Thursday, July 25, 2013

In defence of the "contextual" the intrinsic, and the intuitive...and the generalist

Empiricism is a philosophy based on observable data and a cornerstone of the scientific method of arriving at new truths. By definition, empiricism examines only what the human senses can and do observe, and thereby excludes impressions, insights, hunches and gut-feelings that have come to be known as intuition, imagination, assumption, prediction, and are considered extraneous to the question 'at hand' nearly all instances.
It was former New York Senator Patrick Moynahan who reminded us that we are entitled to our own opinions but not to our own "facts".... in his attempt to garner agreement, in his many opportunities for political debate, on the facts about which the argument was being raised.
All intellectual pursuits, all academic disciplines, have their unique and dispassionate processes, protocols and  accepted standards of behaviour, whether in the conduct of research or the conduct of a courtroom trial, or in the debate by academics on two opposing sides of a public issue. However, involved in all of these processes is the inclusion of a boundaried range of information (facts) and the exclusion, usually as irrelevant, of other information.
Included are those pieces of information gathered by the human senses, heard, seen, felt, smelt, and excluded are those pieces of information that are commonly considered "contextual" as opposed to being integral to the issue.
Someone, or some body is normally charged with the responsibility of declaring which information fits into which category.
For reasons of both simplicity and clarity, context is excluded because it is considered either to have no bearing on the issue or that its inclusion would so complicate the process at hand as to render it unmanageable, tangential, or worse, off-topic. Unmanageable processes can be too costly, too complicated for an ordinary audience (like a jury, or an audience in a debate hall, or even a judge, or perhaps an examining body of one's peers) or too time-consuming, given the constraints of all those charged with the task of making the decision about the outcome of the process.
Nevertheless, context, often including the history of the issue, the sociology, the anthopology, the literature (both fiction and non-fiction) and the biographies and contributions of others who have confronted the issue in previous time frames. And since all academic disciplines operate virtually, if not literally, in a self-contained silo, the import of these "extraneous" contextual matters is generally agreed to be insignificant, if not completely irrelevant.
Example: The judge in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman murder trial ruled that race could not be used by either the prosecution or the defence, in the course of the trial. "Profiling" could be used but not "racial profiling"....for example. And yet, everyone on the North American continent knows full well that race was and is at the heart of the question of guilt or innocence.
Example: A former sex worker/teacher loses her job in the New York school system after she wrote about her experience as a former sex worker, while the former Governor of the State of New York is freely running for comptroller of the city of New York, five years after his forced resignation from the Governor's chair because he was involved with prostitutes. The double standard can only even partly be explained and understood in the context of a patriarchal society, in which men are given second chances, while women are denied similar opportunities. However, that  statement on the context would be ruled inadmissable in a courtroom, because it cannot be "proven"....and yet few would challenges its veracity and application to the comparison.
Christians surveyed in the United States recently by a considerable majority, considered the practice of their religion to be more an exercise in morality than an exerise in faith. So for them, doing the "right thing" means more, in the practice of their faith, than their spiritual growth and/or their development of a relationship with God. So their practice of their faith is primarily an extrinsic and an empirical exercise in behaviour, especially behaviour they consider acceptable to or unacceptable to God.
What is on the outside seriously trumps whatever complexities, attitudes, feelings and beliefs that might be churning on the inside of one's heart, mind, spirit and even body in the practice of their religious life.
Ramp that principle up a notch, and you find that the churches which these "christians" attend, measure their "health" by the size of the numbers in their pews and the numbers in their trust accounts. Once again, the empirical, and the extrinsic are given a sacred status in the analysis of how well the church organization is following the teachings of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament.
How different is this set of criteria of measurement of success from that of the corporate board of directors evaluating the health of their preferred corporation on the basis of its sales, revenues, investment dividends and relative profit and loss calculations, based on the most sophisticated and professional methods of such calculations?
"Not very!" you say.
"Not at all," I retort.
Susan Cain has recently written a book entitled, Quiet, (a celebration of introversion in a world that cannot stop talking). She posits the thesis that extroversion is so accepted as the most desired and most effective personality trait, that it nto only dwarfs introversion, but actually trumps all those who consider themselves introverts as "less than" and in some quarters (the Harvard Business School for one) only extroverts are socially accepted, and introverts have to overcome or subvert their introversion if they want to be accepted.
Once again, appearance, based on the empirical, and the extrinsic, is considered the only reality worthy of engagement. People are hired, fired, promoted, demoted, accepted and rejected in many cases, Cain argues, based on the perceptions of others of their relative extroversion/introversion quotient.
Behind this mirage of empirical data, Cain has uncovered equally intelligent, equally social, equally engaging and equally acceptable individuals who are, themselves, introvert, and are consequently living with a considerable social handicap.
So has the North American culture so denigrated the introvert, and the intuitive and the imaginative and the contextual in our headlong race to simplify and to manage and to control the variables (falsely, if we are honest with ourselves) that we have lost sight of the complexity of individual cases, and of the complexity of the many gestalts that confront us each day, each hour and each minute?
Have we sacrificed the life that is contained in the complexities and the ambiguities and the contextual for the "paint-by-numbers" lives that are lived inside the narrow boundaries of our definitional categories, letting in the empirical/extrinsic and excluding the intuitive and the contextual?
There is a case to be made that we have, and are continuing along that path, without being willing to take the time to examine our looking down the periscope and up the telescope the wrong way!
There is a middle-way to be found in this dichotomy and it will not easily be pursued or found if we continue to elevate the specialist and the expert, the empirical and the scientific over the intuitive, the poetic, the imaginative and the generalist.

Obama challenges Republicans to remove hard-hitting speeches of leadership

It was Chris Matthews, host of Hardball on MSNBC, who yesterday used the four-letter word "hate" to name the attitude of the Republican right-wing to the President of the United States. Matthews courageously and defiantly, as well as accurately gave the appropriate interpretation to the virtual "hostage-taking" of the president, his agenda and the whole U.S. government apparatus in their narcissistic, and lethal, not to mention self-sabotaging efforts, to bring the United States economy to its knees.
Obama declared his intention to dedicated the remaining 1200+ days as president to improving the lot of the American middle class. He declared he will use every instrument available to him, as the chief executive of the formerly great American system of government, bypassing Congress if he has to, to bring his policies and programs into effect. He declared also that the grid-lock imposed on governance by the Republican opposition "has to stop".
In what is billed by the White House as a series of speeches to the American people, he challenged the Republicans to bring all ideas to improve the lot of American people to the table, pointing out that repealing Obama care and cutting spending is not an economic program.
He wants to create jobs, to re-build infrastructure, ensure every American can afford a home, an education, and a retirement with dignity.
Sounding optimistic, as always, and obviously setting the table for the forthcoming budget battles of the fall, with deficit ceilings and Republican obstructionism looming both again and still, Obama seems to have returned to "campaign fighting mode"....
Denouncing the speeches, both Senate Minority Leader McConnell and House Majority Leader Boehner, said there were no proposals put forward by Obama, and once again accused the President of 'not working with the Republicans'....a charge hollow in both fact and in rhetoric.
Republicans refuse to agree to a path to citizenship for the eleven million immigrants;
Republicans refuse to acknowlege the considerable benefits of Obamacare;
Republicans refuse to agree to generate jobs through rebuilding eroded and dangerous infrastructure;
Republicans refuse to permit the debt ceiling to rise, unless a corresponding number of dollars of government spending are cut, in a no-win spiral downward based on austerity alone, without investment in the future;
Republicans insist on raising the interest rates on student loans, as their way of championing fiscal "responsibility"....
And should the U.S. government either default on its debt, or in a worse case scenario, shut-down completely this fall, there is no doubt either or both of these events will seriously and negatively impact the struggling U.S. economy.
Rightly, Obama wants to be sure that it is the Republicans who must be tarred with the brush of responsibilty for either or both of these failures of governance.
Isn't it amazing how deeply embedded, and how profoundly denied is the racism that plagues too many Republican members of both houses...that they would let either of these two spectres trump their legitimate responsibility to provide leadership and good government, as they were elected to provide.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

High Five to WAGEMARK...a brilliant challenge for corporate greed

New ‘Wagemark’ logo for fair-wage companies: Goar

Group of progressive Torontonians comes up with the Wagemark scheme to promote pay equity and challenge today’s top-heavy corporate pay structure.

