Monday, December 31, 2012

Unlikely New Year's Resolutions

Seems some pipe-dream wishes might be in order on this, the last day of 2012, for the upcoming 2013!
So here goes:
  • I wish that Gary Bettman would find a nursing home, plant himself deeply and permanently in one of its suites and leave the administration of the NHL to someone who really knows the purpose, meaning and promise of the game of hockey...and it is not "just about the money"!!
  • I wish that David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, would receive an invitation from Barack Obama, to conduct a three-day seminar, with weekly follow-ups for one full year, with the president, the four leaders of Congress and all of their spouses, on the long-term health of the United States, including the need to build trust between and among all political leaders, as a model of leadership for the rest of Congress, the states and even for the rest of the world.
  • I wish that Ban Ki Moon would host a visioning conference, for leaders from the 190 countries who are members of the United Nations, on how to re-structure the UN to better meet the complex and overlapping issues of the world's poverty, disease, terrorism, religious extremes, the environment, and the world's impending food shortages...with a view to specific actions being promised and committed by all participants, in the model of the Clinton Global Initiative, with a firm date for public reporting in one, five, ten and twenty years, so the world can once again have confidence that leaders are interested in more than their careers.
  • I wish that every newspaper in Canada, the United States and Great Britain, France, Germany, South Africa, Egypt, Israel, India, Pakistan, China would send fully trained reporters to all world capitals, and begin reporting every day from their perspectives, in digital format that would be accessible to all intenet that we could easily and readily begin to comprehend the facts and the multiple perspectives in a world increasingly complex and inter-dependent.
  • I wish that Mayor Bloomberg would host an assault weapons amnesty/buy-back in New York city, and encourage all mayors across the United States to do a similar event, with full public disclosure on the recovery of these weapons, their melt-down and the significance of the move.
  • I wish that all elementary and secondary teachers would be required, prior to certification, to spend a minimum of two semesters in courses designed to discover the history, motivations, learning needs and potential of all male students whom they will face in their classrooms. This initiative would also require the public advertisement from all faculties of education, in all media outlets, as a way to encourage the recruitment of an army of committed male educators to enter the schools, classrooms, principals offices, and administration offices.
  • I wish that all universities in North America and in Europe would develop and institute courses in male studies, as a complement and a supplement to the multiple female studies courses and departments that have already been established.
  • I wish that all national and city editors of all daily newspapers would pay more attention to the arts communities in their coverage areas, with a view to reviewing the events offered not merely the dates and times, so that we begin to develop a balance between the deadening parade of economic information with the important creative and prophetic voices in every community.
  • I wish that all countries and their leaders would learn that an open internet accessible to all, freely, is in the best interests of a global community, through sponsorsed on-line learning opportunities, and that censorship be exercised only on those sites promoting violence, hatred, abuse and political unrest.
  • I wish that all christian church leaders would re-think all of their institutional claims to be the "only" or the "best" or the "first" or the "primary" faith, in an overt initiative to remove much of the marketing/evangelizing from their self-promotion efforts and begin to lead creative projects that help to integrate all human vulnerabilities into their the manner of a Jedd Apatow in movies.
  • I wish that all television commercials would declare a war on dumb men and women, in an effort to talk "up" to an educated and enlightened audience, and eliminate all references to comedic insults to their competitors, and to individual human beings.
  • I wish that Aaron Sorkin would write a docu-drama series about the complexities of religious organizations, the abuse of power by those organizations, and the potential of those organizations to open the eyes, hearts, minds and spirits of people, without infantilizing those people.
  • I wish that Stephen Harper would call a meeting of all Canadian political leaders, with all First Nations chiefs and leaders, and re-think and re-work the relationship between First Nations people and the rest of the country, using the perspectives, recommendations and urgings of the aboriginal communities.
Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rae: "collective attention-deficit disorder" plagues our politics

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae prepares to leave political spotlight

By Susan Delacourt, Toronto Star, December 28, 2012
(Bob) Rae believes there have been some important shifts in the political culture of Ottawa since the late 1970s, when he sat as an MP for the New Democrats in the Commons.

In speed and in tone, Rae says, the political arena is a much more unforgiving place — a constant battle to stay at the top of the never-ending news cycle. Rae clearly enjoys some of that pace — he’s logged a lot of kilometres on the road this year and he’s been an enthusiastic adopter of Twitter, with more than 33,000 followers and an archive of more than 2,000 “tweets.” Yet politics, writ large, is paying a price for its accelerated nature, Rae believes.
“It’s almost like we have a case of collective, attention-deficit disorder … People have a hard time remembering what you said last week,” Rae says. “There’s a total unpredictability about the business … It’s not the same game that it was 20-30 years ago.”
Collective attention-deficit disorder is not a condition that favours strong, mature, responsible and stable governance. I think Mr. Rae is right about the current political culture; it is one that both has to chase and to respond to the never-ending news cycle. In many ways, good governance has been sacrificed to two uncontrollable monsters: one, the digital age and two, the voracious, and defaming and glib media coverage of public affairs in which character mis-steps are exaggerated into soap-operas and policy mis-steps are either ignored or papered over with another "headline"...
The public is left with a tsunami of quotes from an army of voices, without a coherent and stabilizing rudder of discernment...and one of the results is that, as Mr. Rae says, no one remembers what anyone said last week. One result is that credibility and substance have given way to the politician as an autumn leaf blowing in the wind whipped up by the latest "send-up" on some digital platform.
Trudeau (Justin) visits the hunger-striking Attawapiskat Chief and Garneau (Marc) sends a note, while the Minister whines about her refusal to meet with him, and she pleads, in vain, for a meeting with Harper and the nations' chiefs.
Harper's response to the current climate is to tighten down the hatches on all the larynx's in his caucus, vetting all the words spoken "on behalf of his government" a vain attempt to project an "image" of competence, while all around him the evidence points to a variety of blunders of both minimal and substantive proportion, none of which have much "sticking" capacity to the government's reputation. The public's memory, about the size of a nano-second, has atrophied through lack of disciplined use, except for those stories "of character" that have a tendency to prove unduly toxic, rendering both the political actor and the political audience (the electorate) as co-dependents in a kind of national soap-opera, moving from emotional response to emotional response, without bringing the details and the substance of the specific issues along for the ride, and for the serious consideration of the actors, both inside and outside the House of Commons.
Journalists still write about their perspectives, and presumably there are both journalism classes and political science classes that read some of their stuff. And, perhaps, there is an incidental quote that might merit inclusion in a term paper, while the public generally becomes less and less engaged, attached and therefore interested in any real discussion of the pro's and con's of any issue. They seem to prefer, instead, to turn the conversation to their personal "pet subject" such as their hobby, their latest trip, the last movie they attended, the weather (especially if it is exceptionally stormy as it has been for the last week or so).
Meanwhile, comedians like Stewart and Colbert are becoming "news sources" for much of the American audience, and in Canada, we have not developed our Canadian counterpart...not yet! That will come very soon, as another troupe puts together a different slanting "22 Minutes" from the CBC's current version.
Science, mathematics, electronics, digital design, program writing and "leisure time" seem to be marching to the head of the cultural parade of importance in the popular culture..."Where are the jobs?" being the question driving much of the decision-making of too many people. The service sector, which was supposed to be surging into the twenty-first century, has so-far provided only minimum wage positions, and those of only a temporary or semi-permanent nature, and always without benefits.
Loyalty of worker to employer is part of the museum of history, as is loyalty of employer to worker. Everyone is operating on a minimal cost-efficiency basis, reducing the human contribution to the equation, both in the political arena and in the business arena, to little more than a potential tweek once or twice a month, while continuing to bear the burden of resistance to change, resistance to equality, resistance to long-term commitments and their significant benefits.
And, it is not rocket science to observe that the collective attention-deficit disorder plagues everyone, inside and outside the political theatre, rendering both the individual actors and the process emasculated, distracted, disoriented, confused and completely dysfunctional....without yielding clear and worthy options for change to some form of political/cultural/informational process in which the public can have confidence, trust, memory, vision and hope.
We are like micro-digits tumbling through a global, national, provincial and even urban centrifuge without a conscious sense of how and when the tumbling will slow, stop, speed up, or explode or implode....and no issue is served effectively in such a tumultuous dynamic...we are merely "rolling with the punches" and most of the punches are administered by those with the biggest cheques and the biggest bank accounts and the biggest boardrooms and the biggest megaphones (physically and metaphorically) and the tumbling continues with no hand on the control switch....
Little wonder sales of both alcohol and pharmaceuticals are roaring through the roof, as alienation, separation, segregation and disconnection flourish....almost as if we have prescribed our own version of the ritalin that too many educators push into the mouths of too many boys, to keep them in line.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Call for Harper to Lead on First Nations File

Spence launched her protest with a vow to “die” unless the Conservative government started showing more respect to First Nations concerns and aboriginal treaties. She is demanding a meeting between the Crown, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations leaders to create a new relationship.

(From The Canadian Press, in Toronto Star, December 28, 2012, "Pressure mounting for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet Attawapiskat chief on hunger strike" below)

This story could be coming out of Burma, where Buddhist monks self-immolate to protest the Chinese government's treatment of the Burmese. In fact, I cannot recall in my lifetime a single Canadian First Nation Chief having gone this far to make her life a living and deteriorating statement of protest to the federal government. Soup and tea will not keep Chief Spence alive for very long, although there is a sense, from watching and listening to her on television, that her spirit is strong, her will committed and the support of her people across the country, and indeed around the world, is unshakable.
With the internet's capacity to make any story a global story, the Chief is not unaware of the impact of the world community on the Canadian Prime Minister.
And, to be fair, the conditions under which Canadian First Nations people live did not deteriorate only in the last decade, when Harper was in power. Those conditions have been shameful for decades, if not more than a century.
And there has never been a national political urgency to resolve the plight of the aboriginal people. There have been conferences, and papers, and recommendations, and ministers of the Crown that have come and gone, but there has never been the kind of national focus that Chief Spence is bringing to her cause, and the cause of the First Nations people in every province and territory.
It is not enough for those, like Justin Trudeau and Marc Garneau to visit and write letters to the press, in their unabashed campaigning for the leadership of the Liberal Party, although that is to be expected. It is more important for all leaders of all political parties to drop their partisan differences, and to come together in what is a national disgrace, to solve the problem, with the chiefs and band leaders from the indigenous people.
Just imagine the political pay-off, and the relief among First Nations people, if Harper were to bring all national political leaders of all federal political parties plus the band chiefs and Shawn Atleo into a public, televised meeting, in the Conference Centre in Ottawa, to not only discuss but to resolve the matters for which Chief Spence is protesting. His leadership on this issue, while not erasing other decisions of both commission and omission of his government, would serve as his legacy, for the next century, as a leader who actually knew how and was committed to untangling one of the most challenging of national gordion knots, the relationship between First Nations people and the government and people of Canada.
Instead of being the country that is tone deaf on the environment, tone deaf on prisoner rehabilitation, tone deaf on health care, tone deaf on the foreign affairs files, Harper could leave Ottawa having presided over the healing of one of the more visible and tragic national tumours that has been plaguing both indigenous people and the federal government for decades.
The time is now, the conditions cannot wait and the people want answers and not band-aids, answers that will respond to the root causes, not merely the symptoms, of this tumour.
Pressure mounting for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet Attawapiskat chief on hunger strike

From The Canadian Press, in Toronto Star, December 28, 2012
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is facing a growing chorus of calls for him to meet an aboriginal chief on a hunger strike.

