Monday, October 31, 2011

Canada threatened by radical al-Shabaab (audio report)

By Sahra Abdi and Omar Faruq in Globe and Mail,  from Reuters, with a report from The Associated Press, October 30, 2011 

An al Qaeda-linked Somali militant group has released an audio tape calling for terrorist attacks in a host of countries, including Canada.

The tape posted by al-Shabaab was allegedly made by a U.S. citizen who blew himself up during an attack on an African Union base in Somalia’s capital on Saturday that killed at least 10 people.
The young man urges others to “do jihad in America, do jihad in Canada” and in other parts of the world.

He also urges other youth not to “just chill all day” but to carry out attacks against non-Muslims around the world.
On Sunday, 10 al-Shabaab rebels were killed in a Kenyan air raid on the southern Somali town of Jilib, the military said, as the East African nation fights to rid Somalia of the militants.
Kenya moved its troops into Somalia in mid-October in pursuit of Somali insurgents it blames for a series of kidnappings on Kenyan soil and frequent assaults on its security forces in the border province of North Eastern.
Residents and officials told Reuters earlier on Sunday that at least 12 civilians were killed when two Kenyan jets bombed Jilib.
al-Shabaab is the same group that previously blocked the shipments of food and medical supplies to the starving millions in Somalia. And this story, including both the incident between the Kenyans and al-Shabaab and the audio recording, while not in themselves necessarily earth-shattering, does not bode well for other countries, including Canada.
It was Ayn Hirsi Ali, among others, who warned of the global reach and intent of radical Islamists to take over the world. This latest report helps to confirm such suspicions.
And, while there are western leaders who publicly condemn "Islamicism" as the world's enemy number one, (Canada's Prime Minister Harper for one), such statements have often brought down showers of derision from many liberals, including some in Canada, for their alleged racism.
And while it is true that not all members of Islam are necesarily radical, the radical elements in that faith group are dangerous, and the danger grows, in small numbers, but certainly not in a small political and violent ambition.
One problem with the release of both the recording and news reports that confirm its existence and intent is that for those of us who are not Muslims, and never intend to become Muslims, we are completely blind to which members of that faith are dangerous and which members are not.
Consequently, without being racist specifically, we are extremely suspicious, even withdrawn and perhaps even a little frightened by the galloping ambitions of Islam to dominate the world. And that domination is evident, not only in audio recordings from al-Shabaab, but also from such world figures as the president of Iran, who publicly tells Fareed Zakaria that Israel must be wiped off the map of the world.
And why? we ask. And the answer seems to be "because they are Jews".
As if there were no countries in which Muslims currently live as majorities, in control of the government, the military and the legal system, including various applications of Sharia law.
The conflict between radical Islam and the non-Muslim world is one in which there are no "specialists" with answers, as there might be over the debt-deficit crisis on both sides of the Atlantic. The conflict comes out of a demographic sector which, in light of the last hundred years or so, has seem mostly calm, with some notable exceptions, like the sectarian conflicts in Northern Ireland. Making peace between protestants and Roman Catholics, for example, has witnessed some considerable progress even in Northern Ireland, over the last two or three decades, although we have to agree that there was considerable violence, murder and terrorism in the struggle in our lifetimes.
Not only are there no specialists with appropriate answers, many of those whom the world considers "scholars" within each faith community would likely be hard pressed to recommend how to approach, confront and potentially resolve this alleged domination motive of Islam. Consequently, we generally leave it to political leaders, with both intelligence and military capabilities, to deal with our response. And the history of such responses is often one clouded with attributing different motives to a perceived enemy than the real motives. Witness the change from confronting homophobia among Commonwealth leaders, to calling the issue a "health issue" because it has implications in the politically legitimate battle against HIV-AIDS.
After nearly seven decades of attempting to relate positively to people of different ethnic and linguistic and religious persuasions, along with millions of others, I am faced with the prospect of an enemy so large and so amorphous and so confident and so determined that the country of my birth, Canada, may not be the country in which my grand-daughters become adults...and that causes me profound and complicated sadness, anxiety and even some fear. And, like millions of others, I am prepared to do whatever it takes, including resisting the growth of what most would consider "legitimate" Islam in Canada, in order to preserve what we represent, stand for and seek to preserve.
That is, unless and until the moderates of that faith come out publicly, in all towns and cities in every country and demonstrate their willingness and their courage to confront the radical elements in their faith who seek violence against all non-Muslims. It will take the combined strength and power of all moderates of all faith communities to say, "NO!" to these illegitimate terrorist groups of radical Islam. And there is much less time than the public mood would indicate. We are, it seems, far too complacent, in the face of this small but imminent threat. And at least this complacency is clearly not warranted.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Gayness: not merely a health issue, but a cultural and political issue!

By Rick Mercer, from Rick, October 26, 2011
Rick Mercer's Rant (Mr. Mercer is an openly gay entertainer on CBC Television)
 Every year in this country 300 kids take their own lives. It is a mind-boggling number. And this past week one of those kids was Jamie Hubley. He was 15, he was depressed and he happened to be gay.

And because this is 2011 we don't just read about a kid like Jamie, we can Google him and then the next thing you know, you’re sitting at home watching his videos on YouTube. And he was gay all right. He was a great big goofy gay kid singing Lady Gaga on the Internet. And as an adult you look at that and you go, you know what, that kid’s going places. But for some reason, some kids, they looked at that and they attacked. And now he's gone.
And because this story is all too familiar we know exactly what’s going to happen next. Grief counselors will go into the school, as they should. But what about the old fashioned assembly? You know, where the cops show up and there's hell to pay and they find out who’s responsible. You know like when the lunchroom is vandalized. Because the kids who bullied this boy, they know who they are. And more importantly other kids know who they are.
It's no longer good enough for us to tell kids who are different that it’s going to get better. We have to make it better now, that's every single one of us. Every teacher, every student, every adult has to step up to the plate. And that’s gay adults too. Because I know gay cops, soldiers, athletes, cabinet ministers, a lot of us do, but the problem is adults, we don't need role models. Kids do. So if you're gay and you’re in public life, I'm sorry, you don't have to run around with a pride flag and bore the hell out of everyone, but you can't be invisible either. Not anymore. 300 kids is 300 too many.
And this from Globe and Mail Editorial, October 28, 2011
With the best of intentions, Mr. Mercer would impose a burden on gay people that is on no one else in our society. And anyone who did not bear up under that burden would be, by implication, a moral failure – a coward. That is a very big burden, indeed.
How different (and yet not so different) it is from the burden of recent times in which gay people felt they had to keep their orientation secret, even from family members. One of the signal victories of the past few decades has been to free gay people from the burden of secrecy. Should they now be placed under an obligation of openness?
That would not be fair. There are many reasons why some gay cops, soldiers, athletes and politicians might wish not to be open about their orientation. They may consider it a private matter. They have entered these professions for the same reason anyone else has and wish to pursue them in the same way, without differentiating themselves in a way that may feel, to them, irrelevant. They may even be “out” to the people who know them well. Would every gay person now need to hold a news conference?
And yet Mr. Mercer may be right that if all gay athletes, soldiers, etc., were somehow able to make their orientation known far and wide, it would reduce the power of stereotype and spread tolerance. It might weaken the position of the bullies, or at least give comfort to vulnerable gay teens.
And this By Bruce Cheadle from Globe and Mail, October 28, 2011
A report to Commonwealth leaders says there is “overwhelming support” for its core recommendations, including a human rights commissioner and the repeal of laws against homosexuality still found in 41 of the 54 member states.

But that support does not extend to the association’s leadership, says one of the report’s Canadian authors, and without visible and well-publicized reforms, the future of the Commonwealth is in peril....
The report recommends the creation of a new “Charter of the Commonwealth” and a commissioner for democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