By Carol Goar, Toronto Star, July 24, 2013

Very few businesses will make the cut. Most won’t even try.
To display the “Wagemark” insignia, a company must pay its chief executive no more than eight times the amount its lowest paid worker earns. At the moment, the chief executives of Canada’s top 100 corporations make 235 times the average worker’s pay.
Wagemark, a year in the planning, was introduced on July 17. Its founding director, Peter MacLeod, kept the fanfare to a minimum, aiming to build credibility before Wagemark’s international debut this fall. He notified organizations that had demonstrated an interest in social equity and contacted a handful of journalists who had written about the widening gap between rich and poor.
“The idea is simple,” he explained “In a world where consumers can purchase certified forest-friendly paper, dolphin-friendly tuna, fair trade coffee and register planet-friendly buildings; why not create a common standard for wage-responsible businesses?”
So far, 18 organizations have become Wagemark members. Most knew about the initiative in advance or were invited to apply. The vanguard includes Impact Mobile, a high-tech enterprise; Bellwoods Brewery , a beermaker, bar and restaurant; Oxibrite, a detergent manufacturer; Ninesides, a graphic design firm, and Urban Space Property Group, which remakes downtown heritage buildings into attractive, affordable workplaces.
Non-profit enterprises can also apply. The most prominent to achieve Wagemark status so far is Evergreen, creator of the Brickworks in Toronto’s Don Valley. The charity aims to bring nature back to the city.
This week, MacLeod is in Denmark, hoping to recruit the foundation’s first international members. “We’re not trying to solve the Fortune 500 problem,” he said, referring to the bloated pay packages of the ultra-rich corporate elite. “Wagemark is a simple straightforward rule of thumb that we hope can help arrest growing income disparities within organizations.”
He acknowledges that the 8:1 ratio is extremely stringent. Even a business such as Mountain Equipment Co-op, which prides itself on its fair wage policy, wouldn’t qualify. Its ratio is 9:1.
The pioneer of the movement, management guru Peter Drucker, who sounded the alarm about the expanding wage gap between workers and their bosses in the1970s, suggested a ratio of 15:1 for small and medium sized businesses and 25:1 for multinationals. More recently the Vancouver-based Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), a leader in the ethical investment field, set its bar at 30:1.
“We put a lot of thought into 8:1,” MacLeod said. He is confident that many startups, social enterprises and nonhierarchical companies “would fall close to that range.”
Even if Wagemark gets the public talking about the right pay ratio, that would be a victory, he said. At the moment, people feel powerless. No matter how hard they work, they can’t get ahead. They see inequality growing, the middle class shrinking and movements such as Occupy dying after a brief spurt of energy. “This gives them a voice.” MacLeod said. “It’s something tangible we can do.”
One of his hopes is that public agencies will incorporate Wagemark into their procurement policies, awarding points for responsible wage practices. “That would normalize the concept.”
Although Wagemark is a voluntary program, one requirement is mandatory. An organization must provide written proof from a chartered accountant or auditor that its pay structure meets the 8:1 standard. To settle for less — a verbal assurance or an honour system — would dilute the value of the label and the credibility of the registry.
MacLeod and his team do not require confidential corporate data or salary figures, provided an organization submits professional verification that it is in compliance. Nor they care how an applicant achieves the 8:1 ratio. It could pay new entrants the minimum wage ($10.25 per hour), for instance, as long as the chief executive made no more than $170,560. Conversely, it could pay its CEO $1 million (including salary, benefits, stock options and other perks) provided the lowest-paid employee earned at least $125,000.
In business circles, this initiative might seem laughably utopian. But to millions of Canadians whose living standard is falling while corporate profits rise, Wagemark doesn’t look so ridiculous. It shows there is a viable alternative to today’s top-heavy wage structure. It gives employers who pay their workers fairly a chance to take a proud stand.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lac Megantic: never again! add your voice to protect commuities

from July 23, 2013
On July 5th, as most people in Lac-Mégantic slept, a runaway freight train hauling 72 tank cars of crude oil derailed in the middle of the small Québec town.1

Most of the old, dangerous tank cars split open. The oil burst into flames and explosions shook the town as burning oil flowed through the streets.
The fires blazed for two days, destroying half of the downtown, and leaving 38 confirmed dead, with a dozen still missing in a town of 6,000. This is the deadliest rail disaster in Canada in nearly 150 years.2,3 The human loss is almost beyond belief, and our hearts and prayers are with the people who are grieving and rebuilding in Lac-Mégantic.
Now, dozens of organizations across Canada, from Québec’s Équiterre to Public Interest Alberta, are coming together to make sure a disaster like this never happens again, and they are asking for your help to make sure the federal government listens.
Tell Prime Minister Harper and the new Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt, that you demand an immediate ban on using dangerous 111A tank cars to transport oil, and join the call for a full review of how dangerous fuels like oil and gas are transported through our communities - by train, pipeline, and truck.
Government and industry have known for years that it’s extremely dangerous to carry oil in the old “111A” tank cars that exploded in Lac-Mégantic.4 Yet, the government has removed common-sense safety regulations, and has failed to implement necessary oversight for shipping the dangerous fuel.5
Back in 1994 the Transportation Safety Board of Canada wrote that 111A tank cars have a flawed design and a "high incidence of tank integrity failure" during accidents. Since then, the government has ignored repeated warnings while companies have used more and more old rail cars to transport dangerous fuels through communities across the country.6,7
Despite the tragedy, the federal government is still denying the need for a full review and better safety regulations. On Friday, Larry Miller, the Conservative MP who chairs the government’s Transport committee, dismissed calls for a review of Transport Canada’s safety regulations.8
The tragedy in Lac-Mégantic shows us just how devastating it can be when governments put oil company interests before community safety. As our hearts go out to all those affected, we can work together to make sure this never happens again in any community from coast to coast to coast.
The quiet increase of oil and gas transportation in recent years - through pipelines, rail and trucks - is putting our communities, livelihoods and environment in harm’s way. More and more people are concerned about the risks of these dangerous fuels, and we deserve to have a say in decisions that affect all of our lives.
We need to act now before the media moves on and attention fades. If enough of us speak out now, we can force the new Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt, to take the first steps necessary to protect our communities.
1.The equation of a disaster: what went wrong in Lac-Mégantic (Globe and Mail)
2.Lac-Megantic death toll climbs to 37 (CBC)
3.Quebec train crash’s missing all presumed dead, police say; attention focuses on CEO (The Washington Post)
4.Rail cars like those in Lac-Mégantic disaster are prone to puncturing (Globe and Mail)
5.Tories dismiss need for review of critical audit of Transport Canada following Lac-Megantic disaster (Vancouver Sun)
6.Safety rules lag as oil transport by train rises (CBC)
7.Rail cars like those in Lac-Mégantic disaster are prone to puncturing (Globe and Mail)
8.Tories dismiss need for review of critical audit of Transport Canada following Lac-Megantic disaster (Vancouver Sun)
9.Railways have been lobbying against more stringent safety regulations (Montreal Gazette)

Religiously-based bigotry is especially heinous and non-negotiable

Karen Dubinsky was shocked when she opened the mail and found a letter laced with homophobic slurs that said her family was not welcome in the city and they should leave “before it is too late.”...
“We will watch and wait, and then strike, at home and office, as need arises,” the letter read.
It was followed by a second note that threatened attacks using BB guns if the couple didn’t relocate.
(from "Kingston couple shocked by homophobic slurs, threats," by Canadian Press, in Toronto Star, July 22, 2013, below)
Religiously-based bigotry is especially heinous, because it is often wrapped in sacralized, if infantilized, perceptions. Doing God's work, as the perpetrators of these scurrilous letters probably believe themselves to be charged with executing, is never negotiable, because the people inflicting the hatred, bigotry and contempt on others for whom they have little or no tolerance, are convicted of the notion that they are carrying out the will of God. That is why they often bear the title "zealots"!
Of course, there will not be any religious leader who steps forward in support of the writer(s) of these letters, because in doing so they would have to suffer the scorn and contempt of the majority of the community, if not the legal consequences of their impetus. Nevertheless, there is a strong religious (read Christian and Islam at least, if not others) support for the position taken by these letter writers and their incendiary approach to imposing their will on the "outcasts" (in this case the two lesbian women and their son) cannot, must not, be tolerated, in a secular society.
After more than two decades of living peacefully, and without fear, in Kingston, these two women have become symbols for how the world is changing. While they have never, so far as we know, offended others in the Kingston community, in those two decades, surprisingly, they are now targets for this latest outbreak of virulent, toxic and cancerous sexism and bigotry.
Threatening, even with a BB gun, is a criminal act.
And whether this threat was hatched in a cathedral or a  mosque, or over the internet, as other "self-radicialized" actors have become, it is and can reasonably be considered the small voice of the canary (in the coal mine) of what could come to this town and many others, if tolerant and normally disengaged citizens do not publicly decry the actions of the letter writers, and protest vigorously against any copy-cat actions by others, in this, or any other city.
Homophobia is not the most attractive or loving doctrine of both Roman Catholic and Islamic faiths. The Christian "right" on the protestant side, is also among those who despise gays, lesbians and the transgendered.
Those forces, when combined as they could easily become on this issue, could and would present a monstrous lobby and public megaphone of bigotry against the gay and lesbian community.
It is for this reason, among many others, that freedom of religion also requires freedom from religion, especially in its most subtle and nefarious forms.
Whatever happens to the people who wrote and sent these letters in the courts aside; the people of Kingston, individually and collectively, must join hands, hearts and voices in the most deliberate and sustained defence of not only the right of these women to enrich our city, but of all other men and women in the gay and lesbian community to live their lives openly, enthusiastically and without fear or intimidation. And the only way that freedom can be secured is if they know that the whole community "has their back"...
It will be interesting to watch to see if such public support and courage is available in this community.