On Thursday, New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said the hunger strike by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has entered a deadly serious phase.
Angus, who stood by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence as she began her fast Dec. 11, says he’s now reaching out to area chiefs to see what steps can be taken to solve what’s at risk of becoming a national crisis.
“This is much bigger than Theresa Spence, it’s much bigger than any individual community,” Angus said.
“This is across the country now, it really needs the prime minister to take action.”
Spence launched her protest with a vow to “die” unless the Conservative government started showing more respect to First Nations concerns and aboriginal treaties. She is demanding a meeting between the Crown, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations leaders to create a new relationship.
Her remote northern Ontario reserve was catapulted into the spotlight late last year after Angus wrote about the dire housing and economic conditions.
Though she has declared a hunger strike, for the last 2 ½ weeks Spence has subsisted on some soup and tea.
She has welcomed a steady stream of family, friends and other opposition politicians into her teepee on Victoria Island in the Ottawa River, just across from Parliament Hill.
The island is considered by the Anishinabe as traditional territory.
James Bartleman, Ontario’s former lieutenant-governor and a member of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, wrote a letter urging Harper to meet Spence that appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Liberal leadership contender Justin Trudeau visited Spence. His visit was followed by the issuing of a letter by fellow leadership contender Marc Garneau who said Harper shouldn’t be worried about setting a precedent by agreeing to a meeting.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan has expressed disappointment that Spence will meet with other politicians but not him.
“Given your willingness to accept meetings now I am hoping that you will reconsider my offer, as a Minister of the Crown, to meet or speak with you,” Duncan wrote Spence late Wednesday.
Duncan is offering to set up a joint working group with senior federal and First Nations representatives.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Guns and the paranoia that sustains the addiction

It's the Holiday Season and everyone seems to be talking about guns!
Sound  paradoxical?
Well, only in the world where the celebrations of Christmas and Hannukah are, and have been for centuries, celebrations of generosity, humility, compassion and life!
Guns, on the other hand, at least in the U.S. and increasingly in Canada, are instruments of "protection" if you can bear to follow the twisted logic of the NRA and in Canada, the National Firearms Association (NFA).
"The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun!" are the words out of the mouth of Wayne LaPierre, Executive Director of the NRA, one week after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. And so, with Senator Diane Feinstein promising a bill to restrict the sale, import, export and manufacture of  assault weapons  and magazines of 20-100 rounds to the public, of course, those very items are "flying off the shelves" of the gun stores across the U.S.
The fact that there are some 280,000,000 guns distributed among some 330,000,000 people, and that number is rising quickly, means that, effectively, the United States is an armed camp. Most of those gun owners are responsible hunters, target-shooting sportsmen and women. However, there are already so many guns in private hands that the Feinstein bill will do nothing to take the existing guns off the streets, out of the bedside tables, out of the glove compartments, and out of the desks of millions of Americans. Another important piece of information is that guns purchased for protection of families and individuals are most frequently used in the shooting of the people they were purchased to "protect"....especially among the women who live alone. Those women are much more like to be victimized by their own weapons than they are to have the occasion to use them to either deter or shoot an invader.
The misinterpretation of the second amendment, permitting individuals to carry concealed guns, is such a dishonest reading and rendering of the original intent of the amendment, to provide a citizen militia to protect the U.S. from invasion by enemies from without. Remember the American Revolution preceded the constitution, and the fight in that war was against the British.
And, when the word "freedom" is attached to the implementation of the Second Amendment, including the legal decisions from the Supreme Court, the possession of guns has become so inbred into the fabric of the American culture and  mind-set that is has virtually become an item of faith, worshipped more "religiously" than any God, regardless of the demonination, or faith community.
Rationalization, in the defense of liberty is as hollow as it is in the defence of a declaration of war against Iraq.
Rationalization in the defence of a gun industry is also as hollow as advertising for tobacco products that generates "sociability feelings."
Rationalization in the argument from the NRA is a hollow as the claim, by Republicans, that the president is holding the country hostage to his will on much rubbish!
Nevertheless, rationalization, distortion, prevarication, outright lying about the need for citizens to bear arms, and to bear them secretly, in order to protect themselves from the "monsters" they see in shooting sprees, without a balanced acceptance of social, political, ethical and economic responsibility will only lead to and result in more imbalance, more distortion and more lying on the part of those whose commitment to the public sale of assault weapons represents their paranoia and their assessment of their fellow citizens.
And that paranoia is not healthy for the country, for the world and especially for the young people who are attempting to learn how to live in their schools, with the NRA and other crazies advocating for an armed police presence in every school, "to protect the children"....
This approach, while clearly counter-intuitive to a healthy education process, is also effectively spreading the cancer of a dependence on guns as "insurance".
And we all know how deeply addicted to and conflicted about insurance is the American society. The insurance lobby holds as much sway over congress as any with the exception of the military and the pharmaceutical industries.
Seeing itself as the world's supersalesman, the United States may believe that in order to continue to hold the number one position in the world for gun manufacturing and exporting, it has to maintain an uber-warehouse full of the loaded killing machines, just to maintain that number one position, another of the many examples of the U.S. addiction to power, as a surrogate for the pursuit of truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as the oath all witnesses take before testifying to an American jury...
Too bad they can't teach, model and espouse some form of that oath to their children, who can and do see right through the sham  of "gun protection"!!!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Unleashing the green broke horse in each of us!

What is a green broke horse?
It basically means fresh. A green broke horse is a newly broke horse that has just learned to be ridden. A green broke horse is never a good horse for a beginner.
So my question is, is there not a green broke horse in each of us?
And is that green-broke-ness not part of what the world wants to "tame" in order to be able to "ride" without worrying about being "bucked"? And in those places where we do not wish to be tamed, are we not, individually and assertively, declaring our individuality?
We all know that parents want a child, from birth, who is gentle, quiet, sleeps through the night, smiles when smiled at, gains weight at the prescribed and documented rate, shows an apgar rating of nine or better, and never refuses to do what s/he is told!
Move it forward about four or five years, to the classroom where most teachers want the child to be a little curious, a little mischievous, but mostly quiet, respectful of teacher and classmates, obedient, well-mannered and growing in the normal, documented and empirically measured scales of memory, problem-solving, artistry, socialization and physical co-ordination.
What is happening to the "green broke horse" that is inside each child?
It is being tamed!!
Take the child to church, to Sunday School, to Catechism, where s/he will learn that "good" little boys and girls do and don't do specific things....because God does not like them if and when to do "bad" things....and here is another large "dose" of training to tame the green broke horse inside.
Enrol the child in secondary school, and watch the change as the child watches and learns how to dress, how to talk, how to laugh, when to laugh, how to dance, how to tweet, how to bully, how to "please" the teacher, when to make fun of another....mostly of those green broke horses in the class, in the halls, in the cafeteria who do not "fit" with the norm....they are the geeks, the nerds and they are also the green broke horses that are taking much longer to "tame" or to "train"..depending on the perspective of the observer.
Following graduation, there is often some kind of registration in a post-secondary institution when and where, depending on the program selected, further "taming" and "training" takes place. If it is a nursing program, the student learns that the doctor is "in charge" and that there are protocols for each and every situation that must be learning, adopted, integrated into one's professional behaviour, belief system and acculturation. If the program is in engineering, a similar set of premises, protocols and standards is learned, adopted, tweeked perhaps a little for individual preferences and absorbed into the world view of the student, almost by osmosis from the instructor.
Similarly in medicine, law, accounting, biology, physics chemistry, and even music and art...there is a kind of modelling the masters, learning the vocabulary and learning the technical requirements of the instruments, the voice, the theory and ultimately the performance....when, if one aspires to professional performance, it will be time for the green broke horse to assert itself once again, in the interpretation of the manuscript....
Only, in many of the academic disciplines, the green broke horse is silenced under the weight of the mass of material to be mastered....leaving very little time and place and thereby opportunity for any green broke-ness to emerge.
And then, out to the job frontier...where the people in charge are expecting that all the previous experience and training ("taming") has "taken" and there will be no further "disturbances" from the now-tame and dependable horse.
Only trouble is, through all those lectures and labs and experiments and essays and tests and examinations and tutorials and seminars and athletic and artistic rehearsals, the tiny voice of the green broke horse has never died, never atrophied and never been infected or affected by the training or the taming.
And it is the "green broke horse" inside that gives each of us the hope that we do have a spirit, a uniqueness, and "unbreakableness" and place deep inside which can never been either analysed or destroyed and which also needs the kind of respect it needed when, first, it was noticed that all of the training "did not take".
And when one reads the words of people who "know" horses, one reads phrases like "it will take a long time and a lot of hard work to train (tame) this one, because he is still green broke"....
And in the world of people and schools and corporations, there is no one willing to spend the time, the energy and the patience to "train" or "tame" the green broke horse in each of us....and so, what do we do?
We ignore the reality, we deny it, we cover it with accomplishments and achievements that will pass for "taming" and training without actually paying full attention to its power to break through whatever boredom, or anaesthetic-like experience we have to endure, when we least expect it.
If we were all to give voice to our green broke horse, one wonders at the capacity of the respected, professional and mature society to cope with such a choir of green broke horses...all in need of, but deeply and profoundly refusing, the full "ponty" of the taming/training that we believe in our hearts would render us emasculated, eunuched, sterile, deaf and dumb.
And is there not a reasonable and cogent case that can be made to celebrate and to love the green broke horse in each of us, so that we do not succumb to the disease of conformity and mediocrity and passivity and somnambulance and even becoming etherized behind the wheels of our BMW's, as we move easily through the traffic on the freeways, on our way to our offices, our labs, our Operating Rooms and Emergency Rooms, and our Court Rooms and our Board (Bored) Rooms?
We have collectively and subtly collaborated in a sacralising of the professional, the expert, the guru and the trained and tamed perceptions as if they were expressions of our best. And yet, is the green broke horse in each of us not  waiting to be re-discovered, from under the layers of dust, and decay and atrophy that have grown over its whinney and its break-free spirit to roam outside our corral, outside the earshot of our tamers and trainers...and the plethora of parents all of them seeking to control our acts, our thoughts, our beliefs and our wills?
Could be!!!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Politics is about relationships....Happy Christmas!