The Harper government has already committed to pushing for the reforms, and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said before arriving in Perth that the repeal of laws against homosexuality would be on the table at the summit.
While the report calls for the repeal of anti-gay laws, it frames the issue as one of disease control, stating such laws “impede the effective response of Commonwealth countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”
Gay rights are just one aspect of the called-for reforms.
These three pieces focus attention on a significant social and political issue: the relationship of the gay and lesbian community to the straight community. Currently, there are far too many suicides among gay adolescents, many of them following extensive bullying. And while the Globe Editorial is right not to wish to impose a moral imperative on all gay adults to come out of the "closet," that misses Mercer's point, that if all gays and lesbians in all walks of life were able and willing to be open about their sexuality, that would significantly enhance the confidence and self-respect of gay adolescents.
However, we cannot have either a healthy society in this regard, nor a British Commonwealth that faces the future head on with respect to human rights, if  the leaders of that organization, among others, has to duck the issue by framing it as one of disease control. Certainly, acceptance of gays and lesbians in all commonwealth countries would enhance the treatment of HIV/AIDS; however, that merely uses the health issue to "mask" the real issue of racial and religious bigotry.
It is to the churches that we must look for change; they are one of the most insurmountable hurdles in the war against gay and lesbian bigotry, and they have public allies, like the current Mayor of Toronto, who publicly refuses to attend the Gay Pride Parade in that city, preferring to visit his cottage on that weekend this past summer.
The religious "right" considers all homosexuality activity to be a "sin" according to their interpretation of the Bible. The Roman Catholic church considers homosexuality activity a sin.
The political "right" also considers gay and lesbian people capable of change, back to the natural position of being sexually straight, through counselling, a position also supported by many in the conservative religious demographic.
If 41 of the 54 countries in the Commonwealth still have laws against homosexuality, many of those same laws are based on a literal interpretation of the Bible that is incompatible with God's exhortation to "love" all of the people on the planet, a creatures "created in the image of God" scripture also alleges.
This religious, moral, sexual and thereby political divide is extremely deep, divisive and bears more than a cursory examination in both political and private reflections. Each of us has an obligation to examine our personal attitudes to gayness, uncomfortable as that exercise may be. The reflection will require confronting the reality that gayness, while different from heterosexuality, is not a reality that must arouse only fear. There is no greater danger to anyone, including school children, from gay instructors than there is from straight teachers. The bogeyman of forcing their lifestyle on others is simply not based on reality and that fact has to become part of the discussion, and the private reflections of each of us.
Further, the male side of the species has to confront one of the most traumatic and challenging facts of the existence of male sexuality: it is a very fragile quality, under considerable attack from all quarters, including even moderate feminists. A brief anecdote, from yesterday's shopping trip to Loblaws:
My wife and I were discussing some item on our list when a woman approached us with this request, "I would like to ask for your help in getting a jar of clam juice from the top shelf, because I cannot reach it."
After I willingly obliged, she moved past my wife commenting, "They still are useful for a few things!"
With that kind of attitude among women of all ages, male masculinity, and with it male sexuality of the straight kind, will continue to be an extremely fragile quality, and to many straight men, homosexuality is another threat to that already fragile quality.
It is up to all males, everywhere, to come face to face with their own sexuality, celebrate it in a healthy manner and dump any lingering fears of gayness in themselves as well as in others. Women, by contrast, seem rather undisturbed by the gayness of their sister lesbians, and men would do well to emulate their detachment. However, that will only come about with a societal enhancement of men, men's contribution, men's creativity, and men's sexuality including those men who happen to be gay.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy Kingston..the canary in the coal mine?

It was a cold rainy night last night, as Josh, Jesse and I sat in the encampment known as Occupy Kingston, Ontario Canada talking about who these young men are and why they are doing what they are doing.
One large tarpaulin encloses several smaller 'tents', one for medical supplies procured and donated by a medical student, one for food and refrigeration, and three or four for sleeping. There is a single electric outlet to which they have access, in their "winter" location in Confederation Park, immediately across from City Hall. A couple of propane heaters also provide minimal heat. The local fire department has provided fire alarms; a couple of strings of minature coloured lights, requiring little electricity, provide some light inside.
The city council has assigned a councillor, Jim Neill, from Williamsburg ward, to liaise between the Occupiers and the city, and has informed the group that, while they are welcome for the winter, come Spring, they will be expected to move to a different area in the city.
The "head" of the group, if there is one, is Matt, an experienced street medic, and someone who knows how to organize, find resources and lead such a movement. At 28, he is oldest of the current occupiers, while Josh (23) and Jesse are a little younger. Josh currently attends St. Lawrence College, as a Wind Turbine Technology student, while Jesse graduated from St. Lawrence's Computer Network program in 2008. However, after finding work, Jesse became disillusioned with the way his employers were supervising him and his co-workers, especially in the restaurant sector, and now is unemployed.
Focussing on developing programs, the Kingston Occupiers provide meals for the homeless who drop in, from donations made available by supporters who donate.They also plan to give training sessions in such skills as "street medics." Every Friday night is the People's Movie Night when they show a movie supporting their cause; every Wednesday is the People's Performance Night, with an open mic, when they invite people to come and read or sing or show off their art. They have also
 developed a website,
 on which they outline both their activities and their perspective.
You can also follow them on twitter:
Quoting from their brochure:
If you think you're not being robbed, you're just not paying attention.
and this: Enough is enough.
We are the 99% of Canada that has lived with political, economic, social and environmental injustice for too long. We will no longer stay silent about the massive transfer of wealth from the majority of Canada to the 1% who have used their economic power to usurp our democracy. We will rise up and with one voice say NO!
Inspired by the the Good Neighbour Policy of Occupy Wall Street at Zucotti Park in New York city, they list the following rules and guidelines:
Occupy Kingston has zero tolerance for alcohol or drug use in the People's Tent or the People's Park
Occupy Kingston has zero tolerance for violence or verbal abuse towards anyone
Occupy Kingston has zerio tolerance for abuse of personal or public property
Occupy Kingston encourages all participants to respect health, sanitation and safety, and will direct al participants to respectfully utilize off-site sanitary facilities
Occupy Kingston will display signage and have community relations and work shops in the People's Park or Tent in order to raise awareness of and respect for our guidelines and Good Neighbour Policy
These young, courageous and determined young men plan to remain in their encampment through the winter, although they do express some concern about just how cold it is going to get. "The hardest thing about the project," says Josh, "is waking up in the cold in the morning, in time to get to school."
Clearly, there is a high degree of networking among various local groups including those working among the homeless, the hungry, the working poor and the Occupy Kingston cadre of volunteers and while we were there, a few "grey-beards" were engaged in conversation outside the actual encampment, about mutual concerns over the widening gap in incomes in Canada and elsewhere.
"Is there anything you need?"
"Well," Josh says, "I'm vegan, and while we have lots of meat for the others I would love some vegan food!"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Banks really do own the by Swiss Research Institute

By Vanessa Lu, Toronto Star, October 25, 2011
Those 99 per centers who are occupying Wall St. may be right after all.

The banks really do own the world — or at least much of it.
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, also known as ETH, set out to figure out who controls the world’s wealth, and whether the belief that it’s in the hands of a few powerful corporations is true.
Their study says it’s been hard to prove because many companies “exert control over other firms via a web of direct and indirect ownership relations which extends over many countries.”
They began with a list of 43,060 transnational corporations identified, according to the OECD definition, using a sample of about 30 million individuals and companies.
And using complicated mathematical models, they developed a network of ownership pathways originating from and pointing to the companies.
The result is a list of the 50 top global firms, and not surprisingly financial institutions make up almost the entire list though no exact figures are included.
“Many of the names are well-known global players,” says the report. “The interest of this ranking is not that it exposes unsuspected powerful players. Instead, it shows that many of the top actors belong to the core.
“This means that they do not carry out their business in isolation but, on the contrary, they are tied together in an extremely entangled web of control.”
Barclays tops the list and financial institutions in the top 10 include Capital Group Companies Inc., State Street Corp., JP Morgan Chase & Co., UBS AG and Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.
The list is dominated by U.S. and European companies including British, German, French and Swiss firms. The only Canadian company on the list is Sun Life Financial Inc., ranked at 35.
And all this time, we actually thought that the news from each of our capitals had import, was important to the daily lives of our people. There is a risk, in the skimpy details of thsi story, that the ordinary people of the world, those struggling with their mortgage, with their retirment, with their individual health and the economic health of their country may already have fallen hostage to the "wealth and power" of the major corporations whose grip on the money circulating around the globe is so strong and so final that only their interests will be listened to by the people acting as their puppets, the politicians.
It was only a few days ago that Chris Matthews, of MSNBC, commented on his program, Hardball, that the reason no politician is fully embracing the Occupy Together (or Occupy Wall Street) movement is that those people are directly dependent on the big corporations and the banks for their campaign funds.
Power (including the power of money) is an extremely seductive mistress.
She dresses in the latest fashions, drives the most sleek convertibles, eats at the most chic and expensive dining rooms, flies on her own private luxury jet, sails on her own private luxury yacht, hosts conversations and parties where only 'her own kind' are invited, and only those on the inside of her network have legitimacy, a coveted laurel that is removed at the earliest sign of a soiled reputation, a drop in status, a shift in personal, political, economic or even geopolitical health. And she is the mistress whose every glance, and flick of the ashes from her long cigarette holder, and most innocuous and trivial "need" is the command of her many suitors, lovers, gamblers, and hunters of both genders whether they are in capitals in the Middle East, North American or Europe.
She can make or break any cause or issue and most corporations will follow her digital, daily symptom drill that crawls along the base of most television screens with her latest pulsations, both positive and negative (they're called "market reports") and while a veneer of social consciousness envelopes her public motives, her core interests are the extremely focussed pursuit of more money and power, for its own sake.
And every school child in every country is shown her glamorized picture on her own magazine pages, television channels, digital platforms and even behind the research in most universities.
We have a new global religion, dedicated to the elevation of the majesty of her magnificence, and the thinly veiled promise (never to be attained) that all people aspire to own a piece of her magnificence. And it is all a lie, and we all know it is a lie and nevertheless we continue to act is if it were the holy grail.
We are all members of her "congregation" and her "cult" and her "miltitary" and her political movement, and only those actually sitting in Zucotti Park, and in Confederation Basin in Kingston Ontario, and in city squares around the world have the counrage to remove her phoney clothes, and with them her phoney mask of the ultimate quest for all men and women. And we need to say  a loud and resonating "thank you" to those courageous enough to remove the veil from her face and show her for what she truly is, a fraud.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Anglican church joins Suicide Prevention cause...changes its position