Kingston couple shocked by homophobic slurs, threats

Karen Dubinsky was shocked when she opened the mail and found a letter laced with homophobic slurs that said her family was not welcome in Kingston and they should leave “before it is too late.

By Canadian Press, in Toronto Star, July 22, 2013
KINGSTON, ONT.—Karen Dubinsky was shocked when she opened the mail and found a letter laced with homophobic slurs that said her family was not welcome in the city and they should leave “before it is too late.”

“I just had this chilling, weird sense of the contents,” said the Queen’s University professor who lives in the city with her partner Susan Belyea, 48, and their 13-year-old son.
The letter claimed to be authored by a “small but dedicated group of Kingston residents devoted to removing the scourge of homosexuality in our city.”
“I won’t say that we’re not afraid,” said Dubinsky, 55, adding that she and her partner of 21 years had the same response.
“We weren’t going to take them up on their offer and leave town.”
The letter threatened violence if the family did not leave.
“We will watch and wait, and then strike, at home and office, as need arises,” the letter read.
It was followed by a second note that threatened attacks using BB guns if the couple didn’t relocate.
Both letters were circulated on Facebook by the couple and their supporters.
Dubinsky said she immediately reported the letters to the police.
Spokesman Const. Steve Koopman said the police are taking the threats “very seriously” and that the “hate-based” letters were “a shock” to the entire community.
He said the letters could originate from anywhere and detectives from the major crime unit are following every lead.
One of the letters contained claims of ties to Kingston police.
“We absolutely, unequivocally believe that not to be true,” Koopman said, adding that he believes it was included as an “intimidation factor.”
He said the author or authors of the letters could be charged with criminal harassment and uttering threats to cause bodily harm or death.
Since receiving the letters, Dubinsky said her family and friends have taken to sitting on the front porch to “be visible.”
In almost 20 years of living in Kingston, Dubinsky said she’s never been on the receiving end of homophobia, even in a “milder form.”
The couple’s son is a “savvy kid” who “takes things like this in stride,” Dubinsky said.
“Having said that, he’s a kid and people just threatened his family,” she said. “The violence stuff is scary for him as it is for all of us.”
Dubinsky said the letters leave a lot of questions unanswered and she doesn’t know if anything will come of the investigation.
She added that her family is grateful for the community response, which has included flowers delivered to her doorstep, phone calls and support rallies.
“That helps us meet this kind of hatefulness,” she said. “It makes it easy to find courage.”

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Obama speaks on race, following Trayvon Martin verdict (transcript)

Remarks by the President on Trayvon Martin

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
(From the White House website, July 19, 2013)
The President: Well, I — I wanted to come out here first of all to tell you that Jay (Carney, White House Press Secretary) is prepared for all your questions and is — is very much looking forward to the session.

Second thing is I want to let you know that over the next couple of weeks there are going to obviously be a whole range of issues — immigration, economics, et cetera — we’ll try to arrange a fuller press conference to address your questions.
The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week, the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling. I gave an — a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday, but watching the debate over the course of the last week I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.
First of all, you know, I — I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they’re going through, and it’s — it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it.
The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there are going to be a lot of arguments about the legal — legal issues in the case. I’ll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues.
The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a — in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works.
But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.
There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.
And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.
The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.
Now, this isn’t to say that the African-American community is naïve about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.
We understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.
And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African-American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African-American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

 I think the African-American community is also not naïve in understanding that statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.
So — so folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it or — and that context is being denied. And — and that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.
Now, the question for me at least, and I think, for a lot of folks is, where do we take this? How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction? You know, I think it’s understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family.
But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do? I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government — the criminal code. And law enforcement has traditionally done it at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.
That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation, we can’t do some things that I think would be productive. So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.
Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it’d be productive for the Justice Department — governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.
You know, when I was in Illinois I passed racial profiling legislation. And it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.
And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way, that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and in turn be more helpful in applying the law. And obviously law enforcement’s got a very tough job.
So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive. And I think a lot of them would be. And — and let’s figure out other ways for us to push out that kind of training.
Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than defuse potential altercations.
I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the Stand Your Ground laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case.
On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these Stand Your Ground laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?
And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.
Number three — and this is a long-term project: We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys? And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?
You know, I’m not naïve about the prospects of some brand-new federal program.
I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as president, I’ve got some convening power.
And there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front. And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African-American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that — and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — you know, I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.
And then finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. You know, there have been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.
On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.
And let me just leave you with — with a final thought, that as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. I doesn’t mean that we’re in a postracial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.
And so, you know, we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues, and those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days I think have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did, and that along this long, difficult journey, you know, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.
All right? Thank you, guys.

Hypocrisy, the new American "kool-aid" obstructing the pursuit of truth

In what way is dog fighting any different from football on a certain level, right? I mean you take a young, vulnerable dog who was made vulnerable because of his allegiance to the owner and you ask him to engage in serious sustained physical combat with another dog under the control of another owner, right?
Well, what's football? We take young boys, essentially, and we have them repeatedly, over the course of the season, smash each other in the head, with known neurological consequences.
And why do they do that? Out of an allegiance to their owners and their coaches and a feeling they're participating in some grand American spectacle. (From Fareed Zakaia's interview with Malcolm Gladwell, CNN's GPS website, July 20, 2013exerpted below)
Gladwell compares dogs fighting with boys playing football while noting the profound hypocrisy in getting upset with Michael Vick for engaging in dog-fighting, yet promoting football as a national sport.
Let's push the envelope a little further.
How many miners are slaves to their employers, while digging coal from the mines, in order to fuel industry that, through the coal is suffocating all of us, at a pace that no one really wants to acknowledge?
Yet, words of "our employees are our best asset" flow like honey from the mouths of the executives of those mines, everytime someone in their employ retires, gets sick and has to stop work, or actually succumbs to the ravages of a mine collapse.
How many corporate workers, if pressed would not see themselves as perhaps even "high-priced" slaves to the corporation, singing national anthems, marching in national parades, and even celebrating at corporate picnics and benchmark achievements, while the corporation squirrels billions in profits in offshore accounts where there is no tax to be paid, thereby robbing the national treasure of its legitimate return?
How many lawyers have been gagged in their client submissions by a court committed to the removal of "race" for example from the arguments in a case, when everyone in the country knows that race is the central cultural and contextual element in that case? Is that not a sure sign of the depth of our hypocritical addiction to our own denial of reality, proving conclusively that our denial has overtaken our pursuit of the truth, the very thing that our courts were created to pursue?
How many civic workers have 'slaved' for their two or three decades in the service of their local city hall, only to find that at the end of their careers, when they expected to recoup their contributions (along with those matching funds from their employers) in the form of a pension, only to find those pension funds depleted, and their life-savings disappeared, as those towns and cities either declare bankruptcy (as Detroit did this week, only to have a judge declare the measure "unconstitutional")? And throughout those careers, those workers celebrated their town or city contributing willingly and eagerly to the broader life of the community, without ever giving a thought to the 'final verdict' on their social contract.
How many politicians have sold their souls to their cheque-writing "Edgar Bergen's" while mouthing the platitudes and the policies programmed by their masters, and morphed, some eagerly, others a little more resistantly, into the Charlie McCarthy's we watch and listen to on television, while throughout their mini-dramas, championing and trumpeting their "commitment to the betterment of the American people? We all know it is to their cash-cows that they have become attached, not only at the hip, but at the brain, leaving Washington wondering what happened to all those degrees the GI Bill paid for following the Second War.
And then there are the millions of soldiers, airforce recruits, naval recruits and marines who slave their careers in service of masters of their fate, their superior officers, in the service of their "country's national interests"  all the while knowing that such services means that they lives will be on the line and that they will be required to kill others in the line of duty, as part of their "proud and honourable commitment to their country"....when, especially from the last decade plus, we know that such service is prompted by the largest and most vaccuous paranoia of any state in history.
No, Mr. Gladwell, it is not merely American celebration of and unbridled enthusiasm for football and its "glory" that is a sign of hypocrisy in America. It is rather a culture that could not survive without a surfit of hypocrisy, submission to the "powers that be" at any given time in any given hierarchy, and the violence that such an organizing principle wreaks on both those engaged in the business and on the rest of the population, either through overt damage to the health and well-being of the people engaged, or through the negligent failures to even care about the impact their "work" is having on the planet's ecosystems, including the human ecosystem.
Hypocrisy is so rampant in the culture that even those espousing a form of religious faith are enmeshed with the corporatism that requires vigilant and scrupulous monitoring and challenging, but which does not get that challenge because those who might bring it are themselves slaves to the collection plate, the trust fund and the corporate success of growing numbers, in the pews and in the investment accounts.
Reporters, too, drink from the same water fountain containing the same "koolaid" that has morphed their combative and scrupulous "watchdog" efforts into a melodious and harmonious dance with the paymasters of their lives, the Rupert Murdochs of the world, whose only real purpose is to line their pockets with more cash, through the abuse of their once-honourable profession, while all the time seeking fewer and fewer regulations to their personal and corporate greed as they sing the "line" those paymasters tell them to sing.
There is no music left to sing, and no song worth singing in a world sold-out, bought-out, and drugged-out, not to mention gunned-out and both figuratively and literally bankrupt....not only in the account books, but in the heart and the soul.
Hypocrisy is the new "ostrich" with its head in the sand, with a few brave and courageous, and somewhat quixotic individuals discussing the explicit and the implicit biases of racism, sexism, ageism and the deep and growing divide between those who have, and continue to "get" from those who have not and continue to "lose"...not only in material terms but in terms of human dignity, respect, equality and even justice.
And the slide will only grow, fed by the diet of sugar, salt and hypocrisy on which it depends.