It is Christmas Eve, 2012, and the world is still waiting for the birth of a new way of living, and forgiving and birthing hope.
And there is a growing consciousness of a disconnect between that universal search and the way humans "do governance" and grow our cultures and our societies.
Utilitarianism is supposed to find application in the principle of "the greatest happiness for the greatest number"....
Emmanual Kant reminds us that 'we are not to be the means for another's ends'...
Frankl tells us to search for our meaning while
The existentialists tell us that our 'existential moment' occurs at the moment we become conscious and aware of our own meaninglessness...and then move to take responsibility for that vaccuum.
However, politics is about policy and not about the relationships between people, in the insightful words of the former Speaker of the House of Commons...
when at the core of our society is the question of the relationship between human beings...
Policy, it would seem, is the instrument that legislators use to define the interface between the 'state' and the 'citizen' and in most cases it is the result of some kind of "brew" that includes the latest polls, the public opinion winds that are 'in the air' and a hefty dose of the ideology of the people who have won the most recent election, with a dark dash of the resistance from those who lost the last election.
And we call that mixture, "democracy" because we exchange rhetorical 'shots' as opposed to 'ballistic' or 'bullet' shots in our debate.
And yet, there is a case to be made for using the concept of relationships as a guiding principle for the governing class...
And that starts with the relationship between the voter and the politicians...if and when it is open, frank and authentic, that is if both are demonstrating those qualities, there is a greater likelihood that both will buy into the decisions taken in the legislature. If, on the other hand, it is contemptuous, deceptive and arrogant, on the part of the legislatures, then there is a high degree of probability that the citizens will grow restless, discontent and even contemptuous.
So, in the event that "public perceptions" (by the citizenry) are incongruent with the "mind-set" of the government, the disconnect is so dramatic that the healthy functioning of the state dissipates, atrophies and even grinds to a stalemate.
By the same token, if the relationships between those in power and those in opposition grows toxic, a similar stalemate results, and the public good is rendered mute in the direction and purpose of the debate among the legislators.
So in a very provincial, parochial way, relationships between and among people are extremely important to the effective governance of any healthy civil society...
And when those relationships break, so does the machinery of government grind to a halt, or the effective semblance of a car stalled from a broken timing belt, for example.
And it is often a perception of how that timing belt is working, how the parties to any agreement to govern perceive the timing to be either congruent or not between the parties, because timing in relationships can be considered the ingredient that is the most likely of negotiation.
If you think that it is time to do X, and I think it is not time to do X, we are at an impasse. Similarly, in reverse.
So, how do we get our clocks, and our timing into synchronicity, if the purpose of the political game is to "beat" the other in the public eye?
We have set our machinery of government on a faulty premise, if we think that we can reach agreement, compromise, a bold piece of legislation in the public interest, when those attempting to come to that place have contempt for one another, in the ideological sense, or in the dogmatic, and faith sense, or in the ethnic and linguistic sense, or in the economic and financial sense.
So, when and how do we bring our political discussion to include a formal and a disciplined examination of the relationships that are required for democracy to work....and we have not succeeded in that goal...
We are watching, in most western democracies, a plague of ineffectual and blatantly self-serving rhetoric that is far more committed to the personal aggrandizement of those uttering the words than it is to serving the people whose votes put those people in power. Their posturing with their electoral "base" takes precedence over the potential historic accomplishments that everyone who is awake can see on the horizon. Their defaming their opponents supercedes their dedication to the goal of achieving a community that is willing and able to move forward together in a spirit of co-operation, compromise and good will, in hope and in courage.
The notion of "power" and its residual aphrodisiacal impact on both those exercising it and those observing the exercise has become like a drug for both. And the pundits feed on the dysfunction, clearly not on the achievements of healthy leadership and governance. So with both those in power and those writing and talking about their own seduction with the fleeting encounter with the aphrodisiac of power, and sustaining in the process, their own competitive positions, we are left with a drama of failed relationships, feeding the power needs of the actors, the critics and the audience is leaving the theatre because we have been left out of the "play"....and everyone knows it.
So to the Speaker, I say, that if politics is not about human relationships, and that includes the relationships between those who are gay with the body politic, and those who are hungry, poor and unemployed with the body politic, and those who are born on First Nation reserves and the wider body politic, and the relationships between teachers and students, and between men and women....then politics is less than useless, less than doing its job and less than hopeful in sustaining its hold on "power" that fleeting aphrodisiac that, like a very strong light bulb, attracts thousands of moths to is rays, only to find that the closer the moth gets to the "light" the more quickly it dies on the pavement below....
Let's bring a little less seduction to the political game and a little more vulnerability at this birthing time of year for all of us living in the western world.
Happy Christmas, dear reader, and may 2013 bring each of you those relationships you cherish most, because that will require of each of us a commitment to grow those healthy relationships on which all healthy democracies are fed.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Let's see the whole person, once again.. not just the "brand"

It's about this thing called branding!
What the heck is going on with that?
We listen to the musicologist say that American pop culture is characterized by an identity with "things"....
We read that marketers demand that business decision-makers reduce their business to the three most important words that describe their customers' experience, in order to begin their marketing consult.
We understand that the whole person is being lost in schools, replaced there by marks, academic and and athletic achievements for the purpose of enhancing the "schools brand", in the economy, replaced by sales quotas and totals enhancing the companies' brand, in the doctor's office, replaced there by 'presenting symptoms' enhancing the doctor's 'bedside manner', in the workplace, replaced there by productivity quotas made and missed, complaints both overt and covert, along with mistakes made thereby generating "incident" reports demonstrating supervisory accountability and control, in the church, replaced there by cheques and bequests thereby enhancing the trust account of the specific denomination and diocese, in the military the whole person is being lost replaced by reports of "three or four quality adjectives" upon return home in a coffin, for those lost in battle, whether from "friendly fire" in too many cases, or from enemy IED's resulting also in too many cases from vehicles without necessary protective shield plates.
The whole person is also being lost on the internet, replaced there by the latest "quip" on twitter, as if incisive, cutting, sound bytes are also replacing nuanced reflective thought. On facebook, too many whole people are being reduced to the latest "activity" (I got my hair cut!) for the gossip-grasping "followers" the new surrogate for friends. And, as in everything else, the larger the number, the better the person, in the eyes of the "following crowd" so keep "pushing those numbers" just to keep the playing field level with your peers, again now morphed into competitors.
Voters, in the political arena, are now being replaced, in the strategic planning of the back-room operatives, with "niche markets" whose "demographic information, including the magazines they read, the television programs they watch, the movies they attend, the churches they attend and support, the languages they speak, the degrees they hold, the cars they drive and the workplace they serve identify them....all to serve the purpose of crafting propaganda words, brochures, television commercials, and even stump speeches that will "target" those small groups, with the larger goal of generating the most votes for the candidate and/or party.
Each of these examples, while it may have occurred for the purpose of "meeting the needs of the client," is really generating information, and more and more of it, robbing each person of his/her individuality and privacy, for the purpose of ensuring the success of the "organization" generating the information.
The respect for the individual, in other words, has been replaced by the "dividends for the shareholders" of the corporation, including the people writing the cheques for political parties, the people writing the cheques for the churches, the people writing the cheques for the political candidates, the people who are willing to "prostitute" themselves to the wishes of the people writing those cheques....
And we wonder why some young men, especially, (because elementary and secondary schools have been taken over, both metaphorically and literally by the feminine administration, teaching staff and student expectations,) have become less and less manageable, or, to put it more bluntly, more and more violent.
We have dehumanized everyone, both men and women; we have replaced time with our children with money spent on their "whims" especially those of a digital nature; we have demonized those with mental illness, stigmatizing the phenomenon, and the people whose faces are behind the dark clouds, in order to better pave the way for the fastlane-freeways of acceptable social behaviour...and the obvious and tragic erosion of the individuality, the eccentricity, and the complexities that we could be celebrating instead of demonizing of every human being, if we were patient enough to take the time to get to know each person in our circle, (not our circle of influence!!)...
A story on CBC's The National struck me as significant, not only at this time of year. A young man, in his former school life had been bullied, dubbed a nerd and literally dispossessed, alienated from his peers, and had withdrawn from most social contact, and painfully found school a place he wished out of his life. His family moved to a new city, the young man to a new secondary school, where he decided on his own, that he would attempt what must have appeared difficult, if not impossible, to begin anew, with a new attitude, and a new approach to his new life in the new school.
He would open doors for students following him between classes, for those whose arms were full, for anyone seeking passage through the doors he currently "opened"....and, as expected, at first, the students thought he and his behaviour were a little "strange and different and weird," until the young man continued, no matter how it was greeted. After a period of time, others began to shift their perceptions of the new boy, from disdain to acceptance, and eventually to imitation, opening doors for classmates, picking up papers from dropped back-packs, and generally appreciating the others in their hallways and classrooms....
Wonder if their example could be replicated among the corporate board rooms, in the church prayer groups, in the hospital corridors and emergency rooms, where my experience includes ridicule by nurses for being dehydrated and nearly passing out?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Stop pre-emptive strikes from becoming the norm!

