Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Parsing convocation addresses in America

By David Brooks, New York Times, May 30, 2011
Today’s graduates are also told to find their passion and then pursue their dreams. The implication is that they should find themselves first and then go off and live their quest. But, of course, very few people at age 22 or 24 can take an inward journey and come out having discovered a developed self.

Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer’s and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn’t in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution.
I happened to hear a portion of the convocation address of Elena Kagan to the graduating class of the University of New Mexico. Her message can be summed up in a few words: "Whatever you do, wherever you go, please give back!"
As an Episcopal clergy, I once asked a mid-forties mother of four what she would really like to do in her life. Her comment literally stunned me: "Oh, if I ever find a half hour to think about that question, I will give you a call with my answer."
Finding yourself, finding your passion...these are  mantra's of the "callings" school of thought...they express the notion, (belief? or principle? or concept?) that there is a calling somewhere for your life. It is a very Oprahfied message, attempting to inspire people to get out of their self-imposed straight jackets, or perhaps straight-hackets jointly imposed by themselves and their choices and the people in their lives, and the jobs or relationships that they find themselves in, and since it sounds so inspiring, those who address graduates glam onto it, in the hope that their audience too will find it inspiring.
Inspiration for new beginnings is the mantra of this time: we have all, to some degree or other, driven into dead-end cul de sacs, in some aspects of our lives, and we need to know 1) that others have also done this and 2) that the vehicle we are driving can turn around, can retrace steps if that is needed and can begin a new journey in another direction with new concepts, and new design and new purposes.
We however, do not like endings that spell or define our failures. And often it is precisely those endings from which we have most to learn. And failure is not the order of graduation day. There will be time enough for that later.
The moment one receives a graduation certificate, a degree, one is really at a crossroads. The graduate has achieved much success , and acquired some of the lessons needed for future achievements. Now, the moment is pregant with possibilities, and why should and would those favoured with the college's invitation to address graduates, not wish to seize upon that moment.
After all it is in the pregancies that new life takes shape. It is in the pregnancies that new hopes and dreams are most likely to feel most real. It is in pregnancies that we come face to face with an actual new life.
And, to some extent, these college speakers, are attemping to midwife all those thousands of pregnancies in front of them. Some will be birthed into a classroom where they will attempt to "e ducere" to lead others out of their inherent skills and talents to their own new birthings. Some will enter a law firm, with a new desk and new files for their rookie minds and insights. Some will take up their stethascope and their Blackberry and march right into the nation's and the world's hospitals to care for those who are sick and dying.
Some will re-enter grad school in order to add a few more layers to their "credentials" and some will be warding off that inevitable jump off the cliff into the unknown of the job market.
Nevertheless, there is a moment both of birth and of drama, and perhaps also of some loss and leaving and parting from the familiar, from friends and colleagues, from professors and deans, from coaches and mentors...and that moment requires some  reflection as well as the wonderment of new horizons.
I think Brooks is a little too stark in his criticism of the convocation speeches he has read, listened to, and perhaps even delivered. I think Brooks also simplifies some of the reasons for any particular career or even educational choice. For most, these choices are fraught with multiple motives, some even in conflict with others and each striving for realization in the concrete daily details of each student's life, at university and beyond.
It was Alfred Lord Tennyson who said some of this best:
All experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move.
Read more: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alfredlord118022.html#ixzz1NxTKLhJC
And let's not let Tennyson dominate the stage. There are others like Einstein .
Someone once asked Albert Einstein which question, among all of his inquiries into the mysteries of the universe, is the most important question to ask. He responded: "Is the universe a friendly place or not?" How we interpret the result of our own lives--and thus how those lives unfold--is largely a function of how we each answer Einstein's question. (Gregg Levoy, Callings, Three Rivers Press, New York, p.264)
Now, let's look at that other side of Brooks' concern: the team aspect of life. It is as true as the truth of today's sunrise and sunset that one can and does and will always learn much from playing with others, from working with, along side, behind and in front of others. And much of that teamwork is written in smaller fonts on our cultural imaginations. We celebrate, in the U.S. and to a lesser extent in Canada, the virtues and the gifts and benefits of "rugged individualism" especially in those generations now considered "boomer". Our's is a generation that were guided into interraction with books, with new thoughts and new experiments. The PhD has to be one of the most lonely and most single-handed and single-minded exercises on the planet. There are, today, more and more scholars working collaboratively on their doctoral thesis. And that can only be a huge breath of fresh air in the academic arena.
Nevertheless, much of a lawyer's work continues to be solitary; much of a teacher's classroom work is primarily solitary; a mother is alone, often, in the decisions of her parenting; a doctor is alone in her office when the patient walks in with a presenting problem. Only later, when the first attempts at addressing the situation have either gone awry, or failed, does the "team approach" really take hold. In the O.R. there is usually always a team, and if the case is complicated enough, more than one lawyer will usually be assigned.
However, capitalism and academic pursuit still champion the individual achievment. These degrees are not given to "group"s or "teams"...they are given to the individual student.
And so, Mr. Brooks, perhaps part of your complaint is with the world of academics, the academe itself.
Could they provide more opportunities for collaboration? Of course. Will they? Uncertain. Should they? Undoubtedly.

Saudi Prince espouses $70-$80 oil on CNN's GPS

By CNN wire staff, from CNN website, May 29, 2011
Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal said Sunday that he wants oil prices to drop so that the United States and Europe don't accelerate efforts to wean themselves off his country's supply.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on "CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS," the grandson of the founding king of modern Saudi Arabia said the oil price should be somewhere between $70 and $80 a barrel, rather than the current level of over $100 a barrel.
"We don't want the West to go and find alternatives, because, clearly, the higher the price of oil goes, the more they have incentives to go and find alternatives," said Talal, who is listed by Forbes as the 26th richest man in the world.
This man is not only among the world's richest, he is also a potential king of his country, Saudi Arabia, a decision he says will be taken by a council of some 40 men in the near future.
If the preferred price is $70-$80 a barrel for world crude, then would the western countries continue their interest in and pursuit of renewable fuels? Not likely.
So, the largest producer and the holder of the largest reserves of crude oil publicly espouses a lower price for a barrel of oil on world markets, in the hope that the rest of the world will continue to buy his country's most valuable resource. How's that for being held "over the barrel" by those most in control of world oil prices?
And we would like to think that our leaders can and do have some influence over the things that are most troublesome to their people! Not a chance!

Lower wages, no security and no benefits...signs of current economic imbalance

If you want to see what's happening to current conditions for workers in this economy, visist your local Loblaws store and learn about the changes happening there.
First, the name Loblaws is being removed from the store, after a long history, probably extending to at least 100 years; and this, so that any contracts with workers, and their unions will imediately become void. By a simple name change, the wages and the benefits that have been paid to workers in these stores for decades, through serious negotiations by both sides, are terminated, and this termination occurs without risk of a lawsuit because there is no more Loblaws.
Jobs will be offered to current employees, but at reduced wage rates and either no or certainly lower benefit packages.
And "the back story" is, of course the WalMart story, where unions are not and will never be tolerated, and where wages and benefits are barely above minimum if there even are benefits, and where a larger percentage of shoppers are purchasing the same products that have been offered by Loblaws since they began operating.
There is a conscientious campaign being conducted by corporate executives in the retail sector on the backs of their workers. There is a determined effort, blatant and with impunity, to emasculate the labour movement, not only in retail but also in other sectors. Job security, benefits, decent wages and a process for negotiating these hard-fought gains on behalf of workers are disappearing like the snow from the recent winter storms, never to re-appear.
So it is not only that there are fewer jobs, but those jobs that do exist, or are re-configured, are not the same as the jobs previously filled by loyal and hardworking employees.
This tragedy will not stop with Loblaws; it will move into other segments of the retail business, and eventually, like a storming microbe, take over the labour situation across North America, at our own peril.
Why is it that European countries continue to have both strong economies, in Germany, for instance, with significant benefit packages for workers, but here they are being stripped away?
All of this happens in a context in which CEO contracts demonstrate a difference of some 300 times that of the average worker, whereas, thirty or forty years ago, that discrepancy was in the teens. What's wrong with this picture? It simply stinks.

Super-bug danger for Ontario hospitals

By Joseph Hall, Toronto Star, May 30, 2011 
It’s a sliver of DNA that turns ordinary bacteria into superbugs and could become a new scourge in Ontario hospitals, one of Toronto’s top infectious disease experts says.
Originating in India and Pakistan, the tiny genetic package can worm its way into the normal bacteria that colonize our bodies by the billions and produce an enzyme that makes them immune to most major antibiotics.
“Our big concern is that if this gets into the hospital setting it really provides us with really a tremendous challenge,” says Dr. Donald Low, head of microbiology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
“It could become another . . . one of our most important superbugs in the sense that there are virtually no antibiotics that are currently on the market that can effectively treat infections,” says Low, who notes it has recently been found in 19 Ontario patients.
Known as New Delhi metallo-B-lactamase-1, or NDM-1, the enzyme poses little threat to the general public, Low stresses.
But in hospital or nursing home settings, where weakened patients are more susceptible to infections or face disease-spreading procedures, it could join the list of ailments like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, that perpetually plague such facilities.
CBC reports on The National that an 86 year old man who has never travelled outside the province of Ontario is carrying the enzyme, indicating that it is now being transferred to patients who have not been exposed to it in either Pakistan or India where it originated. There are, according to the CBC, several patients travelling to those countries for surgical procedures,  in hospitals and clinics there, and that is one of the potential windows by which the enzyme has made its way into Ontario.
Ironic how the very institutions charged with preserving and enhancing human health can become the incubators for such resistant "bugs" that, once they enter those hospitals, it becomes extremely difficult to eradicate them, thereby enhancing the risk to patients whose hospital stay has nothing to do with such a 'bug'.