Fom the CNN, GPS webite, July 20, 2013
Fared Zakaria interviews Malcolm Gladwell, on CNN's Global Public Square.
Zakaria: You compare football to dog fighting. Why?

Gladwell: Yes, I did a piece for The New Yorker a couple of years ago where I said it. This was at the time when, remember, Michael Vick, was convicted of dog fighting. And to me, that was such a kind of, and the whole world got up in arms about this. How could he use dogs in a violent manner, in a way that compromised their health and integrity?
And I was just struck at the time by the unbelievable hypocrisy of people in football, for goodness sake, getting up in arms about someone who chose to fight dogs, to pit one dog against each other.
In what way is dog fighting any different from football on a certain level, right? I mean you take a young, vulnerable dog who was made vulnerable because of his allegiance to the owner and you ask him to engage in serious sustained physical combat with another dog under the control of another owner, right?
Well, what's football? We take young boys, essentially, and we have them repeatedly, over the course of the season, smash each other in the head, with known neurological consequences.
And why do they do that? Out of an allegiance to their owners and their coaches and a feeling they're participating in some grand American spectacle.
They're the same thing. And the idea that as a culture we would be absolutely quick and sure about coming to the moral boiling point over the notion that you would do this to dogs and yet completely blind to the notion you would do this to young men is, to my mind, astonishing.
I mean there's a certain point where I just said, you know, we have to say enough is enough.

Friday, July 19, 2013

To war or not to it part of our DNA?

So in his study of 21 indigenous foraging communities, Fry, director of the Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research program at Abo Akademi University in Finland, reached a simple but profound conclusion: war is not inevitable, and must have been rare until relatively recently. (from "War not part of human nature: Science study" by Kate Allen, Toronto Star, July 18, 2013, below)

Although the anthropologist concludes that we can eliminate war as a social institution, his study, while obviously comprehensive, does not begin to examine the corellation between war and the many for-profit companies that are engaged in prosletyzing its allure.
Start with the movie companies, and the video game industry, and move to the weapons manufacturing industry, and then to the military culture that has been devloped through detailed and persistent "brain-washing" as an instrument of national pride, and then move onto the culture of masculinity that has provided cover for far too many men, and more recently women, who seek to exercise some personal "power" in a universe that seeks deliberately, and monstrously like a leviathan to rob them of anything that resembles personal power, having hooked millions, if not billions to some digitial device as a seduction and a substitute for political power (having abrogated that by and for the ruling elites)....
And then, while we cclebrate "extremism" in all forms of human activity, including the extremes of brutish communication, with metaphors of "take-out" and "smack-down" and other forms of verbal threats, followed too often by legal and/or quasi-legal actions, and also celebrate the return of fallen victims to wars we never should have entered, there will be decades, if not centuries of "undoing" in order for the world to eliminate war as a social institution.
Competition for the best universities, and for the best jobs, and for the biggest deals, and for the biggest houses and for the highest priced cars and many of the other symbols of power and status have evolved so far that many of these pursuits have taken on the panache of military strategy, including jealousy, revenge, dominance, control and, if necessary, elimination of the enemy, as s/he is perceived. A brief story of a man who applied for a position as head of a school, simply because he wanted to assure that his more virulent enemy did not attain the post, helps to illustrate what I mean. Another story about three candidates for a co-op position, as part of their university program, finds the third entering the waiting room of the interviews, carrying a bucket of water, with which he douses the other two, so that only he is "dressed appropriately" for the interview and gets the single position that is available.
While these stories smack of the "individual" acts of violence that the researcher points to as evidence of violence, without the need for war, they also smack of a kind of insufferable intolerance and insecurity that seems to be more prevalent in the last few decades than at any time in the last century.
As with many academic studies, this piece might be one more indication that the conclusion reached is good "theory" but hardly likely to be borne out "on the ground" our lifetime of in the lifetimes of our grandchildren.
War not part of human nature: Science study

Murders were far more common for personal reasons than tribal conflict in modern hunter-gatherer cultures, anthropologist Douglas Fry found, suggesting early humans weren’t prone to go to war until civilization came around.
By Kate Allen, Toronto Star, July 18, 2013
The men in anthropologist Douglas Fry’s study killed their wives. The men in his study killed other men for their wives. The men — and they were almost always men — killed the killers of their kinsmen. Men killed other men for stealing honey. For suspected sorcery. For boasting.

What the men didn’t often do, Fry found, was take up arms against outside groups — in other words, make war.
So in his study of 21 indigenous foraging communities, Fry, director of the Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research program at Abo Akademi University in Finland, reached a simple but profound conclusion: war is not inevitable, and must have been rare until relatively recently.
The research, published Friday in the journal Science, will fuel a current scientific controversy and a long-standing philosophical debate: Has civilization tamed an intrinsic impulse for warfare? Or did organized society provide the preconditions for combat?
“It’s a controversy both about human nature and the human past,” Fry said in a telephone interview from France.
Fry and a colleague examined instances of lethal aggression in mobile forager band societies — nomadic communities that hunt, fish and forage almost exclusively, relying on agriculture and livestock for at most 5 per cent of their subsistence.
These cultures are thought to be the best modern substitute for early human history, or how we lived before the invention of agriculture and the complex social structures required to sustain it. Data on them was obtained from the standard cross-cultural sample — a database of ethnographic information on 186 independent cultures. Much of the information on these societies was collected in previous centuries, when contact with industrialized civilization was minimal.
Winnowing down the societies in the database to those that were strict foragers and were well-described left the researchers with 21 groups, from the Hadza of East Africa to the Kaska of Western Canada. Among all 21, there were 148 instances of lethal aggression.
Fry examined the circumstances of the killings in detail, and found that exactly half were motivated by interpersonal events: revenge within the band for a family member’s death, or the murder of a sexual rival. One clan, the Tiwi of Northern Australia, were particularly murderous, with 24 instances of interpersonal homicide among them. In the other societies, the mean number of murders was four.
A smattering of accidents, executions and even a bit of starvation cannibalism made up another 16.2 per cent of the deaths. But only 33.8 per cent of the killings arose from inter-group conflicts. When the anomalous data from the violent Tiwi are removed, war was behind just 15.2 per cent of the killings.
Fry’s results contradict other research published in Science that examined eight traditional societies and found evidence of war in all of them — a study Fry believes has too small and too self-selective a sample.
It also rebuts popular books on violence, in particular Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinker argued that violence is an “inner demon,” that tribal warfare was rife throughout human prehistory and that it was only improved by government and cosmopolitanism.
For Fry, the theory that war is innate makes no sense. Early human foraging bands had ample room and resources: there was no reason to war over food or land, because there was more than enough to go around. There would have been few material goods to steal in combat, and nowhere to store them. He also points out that with the rare exception of chimpanzees, which raid neighbouring chimp clans, most mammals do not kill within their species, resorting instead to harmless threat displays.
It is hard to tell how accurate a stand-in modern hunter-gatherer cultures are for the first 45,000 years of human life. But Fry also marshals archeological evidence to back up his theory. Nearly all of the evidence of war from the archeological record — specialized weapons, big gravesites full of battle-scarred fossilized skeletons, cave art — dates to within the past 10,000 years, and proliferates beginning 4,000 years ago when the first city-states arose.
In other words, statehood provided the rationale for war, Fry says — and that means war is a recently learned behaviour, one we can unlearn.
He points to slavery as an example. Two hundred years ago, most people believed slavery was natural and had always existed. Today, that idea seems crazy.
“As an anthropologist,” says Fry, “I don’t really see why we can’t give up war as a social institution.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Last Call at the Oasis"....not exactly a quiet "bedtime story"....