For students of contemporary American history, it was George W. Bush who introduced the infamous phrase, "pre-emptive strike" into American foreign policy, as his way of demonstrating his Texan machismo in starting the war with Iraq, "before Saddam Hussein dropped his non-existent "mushroom cloud" nuclear bomb on the United States.
Now, "proportional response" in military-diplomatic terms, has been replaced by the more powerful, extreme pre-emptive strike:
                                      do to them before they do it to you!
Unfortunately, the Bush doctrine is inappropriate in both military conflict, and in domestic political debate.
However, those citizens groups, including some Republican congressmen and women, have not learned just how inappropriate it this approach to any situation, no matter how potentially dangerous.
Suddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, but, unfortunately and ironically, the pre-emptive strike has been deployed, with devastating results in the political debate, quite recently.
In the first instance, McCain and Graham (Senators John and Lindsay respectively) launched a pre-emptive campaign against United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, before she was even nominated for the position of Secretary of State. Their complaint was that she was not truthful when she uttered the words of a national security memo on the then-public background to the uprising in the compound in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Stevens. She was doing her job, under instructions from the White House, and if there were failures of both commission and omission in the security operation, including the failure to sufficiently arm and protect American embassies and consulates in danger in foreign countries, that is a far greater problem than the words spoken by Ms Rice. Nevertheless, her potential confirmation seemed in doubt, in the Senate, should she be nominated by the president, and she withdrew her name.
Subsequently, the name of former Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican, has emerged as a potential candidate for the position of Secretary of Defence. Almost immediately, once again using the pre-emptive strike, opponents of Senator Hagel have dubbed him ineligible for the new position. He is not friendly enough to Israel; he was not a real republican (Senator McCain's view) when he left the senate. And once again the potential choice of the president for his second term cabinet is thwarted by pre-emptive public relations attacks, before the name has even come before the Senate for confirmation.
And, although Obama has now nominated Senator John Kerry, former Democratic presidential candidate, for the position of Secretary of State, he was denied what is reported to have been his first choice. And it is not incidental that the president has traditionally been able to pick his Secretary of State, without political opposition and threatened confirmation hearings in the Senate. All of that tradition has been swept aside, in order to accommodate the nefarious motivations of Republicans who see the chance for another Republican Senator, following Kerry's confirmation,when he must resign his Senate seat from Massachusetts, thereby opening up the seat for a potential election, if the governor does not appoint someone to replace him.
This is not only a tragic abandonment of tradition, but also a dangerous precedent in political life, in all countries, when people with one view pre-emptively attack the person, or the potential view of the opposition, before it is articulated, in order to gain the 'upper ground' in the forthcoming debate.
Now, potentially legal cases will be argued and fought in the public domain, prior to a writ being filed by a petitioner, in order to tip the balance of the playing field in favour of the pre-emptive strikers!
It is a dynamic that Obama must confront, through first nominating Chuck Hagel, in order not to appear weak in the face of the public pre-emptive strike and secondly, he must prepare and release all the names of his second-term cabinet so that no one is put through the agonizing process through which Susan Rice was put, thereby invalidating what could have been an outstanding Secretary of State, and in our view, a better Secretary of State than John Kerry, whose fuzzy thinking and obfuscation during his presidential campaign is not what the world needs in a time of growing crisis and growing complexities in those crises.
While I have often supported Obama's moderate stance, as maturity, and as welcome following the disaster that was Dubya, I also see a serious danger in too much moderation, especially when facing a second term of Republican/Tea Party obstructionism, outright lying about the president's positions, and deep-seated hatred for anything the president proposes, as their "brand"...and pledge.

Friday, December 21, 2012

We're walking with Idle No More today on Parliament Hill (in spirit)

Why ‘Idle No More’ is gaining strength, and why all Canadians should care

By Jeff Denis, Toronto Star, December 21, 2012
Jeff Denis is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at McMaster University.

In a Dec. 16 editorial, the Star rightly called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet with Chief Theresa Spence, now in her 10th day of a hunger strike. It rightly drew attention to the ongoing housing crisis at Attawapiskat First Nation. Yet, it missed the big picture.

Spence’s hunger strike is not just about Attawapiskat. It is not just about housing or school funding. And it is not just about the omnibus budget Bill C-45, which eliminates federally protected waterways and facilitates the sale of reserve lands without consultation. It is about all of that and more.
Spence’s hunger strike is part of the Idle No More movement, which, in a matter of days, has become the largest, most unified, and potentially most transformative Indigenous movement at least since the Oka resistance in 1990.

The fundamental issue is the nation-to-nation treaty relationship with Indigenous peoples that Canadian governments repeatedly flout by passing legislation without free, prior and informed consent.
Harper and the Governor-General (as Crown representative) must meet with Chief Spence and other First Nations leaders, to not only discuss this relationship but take concrete action to repair it.
Idle No More is not a sudden case of “mass hysteria.” If one were paying attention, one could feel the movement brewing for years.
On June 11, 2008, Harper apologized for the residential school system and promised to forge “a new relationship” based on “partnership” and “respect.” Some people believed — or wanted to believe — that things would change.
Unfortunately, actions speak louder than words. Since 2008, the Harper government has cut aboriginal health funding, gutted environmental review processes, ignored the more than 600 missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada, withheld residential school documents from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, abandoned land claim negotiations, and tried to defend its underfunding of First Nations schools and child welfare agencies.
When some dared call attention to poverty, “corrupt” chiefs were blamed. Although the minister of Aboriginal Affairs, John Duncan, claims to have visited 50 First Nations communities and conducted 5,000 consultations, he and his staff clearly have not gained the First Nations’ consent on the seven currently tabled bills that Idle No More activists oppose.
Meanwhile, Indigenous peoples are the fastest growing population in Canada. They are young, ambitious and well aware of historical and contemporary injustices. Like others abroad, they are revitalizing their languages and cultures, rebuilding their nations, and supported in these initiatives by international law, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada reluctantly endorsed in 2010.
On Friday, Dec. 21, thousands of Indigenous peoples and their allies will converge in Ottawa for a mass rally. This event follows two weeks of direct action from coast to coast to coast, including flash mobs and sit-ins, highway blockades, and drumming and prayers for change. Indigenous elders across the land have joined Chief Spence in her fast.
Why should non-Indigenous Canadians care?
First, it is a matter of social and environmental justice. When corporate profit is privileged over the health of our lands and waters, we all suffer. When government stifles debate, democracy is diminished. Bill C-45 is just the latest in a slew of legislation that undermines Canadians’ rights. In standing against it, the First Nations are standing for us too.
Second, as Justice Linden of the Ipperwash Inquiry said, “we are all treaty people.” When our governments unilaterally impose legislation on the First Nations, they dishonour the Crown, they dishonour us, and they dishonour our treaty relationship. We are responsible for ensuring that our governments fulfill their commitments. If our governments do not respect Indigenous and treaty rights, then the very legitimacy of the Canadian state — and thus of all our citizenship rights — is in doubt. That’s what Idle No More is about.
So, yes, Harper should meet with Spence. But a meeting alone will not suffice. Change requires action. It requires a shift in public consciousness. It requires all of us being there, Dec. 21 and beyond, to “live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work toward justice in action, and protect Mother Earth”.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Spreading "pork" in Quebec and the Maritimes...for 2015

John Ivison: Harper government may revive direct business subsidies in effort to win Quebec, Atlantic votes

By John Ivison, National Post, December 19, 2012
“Our government’s top priorities are economic growth, job creation and long-term prosperity,” said Conservative MP Greg Kerr, as he announced the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will fork out $114,000 for a skateboard park in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

The MP from West Nova did not state the obvious — that the government’s real top priority is to get re-elected in a region where its Employment Insurance reforms have proven unpopular.
The funding announcement at the beginning of last month ushered in a Yuletide spending spree in which ACOA sprinkled $2.8-million like fairy dust across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in 17 separate “community infrastructure” improvement releases. Soon, there will be hardly a hockey rink in the region that isn’t renovated or a recreational hall roof that needs to be re-shingled....
The real concern is that the direct spending will be done by regional development agencies like ACOA, which have proven themselves to be little more than slush-funds for politicians of all stripes. “I really thought we had got out of the business of trying to pick winners a long time ago,” said one senior industry source. “This will just create jobs for bureaucrats.”

The Conservatives are aware that the training issue is at the heart of its competitiveness agenda. The Prime Minister is said to have asked federal government departments to review their funding contribution to provincial training programs, so a broad re-think of the whole training issue is pending.
But if the rumblings from deep within the bureaucracy are proven correct, the response may be less than strategic — resulting in the same quasi-political organizations that dole out money for skateboard parks simply being placed in charge of millions of new training dollars.
There is always hanging over every government in a "democracy" the spectre of an election. And with that comes the inevitable "how to" question for politicians.
In the U.S. earmarks have plagued so many worthwhile bills that went before the Congress for votes in both houses, that "the bridge to nowhere" has come to be the epitaph for those "bribes" for votes back home.
I once lived in a provincial riding in which, just before election day, the then Progressive Conservative government/party would rumble out a few work crews to "improve" the road between our small town and the next largest city nearest, demonstrating its "attentiveness" to the needs of our riding. The process was repeated for the better part of a half century during which the people in that riding put conservative candidates back into Queen's Park. How easily "bought" is the voter, it would seem.
And such cynicism is not missing in Ottawa, where the current government is perpetually campaigning, using some $50 millions of public funds to keep those "Action Canada" ads running on various television networks, and now more millions in "pork" in an overt, blatant and shameless tactic to win another majority government, through some community "baubles" similar to the gazebos that Tony Clement sprinked like "fairy dust" around the Muskoka-Parry Sound riding just prior to the G8-G-20 Conferences of a few years ago.
Only this time, it seems the public dollars are directed to Quebec and the Maritimes, both regions from which Harper's government will need increases in votes next time the election writ is issued.
Now, the training "bauble" is being dangled in front of  corporate executives, as an incentive for gathering votes, and, completely incidentally, perhaps shove a few employees into training programs they would not otherwise have access to.
And, we all know that the training "sector" is filled with small and medium-sized organizations doling out "classical conditioning" "tailored" for each client, in which the tailoring amounts to putting a new cover with the client's name on it on the front of recycled Pavlovian dog tricks and today, perhaps with a DVD bearing the client's name.
So much of what passes for training is a sham, and the government and the purchasers and the providers all know it is a sham. But they all have a stake in the action, mostly for public relations purposes.
One training/consulting company out of the Ottawa Valley pushes a formula from Waco Texas onto unsuspecting government clients in Ottawa and beyond, as a way of "oursourcing" their hiring requirements. The tests that come from Waco are so decpetive that anyone answering "honestly" is immediately rejected as "too" something or other. It reminds me of the "angle" that everyone has in the movie A White Christmas, with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, centred on the entertainment business, in which a couple of aspiring female singers write a letter to Crosby and Kaye, making it look as if it came from their brother, a former colleague of the men in the military during the war. One of the sisters wrote the letter, in another shameless act of ambition, seeking an audition with the two male performers.
The "angle" of the current government is to blatantly use public money in a vote-generating scheme, planting some "training expertise" on the foreheads of a few workers, to meet the angle of the companies to demonstrate how committed they are to their workers (only the training would only be available with public money, because the companies are not really interested in spending their own money on it.
And, with every angle, there is always a sucker. Only, in this case the "sucker" is the sleepy and somewhat detached (for sanity purposes) tax payer/voter who will exclaim to visitors to their town, now spiffied-up with both baubles and new training programs, just how wonderful is the federal government (it hopes) come 2015, and the next federal election.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

UN/Amnesty Report: Human Rights abuses in Canada

Three mandatory United Nations reviews conducted in 2012 all found “very serious human rights challenges facing Indigenous peoples” in Canada, says an Amnesty International report released Wednesday.

