporter put it, when speaking about the investigation of the Lebanese president's assassination, "perhaps there will be stability or justice, but not both" inferring that justice will provoke instability, and the price of stability in that country will be continuing injustice, with no prosecution of those responsible for the murder of Hariri.
The injustice of the attacks, presumbably with more to come, from the terrorists, whether they are planned in Yemen, Florida, Germany or Afghanistan, or anywhere else, as the forces of terror seek to recruit those who do not fit the "profile" as envisaged by the counter-terrorist agencies, is accompanied by increasing instability on all fronts. And the failure to bring both justice and an end to the terror, in all of its many forms, continues to generate instability, a decline in confidence that political forces, both national and international will become ever more impotent to deal effectively with the "cancer" of terrorism, the future we might leave to our grandchildren seems less than hopeful.
And when we add the complexity of the Pakistan polarities of both a "failed state" and a virtually un-commandable military complete with nuclear weapons, and the proximity of that state to AlQaeda how can we have confidence that such a tinderbox will not suddenly "go off" in flames for which there is no political fire department equipped to put them out?
This story in this morning's New York Times does not enhance confidence either:
KABUL, Afghanistan — For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.
“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pat-down's and potential immunity from murder

American anger at "invasive" pat-downs for the purpose of "national security" leads the evening news, two days before some 20 million people will board airplanes in the U.S. for Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, in this climate of spending some $170, 000 for each of 490 body scanners, by the Homeland Security Department is also bringing into question both the expenditures and their effectivemess, given that the current scanners will not disclose bombs hidden in body cavities.
So, Americans dispute what degree of invasiveness they will permit the government to carry out in the name of national security.
In the Middle East, according to CBC News, The National's reporter, Neil Macdonald, the blood of the assassination of former the Lebanese president seems to be at least pointing to, if not actually coming to rest on, the hands of Hezbollah, and any attempt to prosecute those who carried out the dastardly murder could lead to another civil war in that country. The single investigator who conducted much of the relevant and cogent research into the cell phone networks behind the assassination has been murdered, after only two meetings with U.N investigators into the death, although the U.N. commission had his report for over a year, but had apparently "lost it" and had failed to take it seriously enough to meet with him earlier.
While there are still many details of this event and its investigation still to emerge, with the jxtaposition of these two stories, the American flap over invasive screenings as compared to the potential impotence of the U.N Commission to "indict" those respsonsible for the Hariri murder, and the likelihood of their extended immunity from prosecution, one has to ask, "Are the terrorists really winning this long-term, many-stage and multiple-theatre entanglement(s) with the rest of the world?"
  • If the U.N. officials are intimidated by the threats of Hezbollah should they prosecute, and
  • if those who would be responsible to enforce the potential court judgement are impotent to carry out such a judgement, and
  • if it is true that both Syria and Iran secretly supported Hezbollah in this act as in many other destabilizing, under-cover operations,
then, what is the U.S. doing providing another "theatre of the absurd" among airline passengers, while the rest of the world watches the real efforts of avowed terrorists to sabotage both justice and all attempts to stop their vengeance? It is not, to be sure, insignificant that U.S. officials want their airlines to be safe. And so do American patrons of those airlines. Yet, in the long run, are we bending our efforts in an exaggerated manner, while turning a blind eye and ear and political collaborative muscle to the blatant commitment of murder?
And, is the Chief of Security, under President Hariri, and a public "friend of the now deceased leader, the source of the many leaks from the U.N. Commission to Hezbollah itself?
Stay tuned.

Iranian guest on CNN's GPS...obfuscation with an Iranian accent

 Mohammed Javad Larijani, head of Iran's commission on Human Rights, appeared on CNN's GPS with Fareed Zakaria, to tell the world, yesterday, that when the President of his country speaks of "wiping Israel off the map" he really means that Israeli policies are very destructive and need to change, with respect to the Palestinians.
And this mathematician, brother of the Speaker of the parliament and brother to the chief justice and son of a former powerful ayatollah, (the family Zakaria referred to as 'the Kennedy's of Iran') must have been schooled by George Orwell, he of newspeak fame, in which all words mean the opposite of their stated meaning.
"War is Peace," the heinous slogan from Orwell's novel, Nineteen eighty-four, lept to my mind as I listened to this very articulate and very 'smiling' and obviously very 'coached' spokesman who was visiting the United Nations to 'inform' that auguste body of the real situation concerning human rights in Iran.
Not being schooled in diplomatic double-speak, this observer could not help but wonder what kind of helium this man was breathing, so thin was his logic, and so thin was his credibility when he said things like, 'of course there is protest in a real democracy' (when referred to the massive street protests at the results of the election of the current president).
If you think the U.S. president has a significant problem in dealing with the Republicans over the next two years, (they have pointedly and deliberately and openly declared their intent to make Obama a one-term president), then compare that with the possibility of having to discuss anything with the likes of this man from Iran. I would not only want my back covered in a conversation with such as he; I would want "all sides" covered, as I wore clothes with no pockets, for obvious reasons.
Fortunately, Zakaria knew that he would get no serious and credible responses to his inquiries, so he moved gracefully from one file to another, leaving the guest hanging in the empty wind of his own larynx.
"Punishment" must be seen from a cultural perspective"...in reference to the impending death by stoning of an Iranian woman for adultery.
"Why not?" when asked if the U.S. and Iran could eventually come to the table to discuss issues, "after the U.S. accepts that Iran is a powerful and influential country in the region and respects that reality."
"It is not in our interest to attack any country"...in response to the question, "Can you declare unequivocally that Iran will not attack Israel?"
Is this what is looks and sounds like when you open a large bag of "information" only to discover a bag full of rhetorical carbon monoxide on international television?