The documentary, "Last Call at the Oasis," produced by the same people who brought us "An Inconvenient Truth," the film that Al Gore trumpeted into a Nobel Prize in his crusade against global warming and climate change, played on CBC News Network a couple of days ago.
Documenting such dramatic information as:
  • a ten-foot drop per year to the water level in Lake Mead above the Hoover Dam, with only 36 more feet, or another 4 years at best, before the Lake is dry,
  • research that shows male frogs morphing into hermaphrodytes as a result of the pesticide atrazene being applied to vegetation and then flowing into spawning grounds of the frogs
  • the Hallaburton Loophole, politically engineered by former Vice-president Cheney, to permit oil and gas companies to conceal the chemicals being used in fracking operations
  • the addition of a city of some 220,000 each year to the global population
  • reports to Erin Brokovich's Environmental Protection Group totalling some 25,000, in which people complain of contaminated lakes across North America
  • reports of drought in Australia so severe that farmers are auctioning their livestock and leaving the farming business, because of a lack of water
  • reports of 14,000 desalination projects around the world, all of them highly dependent on excessive amounts of water, and leaving a residue of salt nearly as toxic as nuclear waste
  • reports of recycling sewage water into drinking water, a project still trying to overcome the mountainous hurdle of human disgust at the prospect of drinking what was formerly water in sewage treatment plants
  •  chemical toxification in so many lakes, rivers and streams without adequate protection, that no one knows which water systems could be next to be declared toxic
  • the aquifers in the U.S. are being depleted so rapidly that over 90% of that water is no longer available, although it took centuries to build those aquifers up, and a mere few years to suck them dry, mostly for farming purposes
  • one city, Las Vegas, should it run out of water, as is most likely in the next decade or so, will become quite literally, a dead city, with no one living there....because there will be no water. They are currently contemplating a pipeline to Baker, a small town north of Las Vegas, to suck the water from their rivers and streams to supply Las Vegas.

These are just a few of the memorable insights documented in this nearly two-hour documentary, all of them pointing to the convergence of two forces:
  1. a finite amount of water on the planet
  2. a rapidly growing population requiring water for survival.
As a tentative ray of hope, the documentary shone a light on the level of co-operation between the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Jordanians over water, even if and when those peoples are engaged in military conflict....still secretly their representatives are meeting to develop clean water resources, through such project as sewage treatment facilities.
If you wondered whether war would be fought over oil or water in the twentyfirst century, this piece of compelling footage will push you in the direction of expecting clashes over depleting water resources.
Conservation, while useful, will only accomplish so much. We need much better and better funded research projects to determine the levels of toxicity in our lakes, rivers and streams, leading to spikes in cancer rates, and even frog deformities, from dwelling in toxic water systems.
Whenever you see an opportunity to witness this film, take it; the discussions around your kitchen or dining room table will never be the same following your viewing.
This is not a right or left-wing political issue; it is not a developing or developed world issue. It is not an issue of the religious or the secular. Water contamination and shortage is an issue for the whole world, and there is not a whole lot of time to prepare for both the shortages and the necessary steps to reduce its impact.

Mall-crawling on a sweltering July Tuesday

Sit in the food court of any neighbourhood shopping mall and watch the lives of fellow citizens parading past your hard plastic and metal chair, with their bags of merchandise declaring their retail source, their eyes darting, gliding, creeping or even resonating like a tuning fork, as they make their way through the maze of other shoppers, other tables, cleaners, trash-and-recycle containers, also plastic. Some gaze up at the television screens with their highlight reels of headlines while others pursue the menu of their favourite fast food offering from the food-court vendors. Many are walking with their cell phones shoved up against their ears, or, if sitting, they are gathering the info-entertainnment from those screens. At one table, a group of half a dozen obviously Italian retirees, all of them male, are fully engaged in what appears to be a remnant of a former era, a round-table conversation about whatever it is that is on their collective minds and hearts. These are generally the most animated faces, these Italian men, the most open smiles, and the most relaxed bodies, all of them well groomed and nattily attired, sharing their time, their thoughts and their impressions of things that matter to them.
Some are waiting for the urgent care clinic to empty in order to enter for their appointment with the doctor on duty. Some are pushing their jogging strollers with infants horizontal in their 'carriage' with the sun-shade, its three wheels of nearly bicycle proportions, and a parent or guardian barely having to push the gliding vehicle.
It is late afternoon, on a hot July Tuesday; "musac," barely audible is playing on the speaker system, adding a little white noise to the audio-mix, as the movies of the lives of these people are playing out on a backdrop of consuming, auditing, investigating, comparing and perhaps even purchasing some token of remembrance of this time. Many are wandering through the kiosks under the sky-lights, permitting actual sunlight, albeit filtered, to spot-light their belt-buckles, their sun glasses, their cell phones and those lottery tickets where there is always someone making a hopeful purchase.
The conversations are low-keyed, as people pass, occasionally a young couple will be noticed with their arms on each other's waist, clearly embracing the vibes of a new and poignant romance.
Many of the women, of all ages, are sporting their revered tattoo, on their shoulders, back, arms, legs and even their necks while the men bearing the signature of the tattoo artist must have spent hours, if not days, in the tattoo parlour, their persons quite literally encased in the artist's ink.
Nothing really dramatic is occurring, except that the engine of the national economy is grinding away in its inexorable manner, reflecting the attempt of all participants to demonstrate some kind of normal, in a world whose normal seems to have departed many decades ago.
This is not a bus terminal, with travellers waiting for their call, nor an airport with vacationers and executives setting out on a voyage of discovery and profit respectively, nor a medical office filled with anxious patients seeking both comfort and cure. It is a convergence of the people of the city, anonymous to each other except for their colleagues, school-mates, spouses or offspring.
To sit and to watch is both entertaining and a little unnerving as the sheer numbers of people attempt to make a living, find a meaning and plot a course for their lives in a tidal wave of consumer options, and a receding list of opportunities for making a difference, leaving their purchases as their identifiers and their digital exchanges their discourse and their meandering a slow path of engagement with what the world has to offer...things, stimuli, and above all, a temperature that is at least ten or fifteen degrees lower than the sweltering sun-fried ashphalt of the parking lot.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

U.S. and China planning war?

By Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, July 13, 2013

Both the Pentagon and the People’s Liberation Army are arming for an all-out war and pursuing enormously expensive master strategies that assume that such a war will occur.
In the case of the United States, this appears to be taking place without any authorization or approval from the White House or Congress. The Pentagon is now basing its global strategy on a detailed plan known as the AirSea Battle concept, in which the U.S. Army and Air Force defend the presence of 320,000 U.S. troops in the area by readying themselves for a full-scale land and air assault on China in the event of a threat in the South China Sea or its surroundings.
In a detailed analysis paper in this summer’s issue of the Yale Journal of International Affairs, the famed sociologist and military-policy expert Amitai Etzioni asks, “Who authorized preparations for war with China?” His answer is stark: Mr. Obama has spoken of a “pivot to Asia,” but there has been no political intent or desire to have such an active military confrontation with China – in fact, the politics and diplomacy have been moving in the opposite direction.
This is the epitome of geopolitical hypocrisy, when two super powers are publicly friendly, agreeing to joint measures to combat global warming and to make trade in both directions more feasible, through letting the Chinese currency rise, while at the same time, secretly planning for all-out military combat. And it is especially galling, not to mention frightening, that these two super powers would choose this moment in history, coming up on the 100th anniversary of World War I, in 2014, to even contemplate such a move.