Quebec will challenge Senate reform in courts: Minister

By John Ibbitson and Rheal Sequin, Globe and Mail, May 30, 2011
Quebec Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau told The Globe and Mail Monday that the federal government’s plans to introduce legislation in June that would set fixed terms for senators and enable provincial governments to hold elections for senators when a seat becomes available would be unconstitutional without provincial consent. Many provinces, Quebec especially, are concerned that elected senators would usurp provincial governments as the foremost representatives of their citizens.

“If legislation is introduced, one of the things we will do is challenge the bill before the Court of Appeal and eventually the Supreme Court of Canada,” he said.
Similar Conservative legislation in the past has been stymied by the opposition parties. But now that the Conservatives enjoy majorities in both Houses of Parliament, they expect to turn legislation into law by the end of the year.
While placing term limits on senators appears to have broad support – that limit could be anywhere between eight and 12 years in the new bill – electing senators is fraught with legal and practical difficulties, according to David E. Smith, a political scientist at University of Saskatchewan who is one of Canada’s authorities on the Senate.
Even if the federal government has the authority to permit elected senators, he observed, each province would probably enact its own rules for such elections, if deciding to act at all.
“You’re going to end up with an array of provincial rules for the indirect election of a national official,” he predicted. “And I think that raises some questions.”
That is why earlier versions of the bill should immediately have been referred to the Supreme Court for a review of their constitutionality, said Liberal Interim Leader Bob Rae.
There is clearly a rainbow of opinions about the usefulness and patronage in the current Senate. However, if Harper thinks his "will" is going to become law merely because he has a majority in both the House of Commons and the Senate, apparently, there are new winds blowing.
At a time when the country is in serious need of social policy that would both support those who cannot find work congruent with their qualifications, and when the country's First Nations people are struggling just to find basic amenities like clean water, adequate housing and non-casino based employment...the Prime Minister seeks to put his signature on the structure of the governing bodies of the country. Clearly, this is an ambition based more on ego needs than on the country's best interests.
We will now watch at least four years of debate on this issue, and the court challenges that are inevitably going to surface from various quarters including the provinces, while the essential business of government support for the less well-off Canadians will go unattended.
This kind of debate could well seal the fate of the current prime minister, in the negative footnotes to Canadian history, where it and he both belong. Unfortunately, his superificial and hypocritical statements about enhanced democracy ring as hollow as they are and everyone knows that there is more ambition for increased power for the Prime Minister than better governance for the people.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Educators close Libraries...then they're not educators

By Laurie Sommerfeld, Toronto Star, May 30, 2011
Tight economic times have restricted access to public libraries, threatening not just the hours but the very institutions. Any society that views itself as democratic and just must surely understand that you erect barriers to knowledge at the expense of its most vulnerable citizens. Libraries are not houses for books; they are town squares for knowledge. Librarians are not traffic cops between fiction and non-fiction; they are guides between centuries, countries and technologies.

The recent decision by the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board to do away with that system’s school libraries is mind boggling. The bedrock of a civilized society is now a frill? Is access to this, this fundamental democratic asset, to be once again returned to only those with private resources?
We risk more than becoming people we won’t recognize; we risk becoming people we won’t remember.
The Philistines are not "coming!" They have arrived among the politically-economically motivated people making decisions like the one by the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board.
And, of course, we all know they should know better. But they don't, and they won't revisit the decision becuase of the numbers.
There are few books being signed out; there are few books being read; even educators are touting the use of "user manuals" as teasers to try to get boys to read at all.
The tsunami of devastation that is making such decisions will rank as among the most tragic in the history of western education, in a very few years.

Germany to shut all nuclear reactors by 2022

By Annika Breidthardy, Reuters, in Globe and Mail, May 30, 2011
Germany will shut all its nuclear reactors by 2022, parties in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government agreed on Monday, in a reaction to Japan’s Fukushima disaster that marks a drastic policy reversal.

As expected, the coalition wants to keep the eight oldest of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors permanently shut. Seven were closed temporarily in March, just after the earthquake and tsunami hit Fukushima. One has been off the grid for years.
Another six will be taken offline by 2021, Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said early on Monday after late-night talks in the chancellor’s office between leaders of the centre-right coalition.

The remaining three reactors, Germany’s newest, will stay open for another year until 2022 as a safety buffer to ensure no disruption to power supply, he said.
Ms. Merkel backtracked in March on an unpopular decision just months earlier to extend the life of ageing nuclear stations in Germany, where the majority of voters oppose atomic energy.
Watching the German response to the Japanese disaster, one is struck by the degree of concensus among her political leaders. Presumably, few in politics wish to face what the Japanese decision-makers now face following a ten-year extension of the licence for the Fukushima tragedy and the largest tsunami-earthquake one-two punch in history.
Germany wil likely, consequently, become a world leader in alternative energy sources in the next dozen years because no one anticipates a slowing of her capacity and will to manufacture some of the world's most dependable, most creative and stylish and most technically advanced products including automobiles, among many others.
Isn't it interesting that a woman, educated as a scientist, is in the vanguard of this decision, not another lawyer or economist. And the German people seem to be favourably disposed to many, if not most, of the decisions made by her government recently.
Now, it will be interesting to watch and listen to other world leaders whose economies are dependent on nuclear power field questions about their planning and policy decisions on this file, starting with Ontario, where the government has committed to "getting off" coal fired electricity and ramping up its nuclear power generation capacity, with an election coming in October.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Revenge with impunity stalks our culture

|A story in the Report on Business in the Globe and Mail, Saturday, May 28, 2011 pointed to a conference of HR professionals in London. One subject, company security of information, and its potential leakage, demonstrated that, because these people have all the encryption codes for all of the programs on all of the people and files of the company, the greatest danger to most companies, in terms of security breaches, comes from INSIDE, through acts of revenge.
This caught my eye because it is revenge that, from my limited observation, provokes much of the world's conflict. Let's start with something simply like a minor hockey game where the young boys are enjoying an hour of friendly competition on the ice. One boy(A), now tired from an extra long shift on the ice, sees that the competitor he is supposed to be defending against(B), has the puck and has already broken out ahead of his defender. A knows he won't catch up, so he firmly plants his stick through the blade of his opponent or between his opponent's legs and gives a healthy tug. Down goes the puck-carrier, but as he falls he notices a painful twinge in his shoulder from the awkward way he landed. The "tripper" (A) goes off for a penalty, if the referee sees it; however, the next time the two are on the ice at the same time, (B) wants to let (a) know that what happened on the previous shift still hurts. So, (B) now the new aggressor, "to pay back" (A) for his trip, rides him into the boards head first, and sees him slump to the ice in a heap. Now (B) takes a penalty for boarding, perhaps even for a hit to the head. And the conflict has begun.
Or take a more domestic example, with two siblings whose servings of a favourite dish are different in size. Both like the steaks they have been served, but one notices his brother has a bigger steak. So when brother (C) leaves the table for a moment, brother (D) slices a strip of steak from C's steak, as a way of making it even. Of course, C notices immediately when he returns and cries foul. C then begins his plan for revenge, so that B knows "he can't get away with that."
And, what is far worse, is that our society endorses the "pay back" at a very elemental level of learning. We believe, wrongly, that pay back demonstrates true grit, and true courage and true "masculinity" or at least,"we don't have to worry about him/her taking care of him/herself in the real world" when we see the "payback" or the active avenging in early years.
We teach, by example, by our words and by our attitudes, that revenge makes you "safer" from another trip, or trick, because the original perpetrator knows you are "strong" enough to fight back. On the other hand, the young person who merely walks away, hurt, sad and dejected, is considered a "wimp" or even "girlie" because he doesn't fight back.
I once had to intervene to break a fight between two grade eight boys, in the school yard at lunchtime. One was unconscious, having been kicked in the head by the other. After attending to the unconscious boy, I recieved a phone call from his father, "If you don't clean up that school, I'm coming down there with a shotgun to clean it up for you." Realizing there was a potential for real violence, I took the matter to the police, for both advice and for their intervention. Together we worked out a plan that each week, for the balance of the school year, both boys would appear at the police station at 3.30 on Friday afternoon, to report on their behviour during the previous week. That was a significant step to making peace between the two, who eventually became friends.
However, when the policeman visited the home of the perpetrator (he was the one who kicked the other into unconsciousness) to investigate the home conditions, he found a similar culture. There were in the room the father, a younger son, and the perprtrator. The younger son continually interrupted the conversation between the policeman and the father, to the point that the father stood and swatted him across the face with a loud, "Shut-up!" When the police told me the story of his visit, his only comment, "We were after the wrong person; it was the dad we should have been investigating.
Knowing more than I would like about physical abuse, (as victim) in a dysfunctional family where father was, or at least considered himself, impotent to confront his partner's violence against their children, I found myself, in grade ten, in a conflict with a classmate, over the sharing of a textbook. He wanted to share with the girl, a friend of mine, who sat between us, and I had been given the task of distributing the texts to the class. Naturally, with only one left, I shared with my friend. After class, jealous and angry, the other boy threatened to "get even". After school, he was waiting from me at the front of the school. Of course, I had books in my arms and he drove me into the school fence, where he started pounding me, as a large crowd gathered. My only comment was, "Let's go settle this in the office of the school!" (Naive perhaps, but I was not into encouraging or participating in more violence; I had more than my share at home.)
Of course, the other boy was given some punishment, probably a detention or two, because the principal actually came out to break up the fight. However, and this is the part of the story that really amazes me.
Some fifteen years later, after graduating with a Master's degree, when I asked that same principal for a reference letter to a doctoral program in education, at the University of Ottawa, he wrote, "This candidate is not emotionally capable of a doctoral program!"
Just how vindictive will someone be, when the reference is thought to be "confidential"? On another occasion, when I requested a letter of reference from another high school principal, for whom I had toiled with distinction for fifteen years, because of his insecurity and jealousy, he also "threw me under the bus" to get even. And these acts of confidential references, of course, carry no penalty. They are carried out with impunity, and the pattern continues to plague people in authority in every organization, including the church.
The legal system may investigate serious crimes, while all around us, little crimes of hate and revenge based on jealousy are occurring every day. Headlines come from bullets, or stabbings, and yet, what lead up to those life-ending final acts never makes it into the public story.
It says here that, if any organization is going to address the problem of revenge, based on jealousy especially, although there are undoubtedly more motives than jealousy, it is the church that needs to address the issue.
Participating in any adjudication of any conflict requires the critical examination of motive of all parties, including the motives of the adjudicator(s).
When the greatest danger of leaked or captured confidential information comes from "within" an organization, we know that we have a lot of work to do to damp down our elevating the "pay back" principle in minor hockey, or in school conflict, or in domestic disputes.
As Iago reminds us in "Othello":