By Diana Swift, Anglican Journal, October 25, 2011
The Anglican Church of Canada is making progress toward overcoming a longstanding negative stereotype and becoming an effective partner in preventing suicide. “It’s a challenge because the church has not traditionally been a welcoming place for the families of suicide victims,” explains Cynthia Patterson, coordinator of suicide prevention since 2009 for the Council of the North, Anglican Church of Canada. “Suicide was considered a mortal sin and the deceased could not be buried in consecrated ground.”
According to Patterson, “We have a lot of teaching to do to explain that this is not our attitude now. We are working away, one partner at a time, and we are gaining more acceptance.”
The good news is that the church is moving in a healthy direction, finally, after burying its head in the sand, not really wanting to acknowledge the issue, even within its own ranks. The bad news is that the church's "concept of sin" as the defining feature of human nature, and therefore the starting place for a relationship with it, and through it with God, is counter-intuitive.
I once recommended to an Episcopal bishop in the U.S. that he read Matthew Fox, the author of such liberating thelogical texts as Original Blessing in which he turns the "original sin" story on its ears through the gift by the grace of God, of human consciousness, awareness and insight. Without having read any of Fox's work, he immediately retorted, "That's too radical! I will not read it!"
And yet that same bishop published a diocesan letter condemning (now retired) Bishop Spong of New Jersey for being a "heretic". The letter was to be read in all churches, at the direction of the bishop, as a way of demonstrating the diocese's distancing from Spong's challenging texts on various aspects of biblical interpretation, including Resurrection, the Virgin Birth, and the need for the church to change, or die.
For the last century, many Canadians have considered suicide an aspect of a subject entitled mental illness that is virtually outside the purview of the church. There is a lingering "devil" aspect to discussions of mental illness, as if there were a Satan living in each of the people whose lives are made more painful by their psychiatric diagnosis. It has been, almost, as if God was absent from such people, because the devil was in charge.
And yet, when theological or seminary students were assigned to train as chaplains in mental hospitals, the fundamental learning from such experiences, as retold by those gifted by such an experience, was that God loved those people, and, by working with them, these students were specially blessed to have been given the opportunity.
If one reads Henri Nouwen's work on Daybreak, the Toronto home of L'Arche, founded by Jean Vanier as homes for the mentally challenged, one is struck by the impact these people had on Nouwen, a gifted scholar, theologian and pastoral counsellor.
There are too many places, such as the church's historic stance on suicide, where human life, in all of its messiness and its uncontrolled aspects on the part of those living those lives, is/was/and likely always will be considered "sinful" and therefore requiring the changes proposed by the churches. It used to be that a couple living together could not be married in the church by a licensed clergy; however, that fell by the wayside. If the church wished to continue to conduct marriages, it would have to accept, indeed welcome, those living together prior to their marriage.
Explanations, like the "evil" of suicide, condemned by the church for a long period, were never satisfactory, while the church's position rendered those families in which the act occurred "troubled" even "dangerous" and certainly, "not christian."
Not until all the catalogue of human emotions, actions, spoken words and beliefs are brought to light within the church, as an integral part of the landscape of God's creation, and not until all people are seen to be either potentially, or in fact, part of all these messes and inconsistencies, conflicts, self-abuse, and even self-loathing will the church become a willing and a competent and an open and receptive agency for the teaching and the learning that the gospel holds for its adherents...and that includes the tearing down of walls between those the church considers "sinners" for whatever reason, and those the church considers "children of God"...
I have not seen a piece of ecclesiatical research documenting the level of merciless gossip that flows through every congregation, whereby parishoners debase those sitting in the same pews for their "wayward ways"; however, when the church is able and willing to confront such diabolical arrogance, it will have gone a long way toward bringing the gospel to life within its sanctuaries.
The change in the church's position on suicide, while welcome, may be only a small beginning.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reynolds: a manifesto against organized labour

By Neil Reynolds, Globe and Mail, October 24, 2011
We could tinker with the public-sector pensions (and we should), but we would be wiser to tackle the public-sector unions directly. We could justifiably eliminate them. We could justifiably eliminate the right to strike. Or we could justifiably adopt the American model: Wisconsin’s reform law that limits public-sector collective bargaining to wages only (excluding benefits, work rules and pensions) and ends the right to strike. FDR would approve. With hindsight, Lester Pearson might, too.

This manifesto against organized labour, from Mr. Reynolds, comes when the current culture is so pro-business and anti-people, that if fits very well with the Harper government's agenda, whether publicly stated or not.
Remember, Mr. Reynolds, it is not only the up front costs that matter; the climate for workers in the U.S., from where you seem to draw your most treasured evidence, is barely above slavery. A private sector worker is no more and no less than just another lump of raw material, useful for the production of whatever widgets your factory produces, but certainly disposable at the whim of the management.
Such "freedom" comes at a cost and that cost is borne primarily by those very workers and their families. Removing labour union protection, however weakened its current state, would be like opening both business and the public sector to the laws of the jungle, where only the management are meant to survive. There are police and fire men and women whose service, done as public servants under the protection of the unions, assures the public of some measure of both safety and protection from other potential enemies. Their jobs cost profoundly in anxiety and stress, given the dangers they face while on duty; submitting their work to the private sector would seriously damage the commitment of those workers to the "cause" on whose behalf they work. Secondly, the public service unions, for example, in provincial and federal government departments have some job security amidst the political masters' whims that would see them fired and replaced after every election. That is not the stability and continuity that the country needs when governments change roughly four times in a decade. Removal of the protection of their union contracts would seriously curtail the pool from which recruits could be drawn to serve in jobs that would then be basically dependent on the government of the day. We already have too many of such jobs, dependent on the party in power.
When the bottom line, that is the immediate and observable and calcuable cost of workers, like all other "commodities" is the reason for change, there are always many variables missing in the equation. The provision of services by ordinary workers needs the protection that unions attempt to offer, in order to preserve a modicum of fairness in a world gone wild with "private enterprise entitlements."
Rarely have I taken to the streets to protest a Canadian government action; however, that will change the moment the Harper government proposes to remove the protections from the labour movement, in a formal bill, as we all know is coming before the next four years are up. It is just one of the many reparations Canadians will need to conduct, following the decimation of the country at the hands of this government.
Meet you on the protest lines, Mr. Reynolds!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Unreasonable Institute (Boulder Colorado) grows "spreadsheet humanitarians"

By Hannah Seligson, New York Times, October 22, 2011
DANIEL EPSTEIN wants to get one thing straight: He is an unreasonable man. Happily, proudly unreasonable. Entrepreneurs who want to change the world, he says, have got to be a little crazy.

And so, to foster some practical zaniness, Mr. Epstein is a co-founder of something called the Unreasonable Institute, in Boulder, Colo. For the last two summers, he has helped preside over this academy for entrepreneurs who want to solve social problems and make some money, too.
Part schmooze-fest, part group hug, this six-week program connects entrepreneurs with one another, as well as with executives, investors and thinkers who might help them. Its name derives from a quotation by George Bernard Shaw: “All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” For good measure, Mr. Epstein recently had the world “Unreasonable” tattooed on his derrière.
Welcome to the age of the spreadsheet humanitarian. The central idea of the Unreasonable Institute is that profit-making businesses can sometimes succeed where their nonprofit counterparts might falter. Mr. Epstein, 25, and a serial entrepreneur, says the Unreasonable Institute wants people who are willing to think big, even when skeptics scoff.
Competition is stiff. This year, about 300 people vied for 26 spots. Many who have attended praise the program for its networking opportunities. Some have even gotten businesses off the ground.
One of them is Ben Lyon. Two years ago, Mr. Lyon, a recent college graduate in international relations and economics, was in Sierra Leone and feeling highly discouraged. Through a nonprofit group, he had tried to start a pilot program meant to allow microfinancing organizations to receive loan payments via their cellphones. But he just couldn’t get it off the ground.
Today, he is running Kopo Kopo Inc., which is based on that earlier effort. With four full-time employees in Kenya, it offers a mobile payment app that helps people make purchases in areas where banks don’t exist or where fees are too high for the poor to open accounts.
How did it happen? Mr. Lyon, 24, originally from Hanover, N.H., attributes his success to a commercial structure he created with the help of the institute. So far he has raised nearly $1 million from institutional investors.
“We select for-profit ideas that we think have the ability to meet the needs of at least one million people,” says Mr. Epstein, who founded the institute along with Teju Ravilochan, 24, and Tyler Hartung, 26.
The selected entrepreneurs include people like Myshkin Ingawale, 28, of Biosense Technologies, which makes a device that tests women and children for anemia; Luis Duarte, 30, who started YoRecicolo (I Recycle) in Monterey, Mexico; and Jamie Yang, 31, founder of a EGG-energy, a company based in Tanzania that sells rechargeable batteries through a portable power grid.
The institute conducts its program at a fraternity house it rents at the University of Colorado. The six weeks are intense and communal. Fellows sleep three or so to a room. A chef prepares three in-house meals a day. The fellows dine at a table seating 60, alongside mentors who might include the chief technology officer of Hewlett-Packard or the former director of
On any given day, the fellows might go on a hike or a bike ride with a potential investor, attend a workshop about building corporate partnerships, or take part in “family pitch night,” when two entrepreneurs present their companies to the rest of the group for feedback. At the end of the program, the fellows travel to San Francisco and pitch their ideas to a group of investors.

Anatomy of a Miracle on College Street...pray for Bentley!

By Megan Ogilvie, Toronto Star, October 22, 2011
Six months into her first pregnancy, Sadie Stout was faced with a heartbreaking decision: Save herself or save her unborn baby.