It is not as if the U.S. government does not have enough perplexing questions to answer to its public already:

1. When will the U.S. end forced feeding of Guantanamo prisoners?

2. When will the U.S. establish a credible presence in Egypt?

3. When will the U.S. and her allies agree to a peace conference to end the civil conflict in Syria?

4. When will the U.S. finally grant a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants currently living, working and paying taxes in the U.S.?

5. When will the U.S. come to its senses on Edward Snowden, and while pursuing his extradition, also grant some form of clemency to the man who has initiated one of the most epic and long-overdue public debates about the U.S. counter-intelligence activities?

And the list could go on for many pages….so it is not as if the White House needs to look for issues in which to become engaged; their plate is full to overflowing and will remain that way until the end of the current administration.
However, there is now, and has been for many decades, an undercurrent to American political life: that it is driven by American economics and that American economics are driven, when the economics is moving in a favourable trend line, by military engagements.
As George Carlin reminds us, “America is a nation of war!”
Pure and simple, while some may judge Carlin’s judgement as juvenile, there is little doubt that military contracts, both for the production of hardware and increasingly software for the defence systems, and for the hiring either through contract or through direct recruiting fuel the economy is many parts of the country. And this fuel is especially required as the country tries vainly to emerge from one of the worst economic downturns in the last century.
So the policy at the Pentagon and the White House may not be “war absolutely” but rather “war if necessary but not necessarily war” there has never been a time in American history when the engines of war have not been either undergoing retrofit, or preparing for new technologies, or actually machining the weapons, planes, ships and missiles that will bear the U.S. coat of arms into the other side of the world, whenever called upon.
Etzione is right to ask, “Who has authorized this AirSea Battle plan?” And furthermore, “Who is going to reign it in once unleashed on a Pentagon whose appetite for a war waged with drones from desks back home has never been more rabid?”
Let’s hope that the piece in the Yale Journal of International Affairs is enough to spark a public debate, both inside the U.S. and around the world, about how relations between China and the U.S. can be cooled, moderated, mediated and if not reconciled, at least pushed into long-term negotiations. Clearly, Russia would be very interested in the Yale piece, if they were not already familiar with the plans of both countries, as we suspect they are.
Let’s not build another “successful economic upswing” on the back of the military-industrial-now –technological establishment. Rather, let’s put American and global ingenuity toward new ways to combat collective and shared problems like global warming, finding jobs and housing, education and health care, clean water, land and air for all our people….and build a stable economy on the back of those initiatives, not again on war or the prospect of war.

Children making headlines on the bigotry and hate of adult men

Malala  Yousafzai, now sixteen, has been hailed in the United Nations as noble, courageous and insightful voice for both women seeking an education and against the forces of regression, bigotry, hate and oppression.
Shot by the Taliban, and under threat to be shot again should she return to Afghanistan, Malala was flown to Birmingham England, where she was treated in hospital, and later where she enrolled in a secondary school.
On Friday, last week, Malala spoke at the United Nations, through an invitation from Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, now UN envoy for the project to provide education for some of the 57 million children who do not attend school around the world.
Her father has taken up work as Mr. Brown’s assistant, and apparen tly keeps a close watch over his now famous daughter.
Talk about “turning a lemon of an experience into lemonade!”
Shot in the head, in a crime the whole world watched and grieved over, this little girl has not only recovered but has risen from the ashes of her life like a veritable Phoenix of hope, promise, aspiration and more importantly tolerance.
“I forgive the Talib who shot me,” is one of the lines she delivered to both media and some 500 children from around the globe invited to the UN to hear her speak.
Of course, there has been no word of the fate of the Talib who actually pulled the trigger that fired the bullet thatchanged her life forever.
Hatred of young girls enrolled in school can only be attributed to the most profound fear,jealousy and religious perversion. And if the world were to take up her plea to provide free compulsory education for all of those 57 million children starved of a legitimate education, instead of pouring billions of dollars into military combat with the Taliban, an effort that has the prospect of never really ending and never really turning Afghanistan into a self-sufficient country, the results would, we all know, be far more penetrating and corrosive of the Taliban’s position, ideology and faith, not to mention the human resource that would be generated to provide governance for that country and all other countries where children live without benefit of a free and compulsory education.
While Malala was speaking in New York, in a Florida city a court was in session hearing evidence in the trial of George Zimmerman, the shooter of Trayvon Martin, the black teen who allegedly was stalked by Zimmerman, the wannabe cop, armed and determined to clean up his neighbourhood of all these “punks” who get away with everything.
And the verdict, rendered late Friday evening, “not guilty” could conceivably be attributed to a Florida that permits one to use a firearm if and when one considers oneself in danger. Was this another already historic incident born on the wings of a culture gone off the rails with racism bigotry and the abuse of power?
The protests, mostly peaceful, across the U.S. over the weekend, would seem to suggest that many believe that justice was not fulfilled in the decision rendered by the jury. Whether or not the Justice Department proceeds with charges of racism in the case, against Zimmerman, or the family of Trayvon Martin pursues a civil action against him, the spectre of racism hangs over the most economically advanced country on the planet.
And one has to pause to reflect on just how far the U.S. has advanced beyond the Taliban, at least as represented in the two cases that collide to provide headlines over the weekend.
Children making headlines, because of the hatred and bigotry of adults, does not make “good reading” or a healthy atmosphere for a July Monday morning breakfast.

Joy Kogawa, Canadian Japanese prophet-shaman

(Written on July 12, 2013)
It was Joy Kogawa, appearing on George Strombolopolous’s CBC television show who caught my attention with her presence, her attitude and most importantly, her views.
First, her presence. This diminutive elder, a victim of the internment of Japanese by the Canadian government during the Second War, and long-time novelist, poet and celebrated Canadian writer, repeatedly exclaimed how amazed she is about what a wonderful life she has been given, along with an insightful interpretation of the official apology by Prime Minister Mulroney on behalf of the Canadian parliament to all Japanese people who were similarly interned. Kagawa termed this moment a “crossing over” moment, when one stops being a victim and begins a new life. Being a victim, she says, will result in the inflicting of pain on others. When asked by Strombolopolus about her life as a leaf in the wind, she responds by saying that the leaf never left the tree, in spite of the strong winds, especially those raging during the Second War, when bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In pointing out that the ‘christians’ who dropped the bomb in Nagasaki, dropped it on an enclave of the most Christian group in Japan, and the world, she says, is still encased in an attitude of scarity, which requires a strong military because of the fear contained in the attitude. According to Kogawa, in attacking one’s enemies, one will invariably also attack one’s friends, just as the ‘christians did who bombed their fellow christians in Nagasaki.
An alternative would be to move to an attitude of plenty or abundance, making it more feasible to find the “friend” within every enemy and to generate the building of both individual and national “friendships”. Her incarnation of the attitude of abundance and plenty is demonstrated by her recounting of her story about her Vancouver home, which, while driving by, she noticed was for sale. She did a reading in the vacant home, attended by some people from the opera, who began an initiative to collect money to purchase the home and turn it into a refuge for writers which has all come to fruiting. Kogawa is both amazed and grateful for the spontaneous generosity of so many people in bringing this project to life.
Citing her memoir as “the most difficult thing I have ever written,” Kogawa wrapped her metaphoric arms around both her host and her audience with her warmth, her integrity, and her lively and generous spirit. As one who has not been either formally or informally introduced to her writing, except for the occasional poem, her works are not on my list of required reading for the next few months.