November 22: Reflections on America

Today is the forty-seventh anniversary of the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, shot by an assassin's bullet on the streets of Dallas. It was on this date, in 1963, that another teacher knocked on the door of my classroom, in a private school and called  me out of class to share the horrible news. Neither of us could believe what we were saying. And then I looked out the window to a lone student, walking with the nightmare, the only American student in the school, and that picture of this tall, blonde grade twelve student almost ghost-like at the death of his president, will haunt me forever, as it has these forty-seven years.
I have visited the graves of both JFK and his brother RFK in Arlington Cemetery, and wondered, in my private space, what might have been, had we been able to watch the rest of his first, and perhaps a second term of his presidency.
His was the first inaugural address I had ever listened to, from an American president, on a cold, clear day in January, 1961, when I was in my second year at university. We gathered in the common room of the then exclusively male residence, in front of a black-and-white television, all somewhat mesmerized by the sound of his voice, and by the sound and cadence of the voice of Robert Frost, he of "The Road Less Travelled" fame.
And, to think that the death of JFK was considered a "loss of innocence" for America, and for my generation; we had not seen anything yet, especially the event of 9/11 and the ensuing aftermath. In this half century, we have watched as others, including Johnson (LBJ) and Nixon and Ford and Carter and Reagan, then Bush (41), Clinton, Bush (42) and now Obama have attempted to deal with the American political landscape, including the most militarily armed society in history, and the most "powerful" and at the same time, one of the most vulnerable, given the extreme parochialism of the people within its borders.
America is not only a neighbour and ally to Canada, she is a benchmark of what Leonard Cohen calls the home of the "best and the worst" (in his "Democracy is Coming to America").
And on this anniversary date, we are "treated" to one of the most anachronistic and out-of-touch statements by the current resident of St. Peter's in Rome, Benedict XVI, that "condoms might be permitted for male prostitutes, to prevent the spread of AIDS. As Stephen Lewis, the U.N. point man on AIDS in Africa, says, "He knows nothing about the structural issues of sexuality. There are literally hundreds of thousands of consenting adults engaged in sexuality activity, who are not paying for that sex."
And we reflect on the many cultural and social and psychic "conditions" that have resulted from the church's obviously completely out-of-touch positions on the morality of sexuality, beginning with the story of the Garden of Eden, and the proverbial "fall".
And we have perpetuated that "fall" in our lascivious pursuit of the sex lives of so many people, including JFK, in our to attempt to grasp some modicum of the reality of what we once called Camelot.
The lifetime of our generation almost seems bookmarked by the death of JFK and 9/11 in a narrative that began with "bobby-socks and blue-jeans" and ended with a 24/7 news cycle giving us instant information from every corner of the globe, complete with instant video captured on the palm-held "smart phone" and uploaded for everyone wirelessly.
JFK's flaws, equally as epic as his rhetoric and glamourous image, have required many scholarly tomes both to document them and to help bring America to a kind of reality that resists the unconscious Shadow, and could  resist more easily when the media was more controlled and compliant and dependent on "news" for its very survival.
And in 2010, the youngest brother of the Kennedy clan also rests in Arlington, after one of the longest and certainly one of the most memorable and most documented stories of the U.S. Senate, including his refusal to reconcile with then candidate Carter, following Carter's nomination in 1980.
America is the engine of the corporate "ideology" and modus operandi, for the world, and bigness is its signature. In our youth, we knew only a small and mostly benign part of that bigness, in such symbols as the New York Yankees, and the military bases that patrolled the Arctic, from Canadian sites, and U.S. tourists who flocked to our little "tourist town" on Georgian Bay with their blue-rinse hairdo's and their penny-scrambles for local kids on the town dock from the decks of their "huge" tour boat from Duluth Minnesota, and their Cadillacs and Lincolns, on their way to their summer homes on islands in the "Bay".
Living on the border with the U.S., Canadians are reminded every day of the porous nature of the border, and the huge gap between their knowledge of Canada and the reality of our country, just as there is likely a similar gap in our knowledge of America and its full reality.
They certainly, however, have a larger machine to tell their story to Canadians and to the rest of the world, and while there have been many times when we have found them obnoxious, and pretentious, we have nevertheless learned much from their exuberance, and their energy and their many significant accomplishments, although their relationship with guns does not endear them to the people on the north side of the 49th. Remember that gunshot from the school book depository on that fateful November day in 1963?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Who killed Lebanese President, Hariri, in 2005?