The 21-year-old from Thunder Bay had an extraordinarily rare tumour growing inside her heart.
Surgeons at Toronto General Hospital called it a ticking time bomb. They feared a piece of it could break off at any time and swish through her bloodstream to lodge in her brain. They wanted to operate immediately.
But Stout was pregnant. Only 17 other women in the world had ever had this kind of tumour in her condition. And no one was sure whether her unborn baby boy would survive the risky surgery.
After a slew of tests and hours of consultation, her team of doctors — heart specialists at Toronto General and high-risk obstetricians at Mount Sinai Hospital — presented Stout with three treatment options. She had just one day to make her decision.
Up until doctors discovered her tumour, Stout had thought she was having a healthy pregnancy.
Her ultrasounds showed nothing out of the ordinary, and she generally felt well and had enough energy to keep up with her class at Everest College where she was studying medical office administration.
There were some days when Stout was tired and had trouble catching her breath. But she and her mother, Louise Chambers, attributed the symptoms to her asthma and the normal fatigue that comes with pregnancy. It was only when Stout had heart palpitations while relaxing on the couch that Chambers became worried.
She asked a cardiologist at Thunder Bay Regional Health Centre, where she works as a housekeeper on the cardiorespiratory ward, whether her daughter’s symptoms were unusual. The doctor said Stout should have an echocardiogram to make sure nothing was wrong with her heart.
Four days later, on Monday, Sept. 19, Stout and Chambers were flying to Toronto to meet with doctors at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at Toronto General Hospital.
Dr. R. J. Cusimano, a cardiac surgeon with a world-renowned expertise in tumours of the heart, took on the case. He confirmed Stout had a cardiac myxoma, and that the tumour, three centimetres in diameter, was growing in the upper left chamber of her heart.
Cardiac myxomas are often benign, but must be removed and the heart repaired. Cusimano describes the tumours as gelatinous — like a jellyfish — with dozens of fanning fronds.
“The problem is,” he explained, “your heart beats 100,000 times a day, so these things have 100,000 chances a day to be knocked off and go flying.”
Since 1990, cardiac surgeons at Toronto General have performed 30,000 heart surgeries. Just 148 of those were for cardiac myxoma. Until Stout, Cusimano had never seen that kind of tumour in a woman who was pregnant.
After being admitted to Toronto General, Stout had numerous tests and was seen by 22 different doctors, a mix of cardiologists, heart surgeons, obstetricians, pediatricians and anesthesiologists. She was completely overwhelmed.
“I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my life,” said Stout.
On Thursday, Cusimano and other members of the care team provided Stout with her options.
Doctors could remove the tumour right away, but there was a 30 per cent chance her baby would die during the operation. If he lived, her baby would likely have long-term physical and developmental disabilities.
Stout could choose to have an emergency C-section before undergoing heart surgery. Her baby, though, would be born 21/2 months premature, and doctors would have to closely monitor Stout to ensure the tumour didn’t break off while she was in the delivery room.
Or Stout could wait until her baby was more fully developed to have the two operations. Doctors warned her she could have a stroke — maybe even die — any moment during the delay.
Dr. Kellie Murphy, a high-risk obstetrician at Mount Sinai, said the team of doctors involved in Stout’s care believed each of the three options had equal merit.
“All of us were really not sure which way to go. I could have gone around and made good arguments for each one.”
One thing the team agreed on was that the deeply personal choice be left to Stout.
“Any decision she made would have been right because it would have been the right one for her,” Murphy said.
Stout said she made up her mind almost immediately.
“I decided I would have him before doing anything with me,” she said. “I wanted him to have a chance to survive before me. There was no way I would be able to do the surgery while being pregnant knowing there was a chance he would die from it.”
Not everyone felt the same way. Some family friends, a nurse in Thunder Bay, even her mother for one brief moment, thought Stout should put herself first. They intimated that Stout could always have another baby if she were healthy.
“They weren’t saying it meanly,” said Stout. “They were saying that I hadn’t met the baby yet, that I wasn’t attached. But even when I was pregnant, Bentley was my whole world. I would never choose myself over him.”
On Saturday, Sept. 24, at midnight, Murphy and her team delivered Bentley by C-section. They went slowly, carefully monitoring both mom and baby. Bentley was just three pounds when he was placed on Stout’s chest.
According to statistics, babies born at 28 weeks gestation have a 7 per cent risk of dying and between 10 and 20 per cent risk of having long-term disabilities, such as deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy and developmental delay.
Murphy said the delivery went as well as it possibly could. Stout even got to hold Bentley on her chest for a few minutes before he was whisked away to the care of pediatricians.
Less than 36 hours later, Stout was having major heart surgery.
The four-hour operation was a success, according to Cusimano, who carved out the tumour and carefully rebuilt the organ.
Five days later, Stout was discharged from hospital. She was bruised and in pain, but Stout couldn’t wait to go across the street to Mount Sinai’s neonatal intensive care unit to visit her baby.
“I had so much ambition to be good for Bentley that made me get up and get better sooner.”
Three weeks later, Bentley remains in an isolation unit in Thunder Bay’s health centre. Stout visits every day.
She still feels the same way she did when asked to make her tough decision.
“I knew, in my heart, he would be okay.”

Occupy Wall Street catalyst: Slovenian academic, Slavoj Zizek

By Michael Posner, Globe and Mail, October 22, 2011
Financier George Soros has conferred his benediction. So have filmmaker Michael Moore, author Chris Hedges, actor Susan Sarandon and other luminaries. But if the burgeoning, still inchoate Occupy Wall Street movement can claim any sort of messiah, it is a bearded, slightly rotund 62-year-old Slovenian academic named Slavoj Zizek.

Mr. Zizek (pronounced Zheezhek) – a veritable rock star of philosophy and cultural theory – may be the modern Western world's most dangerous adversary.

He turned up recently at the OWS epicentre in New York's Zuccotti Park, appropriately clad in a bright red T-shirt. The authorities had banned the use of microphones, lest the protest disturb the neighbourhood's peace (although as he spoke, a raucous Hispanic Day parade was snaking up Fifth Avenue). So Mr. Zizek's speech had to be declaimed, sentence by sentence, then echoed by the standing choir in cascading waves. Idea surfing in the mosh pit of lower Manhattan.
His core message, perfectly calibrated to our distressed zeitgeist, is not new. In fact, it is the same subversive sermon Mr. Zizek has been preaching for two decades, disseminated in more than 50 books, several documentary films and scores of personal appearances. Its essence is this: Global, liberal, democratic capitalism as we know it is experiencing its death spiral, choking on its own excess. The only serious question is what will ensue.
“They tell you we are dreamers,” he declared in New York, reminiscent of Vladimir Lenin addressing socialist comrades in Berne, 1916. “The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are awakening from a dream that is turning into a nightmare. We're not destroying anything. We're watching the system destroy itself.”...
 What's disarming about Mr. Zizek, however, is the current of cold realism that courses through his work. He freely acknowledges that communism, wherever practised and under any name, has been a near-total disaster. He watched the train wreck unfold, growing up in Ljubljana under Kremlin rule. Identified early as a dissident, he spent several years in socialist limbo, functionally unemployed.

He knows, too, how easy it is to surrender to the euphoric esprit of revolution. “Carnivals come cheap,” he told the protesters. “What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. … There is a long road ahead. … We know what we do not want. But what do we want? What social organization can replace capitalism?”
He often invokes Winston Churchill's coy aphorism, “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms,” yet points out that the most efficient form of capitalism is today practised by regimes that are neither liberal nor democratic – namely, China and Singapore.
Now a visiting professor at New York University and other American campuses, Mr. Zizek spends half the year at the University of Ljubljana, lectures each summer at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and is international director of the University of London's Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities....
His voluminous writings testify to the catholic range of Mr. Zizek's scholarship – dense tomes devoted to his ideological mentors, G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx and Jacques Lacan, as well as more accessible books on Alfred Hitchcock, fantasy, terror and a dozen other subjects. The Zizekian archive of articles is equally vast, encompassing the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, the Pope, Hollywood films, even the hit TV series 24. His latest book, Living in the End Times, devotes five pages to analyzing the animated children's film Kung Fu Panda through a Lacanian lens.

There is scarcely a subject on which Mr. Zizek has no considered opinion – even if, as with James Cameron's Avatar, he has not yet seen the film. “I like what Oscar Wilde said about book reviewing,” he explains. “Better to not read the book beforehand. It will only cloud your judgment.”
A sit-down session with Mr. Zizek, who is functional in eight languages, is more audience than interview. Forever tugging at his beard or nose, he stirs restlessly in his chair, ideas exploding from his brain, volcanically. In a single minute, he migrates from Samuel Beckett (“my hero”) to psychoanalytic theory to natural science to ideology to Wagner.
Although he once ran for president in Slovenia under a Liberal Democratic banner, he insists he was simply seeking to impede the ascent of right-wing nationalists – the very kind, he laments, who are now gaining power in several former Soviet republics.

British psychoanalyst Ian Parker, author of a key study of Mr. Zizek's writings, calls him “a radical force in the academic world, mobilizing a new generation against capitalism. For all of my criticisms, his work has been progressive and useful.”..
I am not celebrating violence. On the contrary.” Mahatma Gandhi, the maharishi of civil disobedience, was actually more violent than Adolf Hitler, he says, because his goal was to sabotage Britain's colonial state. Hitler, on the other hand, wanted to change nothing systemically. “He wanted the German state to function more efficiently. He was afraid of real change. That's the best definition of fascism.”

Violence that actually kills people, he says, quoting his friend, French philosopher Alain Badiou, “is meant to keep things the way they are.” The violence of the Wall Street protesters, on the other hand, is purely ideological. “We want to change the order. That is the violence I am for – real change.”

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Another map of the human mind...helping us to discover who we are...