Strong and committed negotiators needed in Egypt

We need strong, skillful and patient negotiations with all parties in Egypt….and the paucity of creative leadership is appallingly tragic

(Written on July 11, 2013)
In his recent column, Harron Siddiqui writes that democracy is good for everyone, except the
He even quotes one writer who compares the treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood to that of the Jews in the Second World War…
However, there is considerable history here that might help to explain why this drama unfolded.
It was the military, under the thumb of Hosni Mubarak, who effectively ruled Egypt for the last thity-odd years, and while Mubarak is gone, his legacy of repressing the Muslim Brotherhood, in order to maintain good relations with both the U.S. (for pecuniary aid) and Israel, (to preserve the relationship with the U.S) is almost hard-wired into the military and its leaders.
Power, not the method of governance, is a highly addictive experience, and the military is unlikely to relinquish it fully ever, unless and until there has been a purging of the most recent history in the country.
There are so many ‘weapons’ the military can and do deploy in their public relations campaign, like tanks, helicopters, fighter jets, and swarms of ‘boots on the ground’….all of this taking advantage of a vacuum in public confidence in the Morsi presidency.
And the public, appearing disenchanted, dismayed, perhaps even repelled by the lack of improvement in their lives, in the opportunities for their children and in the deafness of the president to their demands, was easily swept along in the military “parade” on their behalf.
Even today, the Muslim Brotherhood are speaking about their failure to provide good governance; they will retreat and reflect on their mistakes and they will return to another round of elections better armed to take and retain power than they were the first time.
And the world knows onto too well that the Muslim Brotherhood’s pursuit of an Islamist state is at the heart of much of the world’s current turbulence…so while Siddiqui notes that the recent downplaying of democracy by the military and the world’s political class, especially when the Islamists had gained power through the ballot-box, could generate more radical terrorists in support of radical Islam than both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the march of the Islamic Brotherhood toward an Islamic state, one that is so pivotal to the future of the Middle East as is Egypt, is nothing short of a frightening prospect to many world leaders.
This is a time, unfortunately, for calm collaboration, for creative steps to bring all the players in Egypt to the same table, for what have to be long and painful discussions about their shared future. Negotiating skills, patients, wisdom and detachment from personal ambition, including the ambition that is sparked by rabid followers in a movement, will have to prevail, if this revolution is to have a fruitful, peaceful and integrating resolution.
And, from the outside, it would appear that the west’s confusion, and tentative approach to the situation, including the emasculated attempts to bring a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis, will do little to instill confidence among the people of Egypt that the rest of the world is really interested in assisting in a meaningful way in their dilemma.
It is truly amazing how few statesmen and women have appeared to be able to make any statements that would make the Egyptian people take notice of both the motive and the urgency of whatever help might be available to them in their crisis…and it is appalling how fractious the world has become in the face of the latest threat of these Islamic uprisings….
Has AlQaeda really put so much fear into the world’s political class that, in effect, we have permitted our own emasculation in so far as collaborating with and contributing to the unrest and the fear that they are using to advance their ultimate goal of a caliphate?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Can we transform our institutions from top-down hierarchies to flat, collaborative agents of change?

A human trait is that we use previous models to construct new ones...and sometimes our new constructs bring with them both the best and the worst of the previous models, instead of only the best.
We humans have been extraordinarily inept in our deployment of our imaginations when generating new organizations. We have drawn far too heavily on the military, and brought that model into the church, into the bank, into our burgeoning bureaucracies, into our schools, colleges and universities, into the hospital (not only into the operating room, but also into every department) and we have, as a result, compelled those in those organizations and the people who work there to "follow the rules" or face extermination, insofar as that specific organization is concerned.
The adherence to a model that geneates "efficiency" over "effectiveness", order over chaos, compliance over creativity, and top-down authority over bottom-up generativity has produced both multiple generations of human robots who must find their "lives" outside the workplace, and a few "executives" whose power, control and stipends have gone off the charts, compared with the ordinary working 'stiff' on the floor of the organization. In short we have made idols both of our organizations and of the people who 'run' them, leaving all those in the learning curve eager, anxious and more than willing to do whatever it takes to climb one of those ladders. The labour movement once provided a leaven that helped to balance the needs, aspirations, rights and responsibilities of both management and worker.
That is no longer the case, as the labour movement has, in far too many cases been relegated to either the trashcan or at best, the margins, by both governments and the executive suites.
We have adopted what could be called the "gate-keeper" approach to our organizational development. We screen, on the basis of highly specious testing (much of it out of WACO Texas, based on terms and conditions that would have been welcomed by the Third Reich) those we permit into the organization, based on something highly subjective we like to call "fit"....Will he or she fit into our organation? Will he or she be a challenge to manage? Will he or she be willing to start at the bottom and work his/her way to the level of competence that is appropriate for his/her aptitudes? Does he/she come from the background that would make it feasible (read likely) for him/her to integrate into our culture?
Does he/she know someone inside the organization who, unofficially could and would tip us off about any "weirdnesses" but we can't call them by that name, so we prefer, "idiosyncracies"?
I once had the opportunity to be screened for/by a management consulting firm who used the WACO tests to screen applicants, charging a fee to applicants, while promising that the results would in no way impact their decision to hire. Upon further investigation, because I had answered the questions honestly, and not "approrpiately" the CEO commented that my attitude to authority "would make it difficult for him to manage me"....and the potential relationship ended rather abruptly. Placing that much trust in a testing device applied not only to me, but to all of his clients, one of which was the federal government, for whom his group performed much of the hiring process. He was, in effect, hired as a screening agent, and his WACO testing was his method of filtering potential candidates, and of course, we can assume that those who hired this firm knew little to nothing about the nature of those tests, only that the firm provided "compliant" bodies in suits and/or skirts or both, for their empty spots.
This is a form of social engineering, which does not belong in our culture, dependent as it is on the friction and tension of new ideas, newly presented, newly underpinned with renewed passion, and not  a kind of replication of the mediocrity and the compliance of previous hires, who became compliant and mediocre as their enthusiasm and the creativity were both repressed, because all new ideas had to come "from the executive suite"....and not from the lunch-bucket labourer.
Hierarchies probably were developed on the back of the divine right of kings thesis, in the belief that all power comes from God, and therefore the sanction of God was required for a king to remain in power. Such borrowing from the divine realm to justify whatever human beings in power seemed at the time to require, is nothing more or less than "playing God" in all other institutions, while dropping the "divine right of kings" argument to sustain the actions of the monarchy.
Certainly, such an application of the divine right of leaders has applied for too long to the christian church, where, for example, Henry VIII decided to remove Cardinal Wolsey when he could not arrange a divorce from the Pope in Rome, and appoint himself as the Head of the new Church of England, thereby joining the power of the thone with the power of God. Bishops followed, under the model established by Henry, whose power was and is virtually unchallengable.
Similarly, military generals are possessed of a degree of unreproachable power that their decisions serve as fiats, unless and until someone who believes s/he has been unjustly treated, risks everything by "going public" and creating a fuss, while at the same time deliberately committing self-sabotage on his/her career in the military.
Speaking ill of either the company or its chief executive, as well as a bishop, is an invitation to the phrase, "Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out!" because that is the fate that awaits those who refuse to comply with the "oath" of whatever it is the organization ranks as important enough to be included in a recruit's employment, whether that is loyalty (another word for obedience) or confidentiality (another word for secrecy) or morality (another word for corporate embarrassment) or fiscal integrity (another word for producing the "books" that you are commanded to produce).
The military, top-down, deeply disciplined and profoundly compliant organization can also become, (and most often does) both brittle and entropic, eroding from within. It cannot help but move in that direction, given its determined resistance to anything it cannot tolerate and that includes anything that must not happen "on my watch"....
We can witness the entropy of most of our "established" institutions today, from Wall Street's over-reach on derivatives, to the military's incapacity to deal with reports of sexual activity among recruits, to the intelligence community's containment of both the scope and the methods of their activity, to the governments' inability to effective pass legislation that would address the major issues of both their nation's citizens and the world community, like climate change and global warming, the threat of terrorism, the need for boundaries that would monitor and reign in the gallopping globalization of the world's economy, workers' health and safety, and the movement of money without facing national taxation. And one of the reasons for this entopy is that those organizations were not designed to function in a collaborative, collegial and inter-dependent manner, but rather in a unilateral, siloed and completely independent manner, as they were first designed. In fact, their success, was historically dependent on their unilateral decisions, and the world has changed.
We now have organizations that cannot either keep up with the pace of change technologically nor manage their people in a manner that transforms their top-down hierarchies into flat, even boss-less collaboratives.
The power of a single executive to supervise a department, or a whole organization is no longer sustainable given both the complexity of the issues to be resolved and the level of education, experience and creativity that is currently being employed in those organizations. No longer does the boss know more than his workers; in many cases he knows less, and cannot be relied upon to provide the kind of imaginative, insightful and complex decisions that would sustain both the organization and the commitment of the people within. And the longer organziations attempt to sustain the unsustainable, that is to maintain their hierarchical purity and power, in an increasingly inter-dependent world, no matter if the arena is government, corporate, non-profit, or social service.
When teams of medical students are more and more joining in assessing the complexities of a "case" and teams are assembled for the purpose of originating, managing and growing a "project" in both industry and government,  we are witnessing the legitimate entropy of the top-down, militaristic, all-knowing single leader and the organization s/he leads, (while at the same time we cling to that model, as we celebrate the "star" leaders in a star-struck adolescent culture)....
And so we have hybrids emerging, as they should and must, to transform our instutitions into idea generators, and human developers, and social consciences, and political agents and artistic mentors and philanthropers, not in the model of the guilded age of the 1920's where individuals of great wealth and power spread their beneficience around as they saw fit. Today, we all have to harbour and to incarnate the best of our citizen models, inside and outside our workplaces.
And that is going to upset the comfortable executive suites of many top-heavy organizations like schools, colleges, universities, churches, banks and eventually governments. Thankfully!