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;

It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss,
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger:
But O, what damnèd minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Medvedev urges Gadhafi to go...and other news from the G8

From CNN website, May 27, 2011
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has joined American and other European leaders in calling for Moammar Gadhafi to step down from power, a shift that appears to indicate a closing diplomatic window for the longtime Libyan strongman.

Moscow has been a strong critic of the NATO-led mission in Libya, arguing that the scope of the organization's air campaign against Gadhafi's forces far exceeds the civilian protection mandate approved by the U.N. Security Council.
Medvedev's call for Gadhafi to step aside came at the end of the Group of Eight summit in Deauville, France, on Friday. The G8 includes the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy and Russia.
As a sign that the window of political survival is relentlessly closing, Russia may have inflicted a more serious blow to the fortunes of the Libyan dictator than all the bombs from NATO. And there is no collateral damage to this bomb.
Merely a few syllables in front of a microphone from a Russian President.
Link this statement to the joint statement of Obama and Medvedev that Russia and the U.S. will work out a missile system that "works" for both countries and that Medvedev will visit the U.S. in June and you can see a growing halo around the head of the U.S. president glowing from his efforts in Europe in the last several days.
Barring the glitch of the band starting too soon with "God Save the Queen" while the President was finishing his toast to her majesty, the visit, complete with a ping-pong match with David Cameron, a photo-op with Prince and Princess of Cambridge, an address in Westminster Hall to the British Parliamentarians, and then off to France and the G8 stage where financial support for Tunisia and Egypt was estimated at some $40 billion (provided all participants ante up!) was a smashing success, especially when you consider that Republican pundit, Pat Buchanan, gives Obama an A for his performance on the PBS program The McLaughlin Group.
And then there was Stephen Harper, holding fast to the Netanyahu line that the 67 boundaries are unacceptable, when, in fact, "with mutually agreed swaps" was the far more significant phrase in the Obama speech at the State Department.
It is so easy to find the microbial and micro-mind of Harper speaking "in italics" on the world stage, without having more impact than a gnat flitting on the surface of a Muskoka Lake.

HuffPost.ca: Welcome to Canada..we need you!

From the HuffPost.ca website
Extra! Extra! The Huffington Post Canada Has Arrived

The Huffington Post Canada First Posted: 05-26-11 08:27 AM (but in Canada it's 26 05 11..lol)
 It's not every day one gets to be the new kid on the block in one's own country. Today, we're excited to enter our new neighbourhood. To many of you who have been visiting The Huffington Post, we hope you like what you see. As Arianna Huffington says in writing about our launch, expect the same look and approach to news and issues, but with a uniquely Canadian spin.
We at acorncentreblog.com want to welcome our new journalistic neighbour to Canada.
We will be watching and reading how you see us...and how you get to know us.
And we are very different from the U.S. in so many ways.
Certainly, our national media need the many nudges you will offer. And we need you and your writers to observe and appreciate that some things we do here are not only better but significantly better than they are in the U.S.

New Toyota Plant in Canada because of Canada Health Act?

Earlier this week, on  On Point with Tom Ashbrook, NPR's flagship public affairs radio program from WBUR Boston, the topic was a stirring of revitalization in the American manufacturing sector.
A new Volkswagen plant opened on that day in Tennessee, according to the Host. And what caught my ear were the words from the mouth of Susan R. Helper, a faculty member at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio, that because of the Canadian Health Care System, universal public access with a single payer, Toyota has recently decided to build a new plant in Canada, as opposed to the U.S.
The importance, for Toyota, of the publicly funded Canada Health Act, as compared with the U.S., is that Toyota does not have to pay for health care costs for their employees, who will indirectly pay for it through their taxes, based on their income. Ironic that this piece of news, which I may have missed in the Canadian coverage, reaches a Canadian audience via a publicly funded radio network in the U.S. the most capitalist country in the world.
Interestingly, the Canadian press is either not familiar with this piece of information or the editors have back-paged it, for fear of sounding too supportive as the Canadian population seems to be shifting "right" and, led by the "conservative" forces like the think tanks and the federal Conservative Party, aligned with the corporate interests, moving toward a two-tier health care system where the rich buy their superior service and the rest of us take what's left over. Negotiations for funding the system between the provinces who operate the system and the federal government which "funds" the syste, are to be completed in a new round of discussions, by 2014.
Supporters of the current single payer system which theoretically provides universal access, like your current scribe, will need information like the piece from Ms Helper that it is the health care system in Canada that won the competition for a new Toyota manufacturing facility, over the U.S.
If that is true, and I cannot find any information on the Toyota Canada website to confirm, then there are undoubtedly more manufacturing companies, perhaps even more auto manufacturing companies who would make a similar decision, if they knew all the facts.
Where are the agents of such organizations as the United Auto Workers (Canadian Auto Workers) Union in the telling of this story, even though the current and potential workers at Toyota may not be members of any union? Where are the provincial government ministers responsible for economic development in the business of lobbying global auto manufacturers to bring new plants to Canada....this would seem to be a significant cornerstone for their arguments in favour of their provinces.
Canada has a signfiicant unemployment issue. Ontario specifically has a significant need for more jobs especially in the manufacturing sector. There is a provincial election in Ontario in October and surely if one or more of the three parties seeking to form a government could announce either this piece of information, or additional news from other auto companies, both the province and the specific municipality where the factory will be built would be both grateful and relieved.
We already know that Canadian workers have proven themselves in the quality of their work. Toyota and Honda both have established factories in Ontario. And with the announcement from General Motors that they are moving the assembly of their Impala from Oshawa, Ontario to Detriot, there will be 2000 jobs lost just from the Oshawa plant alone.
Why did Volkewagen announce "for Tennessee"? Was it because of the tax breaks available, over the Canadian offer? Were they fully apprised of the benefits of the Canadian Health Act? Did they fully research the Canadian opportunity?
Where will Hyundai and Subaru and the Cooper Mini build their next factory? Will it also be in Canada?
If not, why not?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Send condolences to families of service personnel who have taken their own lives

From CNN website, May 26, 2011
A bipartisan group of senators is asking President Barack Obama to change the current "insensitive" policy of not sending condolence letters to families of service members who commit suicide.

A letter signed by 11 senators -- 10 Democrats and one Republican -- and sent Wednesday urges the president to "take immediate steps to reverse the long-standing policy of withholding presidential letters of condolence" to families of troops who killed themselves.
The policy, which goes back several presidents, has been the subject of protest by military families. CNN first reported in 2009 about the family of Spc. Chancellor Keesling, who killed himself while serving in Iraq.
These senators speak for an enlightened view of suicide. They speak for a humiliated group of families whose loved ones could not stand the trauma to which they were exposed while fighting in the war theatres.
And these senators also speak for a host of people whose view of life includes death in all its forms. In a death denying society, life has no opportunity to become fully realized. I have attended funerals for adolescents who perished in auto accidents, during which the priest dubbed death "evil" as if to say that God and the Church and his theology were on the good side of human existence.
Death denying societies are also death defying societies. There is a value, in some quarters, attached to those who push themselves into dangerous places, for military honour, for the dollars and fame that come from such experiences as entertainment for others, and for the thrill of climbing mountains, or killing wild beasts.
And yet, those whose attitudes and view of life includes an acceptance and a dialogue and an appreciation of the meaning of death are considered morbid, and sick by some.
The state is the mind, heart, voice and body of many of the values its people hold sacred and significant. And a state at war, for the last decade in at least two theatres, has to come face to face with the suffering its exploits provoke, including the suffering of those whose loved ones take their own lives, for whatever reason.
It is not the act of suicide that is evil, as much as the act of denial that if fully sanctioned by the state.
I once heard a doctor comment that if one took one's own life, there would be a heap of guilt left for those remaining. We have all heard those who see suicide as the most selfish act in the human repertoire of potential acts.
Like abortion, no one really wants to see suicide become a public spectacle, and that includes the state's permission for medical personnel to participate (something I believe the state must also begin to consider openly), however, the denial and refusal to send condolences to the families of service personnel whose lives have ended by their own hands is not only negligent but insensitive, and protects the opportunity and right of denial of the state.
If the society were more open to the signs and the realities of suicide, and were more acknowledging of the pressures that result in its occurence, perhaps there would be more attention paid to those pressures, many of which are clearly created in a society that denies, publicly, the act of suicide.
This is not to be read as encouragement for those considering taking their own lives. It is simply a plea for the state to acknowledge the pain of its occurence and the responsibility to acknowledge the lives and contributions of those whose life ends in this manner, by sending condolences to the families of those who served.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Congrats to Bob Rae, I guess...the new Interim Liberal Leader

By Susan Delacourt, Toronto Star, May 25, 2011
“The people of Canada gave the Liberal party a very clear and tough message in the last election,” Rae said. “We simply have to, if I can coin a phrase, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again.”