“By every measure, be it respect for treaty and land rights, levels of poverty, average life spans, violence against women and girls, dramatically disproportionate levels of arrest and incarceration or access to government services such as housing, health care, education, water and child protection, Indigenous peoples across Canada continue to face a grave human rights crisis,” the report says....
In addition to the rights of Aboriginal peoples, Wednesday’s report says Canada needs improvement in seven other areas: women’s human rights, corporate accountability and trade policy, the rights of refugees and migrants, Canadians subject to human rights violations abroad, economic, social and cultural rights, the shrinking space for advocacy and dissent, and engagement with the multilateral human rights system. (From "Canada rejects UN human rights criticism detailed in Amnesty International report" by Allison Cross, National Post, December 19, 2012, below)
Except for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the court cases brought to induce its application, Canada does not talk much about human rights abuses, unless it refers to a country where a dictator is in charge.
It is not surprising that Foreign Affairs Minister thinks the UN should be spending its time and money examining what he considers the more important human rights abuses in OTHER countries, and take their spotlight off the Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.
However, the history of the treatment of and conditions under which the Indigenous peoples in Canada attempt to eke out their survival, is nothing short of both tragic and abysmal. As a country, Canada and Canadians should be ashamed of our record. We have what most objective observers would call, if they permitted themselves 'full disclosure' object lesson in apartheid...covering every province and territory with reserves in all regions.
As the report documents, there is indisputable evidence of the facts in so many glaring areas:
  • respect for treaty and land rights,
  • levels of poverty,
  • average life spans,
  • violence against women and girls,
  • dramatically disproportionate levels of arrest and incarceration or
  • access to government services such as housing, health care, education, water and child protection
And this is a moral failure, a legal failure and a racial failure and most of all a refusal to acknowledge the Canadian Shadow; it is by all accounts darkest side of our national cultural consciousness, and it neither started, nor will end under the current government.
This is a situation that has been part of the "home secrets" of our national life and for Baird to attempt to point the UN light onto other countries is just another exercise in deliberate denial. Families, as we know too well, that perpetrate their unpleasant and unwelcome secrets (alcoholism, domestic violence, fraud, tax evasion) can only exacerbate the impact of their own denials, because those "elephants" in the room will inevitably bite them in the ass! So too, in national affairs!
"Out-of-sight-out-of-mind" may be an appropriate caution from the State police when leading the young children out of Sandy Hook elementary school last Friday, because their classmates were lying in their own blood on the classroom floor.
However, it is not appropriate in the case of the relationship between the people of Canada and our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
We need a national government willing to face the ugly facts of our attitudes, policies and practices to those in the Indigenous communities. And then to extend that courage, confidence and compassion to all of our people who are suffering at home and abroad.
This report points to the blind eye, deaf ear, closed mind and stone wall that this Harper government turns to a human dilemma...everywhere, all the time, repeatedly, admittedly and with so much impunity. Even the headline in the National Post points to support for the government position of shoving the issue off the front pages.
How can Canada play a credible, effective and influential role in the multiple conflicts facing the world community with this tumor festering inside its own boundaries?
A similar question can be legitimately asked about the current government's denial of their responsibilty for addressing global warming and climate change in any meaningful way?
Canada rejects UN human rights criticism detailed in Amnesty International report

By Allison Cross, National Post, December 19, 2012
Canada is again rejecting criticism of its human rights record after the release of a report that highlights the longstanding issues facing Aboriginal peoples.
Three mandatory United Nations reviews conducted in 2012 all found “very serious human rights challenges facing Indigenous peoples” in Canada, says an Amnesty International report released Wednesday.
“By every measure, be it respect for treaty and land rights, levels of poverty, average life spans, violence against women and girls, dramatically disproportionate levels of arrest and incarceration or access to government services such as housing, health care, education, water and child protection, Indigenous peoples across Canada continue to face a grave human rights crisis,” the report says.
A spokesman for Foreign Affairs minister John Baird said it was odd the UN was using its resources to evaluate Canada.
“We find it strange that the United Nations Special Rapporteurs are devoting their scarce resources to countries like Canada, instead of countries like Iran and Syria where citizens do not enjoy rights and are subject to serious human rights violations at the hands of those regimes,” Rick Roth said....
In addition to the rights of Aboriginal peoples, Wednesday’s report says Canada needs improvement in seven other areas: women’s human rights, corporate accountability and trade policy, the rights of refugees and migrants, Canadians subject to human rights violations abroad, economic, social and cultural rights, the shrinking space for advocacy and dissent, and engagement with the multilateral human rights system.

Amnesty International recommends that Canada develop a national action plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Concerted action is needed,” Alex Neve, Secretary General of the English branch of Amnesty International Canada, said in a written statement.
“It will take leadership, and long overdue cooperation and coordination among federal, provincial and territorial governments. But it cannot wait any longer. Canadians whose rights are affected need assurance that Canada will meet the country’s international obligations.”
The office of John Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, did not respond to requests for an interview by deadline.
The report also chastises the government for its reactions to past visits from UN experts and independent committees, wherein politicians rejected advice and “insulted” those giving it out.
“In all instances, the suggestion was that because Canada’s record is not as bad as that of many countries, Canada’s record should not be internationally scrutinized,” the report says.
In May, a United Nations envoy who specializes in the right to food blasted Canada for failing to deal with the issue of food insecurity — criticism the federal government dismissed.
Critics questioned why envoy Olivier De Schutter bothered to visit a wealthy, democratic nation like Canada, given the number of other countries in the world coping with extreme hunger.
The envoy also highlighted the lack of appropriate food on remote First Nations reserves. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq called De Schutter’s advice “ill-informed and “patronizing,” referencing the fact that he didn’t visit Canada’s north.
In October, the federal government rejected UN claims that Bill C-10, an omnibus crime bill that included tougher penalties for youth, was too harsh for children. Earlier this month, Canada joined other Western nations in rejecting a UN telecommunications treaty amid concerns it would give governments teeth to control the internet.

Taliban determined to block "west" from their lives

Rumours about polio drops being a plot to sterilize Muslims have long dogged efforts to tackle the disease in Pakistan, but suspicion of vaccination programs intensified after the jailing of a doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden in 2011 using a hepatitis campaign. (from "Unicef, WHO suspend Pakistan polio campaign after more killings," by Lehaz Ali, Globe and Mail December 19, 2012, below)
We are fighting not only against terrorism, we are fighting against a culture, through the fog of fear, paranoia, tribalism and a basic conflict between science and faith.
Turning polio immunization into "sterilization" is nothing short of paranoia. And that's what the Taliban seem determined to maintain. They do not trust the west; they do not trust the west's culture, learning, lifestyle, belief system, world view and they are determined to stamp out any evidence of its entry into their world view, their domain. They are living, not merely in another century, but rather in another epoch.
Their's is a world view of resistance to the west, to the new, to the scientific, to the equality of the sexes, to the pursuit of economic independence, at least through "western" methods.
And, amid the fog and mists of their perspective, is a shining fire of a faith in their deity, Allah, for which/whom they will gladly kill and be killed.
And we think we can change them with needles and drones?
Think again!
Unicef, WHO suspend Pakistan polio campaign after more killings
By Lehaz Ali, Globe and Mail, December 19, 2012
Gunmen in Pakistan mounted fresh attacks Wednesday on health workers carrying out polio vaccinations, taking the death toll to nine and prompting Unicef and WHO to suspend work on a campaign opposed by the Taliban.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio is still endemic, but efforts to stamp out the crippling disease have been hampered by resistance from the Taliban, who have banned vaccination teams from some areas.
Nine people working to immunize children against the highly infectious disease have been shot dead in Pakistan since the start of a three-day UN-backed nationwide vaccination campaign on Monday.

In the latest attack Wednesday, a female health worker and her driver were shot dead in Charsadda, near Peshawar, the main town in the northwest, police official Wajid Khan told AFP. A second police officer confirmed the incident.
Another worker was shot and critically wounded while giving out polio drops earlier on Wednesday on the outskirts of Peshawar also died, doctor Ahmad Saqlain of the city’s Lady Reading Hospital told AFP.
Two other polio teams were targeted in similar attacks in the towns of Nowshera and Charsadda, police and health officials said, but the polio workers escaped unharmed. One passerby was slightly injured in Nowshera.
Violence has blighted every day of the polio campaign so far: one health worker was shot dead in Karachi on Monday and four more were killed in the city with another gunned down in Peshawar on Tuesday.
The bloodshed prompted the UN children’s agency Unicef and the World Health Organization to suspend work on polio campaigns across Pakistan.
Unicef spokesman Michael Coleman said the two organizations halted work in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces after Tuesday’s attacks but had now extended the suspension nationwide.
Rumours about polio drops being a plot to sterilize Muslims have long dogged efforts to tackle the disease in Pakistan, but suspicion of vaccination programs intensified after the jailing of a doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden in 2011 using a hepatitis campaign.
Polio cases in Pakistan fell to 28 in 2005 but have risen sharply in recent years, hitting 198 in 2011 – the highest figure for more than a decade and the most of any country in the world last year, according to the World Health Organization. There have been 56 infections so far in 2012.
There has been no claim of responsibility for this week’s attacks, but in June the Taliban banned immunizations in the tribal region of Waziristan, condemning the polio campaign as a cover for espionage.
In Waziristan, a hub for Islamist militants, the ban – also enforced as a protest against US drone strikes – has put the health of 240,000 children at risk, officials say.
Police said Tuesday’s killings in Karachi took place in suburbs dominated by Pashtuns, the dominant ethnic group in northwest Pakistan who have a sizable migrant population in the city.
Pashtuns are also disproportionately affected by polio: though the community makes up only 15 per cent of the population, it accounts for three quarters of polio cases, the WHO says.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reflections on American pop culture...