In effect, we have created "micro-clubs" to which description we might add the words, "old-boys" and thereby we have both reduced our capacity to change, our also our capacity to adopt to new energies, new ways of doing things, and new ways to generate both new products and services and, in the for-profit sector, new profits. New recruits are schooled on learning the culture of the targets of their applications, prior to any potential interview, as if the kind of culture that has been established has morphed into a kind of religion that, if practiced by new recruits, will pave the way for their climb up the ladder, and if not, pave the way for a quick and less costly exit.
I once worked in  a community college, in the executive branch, where 90+% of the executive team was between 5'6" and 5'9"....very few were as tall as 6'. Whether or not that fact was the result of executive strategic planning and execution or not, I do not know. What I do know is that the physical models hired were unlikely to be a threat to the chief executive, not only because of their size, but because of the executive's management style. Diversity, even in physical stature, was clearly not a sought after trait of the oganzation, although there were representatives of multiple ethnicities in the teaching faculty.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

"SHAME was one of my biggest mistakes!" (George Burns as God, in OH, God! the movie)

In the 1977 movie, Oh, God! God, played by George Burns at 94, says to his emissary, Jerry, the supermarket manager played by John Denver, "Shame was one of my biggest mistakes!"
Delivered in the off-hand manner which characterized much of Burns' successful comedic career, it almost passes the viewer by, given its two-second's of movie time.
Nevertheless, like other "lines" in other movies, it has a lingering, if not echoing effect on the state of the world.
Individuals, in the west, at least, are indoctrinated in what might be called "Christianity 101" with bed-time stories about creation, the Tablets from Mount Sinai, the flood and the ark, the hiding of baby Moses in the bullrushes, the many wives of Kings, the defeat of Goliath by the young David, and of course, the ruin of Sodom and Gomorrah allegedly resulting from their gross immorality. Other, New Testament stories have headlines that begin with the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, the stories of his birth, his encounter with lepers, the woman at the well, with the Pharisees, his Sermon on the Mount, his gathering of disciples, his sailing on the Sea of Galilee with those disciples, his Transfiguration...
And then, stories abound from other "letters" some of which may bear the hand of the Apostle Paul...especially his line, "We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God!" among other cultural shibboleths like the most admired state is celibacy, with marriage only a poor second and others of his more prominent "teachings" depending on the brand of the christian message one's family was taught, believed and passed on to the children.
Such aphorisms as "Pride goes before a fall" (from Proverbs) and "Spare the rod, spoil the child" (by Samuel Butler, in a little poem exposing the factions in the English Civil War in 1642, and he also bears the indelible imprint of a christian "upbringing") also clutter our early beginnings, since we have hear such gems, or nuggets or "bullets" of "wisdom" from a very early age.
Those schooled in the contents of the Bible, depending on the nature of that schooling and also on the severity of the parent's obedience to that schooling, bear a remarkable and often superior attitude to that "schooling" ranks higher than "knowing one's times-tables from primary math classes".
And then, of course there are the Ten Commandments, second only to the caution "Do not eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life" in the Garden of Eden in their ancestry and power over the lives of millions of families, court and legal systems, and the concomitant punishments, mostly designed by humans, for disobedience.
God speaks, in the words of scripture, and the whole world shakes, for millenia....and the whole world is still shaking, although the more recent shakings have different weapons of enforcement, recruitment, training and also both punishments and rewards.
Nevertheless, at the heart of the matter, "Shame," focuses on the question of the worth, value, goodness, authenticity and "obedience" of individual human beings, in the eyes of God, whose "eyes" can only be a human interpretation of what God might mean. This is especially true, for many, as they advance in years, hoping for a happy landing in a Heaven they may or may not merit depending on their life here on this planet, and depending largely on their belief in and adherence to the "rules" as they understand them.
I once listened to a ninety-plus year old man, lying in his hospital bed, as he repeated to himself, and to those of us at his bedside, "I know that I have not lived a life acceptable to God!" Over and over the line ran, a recorded mantra of shame,  unworthiness, belief and perception. His spirit was anguished at his own unworthiness to meet God. He was, in short, full of he neared his death and possible encounter with God.
What if, I wondered, God has already accepted every human being, even Hitler, and Osama ben Laden, as "created in his image" as a child of God? What if our conflicts and our inhumanities to one another are merely our seeing through the glass darkly, our limited vision of what God "wants", what God means, and what God expects from each of us? What if we are and have been for millenia, focusing on the sinful aspects of our individual lives and souls, as well as on the collective indecencies and acts of revenge, murder, rape, pillage, that we have so passionately pursued, and that those passions are merely the expressions of our "emptiness" and our self-sabotaging belief, using God as our excuse for both our denigration and the heaping of officially sanctioned punishments on those we believe warrant the use of the power of the state? And that question applies to all faith communities, not only the christian!
What would the world be like if we could look into the mirror and suddenly know that every act we commit, especially in the name of God, that hurts the smallest and most vulnerable creature, even a sparrow on the clothesline, is anathema to God, to the sparrow, and to all of those who know about our insouciance?
What would the world be like if we were to be taught that God really is love, forgiveness, patience, wisdom and that God is all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful....and those attributes can not and must not be restricted to our limited human capacity to conceive, to imagine and to communicate those definitions?
What would the world  be like if God's exciting, and limitless and ever-expanding embrace, acceptance, forgiveness and championing of each of us were actually a given, as the cornerstone of all faiths and all spiritual journeys, and not the fear that we so compulsively and obsessively and neurotically embrace, as the "essence of our identity"?
"Oh, that would be a world dominated by hubris, and the Greeks taught us how tragic that would inevitably be," I hear you mouthing.
Really? Would it? Or would it be a world in which the psychiatrists couches and their pharmaceutial-industrial-military-capitalistic empires would no longer be needed, except for the few whose innate spiritual poverty required attention?
Or would it be that we could abandon our obsessive, compulsive and growing addiction to both secrecy and secret spying even on our friends, along with our bombs and our missiles, and our weapons of mass destruction, along with our dependency on those "boys-toys" that keep all governments and their peoples in extreme and growing anxiety, so that the flow of money from the sale of dependency products and services continues to grow and to feed the insatiable appetites of those in power, (READ: those with the money!)?
"Oh, how naive, and how disconnected from reality, and how child-like is this vision of a world without shame," I see your lips moving.
I don't know about you, but if and when an action of my life, or words that I may have penned, are thrown in my face, and in the faces of my enemies, without an opportunity to contextualize, without an opportunity to apologize, without an opportunity to face the music, and seemingly only for the purpose of feeding the "power and control" needs of those enemies, I feel worthless, embarrassed, cheapened, and quite literally trashed. And I am quite literally beside myself with SHAME!
And, I have not learned how that shame has served to advance my intellect, my spirit, my personal health nor my relationships with others. In fact, I believe that it has led to my withdrawal from the pursuit of relationships beyond those that could be classed as 'transactional'...the doctor, the dentist, the lawyer, the mailman, the grocer and the auto mechanic, for whose services I pay and for my needs they provide their service.
Roger Miller wrote a song once that included the words, "it's my belief pride is the chief cause in the decline in the number of husbands and wives".....and the song goes on to picture two broken hearts neither one prepared to offer forgiveness.  One is prompted to ask, Is PRIDE not the other side of the coin called SHAME?
If we were not so full of SHAME, would we be so in need of the PRIDE that breaks so many relationships?
If we were not so indoctrinated in the "evil" of mankind, by our christian churches, would we be so inclined to work out our SHAME, in the most heinous, and nefarious and reactionary manners, the range of which run the gamut from small and insidious acts of vengeance in middle schools throughout the west, to larger and more blood-spilling conflicts, wars and their snipping of the lives of so many of our "brothers and sisters"....
I agree with the George Burns' (God) line that SHAME was, indeed, one of his biggest mistakes, especially given all the self-denigration it has given way to, with hospital wards full of millions struggling, just like that ninety-plus year old man, whose spirit was one of the most brilliant, and most humble and most generous and most memorable I have ever met, or likely will meet.