Rae spoke at length Wednesday about the need for Liberals to become more than an electoral machine or an organization — it’s time that the party connected to Canadians again through their values, as a “movement,” Rae said repeatedly.
“Our party has to become, which it has always been at its best, a bit of a movement — a movement for change, for progress, a movement for things that we believe in,” Rae said.
He said his own focus will be trained on big policy issues such as health care, national unity and the imbalance between aboriginals and non-aboriginal people in Canada. But the Liberal party overall must remind Canadians that its own, deepest-held values are very close to ones held by a large segment of the population, Rae said.
This Liberal vision was described this way by Rae: “A profound belief in the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms), a profound respect for the diversity of the country, a dislike of authoritarian governments, a dislike of narrow mindedness, a determination to move beyond ideology, a rejection of cheap and easy solutions, a rejection of the bumper-sticker approach to government.”
It will not only be a "rejection of the bumper-sticker approach to government" that turns the tide for the federal Liberals. A brief conversation from the May 2 election day may illustrate my point.
Serving as scrutineer for the local candidate, I was engaged in the simple and significant tasks of that assignment when a middle-aged woman approached me, one whose shift as scrutineer had ended earlier.
She sat down to pass some files of instructions over, and just volunteered some words of wisdom:
"I'm really sympathetic to the NDP but I really believed that the Liberal candidate was the most likely to defeat the Conservatives here. Yesterday, when Jack Layton came to the NDP headquarters, I went to hear him. You would not believe the difference between the way I was treated in the two campaign committee rooms. In the NDP, I was welcomed with open arms, whereas in the Liberal campaign office, not a single perons even spoke to me, no one welcomed me, no one cared whether I was there or not...and you know, that kind of memory really stays with me."
In politics, there is a kind of intuitive knowing about how one is being received. Certainly the Liberals, whose history as the "governing party of Canada" is well known and respected, will have to demonstrate that they are willing to accept the gifts of humiliation, the gifts of being the outcast, of being the outsider in the Canadian establishment.
The NDP have fifty years of being the outsider, and they know, not only from their experience as a party, but also statistically, there are a lot more outsiders than there are insiders in the political class. And, if the Liberal party can identify with, and can speak for as well as to those millions of outsiders, the poor, the dispossessed, the wounded, the sick the struggling, the homeless and the hungry and the jobless...in ways that do not create another party espousing a "nanny state" but in ways that will integrate all of those millions into the mainstream of Canadian life, with attitudes, policies and programs that bring a fresh imaginative, compassionate and long-term program, including the people necessary to articulate those policies and programs... including an emphasis on world hunger, world environmental changes, globalization of the economy and the shifts in both capital and human deployment....
As Ken Dryden put it in his small book, we can not accomplish big things by thinking small.
Harper is a micro-manager, both in his leadership style and in his political philosophy...and he uses wedges to divide people, segments of the electorate.
The conditions could not be more appropriate for the Liberals to shed their shame following the sponsorship scandal, and their "shellacking" on May 2...from both of those ash heaps, could come the new Liberal Phoenix...but only if the outsiders are permitted inside the tent.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Celebrating androgyny...and facing our deepest fears

From The Good Men Project Magazine website
On the new cover of Dossier, a biannual arts and culture journal, a model with shiny blonde hair curled up in rollers looks down and away from the camera. The compellingly feminine features on the model’s face draw you in. But then your eyes drift down to see that the model is removing a button-down shirt, leaving shoulders, chest, and stomach exposed. It’s a little jarring to see the model’s flat chest—without breasts—and suddenly you realize the figure on the cover is not, actually, a woman.

Andrej Pejic, a Serbian model, is challenging the binary of gender and quickly positioning himself as a key example of androgyny—the term is derived directly from the Greek words for man and woman—a conception of gender that tends to fly well below the radar in modern U.S. society. The Dossier cover is helping to bring androgynous images more to the forefront of the gender conversation—and the controversy surrounding the issue sure isn’t hurting androgyny’s visibility.
Barnes & Noble and Borders have told Dossier representatives that they wouldn’t shelve the magazine unless all copies were covered with opaque poly bags—the kind typically reserved for Playboy or Maxim. According to Skye Parrott, the co-founder of Dossier, both stores acknowledged that they understood the model, Andrej Pejic, is male. But representatives asserted that the femininity inherent in the image was too confusing to risk putting on the magazine shelf.
Of course, that was exactly the point of the photo: to confuse gender and challenge the binary of our current system. In the essay that was paired with the photos of Pejic within the magazine, T. Cole Rachel wrote:
"In these images, Andrej is somehow both sexless and hypersexualized. Depending on the viewer, Collier’s images reveal either the most beautiful boy ever or a striking blonde goddess. He is neither. He is both."
Attempting to deal with an image of an adrogynous male, on the front cover of a current magazine is like asking a newborn baby to eat raw sirloin steak. He may put it in his/her mouth but certainly will not be able to disgest nor even ingest the complex meat.
And, if ever we are going to move past a one-dimensional notion of both men and women, but especially men, it is going to take a revolution and a transformation in the public and private definition of what it means to be a male.
The gay and lesbian community continues to experience rejection, alienation and outright hostility, for being who they are. The latest pop culture icon, Lady Gaga, who is a gay rights activist, is attacked for her "perversion" and told by some males to desist in her activism on their behalf.
It is straight males, raised in the image of "Rambo" or any of the many other images that have devolved from John Wayne, General Patton, Winston Churchill, and even Margaret Thatcher (that woman who is more like a man than a woman) who are most uncomfortable witnessing and certainly discussing a subject like androgyny. And that is one of the significant cultural and religious and social hurdles that our society is facing, in our attempt to legitimize both any serious attempt to ramp up an initiative against global warming and climate change, as well as any initiative that seeks to demilitarize the Pentagon, or the military armaments of the "advanced" or "first" world countries.
The exercise of power, still mostly by male executives in primarily male-dominated corporate culture, is almost exclusively the exercise of what has become known as "hard power"...negative judgement, punishment, discipline, alienation, even some forms of satire that cut to the bone of the subject, and, of course, bombs, missiles, aircraft carriers, Fighter Jets, AK-47 rifles, firings, suspensions, fines and even in schools detentions, suspensions, expulsions. The legal system takes such forms of punishment and discipline as its primary menu for the "treatment" of those who do not conform with the laws.
And yet, more and more, we are finding that any form of revenge, on the part of the institution, or the family, or the CEO, generates more negative complications than positive transformations.
For example, for many "transgressors," community service is a far more effective method of integrating those whom society has already ostracised (hence their initial midbehaving), than additional time of incarceration, or of elimination, separation and alienation. Banning those who do not conform is a way of telling the world, by those making the judgements, "You have erred and now you must pay" because:
  • by punishing you we will deter others from similar mis-deeds
  • by punishing you we will preserve order and the status quo, of the operation of power, in our society
  • by removing you we will demonstrate to our peers and supervisors that we are in charge
  • by making an example of you, we will serve to exact "justice" on behalf of the victims of your acts and thereby reduce the potential for violent revenge on their part
  • by putting you in jail, we will grow our most treasured institution, demonstrating to all our capacity to provide good order and government...
And yet, we continue to espouse such instruments of "hard power" as our way of preserving a kind of mirage, or illusion. We are, none of us, beyond making errors in both judgement and in attitudes and actions. And, if we are really serious about growing a compassionate and caring and empathic and even androgynous society, including the androgyny of those who inhabit our society, and a society that is free(er) from the risk of its own unconscious Shadow, it is our attachment to our need for the very hard power that we believe is necessary, that serves to undo our best intentions and to sully our best ideals.
Neurosis sits at the core of our application of hard power, in personal relationships, in family discipline and in geo-political actions including both military combat and all forms of punishment that seeks to remove life-support from our enemies. And corporate neurosis is not only permitted but perhaps even encouraged by the holding of unlimited competition as one of our society's highest ideals.
To compete is to satisfy our need for recognition and public affirmation, even if it stunts our personal spiritual growth. To demonstrate our superiority in any way over others, is merely to exercise our opportunity to prove our internal weakness, especially when such competition leads to and results in personal injury, or even death. We are sacrificing to an idol, unconscious of our profound attachment to that idol.
Masculinity, in its most stereotypical manifestations, is neither a full expression of manhood nor a positive contribution to the evolution of the individual male who is still, like a crysalis, attempting to emerge from the cocoon of such limiting definitions.
We love the music of a Beethoven, without having to cope with the personality behind the musical score.
We love the poety of a Shakespeare, without having to address the complexities of the character behind the iambic pentamenter.
We love the pas de deux of a Nureyev, without having to face the potential confrontation of our definition of what it means to be a fully evolved male.
We love the canvas of a Picasso, and prefer to explore our critical evaluations of the work, without having to enter into the psyche of its creator.
There is little doubt that, when Dancing with the Stars invites an NFL star to participate in their 'show' when he accepts, his team-mates will deride both him and his decision as "unmanly" until they see what he has accomplished and then, perhaps, they can see his own evolution as something more important to emulate.
As one who, from a very early age, saw no conflict between playing the piano and also playing minor hockey, and who continues to see no conflict or necessary exclusion of the one realm from the other, I continue to find tragic the political attack machines that destroy a male candidate for being subtle and sophisticated in his intellectual and in his personal mannerism, because he looks and sounds androgynous.
I continue to be repulsed by the entertainment's opportunism in cashing in on satirizing any male idiosyncracies that smack of androgyny, or of a more nuanced and sensitive expression of emotion than is "acceptable" from a male.
It is the emotions and their expression that are both the waterfall of our human energies including the energies of our imaginations. Men and women, both and differently, encapsulate a pulsating core of feelings that drive our responses to other human beings. The denial, repression and even minimizing of those emotions, no matter the depth and direction of those emotions, is a characteristic of a repressed and self-sabotaging individual, family, artistic community and even social culture. Those emotions, including emotions of anger, frustration, disappointment, superiority and complacency...are signals of our inner truths, of our inner responses to people and events we encounter. They are our best guide to "finding" ourselves, and to "creating" ourselves, and to growing community and to taking communal actions and decisions to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, for example, in the face of our own greed and comfortable life style.
We have to face the conflict between two competing emotions, like compassion and greed, if we are ever to reconcile our insatiable appetite for consumption, for the energy to generate the movements and the goods necessary to feed our appetitie for consumption, based as it is on our deepest fears of not being "good enough" WITHOUT whatever feeds our appetite, whether it is power, a fancy car, a 'mcmansion' or a 401K that is bursting at the seams.
And, furthermore, it is our emotions, primarily those of fear and additional neurosis that generate our capacity to hate, and to ridicule and to ostracise and to inflict unproductive punishments on those because we can. And such attitudes of fear and contempt, for gays and lesbians, for example, as well as for those of another faith whose tenets we simply do not understand, and whose people we fear, continue to generate what the therapists call "control dramas" that demonstrate our need for additional healing and evolving, past our fear of those emotions, past our rejection of our authentic emotional expressions, and past our politically correct repressions in the name of public acceptance, public morality, maturity and responsibility.
It is our own pride and the accompanying strivings, both overt and especially covert, that often generates the most significant and yet most hollow psychodramas...and that eventually dupes us into accepting our own vulnerability, the only safe route to humility and integrity. And yet, so long as we deny the reality, and the importance and the depth and the androgyny of our emotional energies, we will continue to sabotage our path to that vulnerability and its collorary, authenticity.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Canadians: Say "NO" to elimination of public subsidy of political parties.