Timothy Taylor, professor in the department of ethnomusicology and musicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He’s the author of The Sounds of Capitalism: Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture. (From NPR On Point with Tom Ashbrook website, December 18, 2012)
Professor Taylor appeared as Tom's guest today, and among many other insights and anecdotes, he stated this:
In the past, Americans used to identify themselves as "victorians" behaving with a set of values befitting the victorian era; today, Americans identify themselves with their purchases, the things they buy, the brands they support.
In his documentation of the development of the complete submergence by the advertising agency of the American pop culture, Taylor notes, sadly, that the jingle morphed from a short advertisement into today's version in which whole songs are used to sell specific products, thereby breaking any dam that may have existed between "music" and marketing.
One of the implications of this dramatic development is that no longer do disc jockeys working at radio stations select from a pile of new records submitted by artists and their management those records they deem worthy of "air time". Instead, today, some advertising executive who happens to like a song merely inserts that song into one of his clients' advertisements and through that vehicle the artist then becomes known, and an audience begins to grow for his/her records, concerts, television appearances, magazine interviews and potentially even movie contracts.
Elsewhere I have written that the U.S. culture has capitulated to capitalism, consumerism and to the obsessive pursuit of both wealth and power. Not too long ago, the popular music industry set itself over and against the popular culture of consumerism, capitalism, war and the activities, policies and practices of the establishment. Today, on the contrary, popular music worships at the same altar as all the other instruments of the society, including the politicians, the corporations in pursuit of customers, the bankers in pursuit of clients, investments and also profits.
Even the federal and state budgets have been turned into instruments of the plutocrats, as witnessed by the 'first hour' of On Point today, in which numerous speakers, including both professional psychiatrists and parents of children with emotional and mental illnesses, pointed to the vaccuum of services and facilities for the mentally challenged, following the closure of all psychiatric hospitals. There were supposed to be half-way houses, treatment plans and professional support services available for those formerly resident in the psychiatric hospitals, but little if any of that safety net was ever established, leaving both patients and their families struggling, in fact so severe is the gap that struggle too often leads to violent acts, sometimes against oneself, sometimes against society.
"Voluntary" and "involuntary" are two words critical to the mental health profession. The first, voluntary, refers to those patients who agree to mental health treatment and whose following their medical prescriptions is voluntary. The second, refers to those who, in the opinion of a board of psychiatrists, psychologists and lay people, require medical treatment, perhaps hospitalization, but certainly medication, no matter where they reside. "Involuntary" is the word used to designate such treatment, and many of the people previously hospitalized, yet still requiring treatment cannot be forced to comply with treatment unless and until they commit some violent act.
This kind of thinking, that the state inserts itself into the life of a person only if and when that person demonstrates that s/he is a danger, a threat, or even a perpetrator of an act that endangers another was in effect in one state in which I worked, when I recommended that an active alcoholic needed support and treatment, and was told by the (also active alcoholic) social worker that treatment and support could only be found and administered if and when the person in question killed someone on the road, while drunk.
So combining both themes, the first that American people now see themselves in their "things" and not their values, and then, as a society, provide support and treatment only if and when an individual wreaks havoc on others, even though there is evidence of need from family members and associates, it is not difficult to see how alienated those with even slight mental and emotional disturbances would become in such a society.
Using the caveat, "no one is mentally ill unless and until adjudicated to be" as a parallel to the legal habeas corpus, "innocent until proven guilty" demonstrates a society both incapable of and unwilling to deal with either nuance or marginal statistics, namely people on the margins. Only  AFTER some tragedy occurs (as it has just last week in Newtown, Connecticut) does it become clear that, although Adam Lanza was closely monitored while attending high school, by both students and teachers, as soon as he graduated, he fell through the gaping holes in the support networks that were never built by a society uninterested in prevention, only in dramatic histrionics of aftermaths.
And you say, what is the possible connection of these two ideas? The migration of a popular culture away from seeing itself incorporating a set of values (victorian) to a culture seeing itself in its things, and identifying with those things and the failure to take responsibility for the people at the margins who need complex and nuanced monitoring and treatment...both are a devaluation of the notion of "a human being" into little more than a consuming vehicle or agent. It is from such a perspective that one can and does default on responsibility for the community, pleading some rationalization like "freedom" from the government....
In fact, one empty-headed voice was heard this week expressing a view that he wished that principal and those teachers had had weapons to "blow the head off the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary" before he shot all those innocent children.
And then, Americans will go to extreme lengths to shoot a doctor who performs a therapeutic abortion....
Is this culture either justified or sustainable?

Monday, December 17, 2012

When is America going to wake up to its own Shadow?

In the introduction to his (1974/1992) book, The Liberated Man, Warren Farrell writes these words:
(Feminism's) impact became so pervasive exactly because it attacked so many fronts simultaneously. It became, by the 1990's, like a bacteria in our water: we drank it unknowingly--both the good bacteria and the bad.
What was feminism's "bad bacteria"--or shadow side? Feminism's shadow side was that it only saw men's shadow side. It was blind to both the shadow side of women and the light side of men. It could identify the "glass ceilings" that excluded women but was blind to the "glass cellars" that trapped man (e.g., the coal mines and construction sites that result in 94% of all workplace deaths occurring to men.) It could label men as "deadbeat dads," but be unconcerned about "manipulative moms"--those mothers who prevent their children from seeing their dads and then tell their children their dads don't want to see them. It could protest men's use of women as sex objects but ignore women's use of men as success objects--even as the Gloria Steinems, Jane Fondas and Mia Farrows have their relationships with the rich and the famous (not the househusbands and the elementary school teachers).
Feminism's deeper shadow was its propensity to sell the theme of women-as-victim and man-as-perpetrator. By 1991 the theme had been sold so well that Newsweek reported that half of the 250 made-for-television movies portrayed women as victims and men as perpetrators (addicts and incest perpetrators, sadists and sociopaths, child molesters and wife abusers, pornographers and rapists.) (From Harry Waters, "Whip Me, Beat Me and Give me Great Ratings"..Newsweek, November 11, 1992.) Rarely were men portrayed as victims of the female versions of violence (contact killings, false charges of sexual abuse during custody battles, false charges of rape during teen years, poisoning of husbands, denial of visitation...) When they were, the viewer was allowed to see how the woman's background made her a victim and therefore made the abusive behavior at least worthy of sympathy. The man's abusive behavior was almost never seen as worthy of sympathy due to his life's traumas. (pp.xxvii)
Once the pattern of sympathy for the plight of women,  and the scorn of men, was deeply embedded in the American (and Canadian and North American) culture, that message became ineradicable, permanent. And its legacy is still with us.
Just as the feminist movement failed to acknowledge its own Shadow, so too the United States culture has failed to recognize its Shadow, especially since the terror attacks of 9/11.
Failing to acknowledge the depth of its fear, its embarrassment, and its paranoia, the U.S. immediately, or too soon, opened military conflict with a dictator and country with no connection to 9/11, as if to prove that, no matter the evidence, it was time for the U.S. to take bold action, if for no other reason than to demonstrate to its people that it could, and if revenge were part of its motive, then so be it. Saddam Hussein and the people of Iraq were as good a target as any. Likewise the people of Afghanistan were another "military target" for the public reason that the terrorists were reported to have incubated their movement, their training and their over-arching strategy in that country. Bombs, drones, hundreds of thousands of personnel were deployed in both theatres of war, albeit in two or three installments, surges and the like, but nevertheless, for the last decade plus, the American people have been at war, longer than any war in American history previously.
Thousands have been killed, or maimed, taken their own lives, suffered divorce and alienation from their homeland, their jobs and any prospects of reasonable employment, not to mention lack of access to reasonable and deserved treatment. All the while the flag has been flying and the drums and brass bands playing and marching, there has been a steady parade of coffins into Delaware, in stealth under the Bush administration and under Obama, more openly.
Back home, there has been another war...against drugs, those illegal and dangerous non-prescription drugs like cocaine, heroine, methamphetamines all of the drug trade based on an insatiable appetite of AMERICANS for painkillers, for consciousness-deadeners, for trips into lah-lah-land in order to escape the reality that confronted them on their city streets, where violence was raging, often against young boys and young men, and often too somehow enmeshed in the drug traffic.
When Americans looked to their lives following high school, if they were not interested in or qualified for college or university, they often chose the military for the opportunity of a "trade," some excitement and also weapons training. While there was a form of discipline inside the military establishment, when these men and women, (and the trend line goes all the way back to Vietnam) returned to civilian life, they brought back experiences of military discipline that was both harsh and completely inappropriate to life on civilian street, but even less appropriate for parenting. Nevertheless, the military experience was the only one many Americans knew, outside of their own family of origin.
Washington lies about the purpose and meaning of the Iraq war especially, nevertheless seriously undermined the needed trust of the people in their elected representatives. Link these lies, and the military initiatives they spawned  to the drug wars, the racial profiling, the proliferation of guns, the newly minted video games imitating, without consequence, the battle scenes of the real soldiers in the war theatres, so that everyone "could be part of the action"....and then in 2008, more American fear and paranoia that spawns more lies in the form of credit defaults, bundled mortgages sold to financial service companies around the world, generated by math PhD's whose bosses did not even know how to explain or understand what they were doing and the instruments they were concocting, and you have an extremely toxic soup, all of it dependent on American hubris, denial of doing anything amiss, and perpetrating its ravages both at home and around the world.
Churches imitated greedy and money-driven corporations, in fear of their own demise, thereby ignoring their responsibility for pastoral care, bent on cheap publicity yet failing even to attend community prayer services, like the one following the massacre at Columbine high school in Colorado. Male leadership, too often, fell victim to the propaganda that was referred to above from Warren Farrell, bowing to the pressure of women who demanded "special status" for themselves, as the price for "levelling the playing field"....and the blind hubris continued, among the male corporate leadership, believing all the while, that America was and is a "christian" nation, blind to the gospel's guidance that "vengeance is mine, says the Lord," and "loving your enemy" which we had all been taught was at the core of the christian faith....
Seems that need for power, especially in the face of embarrassment and attack "on the very soil of America" for the first time in history, trumped mightily any thoughtful, reasoned and balanced approach to the Islamic radical terrorists, the drug gangs, and the financial services sector, not to mention the tragic and dramatic slippage of the American education establishment's achievements, when compared with the rapidly growing accomplishments of the rest of the world.
When will the American society, body politic, Washington establishment, the scandal-driven and scandal-obsessed media, the Hollywood movie, television and video-game producers begin to realize their obsessive, Shadow-driven and Shadow-embedded pursuit of cash and personal power in the face of a growing reality of powerlessness? It continues to wreak havoc on the children   in every movie theatre, recreation room, joy-stick-driven computer screen and hard drive,
and that the models of "success" whether male or female are mere "objects" of envy and pursuit by those unable to discern the real from the virtual.
Thousands have  been murdered in America's blind pursuit of the appearance of power and material wealth (advertising itself as the champion of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) whether on the formal battlefields of Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan, or on the streets of Chicago, the library and cafeteria of Columbine, the military base at Fort Hood, the campus of Virginia Tech, the shopping mall in Portland, and now, the most innocent and undeserving of the victims, at Sandy Hook School in Newtown Connecticut....
When is America going to wake up to face its own Shadow?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Canada, 2013: political default and oil riches