 Daniel Kahneman is a Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He is also Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs Emeritus at the Woodrow Wilson School, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University, and a fellow of the Center for Rationality at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Dr. Kahneman has held the position of professor of psychology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (1970-1978), the University of British Columbia (1978-1986), and the University of California, Berkeley (1986-1994). Dr. Kahneman is a member of the National Academy of Science, the Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society, the Society of Experimental Psychologists, and the Econometric Society. He has been the recipient of many awards, among them the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association (1982) and the Grawemeyer Prize (2002), both jointly with Amos Tversky, the Warren Medal of the Society of Experimental Psychologists (1995), the Hilgard Award for Career Contributions to General Psychology (1995), the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences (2002), and the Lifetime Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association (2007). Dr. Kahneman holds honorary degrees from numerous Universities.
His new book Thinking Fast and Slow was recently released.
From David Brooks' column, New York Times, October 21, 2011
Before Kahneman and Tversky (his research associate), people who thought about social problems and human behavior tended to assume that we are mostly rational agents. They assumed that people have control over the most important parts of their own thinking. They assumed that people are basically sensible utility-maximizers and that when they depart from reason it’s because some passion like fear or love has distorted their judgment.

Kahneman and Tversky conducted experiments. They proved that actual human behavior often deviates from the old models and that the flaws are not just in the passions but in the machinery of cognition. They demonstrated that people rely on unconscious biases and rules of thumb to navigate the world, for good and ill. Many of these biases have become famous: priming, framing, loss-aversion.
Kahneman reports on some delightful recent illustrations from other researchers. Pro golfers putt more accurately from all distances when putting for par than when putting for birdie because they fear the bogie more than they desire the birdie. Israeli parole boards grant parole to about 35 percent of the prisoners they see, except when they hear a case in the hour just after mealtime. In those cases, they grant parole 65 percent of the time. Shoppers will buy many more cans of soup if you put a sign atop the display that reads “Limit 12 per customer.”
Kahneman and Tversky were not given to broad claims. But the work they and others did led to the reappreciation of several old big ideas:
We are dual process thinkers. We have two interrelated systems running in our heads. One is slow, deliberate and arduous (our conscious reasoning). The other is fast, associative, automatic and supple (our unconscious pattern recognition). There is now a complex debate over the relative strengths and weaknesses of these two systems. In popular terms, think of it as the debate between “Moneyball” (look at the data) and “Blink” (go with your intuition).
We are not blank slates. All humans seem to share similar sets of biases. There is such a thing as universal human nature. The trick is to understand the universals and how tightly or loosely they tie us down.
We are players in a game we don’t understand. Most of our own thinking is below awareness. Fifty years ago, people may have assumed we are captains of our own ships, but, in fact, our behavior is often aroused by context in ways we can’t see. Our biases frequently cause us to want the wrong things. Our perceptions and memories are slippery, especially about our own mental states. Our free will is bounded. We have much less control over ourselves than we thought.
This research yielded a different vision of human nature and a different set of debates. The work of Kahneman and Tversky was a crucial pivot point in the way we see ourselves.
They also figured out ways to navigate around our shortcomings. Kahneman champions the idea of “adversarial collaboration” — when studying something, work with people you disagree with. Tversky had a wise maxim: “Let us take what the terrain gives.” Don’t overreach. Understand what your circumstances are offering.
Many people are exploring the inner wilderness. Kahneman and Tversky are like the Lewis and Clark of the mind.
There are a myriad of "maps of the mind" in the literature. From Edward de Bono's many-coloured hats, to the Emotional Intelligence of Gardiner, to the world of both Freud and Jung introducing the unconscious, to the work of Kaheman and Tversky with their dual process thinking systems. Interestingly, no single map, and no compilation of maps permits a total comprehension of the human "brain" let alone the human "mind." In fact, cognition itself, gives us a limited picture of human mental processes.
Moneyball (look at the data) and Blink (go with your gut) are two simplistic ways of capturing the essence of these two processes.
It is the attention to the biases, perceptions and memory...all of them important and all of them less "clearly defined" than we might actually believe, or wish they were...that is attractive.
Designing systems, within or outside of the mind, is a human fascination that is not likely to abate any time soon. It focuses the researcher on framing experiences, questions and thereby answers and responses that can be studied, in terms of predictability, reliability in order to generate a theory, a thesis perhaps for a degree or a book for public consumption. The academic universe depends on such generation, given the "publish or perish" dogma that has ruled universities for at least a century.
In reference to Brooks' piece, let us remember that Lewis and Clarke's maping focused on a relatively small part of North American territory, not a criticism, but if I wanted to learn about the southeastern part of the U.S., for example, they would not be a very appropriate guide.
It is our capacity to acknowledge, analyse, dissect, refute and debate the ideas of all researchers that prevents each of them from becoming another "guru" and thereby becoming victim of their own success. While we read the work of these two thinkers, let's keep our own detachment, scepticism and capacity to push back, as, no doubt, they would welcome.


$9.4 trillion squirreled (UNTAXED) in banks in Luxembourg, Singapore and Virgin Islands

By Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, Ocober 15, 2011
The monitoring group Global Financial Integrity estimates that people and companies are stashing away $9.4-trillion in secret offshore banks in places such as Luxembourg, Singapore and the Virgin Islands to avoid paying taxes on it. That’s $2-trillion more than all the money held in all the banks in the United States. Taxed at 11 per cent (a fraction of what’s actually owed on it), this would yield an instant trillion.

At a time when ordinary people are being asked to bear heavier burdens and lose vital government services in order to pay for rescuing the economy, it’s unconscionable that large sums go untaxed. It’s particularly galling that most of this money is held by extremely wealthy people who are taxed, legally, at lower rates than those who struggle to feed their families. As Congress revealed this week, there are 94,000 people with earnings over $1-million a year who pay lower tax rates than their secretaries.
The non-payment of tax has become a chronic problem around the world, and is one of the root problems behind the crisis. We tend to think of Greece, which indeed has a chronic inability to collect any tax from its citizens. But citizens of wealthy Germany and Britain hide sums from the taxman that dwarf the entire Greek economy.
We know that, because both countries are in the midst of court cases against Swiss banks that, through leaked documents, they learned are holding the untaxed earnings of at least 6,000 Britons and many more Germans. The case will earn the governments billions in taxes at an embarrassingly low rate, in exchange for total anonymity for the guilty parties. But it represents only a handful of banks in one of many large-scale tax-shelter countries.
This piece of information is not only astounding; it is, in fact, criminal. Do those countries from which billions, if not trillions, of tax dollars are being withheld have to sue the banks in Switzerland, Singapore, Luxembourg and Virgin Islands to retrieve this money? It appears so. If Mr. Saunders is right, and there is no evidence he is not, then we ought not to be facing a second double-dip depression, but rather a tsunami of law suits against these states whose laws permit the travesty of hiding income from tax collectors and the governments of the western countries whose corporations and citizens are guilty of hiding their money must step up to the plate, and inaugurate laws permitting their revenue departments to collect from these "safe regimes" where this money is being held in secret.
The safety is apparently provided by the immunity cover of the host countries who have an obvious interest in protecting their "rich benefactors". If economics is an imperfect, and even questionable, science, then all the headlines of poverty, and failed development, and now failing economies in what we have considered relatively "rich" countries for at least the last half century, then anonymity protected and preserved by these tax havens can and must no longer be tolerated.
If there are at least 6,000 Britons who are holding their own country hostage to this secret, self-interested "greed," then a similar ratio of citizens to national population from the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, and most members of the European Union are also guilty of holding their own countries hostage to this "deceit" if it is not outright fraud. And the spineless political legislators of the G-20 have to find some courage in collectivity to summon the political will to write and pass laws that would clearly be anathema to these squirrels, who have been hoarding their "nuts" (read dividends, coupons, stocks, bonds etc.) in safe banks under the protection of their national governments.
All efforts to bring this white-collar deception to light must continue until every last squirreled dollar has been removed from tax-haven bank accounts, and appropriately taxed.
(And this, too from Mr. Saunders' piece cited above:
This isn’t just a problem for wealthy countries; in fact, it’s probably the biggest problem in the developing world. As Anatol Lieven observes in Pakistan: A Hard Country, “barely 1 per cent of the population pays income tax, and the wealthiest landowners pay no direct taxes at all.” As a Peshawar tax auditor told him, “If anyone took taxes seriously, I’d have the most difficult job in the world, but as it is I have the easiest.” And Pakistan, from what I’ve seen, is far from exceptional.

Poor countries, according to Global Financial Integrity, lose more than $1-trillion in tax revenues a year to tax-free offshore banks. That’s about 10 times the world’s foreign aid combined, and four or five times the annual sum that some believe would end poverty completely.
Talk about the people of the western world walking around like zombies in unconsciousness! Denied access to the magnitude of the information, (and who knows what else we know little or nothing about) we are complicit in our own outrage, and the people who are at this moment sitting, lying, lounging under tarps, tents, sleeping bags, in cities around the world are our best hope for creating the conditions that will bring these inequities to light. So, we all need to find the time, the few dollars and the courage to go buy some food, coffee, etc. and deliver it to those courageous few in order to keep the OCCUPY TOGETHER movement growing.

Pakistan’s problem and ours are the same, and they lie at the root of the crisis. We need an international army of tax collectors, a coalition of the willing on the revenue front. And they should have powerful weapons.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bill Maher takes gloves off on religions at George Washington U.

By Maureen Dowd, New York Times, October 18, 2011
At an appearance at George Washington University here Saturday night, Bill Maher bounded into territory that the news media have been gingerly tiptoeing around.