So Harper has promised, and will undoubtedly deliver, to eliminate the subsidy of political parties in the budget to be presented to Parliament early next month. There is currently a $2 public contribution to every political party, based on the number of votes each party received in the last election. If a party received 1000 votes, it would receive $2000 from the public purse, to assist in its operations. Of course, if it received 1 million votes, it would also receive $2million from taxpayers. Linked to this public subsidy is a limit of $1200 per person to any political party, in the avowed hope that some control might result in the pressures brought to bear on political parties from specific interest groups.
While there has always been an argument against subsidizing a political party whose existence is to break up the country (The Bloc from Quebec) nevertheless, the principle of one vote=$2 for every political party is one rather modest way to level the playing field between the political parties.
However, we all know that the occupant of the Prime Minister's office has one overriding political ambition: to destroy the Liberal Party of Canada, and to eliminate this subsidy, at this time, when the Liberals have been reduced to a mere 34 seats in a House of Commons with 308 seats, means that the party will no longer hold the title "Official Opposition" which carries research money, as well as different meeting space and different office locations, all of which have now been transferred to the New Democrats.
We also know that the Conservatives have the most successful fundraising operation of all national political parties, using even some Senators as unofficial "bag-man" in their pursuit of their long-held dream of becoming the "natural governing party of Canada" a term historically associated with the Liberals, until the Sponsorship Scandal and the demise of two leaders, Dion and Ignatieff, in separate federal elections.
Canadians, both individually and collectively through their Member of Parliament, have the opportunity to speak out against the elimination of the public subsidy. At the same time, they might consider requesting a lowered amount from $1200, to be more representative of the ability of the ordinary Canadian to make any contribution to the political party of their choice, perhaps a figure like $500 would be more appropriate.
The recent decision of the Supreme Court in the U.S. to remove caps on political contributions from all sources is a pathway to the demise of democracy, and it is being conducted under the rubric of "freedom of speech" which really means the "freedom of the rich to speak with their cheque-books" for the kind of government they choose to purchase.
This direction, even in a minor degree, is not one to which Canadians are prepared to subscribe.
Find your Member of Parliament's address co-ordinates, and send your messages of opposition....if we create an avalanche of e-mail and text messages, there might be some hope of public resistance impacting the steam-roller that is the Prime Minister on this stripping of democracy of the gasoline that helps the engine run.

We need more Noam Chomsky's, Chris Hedges', Lawrence Martin's...and soon

Listened this weekend to Noam Chomsky, on TVO's Big Ideas program, talk about the corporatizing of the university in the U.S.
For many years, his own university, M.I.T. was funded primarily by the Pentagon, from the 1950's when he joined the faculty, until perhaps 10-20 years ago, when funding changed to the private sector.
Under the pentagon, the multiple laboratories were open; the subjects of the inquiries undertaken were widely known on campus, and the intellectual freedom of the faculty was virtually unchallenged.
The liberal arts, and the pursuit of learning for its own sake, including the pursuit of unconventional, even controversial theories and themes was encouraged; in fact, it was the cornerstone of the university.
Now that the private sector makes the highest number and the largest sized donations, the security, secrecy and control of the institution and its people are virtually complete, according to the Emeritus Professor of Linguistics.
He also cited the difference between two universities in Mexico and those in California both jurisdictions he has recently visited. In Mexico, where tuition is free, and where academic standards and scholarship are quite high, there is a culture that supports the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, and a holding up and sustaining of public access to a liberal education, the original purpose of the university.
 In California, where tuitions run into the tens of thousands, Chomsky fears that more and more, university is becoming accessible only to the very wealthy, part of what he considers a design of the people who already have achieved wealth, and who are dedicated to elevating their social class to a permanent position of superiority, with the rest of society being able to access only something like a technical education.
In his column in the Globe and Mail, Tuesday May 24, Lawrence Martin decries the limp and erratic approach of the media to political issues, using as one example, the failure of the "contempt of Parliament" charge to develop any legs during the recent federal election campaign. Could this be one of the signs of the failure of the university system as it was originally designed, to foster deep, and persistent and thorough "digging" into any issue "of study" as a matter of "the way one learns" having been gutted from the undergraduate programs that Chomsky says are becoming little more than technical training institutions? Reporters simply do not stay with a story long enough to give additional details which would thereby generate public discussion and debate and perhaps prove more sustained and thereby more effective in generating scepticism among the electorate.
Also, there is the obvious reality that the length of concentration of any person or group within the society is so short, compared with even a generation ago (approximately twenty years) that our cultural minds merely skip over the "highlights" of most stories, without attaining a grasp of their significance, so busy and skittish are we that we would remind biologists of the knats that skim the surface of inland lakes in Ontario summers, so fleeting is our moment to ponder anything, certainly not some abstract political argument whose nuances remain only for the "professionals".
Are we not in danger of leaving our public discourse in the hands of those who call themselves "professionals" but whose real interest is far more "self-centred" that focused on what is good for the society.
Just today, we learned that Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac became instruments of personal greed in the run-up to the mortgage crisis that befell much of the western world's economy. Taking one third of the public contributions from the government that were slated to help the poor to purchase homes and using those funds for their own purposes, for providing huge salaries and benefits and bonuses for their executives...is hardly engendering confidence in what once was a noble and an honourable couple of institutions whose original purpose was for the "public good".
We need more Noam Chomsky's and more Chris Hedges, and more Lawrence Martin's, and we cannot wait for decades to see them on the front lines of both journalism and criticial thought for the public good.