By Neil Macdonald, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, The National, from the CBC website, November 21, 2010
The story concerns the investigation into the 2005 assassination of Lebanese President, Hariri.
Among other things, CBC News has learned that:
•Evidence gathered by Lebanese police and, much later, the UN, points overwhelmingly to the fact that the assassins were from Hezbollah, the militant Party of God that is largely sponsored by Syria and Iran. CBC News has obtained cellphone and other telecommunications evidence that is at the core of the case.
•UN investigators came to believe their inquiry was penetrated early by Hezbollah and that that the commission's lax security likely led to the murder of a young, dedicated Lebanese policeman who had largely cracked the case on his own and was co-operating with the international inquiry.
•UN commission insiders also suspected Hariri's own chief of protocol at the time, a man who now heads Lebanon's intelligence service, of colluding with Hezbollah. But those suspicions, laid out in an extensive internal memo, were not pursued, basically for diplomatic reasons.
Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2010/11/19/f-rfa-macdonald-lebanon-hariri.html#ixzz15ySRuEi3
If McDonald's reporting turns out to be reliable and verifable, and there is no reason to doubt that it will, then all attempts to link Israel with the assassination of the Lebanese leader will have proved both false and scurrilous. That is where Hezbollah has attempted to place responsibility for the violent death.
We will await further evidence on this story, from reliable sources, including the CBC.

America's education "culture" needs to change

By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, November 20, 2010
Tony Wagner, the Harvard-based education expert and author of “The Global Achievement Gap,” explains it this way. There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate.

If you look at the countries leading the pack in the tests that measure these skills (like Finland and Denmark), one thing stands out: they insist that their teachers come from the top one-third of their college graduating classes. As Wagner put it, “They took teaching from an assembly-line job to a knowledge-worker’s job. They have invested massively in how they recruit, train and support teachers, to attract and retain the best.”
And, Mr Friedman, let's not reduce those countries' dedication to excellence in education to "taking teaching from an assembly-line job to a knowledge worker's job." That is, however, true.
What is also true, is that the human being in those countries is not reduced to a "consumer" for political purposes. They have generic value, and the social policy in those countries reflects that generic value, not based exclusively on their "accumulated dollars and investments" nor on their academic achievements, nor on their genetic code, nor on their standing in the community historically. People in these countries do not inherit "social value"; they do not have their social value stored in their Swiss bank accounts; they do not have their social value pasted on their office walls in the form of diplomas; they do not have their social value hanging in their trophy cabinets, from their athletic achievements.
Theirs is not a society dedicated to the "production" of an elite by the elite for the elite so that the top 1% of earners will earn 25% of the nations' wealth, as has become the case in the United States. Their national income distribution is far more equitable.
It will also be very difficult  for the U.S. to marry the generation, support and sustainment of excellent teachers with a long cultural tradition of "independent" "solo fliers" who carry their desire, even their addiction to their own personal freedom so far as to "rack" their guns in the window of their pick-ups and stamp their rear bumpers with stickers reading "this vehicle is insured by Smith and Wesson".
Let's face it, Mr. Friedman, your country is not only sceptical of all learning, and of all real learners, it is downright contemptuous of both the process of learning and those who dedicate themselves to that learning.
Witness the recent rise from both obscurity and from intellectual vacuity, of the Tea Party, whose primary aim is to render one of the most brilliant minds in the history of your country to have become president both a eunuch for the next two years, and a one-term 'phenom' because he is "out of touch" with the American people.
Oh, let's agree that there is a large segment of your population who can be "externally motivated" by dollars to attend school and pass their grades and even perhaps graduate from college. But a "learn to earn" approach, without a fundamental change in the attitudes of the whole society to the enterprise of learning, is a reductionism that will generate a few new and perhaps excellent teachers, and a few more doctoral candidates, but it will not compete with those countries whose commitment to their own long-term health and wellnes, of themselves individually and of their families and communities is part of their DNA.
Just look at the American consumer and consumerism for a moment. Black Friday, later this week, will generate literal stampedes into consumer outlets, that could, once again, result in "death" by stampede, as they clamber for more and more "goods". And just look at the sizes of the American butts that attempt to walk down Mainstreet in most towns and cities and to crowd through the doors of those boxstores. These "butts" are not ready to learn; they are already too tired just trying to move their bodies from one place to another to have any energy left over to learn.
And then, look at your "star" culture, as embodied in your entertainment and sports "stars" and the multiple adolescent magazines and television programs and computer games that support that "star" system.
People who seek to learn, and who commit themselves to learn and who inspire others to commit themselves to learn do not do it for the extrinsic "bobbles" it will generate. They do it because of their commitment to the issue, to themselves and to the learning process.
It cannot and must not be reduced to another "production" equation, generating more PhD's and more consumer revenue and more tax revenue. It must be seen to be a uniquely valuable and valued enterprise, not in the corporate "for-profit" sense.
And unless and until your country changes from the adolescent culture it is, to a far more complex and far more integrous and a far more "collaborative" society, even the skills necessary for the last of the three educational goals will escape achievement, sadly.
And the rest of the world is certainly watching!