Magic underwear. Baptizing dead people. Celestial marriages. Private planets. Racism. Polygamy.
“By any standard, Mormonism is more ridiculous than any other religion,” asserted the famously nonbelieving comic who skewered the “fairy tales” of several faiths in his documentary “Religulous.” “It’s a religion founded on the idea of polygamy. They call it The Principle. That sounds like The Prime Directive in ‘Star Trek.’ ”
He said he expects the Romney crowd — fighting back after Robert Jeffress, a Texas Baptist pastor supporting Rick Perry, labeled Mormonism a non-Christian “cult” — to once more “gloss over the differences between Christians and Mormons.”
Maher was not easy on the religion he was raised in either. He referred to the Roman Catholic Church as “an international child sex ring.”
But atheists, like Catholics and evangelical Christians, seem especially wary of Mormons, dubbed the “ultimate shape-shifters” by Maher.
In a Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll released on Tuesday, people were asked what single word came to mind for Republican candidates. For Herman Cain it was 9-9-9; for Rick Perry, Texas; and for Mitt Romney, Mormon. In the debate Tuesday night, Romney said it was repugnant that “we should choose people based on their religion.”
In The Times on Sunday, Sheryl Gay Stolberg chronicled Romney’s role as a bishop in Boston often giving imperious pastoral guidance on everything from divorce to abortion.
Stolberg reported that Romney, who would later run for Senate as a supporter of abortion rights against Teddy Kennedy and then flip to oppose those rights in Republican presidential primaries, showed up unannounced at a hospital in his role as bishop. He “sternly” warned a married mother of four, who was considering terminating a pregnancy because of a potentially dangerous blood clot, not to go forward.
Another famous nonbeliever, Christopher Hitchens, wrote in Slate on Monday about “the weird and sinister belief system of the LDS,” the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Aside from Joseph Smith, whom Hitchens calls “a fraud and conjurer well known to the authorities in upstate New York,” the writer also wonders about the Mormon practice of amassing archives of the dead and “praying them in” as a way to “retrospectively ‘baptize’ everybody as a convert.”
Hitchens noted that they “got hold of a list of those put to death by the Nazis’ Final Solution” and “began making these massacred Jews into honorary LDS members as well.” He called it “a crass attempt at mass identity theft from the deceased.”
The Mormons even baptized Anne Frank.
It took Ernest Michel, then chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, three years to get Mormons to agree to stop proxy-baptizing Holocaust victims.
Mormons desisted in 1995 after Michel, as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, “discovered that his own mother, father, grandmother and best childhood friend, all from Mannheim, Germany, had been posthumously baptized.”
Michel told the news agency that “I was hurt that my parents, who were killed as Jews in Auschwitz, were being listed as members of the Mormon faith.”
Richard Bushman, a Mormon who is a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, said that after “the Jewish dust-up,” Mormons “backed away” from “going to extravagant lengths to collect the names of every last person who ever lived and baptize them — even George Washington.” Now they will do it for Mormons who bring a relative or ancestor’s name into the temple, he said.
Bushman said that “Mormons believe that Christ is the divine son of God who atoned for our sins, but we don’t believe in the Trinity in the sense that there are three in one. We believe the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are three distinct persons.”
Kent Jackson, the associate dean of religion at Brigham Young University, says that while Mormons are Christians, “Mormonism is not part of the Christian family tree.”
It probably won’t comfort skeptical evangelicals and Catholics to know that Mormons think that while other Christians merely “have a portion of the truth, what God revealed to Joseph Smith is the fullness of the truth,” as Jackson says. “We have no qualms about saying evangelicals, Catholics and Protestants can go to heaven, including Pastor Jeffress. We just believe that the highest blessings of heaven come” to Mormons.
As for those planets that devout Mormon couples might get after death, Jackson says that’s a canard. But Bushman says it’s part of “Mormon lore,” and that it’s based on the belief that if humans can become like God, and God has the whole universe, then maybe Mormons will get to run a bit of that universe.
As for the special garment that Mitt wears, “we wouldn’t say ‘magic underwear,’ ” Bushman explains.
It is meant to denote “moral protection,” a sign that they are “a consecrated people like the priests of ancient Israel.”
And it’s not only a one-piece any more. “There’s a two-piece now,” he said.
Republicans are the ones who have made faith part of the presidential test. Now we’ll see if Mitt can pass it.

A "high-five" for the Obama Administration in Libya

By Juliette Kayyem, on CNN website, October 20, 2011
Libya: A case study on "leading from behind"

Editor's Note: Juliette Kayyem is a former Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government and a foreign policy columnist for the Boston Globe. She tweets @JulietteKayyem.
By Juliette Kayyem - Special to CNN
Even before confirmation of Gadhafi's death, the conventional wisdom had already taken form. First, that this was a success, albeit a delayed one, for the Obama Administration's "leading from behind" strategy. This was always a NATO effort, with strong French accents, and one which we would support but not manage. The fact that Obama was in Brazil when the mission started had symbolic meaning: the U.S. did not own this.
Second, that while Gadhafi's death is an important milestone for closure, the challenges for Libya will endure. It is a nation with almost no civil society to rely on, and rebels who are hardly unified.
But the challenges with conventional wisdom is that it has a tendency to turn into yet another cliche: a "best practice." Libya is a case study of ONE. Only one. It had a perfect combination of indigenous uprising so that NATO and other powers would not be the face of the mission; more importantly, though, Gadhafi had no backers, no friends, no country invested in his leadership. This is not Syria where Iran serves as the silent (or not so silent) partner; this is not Bahrain where Saudi Arabia has drawn a line in the sand. NATO, the Arabs and the international community could support the Libyan rebels because there was no counterweight. That is not true anywhere else in the Arab world. This is a case study on leading from behind, but not a new international doctrine.
While we can agree that Libya is a case study of ONE only, and not a template for other military interventions in the Middle East, this is a moment in U.S. diplomatic history when, in that country, political leadership, in the form of the Obama Administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the President himself, demonstrated what is best about American world presence.
It was not dominance; it was a facilitator, bringing together NATO and requests for assistance from the Middle East and from the Libyan rebels themselves, and, to quote Robin Wright speaking, from the Council of Foreign Relations, on NPR's "On Point", "It was a remarkable diplomatic success for the Obama Administration; we spent in Libya only what we spent in three days in Iraq."   
So while the conditions were right for this kind of "leading from behind" as other commentators have called it, the current U.S. Administration saw clearly what its options were, executed them with considerable precision and finesse, in a limited manner, and achieved, of course with the Libyan rebels on the ground, the desired result.
Putting this narrative beside the narrative that is the George W. Bush legacy in Iraq, the comparisons make the head spin.
Bush's insistence in almost unilateral military intervention in Iraq cost thousands of lives, hundreds of thousands if the Iraqi casualties are included; it was done without a U.S. resolution, without the support of many countries who participated in Libya, against a dictator whose history with the U.S. presented no "threat" as compared with the Libyan dictator who killed hundreds of U.S. citizens in various attacks. And still, in both countries the achievment of a stable political state, with a judiciary, a civil service, a health care system, an education system and a charted future that brings competing factions into a healthy effective nation state are a long way off. However, far from participating in massive bloodshed of the people in both countries, this campaign prevented civilian casualties, whereas the Bush campaign rendered thousands of Iraqi deaths.
The Republicans will attempt to minimize the significance of this achievment, as their talking heads have already done, because it is a single "one-off" case, as some put it. Nevertheless, the quality and sophistication and restraint (not to mention the collaboration) of the Obama Adminsitration's initiative will last as a positive legacy for United States future engagement in the Middle East than the Bush initiative which has legitimately turned many against the U.S. and advanced recruitment among her enemies.
When American voters pause to pull the lever in the polling booth in November 2012, they would do well to reflect on the significant development, maturity and limited but effective deployment of force exercised by this adminstration on their behalf, and compare that with the kind of overkill that is one of the hallmarks of the Republican party, not only in foreign relations, but also in domestic policy.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hybrid solution to defeat Harper? not likely or worthy of serious consideration

By Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star, October 19, 2011
These days, that will to power on the part of ambitious New Democrats is hampered by splits. In many parts of the country, the non-Conservative vote is divided between the NDP and Liberals.