Canadians complacent and worthless on global warming and climate change

Why, in much of the ink that is being spilled about the upcoming G-20, is there not more talk about how the Canadian government is going to address the issue of climate change, in co-operation with the other world leaders?
Canada has failed to live up to the commitment it made on Kyoto emission standards and there is no evident program in place to meet the emission reductions to which she has committed to by 2020. There is a growing question of whether or not Canada's "word" is worthy anything on this file, among world leaders many of whom have turned the corner, with their people, on making a substantial change in their  impact on the environment.
Even China has slowed its construction of coal-fired plants, and committed to a more "green" approach to its own development. The U.S. is no longer a credible "excuse" for the Canadian government not to generate an approach to limit carbon emission, through a tax, or a cap and trade system. And there is no long-term future in pegging our economy and our dollar to the Athabaska tar sands, from which expensive oil is being extracted, with virtually no constrictions on the impact the project is leaving on the environment.
Canada is in danger of becoming a non-player on the environment file, and the people of this country are barely uttering a whisper in objection to the government's defiant stand.
Are we that much a bunch of sheep that we are so complacent that our children and grandchildren will have to face a world where the struggle for depleted resources including food, and water and clear air will be so tense that it could lead to violence?
Is Canada the only country in the world where the naysayers to climate change and global warming are in the ascendancy? Is this the legacy of all the ground-breaking work done by David Suzuki and his Foundation to wake us up to the dangerous path we are on?
How ironic that we can produce television documentaries that show the world what wonderful communicators there are in our talent pool, but have no appetite for real and substantive change to our policy and attitudes on this important issue.
Perhaps, some motivation of the Prime Minister might be the desired result of his encounter with the other world leaders, who might just give his head a shake, and wake him up to his global responsibilities. There could be some hope coming out of France on this issue, no?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mass for bin Ladin in Florida church, Sunday

By Amy Sullivan, Time, May 20, 2011
Since bin Laden's death on May 1, many of us who follow a religious tradition have wrestled with the question of how to respond. We are taught to view all humankind as children of God. But surely that doesn't include people like bin Laden and Hitler and Timothy McVeigh, right? Instead of praying for their souls, shouldn't we celebrate their deaths?
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2072793,00.html#ixzz1MzYSuOux
This quote comes from a piece that documents a mass on Sunday for Osama bin Laden in Florida.
And the quote brings back a discussion in first-year class of seminary students in an Anglican Faculty of Theology back in 1988. In the room were 18 men and women, including one faculty member, a no-nonsense male of some 50+ years who was well aware that there were at least 12 evangelical fundamentalists and 7 liberals, among the group.
One then engineering instructor was openly appalled that "there would be any misunderstanding of the phrase "born again" or its importance in a "christian" theology school. Another ventured the view, "Hitler is in heaven." And a third almost yelled a rebuttal: "You're wrong and the Bible says so!"
To which the woman, a liberal, who had taunted the "fundies" with the "Hitler" comment, retorted, "Now I know you're full of shit!"
Clearly, the field-education instructor was considerably amused by the exchange.
Christians do not know what to do with the "evil" that is represented in names like Hitler, bin Laden, or others whose views and actions are unacceptable to their view of their faith. In fact, it says here, that Christians, for the most part, belong to an excluding form of faith, that denounces the "underbelly" of society, the criminals, and the tyrants and the thiefs and the rapists.
For the most part Christians have either never learned, or simply forgotten, the "imago dei" aspect of the faith, that declares we are all made in the image of God. They have forgotten, or never espoused the responsibility that accompanies discipleship in the form of tolerance for the other. This is not to take a position that says all sparks of the divine nature that have come to be an integral part of the definition of human being have been nurtured into a common flame for agape love and compassion and empathy for the extreme pain of all people. Praying for a "bastard" who happens now to be in purgatory can be conceived as an extremely patronizing prayer, by a superior prayer agent.
It is the division of people into categories like "acceptable to God" and "unacceptable to God" that provokes this scribe's disdain. Who are we to presume such a disctinction? Who are we to impose such a distinction upon our neighbours and upon the people with whom we share a pew and perhaps even a eucharist?
Those "inside" the faith community who consider themselves superior to those "outside" the faith community are the very people keeping those of us in the latter group from dawning the church doorsteps. We have tried to work with them; we have even sacrificed considerably, in the vain hope that we and they could come to some accommodation; we have even tried to have a less confrontational discussion than the one recounted above, about the differences in our views of God, of human beings, of love and of eternity, without so much as feeling even a modicum of respect.
If praying for bin Laden (who is now in purgatory) is your thing, go for it. Just don't invite me to such a mass.
I will be walking through the forest of the Canadian Shield, marvelling at the work of both God and the ice-age glaciers that cut so deeply into the granite leaving hundreds of small and medium sized lakes, streams and forests in their wake. And I will be thanking God for those whose endurance, skill and courage make it possible to contemplate a world where Obama's patience and faith will trump bin Laden's viscious contempt for the other, in this case, mostly 'christians'.

Let's have truth-telling by men and women for a change

By Nancy Gibbs, Time, May 18, 2011
(T)he arrest of Strauss-Kahn in New York City for allegedly trying to rape a hotel maid has ignited a fierce debate over sex, law, power and privilege. And it is only just beginning. The night of Strauss-Kahn's arraignment, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted that the reason his wife Maria Shriver walked out earlier this year was the discovery that he had fathered a child more than a decade ago with a former member of the household staff. The two cases are far apart: only one man was hauled off to jail. But both suggest an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust. And both involve men whose long-standing reputations for behaving badly toward women did not derail their rise to power. Which raises the question: How can it be, in this ostensibly enlightened age, when men and women live and work as peers and are schooled regularly in what conduct is acceptable and what is actionable, that anyone with so little judgment, so little honor, could rise to such heights?
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2072527,00.html#ixzz1MzL8Kz3D
Ms Gibbs was a guest of Tom Ashbook on NPR's On Point radio, yesterday. During the hour-long program, one woman called to express a view that is little heard, and even less "conventional" these days:
Women, especially younger women, have a great deal of power and attraction for older men; I know because when I was younger I actually experienced that, and we must stop making men the "perpetrator" in all cases, notwithstanding that physical and emotional abuse must never be tolerated.
One of the central themes to which Ms Gibbs referred is the "abuse of power" theme, for example, when someone in a position of power, influence and authority (often a male) takes advantage of a female whose career, life or education, for example, the male has the opportunity to influence significantly. As an example, she used a former employee of the IMF who allegedly was a victim of Strauss-Kahn's sexual advances and who felt trapped by him, in order to protect her professional career.
Juxtaposed with this view, the wife of that same Strauss-Kahn, Anne Sinclair, comments, "It's important," she said, "for a man in politics to be able to seduce." (From Time, May 18, 2011)
Clearly, the U.S. "puritan" approach, as Ashbrook labelled it, is far different from the European approach to this subject, especially when we note that 57% of French people believe that Strauss-Kahn has been "set-up" in this latest sex-charged drama emerging from the Sofitel Hotel in New York.
Over the last thirty or forty years, women have made a determined and quite deliberate issue of attaining equality with men; they have attained many of the top jobs in many of the public and private organizations, now occupy the coveted office of Secretary of State, three seats on the U.S. Supreme Court, the just vacated Auditor General post in Canada (to retirement), the CEO of Pepsico, for example. And, no doubt, to a fault, all of these women have both earned those positions and serve their various constituents exceptionally well, in many cases, better than the previous male holders of those offices.
And that "political" and "economic" equality is both healthy and long overdue, at least in North America.
However, it is the issue of the "power imbalance" that I wish to address, especially in respect to private relationships.
First, no man or woman has the right to impose him or herself onto another-physically, emotionally, financially, or any other way. To demand sexual favours as a "price" is nothing more than unconscionable. And neither is to "bride" sexual favours from another any less unconscionable.
Any element of force, including the element of "seduction" is both dangerous and, in such situations, virtually unavoidable. And both men and women have the power to seduce; and the degree to which this power is disproportionately available or deployed will vary in every situation.
However, with full equality comes full responsibility. And that means women, too, have to accept their fair share of responsibilty for both fostering and engendering relationships with men that are conducted on both the physical and the emotional planes.
I came from a home in which the political, economic and intellectual power was both vested in and maintained by a woman, my mother. My father was virtually "dumb" in the literal sense of that word; he either could not or would not utter a word of protest to anything she said. Was he afraid of her? I can only guess.
Without empirical evidence, I would venture to imagine that she controlled their sexual life as well.
In my personal experience, I have noticed that women have seemed to want both a relationhip and "no responsibilty" for the creation or existence of that relationship. And I have also noticed that the male, because he is the male, is loaded with the full responsibility for the relationship, even without a full knowledge of the mutual nature of that relationship. The myth of male testosterone has become the fact of male dominance in any and all male-female relationships, when, in fact, that is not the case in most.
Women, it seems, will participate in the relationship, without taking responsibility either for its beginning or for its termination, especially if there is another woman whose attraction and affection have become focused on the male. Even months after the termination of a relationship, some women still "cling" to the perception that it has not ended, but will often, perhaps predictably, seek revenge if their denial of its termination is complete.
Men and women, both, equally and maturely, must take responsibity for entering into relationship even if those relationships do not fit the conventional parameters. Men, it would seem, have for too long been silent in seeking equality and shared responsibility in both 'sparking' relationships, fostering and sustaining relationships and in terminating relationships. Women have too often been given a pass when it comes to sharing responsibility for 'sparking', fostering and terminating relationships...and that kind of inequality cannot continue, if women are to take their full and mature place of equality with men.
Women have no immunity to either public or self-deception, and their ownership of that immunity would go a long way to creating a level playing field.

Conservatives did not win immigrants...study

By Susan Delacourt, Toronto Star, May 20, 2011
(A)s political scientists have been sifting through the data of May 2, they’re learning that immigrant voters did not flock to the Conservatives in any large way in the election.