Stresses are appearing in Canadian public life not only over the question of what to do with our oil, but also over what to do with the money we earn from it.
Thanks to Canada’s “equalization” policy, billions of dollars are shuttled (indirectly) from the country’s richest provinces to its poorest on an annual basis. In recent years, this has meant that oil-rich Alberta (per capita GDP = about $78,000) generously subsidizes the welfare-state policies of an out-at-the-elbows Quebec (per capita GDP = about $43,000). This has created no small measure of rancor in the country, especially because Quebec's left-wing, environmentalist politicians have made a habit of attacking Alberta’s oil industry for its pollution and contribution to global warming, essentially biting the hand that feeds them.
Agreeing with Mr. Kay however, does not minimize the influence of the current federal government, whose leader represents a Calgary riding, and whose parent political party  (The Reform Party) was conceived, incubated and born in Alberta,
and has proven itself impenetrable to the arguments of the environmentalists and is playing a silent and therefore ineffectual hand in anything resembling even dialogue between the federal and provincial governments, or between the provincial governments themselves, in spite of the many urgent pleadings of provincial premiers to 'come to the table.'
Prime Minister Harper has adopted a stance that could be compared to the stance of Washington, when dealing with the states, as if the states rights issue has become a Canadian political reality. However, that has never been the way the Canada has operated, nor is it the way that Canada will resolve the obvious and growing cracks in the body politic's consciousness.
Quebec has just elected a "separatist" government from a population that opposed Canada's entry into the war in Afghanistan, and who has been essential to previous majority governments. Harper has won a majority government without the support of the people of Quebec, so while there are aspiring politicians from that province, among them two currently running for the leadership of the Liberal Party, for nearly a century Canada's ruling party, the voice of Quebec is muted on national issues, except for the Leader of the Opposition, Thomas Mulcair, and a host of newly elected political neophytes, many of them in their twenties who never expected to win seats in parliament.
With Harper diligently avoiding the negative press coverage from the provincial premiers' whining about the size of the  federal contributions to national programs like health care, funding by Ottawa by operated by the provinces, there is really no national voice at the table, because the table has effectively been removed by the federal absence.
So, while our political problems are different from the U.S. in that two parties are not locked in a death watch, the "guiding and leading" hand of Ottawa no longer plays much of a role in the national debate, on those issues that really matter to the people of all provinces.
Ottawa's government is also, contrary to the historical model, a pale representation of the Tea Party, fixated on their own "fiscal responsibility" and competence, while demonstrating an appalling lack of both expertise and intellectual acumen, in those very policies for which it seeks to earn re-election, like purchasing a new generation of fighter jets for the Air Force, like breaking down inter-provincial trade barriers, like paying attention to the facts on the ground in their approach to law and order, and in their mishandling of tragic living conditions among the aboriginal peoples, by sending in an accountant rather than addressing the root causes of the problems.
So while it is silent and absent from provincial-federal conversations (there are none) it attempts to 'ride above the fray' thereby contributing significantly to what many are calling the 'balkanization' of the country, with even the premier of British Columbia demanding a substantial payment to cover the costs of preventing and potentially cleaning up a serious spill of oil, from the proposed Norther Pipelins, for permission to build. Her stance which could and should have been mediated by Ottawa, provoked a loud and angry response from the premier of Alberta, deeping the divide between the provinces, without a political resolution.
So, like the U.S. our problems are primarily political...not economic or fiscal, and the likelihood of resolving them under the current federal government grow smaller every day.
Some are advocating a national energy strategy that would see Alberta's oil moving to the eastern provinces for both refining and for use in a revived manufacturing sector. Whether there is the political will and energy for such a national project, in which Canadians have taken pride for more than a century (in rail, in communications, in health care, and in parks highways and postal and military, and even, under Trudeau in language and cultural maturation) is doubtful. But then, there seems to be a vaccuum of political solutions to the most pressing problems in so many countries that we may be already entered upon a century of political eunuchs, the likes of which history has rarely, if even witnessed.
Canada in 2013: it's all about the oil
By Jonathan Kay, Special to CNN, from CNN website, December 14, 2012
Editor’s note: Jonathan Kay is the Managing Editor for Comment at Canada’s National Post newspaper and a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him @jonkay. The views expressed are his own.
Canada is in a fortunate position relative to other developed Western nations. Our government is stable. Our budget deficit is small. Our real estate market is healthy (if somewhat overheated). And unemployment is relatively low. Only the occasional flourish of Quebec separatism keeps things lively in the Great White North. The biggest challenge my country will face in 2013 – and for many years after that – will be the problem of plenty. Specifically, how will Canada manage its large and growing oil wealth?
Canada currently produces just over 3 million barrels of oil per day (b/d), making us the world’s 7th largest producer, and the single largest supplier of oil imports to the U.S. market. Thanks to the ongoing expansion of Alberta's oil sands, production is expected to more than double by 2030, to 6.2-million b/d, transforming Canadian into an energy superpower.
But there is a problem: The vast majority of the country’s oil wealth is landlocked in northern Alberta. And the existing pipeline network, which connects the large Canadian hubs at Edmonton and Hardisty, Alberta to the main American terminals in Oklahoma and Illinois, is inadequate. Half of America’s 18 million b/d refining capacity sits on or near the Gulf Coast. But barely any Canadian oil gets there (in part because of America's own oil pipeline bottleneck at Cushing, Oklahoma).
For this reason, in 2013, Canada’s government and oil producers will be making a big push for U.S. President Barack Obama to reconsider the Keystone XL pipeline project, which could bring 830,000 b/d from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska.
Perhaps more important for Canadian producers, in the long run, is the massive and growing Asian market.
China’s net oil imports are projected to double between now and 2030, from 5.7 million to more than 12 million b/d. India's net imports, likewise, will grow from about 3 million to about 6 million b/d. Yet despite the spider web of pipelines that cover the North American Midwest, there is just a single oil route to the west coast from Alberta – the 300,000 b/d Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline, leading to Vancouver and Puget Sound.
And so an important challenge for Canada in 2013 and beyond will be to move forward on pipeline projects that expand our access to Asian markets, including both a possible expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline (bringing capacity up to 750,000 b/d), and a completely new 36" diameter, 730-mile pipeline called the Enbridge Northern Gateway, which eventually could transport as much as 850,000 b/d of diluted Alberta bitumen to a new marine terminal near Kitimat, British Columbia, for sale to Asian markets.
Construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline would provide a huge boost to the Canadian oil industry. But its chances of going ahead in its currently planned form in 2013 are very slim, for a variety of very all-too Canadian reasons – including bickering involving the federal and British Columbia government over revenues, massive opposition from aboriginal bands, and an extremely effective anti-pipeline campaign mounted by British Columbia's powerful environmental lobby. In fact, many analysts believe the pipeline will never get built, leaving Canadian oil producers largely hostage to the American energy market.
Stresses are appearing in Canadian public life not only over the question of what to do with our oil, but also over what to do with the money we earn from it.
Thanks to Canada’s “equalization” policy, billions of dollars are shuttled (indirectly) from the country’s richest provinces to its poorest on an annual basis. In recent years, this has meant that oil-rich Alberta (per capita GDP = about $78,000) generously subsidizes the welfare-state policies of an out-at-the-elbows Quebec (per capita GDP = about $43,000). This has created no small measure of rancor in the country, especially because Quebec's left-wing, environmentalist politicians have made a habit of attacking Alberta’s oil industry for its pollution and contribution to global warming, essentially biting the hand that feeds them.
At one point in 2012, Canada’s leading opposition politician, Thomas Mulcair (who is from Quebec), even declared that the oil sands were giving Canada a case of what economists call “Dutch Disease,” whereby high priced commodity exports cause the Canadian dollar to appreciate, thereby rendering our manufacturing industries uncompetitive in global markets. The remark was front page news for days, and continues to stick in the craw of many Albertans.
All in all, managing the oil file will be Canada's biggest challenge in 2013. Like a family that has won the lottery, we Canadians are delighted by our newfound wealth. But turning it into useful income has become unexpectedly problematic, due to our geography, fractured political landscape, troubled historical relationship with First Nations, and environmental focus. The fight between our squabbling regions and constituencies over the best way to proceed has only just begun.

Friday, December 14, 2012

No one can explain the spike in ECT's in Ontario...why?