Some New Democrats, like Winnipeg MP Pat Martin, have argued that merging the two into a so-called united left party would overcome this impasse.
But this idea has foundered for two reasons.
First, the Liberals see themselves as a centre rather than left party. They fear, correctly, that a formal merger with the NDP would send many of their voters cascading to the Conservatives.
Second, NDP apparatchiks — particularly in Ontario — have long viewed the Liberal Party as their primary competitor. The death of the Liberals, they argue, would force voters to make a purer, left-right choice between Conservatives and New Democrats.
While a real merger plan would force both parties to confront these almost insurmountable obstacles head-on, Cullen’s scheme has the virtue of being far less formal.
Both parties would continue to exist, each with its own leader, caucus and policy platform.
At the same time, both would agree to give individual riding associations the option, should they desire it, of holding joint nomination meetings.
“It would be sort of like a U.S. primary,” Cullen told me Wednesday night in a telephone interview from an Ottawa restaurant, where he was explaining his plan to other New Democrat MPs.
Whoever won the joint nomination would, under Cullen’s plan, contest the election under the banner of his own party.
Let's see: is this another hybrid idea born of scarcity? It might be.
Liberals and New Democrats do want to remove the Harper gang from power, the sooner the better.
Liberals and New Democrats, however, are not merely different parties, they have different cultures. In the case of the NDP, supported in the past by the now-waning labour movement, the ordinary folk, many of the poor, the dispossessed and a few capable and articulate academics including some very strong feminists. On the other hand, the Liberals have historically enjoyed support from both the middle class and some of the corporate board rooms, as the party  of good government, of moderate change, of a social conscience linked to a fiscally responsible balance, and, importantly, a strong surge of support from Quebec. Nevertheless, taking power for granted has reduced Liberals to swaying in the wind on their own sword.
Media politics, that is media generated stories and leadership are important, given the average voter's numbness about most things political, unless and until they find themselves faced with an issue important to them, their family, or their budget. Consequently, a public "front person" who is articulate, confident and well versed on the issues, who is also likable is one ingredient that all potentially successful political parties require. However, that person, given the incontrovertible evidence that social skills are at the heart of all innovation, (and that includes the capacity to collaborate, to select the right people for teams, develop those people and demonstrate empathy for those people), must also be able to demonstrate a significant capacity to provide that kind and quality of leadership. Clearly, this "social" skill set is not one of Harper's strengths, given his obvious control-freak leadership style.
Likability, plus a social skill set, plus an attractiveness that makes (not lets) people think they would like to invite the leader to dinner, or at least over for a chat...these are all qualities demonstrated clearly in the last election by the late Jack Layton. Most of those who voted for him did not even read his party's platform. Consequently, the support for the NDP, primarily based on likability of Jack, does not run very deep, in many quarters.
The Liberals, on the other hand, seem to have fallen victim to the hallowe'en costume of the "loser" both from the sponsorship scandal, and from the recent election results. So, in the short run, their "scarcity" runs deeper than does that of the NDP. However, in the long run, NDP scarcity may be more profound, and more difficult to fill with plenty.
The Liberals are and will continue, for some time, to struggle with a "right-to-govern" mentality that renders them, as a party, not so much individually, arrogant in the public mind. In fact, individually, it would appear that the current crop of Liberal members are more than painfully aware of the "fallen-from-grace" state of their party.
Now, with respect to policy, the Liberals have demonstrated, in the past that they can and do grasp the big issues, and can and have wrestled significant problems to the ground, witness the debt/deficit crisis of the 1990's; however, the capacity to take bold measures seems to have slipped out under the door of the last campaign offices of the party.
That same capacity, to take bold measures, has never seemed to enter the campaign rooms of the NDP, preferring to articulate domestic policy matters, that people can and do grasp at their kitchen tables.
If Harper is to be defeated by a competent alternative party, it will have to have run candidates in all ridings, not merely those where the riding associations have chosen to "go Liberal this time" or to "go NDP this time"...because then party "brand" and party identification, already at a low tide, could atrophy and even disappear.
There is little likelihood, and less feasibility that Cullen's idea will wash with the people responsible for the future of either party, especially those responsible for the leadership of the Liberal party. And they would be on firm ground in rejecting it, especially if they can connect their "reality-based" perceptions in both personalities and policies to the public's shared wish to dump Harper and his gang.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Little Yueyue must never be forgotten anywhere, by anyone

By Mark Mackinnon. Globe and Mail, October 18, 2011
China’s rapid economic development over the past two decades is something to celebrate. But after the display of horrifying indifference that some Chinese showed toward a bleeding two-year-old girl – in a video watched by millions around the world – the country’s leaders acknowledged Tuesday that the country’s “cultural development” lags behind its other accomplishments.

The official report released by the Xinhua news agency at the end of the annual gathering of the powerful Central Committee of the Communist Party made no mention of Wang Yue, the toddler who was run over twice and ignored by 18 passersby as she lay in a pool of her own blood in a Guangdong market last week. But it was hard not to see a connection between the jarring incident – which has provoked widespread soul-searching among Chinese Internet users – and the Central Committee’s call for a shift in focus from the country’s booming economy to addressing the voids that success has created.

After a four-day closed-door meeting, the 200-plus member Central Committee issued a communiqué calling for the country to build a “powerful socialist culture” that would involve “significantly improving the nation’s ideological and moral qualities.” Earlier, senior Politburo member Li Changchun was quoted as saying “venality, lack of integrity and moral anomalies” were on the rise in Chinese society.
Little Yueyue, as the girl is known here, remained in intensive care in a Guangzhou hospital yesterday, clinging to life, breathing with the help of a respirator. Local media quoted the hospital’s head of neurosurgery as saying the girl will likely remain in a vegetative state if she survives.
Everyone agrees that this is a horrible story, depicting a degree of detachment, disengagement and even neglect with which we can all identify. However, rather than pointing fingers at the people in China, the world might pause to consider just how clearly this story exemplifies the commodification of everything and everyone and thereby the reduced value of human life, not only in China but around the world.
This story, in its essence, although the degrees of detachment and disengagement and neglect would vary somewhat, could have and still could be repeated anywhere. At least in North American culture, there is a tsunami of violent video-games attracting millions of mostly male participants, inducting them into a culture where physical violence is the norm. In professional sports like football and hockey, violence, including deliberate fighting, is considered the norm. In political discourse, there seems to be no limit to the violence of the language used to destroy opponents...and all of this occurs under the protection of what we might call social immunity.
Little Yueyue's permanent vegetative state, should she even survive, could potentially become a STOP sign for the abuse of power, the neglect of humanity in the global pursuit of power, money, profit and dominance.
Some artist, somewhere, will create a monument to this shattered, driven-over, and passed-by little girl, in the hope that its very existence will serve to remind us all that the incident should never have happened, and must never happen again, anywhere.
Little Yueyue could become a rallying cry for the Occupy Together movement, in its impetus for a more humane, more compasionate, more caring and more liveable and survivable existence in all countries. Her name, her story and her potential to bring new life, not only to the Chinese official pursuit of "cultural change" but also to the world's attempt to bring some sanity to the discussions in governments, corporate boardrooms, athletic locker rooms, university lecture halls and yes, even church sanctuaries is within the grasp of everyone everywhere.
Just like Gabriel Giffords, the Democratic Congresswoman from Arizona whose life changed by the shots fired by a madman while she conducted a meet-and-greet for her electors, this little girl's life can remind us all of the fragility of each of our lives, and bring some sensibility and some sensitivity to our discourse, to our attitudes, to our competitions, to our ambitions and to the direction of our impulses for an enhancement of our world's culture, the essence of which is the way we value relationships and each other.
It was then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Massachusetts Congressman Tip O'Neill who commented, "All politics is local!" to which we now add, 'and local embraces the whole world, given the digital access to instant information, making the world one large neighbourhood'...So any discussion of a single moment in a small town can and does become a single moment for reflection in all towns and cities everywhere.
When cars stop to permit pedestrians to cross Water Street in St. John's Newfoundland and Labrador (as they do regularly), that is part of the culture of "the Rock" that all who experience its expression can share when they return to cities where such courtesy is missing. The culture on that island is not gained only from its exported comedic gifts; it is far more integrated in its capacity for compassion and consideration of "the other".
And to cite this example is not to pump Canadian chests full of false pride; it is merely to say that such conditions can be created anywhere, where there is the conscious and determined will of the people to create them.
With her parents, and the people of China, and the government of China, we all mourn this tragedy; and with them, we hope and pray that such incidents will serve to remind us all of our common and fragile and intensely precious thread of life, that can be snapped, driven over and neglected so easily with impunity, if we are not all engaged in its protection.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Can the Liberal Party recover its spine?

By Lawrence Martin, Globe and Mail, October 18, 2011
Under the Conservatives, Canada is a country that venerates the military, boasts a hardened law-and-order and penal system, is anti-union and less green. It’s a government that extols, without qualms of colonial linkage, the monarchy, that has a more restrictive entry policy, that takes a narrower view of multiculturalism, that pursues an adversarial approach to the United Nations. In a historical first, Canada’s foreign policy, its strident partisanship in the Middle East being a foremost example, can be said to be to the right of the United States.