This was among one of the most surprising revelations last week when Canada’s leading political scientists held their annual conference in the immediate aftermath of the vote.
The professors who’ve been heading up the prestigious Canadian Election Study shared some of their early findings on the final day of the conference at Wilfrid Laurier University. And when it came to the issue of the immigrant vote, it appears that this study is going to be doing some myth-busting.
“Across the board, there doesn’t seem to be anything but a minor shift in terms of the immigrant versus non-immigrant vote where Conservatives are concerned,” said Stuart Soroka of McGill University.
“Up to this point, there’s a bit of gain there, but it seems tiny,” said Patrick Fournier, of the Université de Montréal.
The Canadian Election Study bases its analysis on a huge amount of polling data, carried out by phone, mail and over the Internet, during and after the campaign, and it is generally deemed to be the most accurate look into election dynamics. Political junkies can get an early peek at the findings in next month’s issue of Policy Options, the magazine put out by the Institute for Research on Public Policy.
Certainly not to dispute the findings of the study by political academics but, it may be that the vote needs to be analysed on religious affiliation, as much as on ethnicity.
The Jewish Canadian community have certainly garnered the impression that the Harper position on Israel is different and preferable to the position of either the Liberals or the NDP. We know that the NDP have for many years been more favourably disposed to the cause of the Palestinians in the conflict with Israel. And, as for the Roman Catholic community, there were headlines in the Catholic Register, prior to the election, championing Jason Kenney as the Moses who was leading that group into the Conservative side on voting day. Whether the academics wish to delve into the "religious affiliation" of the voters, or whether the availabla data makes such research possible, we will have wait a little longer to see.
As for Kenney's not being "promoted" in the Cabinet announcements this week, he now heads a very important committee charged with seeing that the priorities of the government actually are carried out by the various ministries or departments, as Ottawa prefers. That is no small task, and it involves a deft, but certainly heavy hand, to generate the kind of discipline needed to "watchdog" the way Cabinet directives are implemented down the line of both the various Minsiters' offices and throughout the bureaucracy.
 On another front of the ethnic issue, just today, Chantal Hebert, in her column in the Toronto Star, argues that making peace with the people of Quebec will depend on Stephen Harper. And one might suggest, in response, that Stephen Harper is not interested in anyone's ethnicity, or in developing an authentic relationship with various ethnic groups, but only in his party's harvesting the votes from various communities come election time. Stephen Harper is not interested in people, their individual and legitimate human needs and concerns; he is interested in numbers: numbers of dollars, numbers of people unemployed, numbers of people he can control, numbers of dollars he can cut from the budget, numbers of (fictional) criminals needing new prison cells, numbers of F-35 Fighter Jets, numbers of military personnel, numbers of days and months of their deployment in Afghanistan, numbers of digits by which the government has reduced the taxes of the rich, numbers of dollars "saved" by the cut in the HST and the list could go on for pages....
His is the business of policy, not people. And if you doubt my words, just watch the next time he appears  "surveying" a disaster scene like those in Manitoba (floods) or Alberta (wildfires) and catch his wooden responses. He has no concept of the depth of suffering, fear or anxiety these people have experienced and continue to experience. And what's worse, he does not care that he does not understand.
Empathy is not a word in his world view. Compassion is not a guiding principle in his political quivver.
People, and the raw experiences of the people in this country have been reduced to a digit, in the political view of the Prime Minister, and the sooner the country understands this, the better.
It is the human side of the "enterprise" that is Canada that has been erased from his conscious, intellectual and objective and detached perspective...and immigrants are just another number to him.
Harper's concept of "customer service" would be a mere "greeting" at the front door, a la WalMart and always with a phoney smile!
He is certainly not going to open another cash register whenever three people are in line to check-out.
And the Canadian people are not his "customers"; we are his employer, and we must not permit his reduction of our needs, identities, hopes and dreams to his mere digits.

Genderless Baby in Toronto: only the parents and siblings know

By Jayme Poisson, Toron to Star, May 21, 2011
The neighbours know (Kathy) Witterick and her husband, David Stocker, are raising a genderless baby. But they don’t pretend to understand it.

While there’s nothing ambiguous about Storm’s genitalia, they aren’t telling anyone whether their third child is a boy or a girl.
The only people who know are Storm’s brothers, Jazz, 5, and Kio, 2, a close family friend and the two midwives who helped deliver the baby in a birthing pool at their Toronto home on New Year’s Day.
“When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?’” says Witterick, bouncing Storm, dressed in a red-fleece jumper, on her lap at the kitchen table.
“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” says Stocker.
It is not only the neighbours who do not understand. The rest of the world will be left in a conundrum about both the motives of the parents and the gender of the child very soon. As soon as the child enters a day-care or nursery, the people looking after her/him will want to know; the children playing with him/her will want to know and they may not be very subtle in the way in which they find out.
Calling the baby "Storm" is a predictor of the kind of turbulence that will be generated by her/his presence, should the parents continue their little game.
Genderless child, could well be an editorial statement about the conflict between the genders in their home city of Toronto, Canada. It could well be a highly ethical motivation that seeks to set an example for everyone to treat each other without the "bias" of gender interferring with the perception of who the child "is."
Dressing the child in gender-neutral clothes may be quite easy and simple for the first few years of the child's life, but the game has a minimum of a three-to-four-year life span.
Another obvious irony in this situation is that both parents and both siblings know, so their preconceived perceptions of "gender" identity are built in to the family home. One wonders if this not a little game, a little sociological experiment, designed and executed by the parents for their own goals of perhaps attempting to generate a more genderless society.
As a symbol of a genderles society, perhaps there is some legitimacy to the "experiment". There is certainly a very clear motive and, one has to presume, a fairly strong conviction on the part of the parents that this the right thing to do. However, let's watch over the next few years to see what happens to the plan, and how quickly it gives way to society's imposing its own perceptions both on the child and on the family.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Obama: geopolitical statesman takes nuanced and measured position in Middle East

Finding ground between two conflicting positions, and parties, is Obama's greatest strength and potentially his most significant weakness, politically.
Yesterday, in a speech billed by the White House as a "major" foreign policy address on the Middle East and North Africa, he addressed the "Arab Spring" uprisings, as they have come to be known, and the Israel-Palestine "elephant in the room" by doing two things:
  1. He placed the United States squarely on the side of the "people" rising up against their despised dictators, and in the case of Syria, told President Assad he had two choices, either lead the transition, "or get out of the way".
  2. He unequivocally supported a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israel tumor, based on the 1967 boundaries "with some mutual land swaps" and placed the U.S. unequivocally in support of Israel's right to exist, including the responsibility to "tell the truth" because of our friendship with Israel.
Today, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House, having signalled that the 1967
boundaries are completely unacceptable to Israel.
Janice Stein, of the Monk School of International Relations, at the University of Toronto, was quite positive in her review of the speech, because as she sees it, Obama set parameters for negotiations to re-commence, without attempting to resolve the crisis "in the public arena"...and also, because Obama also made significant proposals in the face of the uprisings, including the relief of $1billion in Egyptian debt, and the provision of entrepreneurial assistance to the countries in transition, so that the people can find work, innovation and thereby incomes for both country and family so desperately needed. His model for this last proposal was the European effort by the U.S. following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Finding a space between two opposing views and combatants is not always the kind of position that generates the most optimum headlines for a politician in today's media mele. The people who serve as scribes and pundits and talking heads want more extreme "either-or" positions from leaders, in order to prove their "political spine" or their mettle, and seeking middle ground is often considered a sign of timidity, weakness and even indecision.
However, the stakes are extremely high, both in the Arab Spring uprisings and in the Palestinian quest for a permanent homeland for their people and the U.S. and its president and State Department are essential to any long-term solutions on both fronts.
Let's watch today's reports of the conversations between the Israeli leader and the U.S. President, for signs of movement in the Israeli position, that might signal a return to the negotiating table. Hamas, not a partner in any Palestinian government has signalled they rejection of Israel's right to exist; Iran, too, has signalled their intent to "wipe Israel off the map" so the question of existential threats is not only real, but imminent.
It is this position of "denying Israel's right to exist that the world must openly and unquivocally oppose; no country, and no terrorist group, can have the right to eliminate another country, group, race or even religion.
And when Obama signalled his support for a homeland for the "Jewish people" he was casting his vote in support of the Jewish religion and its people, as he has consistently done for the right of the Islamic peoples to practice their religion without fear or threat.
This was another delicate and sophisticated speech, amid a swirling set of dynamics by a highly intelligent and measured U.S. President, for which everyone in the world can be thankful! Once again, he serves more as stateman than as an irritant in the boiling cauldron of Middle East geopolitics.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Deworming African Children....effective, inexpensive 'foreign aid'

By Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, May 18, 2011
Prof. Michael Kremer, a Harvard economist, helped pioneer randomized trials in antipoverty work. In the 1990s, Kremer began studying how to improve education in Africa, trying different approaches in randomly selected batches of schools.