Introduced in Ontario during the 1940s, electroconvulsive therapy has never been subject to provincial standards.
Health ministry staff cannot explain the explosion of the practice and said no one in government could speak to the issue. The ministry deferred comment to individual hospitals and local health integration networks. (from  "Electroshock therapy more prevalent in Ontario, but guidelines are minimal"
By Jennifer Wells and Diana Zlomislic, Toronto Star December 14, 2012, below)
Memo to the psychiatric profession:
This is not only dangerous, and requires strict, enforced and transparent guidelines, but the use of electric shock therapy would be better eliminated than continued. There is a line in the hippocratic oath about "doing no harm" and the oath is a requirement for all doctors practicing in Ontario, or was when we last checked. Where are the clinical trials of this form of treatment, or is the public expected to believe the anecdotal reporting of those in the medical profession about the positive impact of its use? And how recently were clinical trials even conducted, or even required on equipment for which clinical trials are simply not available because they have never been conducted.
A patient's depression, while severe, and also while not adapting to medications might be telling the medical profession that this "patient's story" does not fit the medical diagnosis or treatment histories currently known and available to the profession. A simple layperson question arises, as I write this: When last did the attending physician and/or psychiatrist conduct a full biographical history of the patient, share that history with a team of both clinicians and lay people including nurses, chaplains and family members, and together design a treatment plan that is guaranteed to 'do no harm'? And while no drug can be guaranteed to 'do no harm' increasing evidence about the side effects of new drugs points to an elevated need and hopefully a requirement that the profession, including those providing both drugs and invasive equipment, that their "prescriptions" (in the widest sense of that word) will do much less harm than healing.
How is anyone to measure "less harm than healing"?...
Very carefully, and even more rigidly than ever before.
We have things like traditions, for the medical profession, that were established long before some of the current treatments were even experiments in the researchers laboratories. And if those traditions, including the omnipotent and all-knowing character of those traditions, are no longer approrpriate and relevant to the treatment modalities now available and in extensive and alarmingly high use, then we need new traditions, new cautions, new protocols and new enforceable guidelines for the profession.
Governments and their laws clearly are playing catch-up with the new technologies in the private and national security fields. Perhaps this is also the case in professions that rely heavily on invasive technologies like medicine.
Public protection, in a general way, seems to be left to individual families, and garners public attention only after devastating results of treatments that went horrible wrong. The families in turn file law suits and several years later the courts award penalties, if required. In the meantime, however, hundreds, if not thousands of other patients and their families may be subject to a similar, malignant treatment, with no caution or legal sanction having been put in place to protect the public from serious harm.
This is one voice that joins with those seeking to abolish ECT from the treatment arrows in the psychiatrist's quivver. Certainly, there must be a public inquiry into the use of ECT, and not done only by those whose confidence in its use exceeds any reasonable level of confidence among an engaged if untrained public, any of whom could be subject to such treatment, either voluntarily or "involuntarily"...another of those antiseptic words that really means, "we are going to force you to undergo this treatment whether you like it or not"....
Hippocrates would be appalled by such a situation, and it exists in every psychiatric ward in Ontario, if not far beyond.

Electroshock therapy more prevalent in Ontario, but guidelines are minimal

By Jennifer Wells and Diana Zlomislic, Toronto Star December 14, 2012
Electroshock — a brute force assault on the brain deemed the most controversial treatment in psychiatry — is being administered across Ontario in record numbers and with scant oversight.
Nearly three decades after a government inquiry called for provincial training and clinical practice standards — an inquiry launched after a Hamilton housewife was prescribed shock therapy against her will — no such guidelines exist.
Data released to the Toronto Star by the Ministry of Health show an almost incomprehensible spike in what is conventionally referred to as electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT.
Considered a “last-resort” therapy to lift severe depression, ECT is being increasingly relied upon to treat patients for whom antidepressants have proved ineffective.
In the fiscal year 2010-2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 16,259 ECT treatments were administered throughout Ontario, an increase of more than 350 per cent in seven years. A breakdown by age and gender reveals startling subsets, especially a 1,300-per-cent treatment increase for patients in the 55-59 age cohort. The statistics also reveal that women outnumber men nearly two to one in the 60-to-64 age bracket.
ECT patients across Ontario interviewed by the Star described numerous cognitive side effects as a result of the treatment. Though some credit ECT for breaking their extreme anguish, they say the practice must be regulated.
Some want it abolished.
Annette VanEs was a single mother in her 40s when she underwent a series of 40 treatments that, she says, resulted in catastrophic memory loss. “My brain goes into this scramble mode,” she says of her frame of mind now, 12 years later. “Scrambling, scrambling . . . You know that you lived. You went places. You made friends. You talked to people. You went to parties. You had values. You had ideas. You had beliefs. And now they’re not there.”
VanEs shared her story for the first time as part of an in-depth investigation published Friday at
VanEs’s children say the shock treatments left her “infantile.” Daughter Erica recalls that she spent her high school years trying to teach her mother basic skills: how to pay bills again, how to shop for groceries. She worried that her mother’s frustration over her lost memory would drive her to suicide.
“Her increasing suicide ideation in the moments of her freedom from hospital had me lugging all the kitchen knives in my backpack to school and at times searching for her on the piers,” Erica told the Star.
In Toronto, a 36-year-old woman received six treatments at one hospital before doctors advised she would be better served by improved technology at another facility, where she was given an additional 16 treatments. She now attends daily cognitive therapy sessions.
“My memories of the past 10 years, sometimes more, are spotty, and a lot of it has to be filled in by my husband,” she says. She asked to not be identified. She worries the stigma of ECT could hurt her re-entry into the work force.
Through late summer and early fall, Windsor resident Matt Damphouse travelled to another city several times a week for ECT. He describes the early sessions as “hell.” On three occasions, medical staff improperly administered a muscle relaxant before injecting the anesthetic — the reverse protocol of what is required to keep the patient both out and slack during treatment.
Damphouse was left temporarily paralyzed, awake and unable to breathe. “I used to be so full of terror,” he says. “To do the things that they did to me as often as they did shows that there’s something wrong there.”
He now receives ECT at Windsor Regional Hospital, which opened a neurobehavioural institute in late October. Though he says his treatments there have been “smooth as silk,” Damphouse wants to see the adoption of uniform standards.
Introduced in Ontario during the 1940s, electroconvulsive therapy has never been subject to provincial standards.
Health ministry staff cannot explain the explosion of the practice and said no one in government could speak to the issue. The ministry deferred comment to individual hospitals and local health integration networks.
As it stands, many physicians disagree about the most effective and least-damaging way to deliver the treatment. Protocols vary dramatically from hospital to hospital and sometimes within a hospital.
“There’s still a lot of heterogeneity in how ECT is done, unfortunately,” says Dr. Kiran Rabheru, an Ottawa psychiatrist, adding that the delivery of ECT requires “a lot of sophistication.” Dr. Caroline Gosselin, a geriatric psychiatrist in Vancouver, calls it an “art.”
Critics have likened ECT, which channels electricity into the brain to “shock” the body into seizure, to an electrical lobotomy.
Attempts to refine the treatment have included experimenting with the placement of electrodes on the skull and modulating the form of the current to try to target the frontal lobe, where depression is believed to reside. Cerebral spinal fluid “basically takes that electrical field and moves it everywhere in the brain,” says Dr. Jeffrey Daskalakis, who runs the ECT program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
“The only way it can work is by damaging the brain,” says Dr. Peter Breggin, a New York psychiatrist who has been a thorn in the side of the ECT advocates since the 1960s. “It works by temporarily obliterating mental functions.”
Advocates, however, insist the treatment is the best alternative for patients for whom antidepressants offer no relief.
Rabheru, past president of the Canadian Academy of Geriatric Psychiatry and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Ottawa, believes that ECT is the best ticket to returning quality of life to older people with acute depression. This group, he says, “responds almost 100 per cent of the time to ECT.”
Rabheru is working toward establishing an out-patient ECT program.
“We know that ECT works well, but I don’t think we’ll have the supply to meet demand, the resources to meet demand.”
He’s in the process of putting together a proposal to the Ministry of Health for extra support.
Windsor Regional executives have been so firm in their belief of a desperately underserved community that the hospital’s ECT suite was opened in the absence of provincial funding.
“We’re hoping that through the number of cases we’ll be able to show within the first couple of months that this is a needed service,” says David Musyj, Windsor Regional’s CEO.
Musyj has put $250,000 of Windsor Regional funds on the line — enough to cover six months of operations to the end of March.
Windsor administrators set a forecast of 750 treatments annually.
Dr. Leonardo Cortese, the hospital’s chief of psychiatry, believes that’s an underestimate.
Increasing awareness of treatment availability will, he predicts, be a spur to a “very high increase” in treatment delivery — as much as 25 per cent within the year. “It’s like anything else,” he says. “You build it, they will come.”
The demand is there. But what, precisely, is being supplied?
Asking that question leads straight into a bog of outdated guidelines at best, absent guidelines at worst, confused protocols, non-existent standards and catastrophically outdated equipment.
A recent survey of 175 Canadian centres that identify ECT as part of their practice estimates that 75,000 ECT treatments are administered across the country annually. Of the 107 sites that responded to the survey, 89 reported the existence of written ECT policies and procedures, less than 40 per cent reported electrode placement policies, only 30 per cent have electrical dosing policies, and less than 30 per cent have ECT-specific anesthesia policies. Just 27 per cent reported written policies for managing concurrent medications during ECT.
Contrast that with Australia, where the state of Victoria sets licensing requirements, equipment standards and clinical guidelines. Under the state’s Mental Health Act, a course of ECT is defined as up to six treatments, after which the patient is asked to sign a new consent form.
In Canada, outdated ECT machines known to cause severe cognitive impairment are still being used by at least three health facilities, a fact unearthed by the national survey. Dr. Nicholas Delva, head of the department of psychiatry at Dalhousie University and lead author of the survey dgroup’s study on access to treatment, says confidentiality agreements prevent him from naming the institutions.
The study also revealed that 14 per cent of responding ECT sites reported they did not have funds to purchase up-to-date ECT or related anesthesiology equipment.
Dr. Barry Martin, the former head of CAMH’s ECT service, says the lack of data is troublesome, presenting what he calls the “invited question as to whether or not they are documenting their treatment dosages even within those sites . . . If they’re not providing it to us on request by a group of professional peers, and are not required to present it in some form to government — what have they got?”