In a nutshell, the cliché about Canada’s being a kinder, gentler nation is being turned on its head. In hockey parlance – the preferred Canadian way of communication – we’re shifting, with voter approval, from a country of Ken Dryden values to one closer to those of Don Cherry.
Given the extent of the transformation, it’s happened rather quietly. Stephen Harper has skillfully avoided hitting too many hot buttons at once. He has avoided the appearance of a radical right-winger by playing down social conservatism and taking a flexible, big-spending approach to the economy. He has been moderate in his approach in some other policy domains.
But while his work has the look of being incremental, there’s no mistaking the ideological turn that has been made. The new kind of branding is not something traditional Canadian governments would have favoured. Throughout our history, the big centre as represented by Liberalism and Red Toryism was the dominant political force, fostering a national character rooted in compromise and accommodation. Harder left- and right-wing elements operated on the fringes. Now, with the NDP having surged, the Liberals prostrate, Red Toryism weakened, those fringe elements are the main players. Although there are signs the political centre is holding in the provinces, we’re in uncharted territory at the more imposing federal level, with a recipe for American-styled polarization. A culture war, someone called it.
To the observations in Mr. Martin's piece coming indirectly from some former Mnisters of Foreign Affairs in the hallways at a recent conference, let me insert a quote from a recent interview we did with Dr. Brooke Jeffrey, formerly a researcher for the Liberal Party, currently teaching Political Science at Concordia:
Let me say first of all that I am strongly opposed to any attempt at merger with the New Democrats. These are two completely different parties, with different values, and a merger makes no sense at all. And Canadians have not moved to the left, or to the right for that matter. (The full interview is at for October 16, 2011)
It is the contention of the Martin piece that the Liberals have/had lost their political muscle, resulting in the emergence of both strong right and strong left parties in Canada. And with that there can be little doubt.
Niceness, political correctness, and C.Y.A. (cover your ass)....these will never sustitute for leadership, in any political movement. The Liberals have to recover their spine, to borrow a phrase from Howard Dean, he of the infamous scream while running for the Demoncratic ticket for the White House, back in the day.
That recovery of the spine will entail a full laying open all the sins of both commission and of omission of the last few decades, not necessarily in public, but certainly where it counts in the rooms where the power still remains.
That will include an acknowledgement that the Liberal Party permitted a coup based almost exclusively on ego, in the Martin takeover; that the Liberal Party were not serious about their responsibility to the people of Canada for their pan-Canadian, centrist, big-tent, good-government history and tradition stretching well over a century; that discipline of both the leadership and the membership was neither defined nor monitored; that winning elections was a given not requiring the discipline of serious policy formation; that the party membership will not comply with only a grabbing hand from Ottawa for money, without serious, open and defined pathways for influencing policy; that the country has not moved either left or right, and that the need for a strong, vibrant, disciplined Liberal Party has never been more evident as a political force mediating the "fringe" politics of Harper or the potentially equally "fringe" politics of some in the NDP.
This recovery of spine will include a full commitment by the Liberal Party to the Occupy Together movement, not a meeley-mouthed, half-assed encouragement; in fact, it will include full participation with those willing to sleep in the streets rather than roll over to the steam-roller of financial institutional control; the recovery of the Liberal Party spine will include a recovery of the capacity to commit to visionary, pragmatic and utilitarian policies that come from careful study by both the bureaucracy and the rank and file membership, not from only a few "old white men" meeting in some restaurant or bar over drinks, and then telling the rest of the party where it will go.
Recovery of the Liberal Party spine will include an acknowledgement that the rules of the party cannot and must not enable a take-over by anyone, no matter how seductive is his or her pitch, charisma, financing, backroom menipulation, image or even policy proposals. The party, in short, must wake up to its individual responsibilty to insist on both rules and procedures, and a sound monitoring and accountability mechanism, to preserve the "democracy" within the party, in order to enable the party to fight for the "democrary" outside the party.
And, so far, there has been little evidence that a house-cleaning, and a mea culpa, in specifics, publicly, openly and completely is coming down the pipe.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sometimes I need God to be a male: Hugo Schwyzer

By Hugo Schwyzer, from Good Men Project website, October 12, 2011

Hugo Schwyzer has taught history and gender studies at Pasadena City College since 1993, where he developed the college's first courses on Men and Masculinity and Beauty and Body Image. He serves as co-director of the Perfectly Unperfected Project, a campaign to transform young people's attitudes around body image and fashion. Hugo lives with his wife, daughter, and six chinchillas in Los Angeles. Hugo blogs at his eponymous website and at Healthy Is the New Skinny.
In one of the first religious studies courses I took in college, the professor made a point that the God of the Bible is neither male nor female. We learned that to call the Lord, “He” misrepresented the original intent of the Torah, and that we’d be better off not using pronouns at all. If anything, my professor said, citing Genesis 5:1-2, God was both male and female—and more as well. After all, how could both men and women be made in God’s image if God didn’t have a feminine aspect?
A few years later, when I was auditing courses at the Graduate Theological Union and exploring a possible vocation to the priesthood (an idea that didn’t last long), I encountered feminist theology. I learned about God’s feminine aspect. For example, Hosea 13:8 describes God as a mother bear robbed of her cubs, while Jesus compares himself to a mother hen in Luke 13:34. I remember one of my classmates, a woman studying for ordination as an Episcopal priest, remarking that the more she studied Scripture, the more she realized that God was more female than male. “God is a nurturer,” she noted, “more like a mother than a father.”
While considering that career as a Catholic priest, I saw how the refusal to acknowledge the feminine aspect of God led to an intense devotion to Mary. The Virgin, I was told, was the tender intercessor who could plead for humanity to a more judgmental (or at the very least, less gentle) masculine God. The implication was clear: not only was God male, God’s masculinity was a barrier to empathy—hence the need for a woman to intercede to remind Him to go easy, like a mother pleading with her husband to lighten up on the discipline.

What I found frustrating was that the feminist theologians arguing for the primarily feminine aspect of God and the conservative Catholics wrapped in Marian devotion were essentially saying the same thing: maleness can’t be nurturing. My friend, the liberal Episcopalian, believed God was tender—and therefore female. My traditionalist Catholic buddies believed that a thoroughly masculine God had largely outsourced His compassion to Mary. Both ignored the obvious other possibility.
Of course, many people have excellent reasons to be put off by masculine language and imagery for God. For men and women who’ve had strained or abusive relationships with their own fathers, calling God, “Father,”doesn’t happen easily. For many straight Christian men, the romantic vocabulary of evangelical culture can also be off-putting. (One of the standard critiques of contemporary praise music is the ubiquitous “Jesus is my Boyfriend” theme in so many worship songs.) For people who have been wounded by father figures, or who struggle to imagine intimacy with a man, using exclusively male language for God can be a real barrier to spiritual connection.
But at the same time, we need to acknowledge the radical and simple truth that men can be as tender as women. A father can nurture his children with every bit as much love and devotion as their mother. A fully adult man doesn’t need women to intercede to remind him of his responsibility to be compassionate. But when our only vocabulary for gentleness is feminine, we don’t acknowledge men’s capacity to be gentle. And when we label every loving action of God as evidence of God’s femaleness, we miss the point that God’s male aspect is every bit as kind.
From both a spiritual and historical-grammatical standpoint, God is neither male nor female—and at the same time, both male and female. It’s vital that we listen to what feminist Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Wiccan theologians are saying about the feminine aspect of the divine. Yes, God is a mother figure. But that’s only half the story. The paradox is that God is also a father figure—just a very different kind of father than the one celebrated in Western culture.
We need to see that from a biblical perspective, God isn’t “being male” when he gets angry and “being female” when he weeps over human suffering. God is both when he does both. In that light, perhaps the rigid gender roles we prescribe in our culture aren’t God’s plan, but instead a man-made consequence of our inability to discern God’s intent for our lives. By embodying what are stereotypically male and female characteristics simultaneously, God just may be reminding us that we too are called to break out of the gender straitjacket.
In a world where so many men do abandon their responsibilities and where violence (almost) always wears a male face, there’s something revolutionary about acknowledging that a father figure can be forgiving, empathetic, gentle, and reliable. There’s also something equally significant about acknowledging that a mother figure can be a passionate, bold, relentless—even angry—advocate for justice. Anything less not only robs God of God’s full divinity, but robs us of our full potential as human beings.
I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the gender of God. But I do know that following God means moving beyond the confines of traditional, limiting roles. As a dad, I appreciate the reminder that papas can and should be every bit as tender and loving as mamas. And so sometimes, this professor of gender studies calls God “father.” Not because that’s all God is, but because those of us who are also daddies need a reminder of just how loving, passionate, and tender we are called to be.

In a world where so many men do abandon their responsibilities and where violence (almost) always wears a male face, there’s something revolutionary about acknowledging that a father figure can be forgiving, empathetic, gentle, and reliable.
I lifted this quote from the Schwyzer piece, because it jumped out at me, and I recall my own classes in seminary where God was championed as female, by all the feminists in the class, and those of us of the "other gender" were quite happy to remain compliant. I even recall attempting to get the attention of a rural parish meeting when someone near the end of the meeting opined, "May God Bless our little church and the people in it" which I interjected, "I am confident She will!" to the amazement of those present.
Androgyny is not part of the normal discourse in contemporary society; not the androgyny of the female population, nor that of the male population, and certainly not the qualities attributed to God.
Needing God to be male is a completely normal and expected reaction to the tsunami of talk about the feminized God.
Another observation on the piece above is the "mother" does not constitute the total female character, nor father the whole male character, of either humans or God. And such a reduction, as is the case with almost all reductions, perpetuates the "parent" God, as opposed to the "male" or the "female" God.
One of the most heinous aspects of Christian ministry is the rendering of parishoners as children before a parent if such a metaphor appropriated the normal, accepted and expected relationship between God and humans.
The church has, for far too long, abrogated the parent role, as its way of cozying up to power and control, premised on an out-of-control, savage, even undisciplined race called homo sapiens. Telling its parishoners what to do, when to do it, how to pray, and when to do that, how to "love" and when to do that, how to donate and when to do that, the meaning and purpose of sexuality including when and with whom to engage in that activity...these are all controlling interventions in order to demonstrate the utility of the church's role in one's a regulator.
Whereas, there is considerable evidence that the regulator role is based on the fear of the church hierarchy that those in its "charge" will bring dishonour and disrepute upon the organization, if left free to make autonomous choices. There is also considerable evidence that the regulator role simply does not work, but certainly creates an virtually insurmountable wall between those "inside" and those "outside" who do have, have not, or will not fully comply with whatever rules the church sets out.
I always thought/believed/felt/intuited...that God wanted me to be "alive" in all aspects of my existence, not regulated by some permanent parent whose regulations were more important than my own rebellion. Perhaps if the church were to begin from the premise that humans are innately "good" and "seek to do good" although can also be deceived by self and others, then the premise of "sin" as a starting place for the definition of human beings would rightly atrophy, and perhaps then we could proceed to experience the awesome nature of God's gifts of life and grace in our lives, regardless of the specific "umbrella" or membership we chose, or not.
So long as we are still struggling with our definition of a deity, we will continue to struggle with our definition of our own gender, given the intimate link between our identity and our picture and relationship to God.