One intervention he tried was deworming kids — and bingo! In much of the developing world, most kids have intestinal worms, leaving them sick, anemic and more likely to miss school. Deworming is very cheap (a pill costing a few pennies), and, in the experiment he did with Edward Miguel, it resulted in 25 percent less absenteeism. Even years later, the kids who had been randomly chosen to be dewormed were earning more money than other kids.
Kremer estimates that the cost of keeping a kid in school for an additional year by building schools or by subsidizing school uniforms is more than $100, while by deworming kids, the cost drops to $3.50. (In a pinch, kids can usually go to “school” in a church or mosque without a uniform.)
It seems fairly obvious that if an organization like Rotary International can eradicate polio from the planet, they are one organization that could mount the fund-raising and the distribution network that could see the African continent's children free of intensinal worms, and not only would those healed kids more likely attend school, but they would more likely do it with absenteeism, and with considerably more academic success.
Where is the partnership between "first world" goverments, NGO's and African governments that can and will take on this project on a scale that could be termed successful, when completed.
It certainly does not have the kind of sex appeal that building schools has; it does not have a "first world" reference point with which philanthropists can identify, and therefore understand, in some subjective manner.
It certainly sounds more like a program for animals, pets, administered by veterarians, than it does like a program for human children.
Nevertheless, deworming children in Africa works, and this is one observer who is ready and willing to lend a hand to the cause, if appropriate partners come forward.
From the Innovations for Poverty Action website www.poverty-action.org/provenimpact
The Challenge

Parasitic worms harm children's health and development and limit their participation in school.
Over 400 million school-age children are infected with parasitic worms (soil-transmitted helminths and schistosomes) across the globe. These infections are chronic and widespread, damaging children’s health and development and limiting their participation at school. Worms can cause anemia, malnourishment, and impairment of mental and physical development, and children, who suffer thehighest intensity of worm infections, experience the greatest morbidity.
Over the near-term, children with worm infections are often too sick or tired to concentrate at school, or to attend school at all. They may also experience impaired cognitive function and short-term memory. Over the long-term, those children persistently infected have been shown to have significantly lower literacy and earnings as adults.
Millions of affected children remain untreated each year. It is estimated that fewer than 15% of at-risk children are receiving treatment, which is far below the 75% target set by the World Health Organization (WHO) to reach by 2010.

Aboriginal history and education need to change in Canada

By Tanya Talaga Toronto Star, May 18, 2011 
The lack of proper school for First Nations children is “immoral discrimination” that flies in the face of Canadian values, says former prime minister Paul Martin.
A proposed student residence for northern native children forced to move hundreds of kilometres from home should be backed by the federal government, Martin said in an interview with the Star.
Since 2000, seven First Nations children who have relocated to Thunder Bay to go to school have been found dead in local rivers.
“You should not take out a 14-year-old kid, from a community of 300 people, and then plunk them down in a boarding house in Thunder Bay, where they are all by themselves,” Martin said from Montreal.
Six of the seven students went to Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, a First Nations-run school funded by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).
In an effort to better care for these kids, the school wants to build a residence that can house at least 125 students
Yesterday, as a muniscule drop in his announcement of his new Cabinet, the Prime Minister changed the name of the federal Ministry responsible for First Nations peoples and their families from "Indian and Northern Affairs" to "Aboriginals and Northern Affairs" in order to reflect the inclusion of Inuit, non-status Indians, and Metis. However, the move has caused ripples among the leaders of Aboriginal people.
By Bill Curry, Globe and Mail, May 18, 2011
Anishinabek Nation leader Patrick Madahbee issued a statement on Wednesday accusing the Conservatives of “slighting first nations citizens” with the name change.

Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said that while “Indian” is not the preferred term for some first nations, many still use it and it is important in terms of protecting rights.
“It’s a little bit like a double-edged sword,” he said. “If this discussion helps us to get to a better level of understanding, then it’s something that would perhaps prove helpful. But understandably, first nations greet changes most quickly with suspicion about what it might mean, in an adverse or a negative way, so I think it’s incumbent on me to go ahead and find out exactly what’s intended.”
For decades, nevertheless, in the Canadian way of doing things, First Nations young people have been either poorly and inapropriately (meaning abusively) been educated in residential schools, or more recently, moved to totally foreign communities where they have been housed in albeit well-meaning unofficial 'foster' homes while they attended "white-man's" schools. For well over twenty years, I was one of their teachers, in schools in North Bay, where students mainly from the shores of James and Hudson Bay's attended secondary school.
In the school, as I recall, there was an aboriginal counsellor whose office was always open to the students living away from home. And there were few if any negative incidents around the years of my experience. But that's primarily because these students were isolated, shy, withdrawn for the most part and sceptical of both the culture and the education. They were expected to learn English along with the rest of the normal curriculum, and there were no courses, even extra-curricular courses or opportunities, for them to learn their own culture, history, dialect and community values.
We were "assimilating" them into the white-man's culture, as they would often say, whether they agreed with the policy and practice or not.
And the process, as the former Prime Minister says, needs to stop.
The Canadian government's history with aboriginal people is scarred by indifference, patronising condescension, even, it could be argued, a form of institutional racism. Good intentions, often even fairly administered, can and do still smack of a kind of superiority and a kind of demeaning second-class status.
And, to their credit, many young aboriginals have decided to make their own way through such a maze into the corridors of post-secondary education, securing degrees in many fields including law, education, and criminology, as well as social work and community development.
If the name change in yesterday's Cabinet announcement leads to any kind of diluting of the rights and opportunities of Aboriginal people, there is a growing number of educated and articulate aboriginal leaders who will advocate in ways we have not yet seen or heard, to block such moves.
However, the new directions of the relationship between the government of Canada and the Aboriginal people must include clean drinking water, full access to health care, job and leadership opportunities and education that starts with the design by their own community leaders, in their own communities, where they can and will take legitimate pride and ownership of their traditions, their values and their growing opportunity to provide needed lessons for the "white" culture in both community building and environmental attitudes and protection.
These are not handicapped people, and it is long part time for us to stop treating them as handicapped and as second class citizens.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lester R. Brown: Water Shortages Threaten Food Future in Middle East (Earth Policy Instiute)

From Earth Policy Institute website, May 18, 2011
Water Shortages Threaten Food Future in the Arab Middle East*

By Lester R. Brown
Long after the political uprisings in the Middle East have subsided, many underlying challenges that are not now in the news will remain. Prominent among these are rapid population growth, spreading water shortages, and ever growing food insecurity.
In some countries, grain production is now falling as aquifers are depleted. After the Arab oil-export embargo of the 1970s, the Saudis realized that since they were heavily dependent on imported grain, they were vulnerable to a grain counter-embargo. Using oil-drilling technology, they tapped into an aquifer far below the desert to produce irrigated wheat. In a matter of years, Saudi Arabia was self-sufficient in wheat, its principal food staple.
But after more than 20 years of wheat self-sufficiency, the Saudis announced in January 2008 that this aquifer was largely depleted and they would be phasing out wheat production. Between 2007 and 2010, the wheat harvest of nearly 3 million tons dropped by more than two thirds. At this rate the Saudis likely will harvest their last wheat crop in 2012 and then be totally dependent on imported grain to feed their Canada-sized population of nearly 30 million people.
The unusually rapid phaseout of wheat farming in Saudi Arabia is due to two factors. First, in this arid country there is little farming without irrigation. Second, irrigation there depends almost entirely on a fossil aquifer, which, unlike most aquifers, does not recharge naturally from rainfall. And the desalted sea water Saudi Arabia uses to supply its cities is far too costly for irrigation use, even for the Saudis.
Saudi Arabia’s growing food insecurity has even led it to buy or lease land in several other countries, including two of the world’s hungriest, Ethiopia and Sudan. In effect, the Saudis are planning to produce food for themselves with the land and water resources of other countries to augment their fast growing imports.
In neighboring Yemen, replenishable aquifers are being pumped well beyond the rate of recharge, and the deeper fossil aquifers are also being rapidly depleted. As a result, water tables are falling throughout Yemen by some 2 meters per year. In the capital, Sana’a—home to 2 million people—tap water is available only once every 4 days; in Taiz, a smaller city to the south, it is once every 20 days.
Yemen, with one of the world’s fastest-growing populations, is becoming a hydrological basket case. With water tables falling, the grain harvest has shrunk by one third over the last 40 years, while demand has continued its steady rise. As a result, the Yemenis now import more than 80 percent of their grain. With its meager oil exports falling, with no industry to speak of, and with nearly 60 percent of its children physically stunted and chronically undernourished, this poorest of the Arab countries is facing a bleak and potentially turbulent future.
The likely result of the depletion of Yemen’s aquifers—which will lead to further shrinkage of its harvest and spreading hunger and thirst—is social collapse. Already a failing state, it may well devolve into a group of tribal fiefdoms, warring over whatever meager water resources remain. Yemen’s internal conflicts could spill over its long, unguarded border with Saudi Arabia.
In addition to the bursting food bubble in Saudi Arabia and the fast-deteriorating water situation in Yemen, Syria and Iraq—the other two populous countries in the region—have water troubles. Some of these arise from the reduced flows of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, which both countries depend on for irrigation water. Turkey, which controls the headwaters of these rivers, is in the midst of a massive dam building program that is slowly reducing downstream flows. Although all three countries are party to water-sharing arrangements, Turkey’s ambitious plans to expand both hydropower generation and irrigated area are being fulfilled partly at the expense of its two downstream neighbors.
Given the future uncertainty of river water supplies, farmers in Syria and Iraq are drilling more wells for irrigation. This is leading to overpumping in both countries. Syria’s grain harvest has fallen by one fifth since peaking at roughly 7 million tons in 2001. In Iraq, the grain harvest has fallen by one fourth since peaking at 4.5 million tons in 2002.
Jordan, with 6 million people, is also on the ropes agriculturally. Forty or so years ago, it was producing over 300,000 tons of grain per year. Today it produces only 60,000 tons and thus must import over 90 percent of its grain. In this region only Lebanon has avoided a decline in grain production.
Thus in the Arab Middle East, where populations are growing fast, the world is seeing the first collision between population growth and water supply at the regional level. For the first time in history, grain production is dropping in a geographic region with nothing in sight to arrest the decline. Because of the failure of governments in the region to mesh population and water policies, each day now brings 10,000 more people to feed and less irrigation water with which to feed them.
Lester R. Brown is President of the Earth Policy Institute and author of "World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse."
Copyright © 2011 Earth Policy Institute (Permission to upload requested, 18 05 11)