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Saturday, November 30, 2013

News Round-up November 30/13

  • A hunger strike in Washington, in support of a comprehensive immigration bill, already passed by the Senate, yet stone-walled by the House of Representatives;
  • A U.S. government directive to commercial airlines to "inform" China of flight paths over disputed islands in the South China Sea, islands also claimed by Japan
  • A London court hears and watches video of the hacking of the body of a British military drummer, father of a young girl, nearly decapitating him, by two radical Islamic terrorists, claiming "an eye for an eye" in revenge for British soldiers who are fighting Islamic terrorism in various parts of the world
  • A conference is meeting in Asia to discuss potential options in the face of an impending conflict between China and Japan, in which the U.S. is treaty-bound to support Japan;
  • Another conference of "experts" is meeting to discuss the impact of military conflict on the environment
  • Reports from the United Nations points to a lost generation of Syrian children, many of whom have become bread-winners for their families, now residing in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon as refugees from the civil war that has left more than 100,000 dead
  • A thanksgiving holiday merged into a stampede of obsessive, addicted and narcissistic shoppers into box stores for "deals" especially on electronics like flat-screen televisions, resulting in shootings, robberies and a display of human desperation that begs its own conference of experts
  • A spike in military veteran suicides in Canada, following tours of duty in Afghanistan sparks observations of increasing needs of military veterans from the psychiatric community, and cries for additional government support, likely to fall on deaf ears
  • A public statement from Iran's supreme leader aggressively drawing a 'red line' around the proposition that Iran will never dismantle her nuclear program, in spite of the interim treaty worked out by the Group of 5+1 with Iran
  • An elderly U.S. veteran of the Korean War, while visiting North Korea as a tourist, is detained by the North Korean government on "war crimes" and utters what amounts to a forced "confession"
  • The issue of "ethnic cleansing" rears its head in several locations, including The Dominican Republic, as the world continues to struggle with "difference" and "ignorance" and "fear"
  • A former tech exec. creates the non-profit "Worldreader" to put reading devices in the hands of children, especially those among the 700 million illiterates, in order to stamp out illiteracy ...find them at Worldreader.org Worldreader
  • Support Typhoon Haiyan victims digital ads appear on screens in Tim Horton's shops across Canada, directing potential donors to the Red Cross, while government commits to double private donations, for a limited time...while reports of public opinion in the U.S. say there is little interest in supporting those victims
  • Rogers, one of the giant tech communications companies in Canada, already the principal shareholder of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors and the Toronto Blue Jays, pays $5.2 BILLION for exclusive rights to all  NHL games in Canada, for twelve years, in the biggest sports and entertainment coup in Canadian history

Friday, November 29, 2013

Ron Francis, RCMP Corporal with PTSD, public whistle-blower...needs our support


While the whole "public" and "official" world of both parliament and the RCMP are outraged and scornful of a New Brunswick Mountie, Ron Francis smoking one of those 15 marijuana cigarettes in public, especially while wearing the scarlet (and presumed sacred) tunic, the iconic uniform of the RCMP, both his call for a public inquiry and his PTSD are being ignored.
Francis is allowed to smoke up to 15 joints daily to deal with PTSD symptoms that he developed while working in First Nations communities. (Daniel Proussalidis, Toronto Sun, November 28)
When are we, as a culture, going to get real, both with the medical prescription and the PTSD?
I recall listening to a now deceased family member, a respected professional health care worker of many decades, who had held a senior position in a large urban teaching hospital, and upon retirement had suffered some physical illness. Her physician had referred her to a psychiatrist, while she was in hospital, and our conversation occurred following that visit.
"Well, he was a nice man, but if he thought that I was going to give him any information, he was sadly mistaken!" ran her proud, and non--disclosing, and pejorative observation of the encounter.
And that encounter took place in the mid-1990's, not that long ago.
Today, an RCMP Corporal, placed on "desk duties" without being permitted to carry a fire arm, for a diagnosis of PTSD because of his work with First Nations, where he states on CBC, in an interview with Ian Hanomansingh, that he saw things most people in Canada would be appalled to witness, is now being ridiculed for his admittedly overt, even histrionic and attention-grabbing act in order to demand that the public both become aware of and acknowledge the full realities within the force, (paid for by public dollars and attempting to keep the peace and security in hundreds of communities across the country).
As the popular vernacular would put it, "Let's get real, Canada!"
If we treat this honourable RCMP Corporal of our most cherished police force, in a manner that depicts his plea for help for the whole force in such a contemptible manner, through our public embarrassment at his action, we are sentencing him and hundreds of Afghanistan veterans to more decades of silence, in their legitimate, and publicly "earned and acquired" illness, while also refusing to acknowledge that the medical profession has indeed found that marijuana is indeed helpful in relieving the stress of PTSD.
Are we not, in our own unique manner, once again proving Earle Birney's contention back in 1942 in a little poem entitled, Canada: Case History, that we are indeed an adolescent nation, who have not yet grown up, only this time our demons are drugs and psychiatric illness.
"Denial" is not only a large river in Egypt! It is an integral component of the Canadian public and official culture and it is time we grew up and accepted our full truth, fully disclosing and fully accepting responsibility for our public institutions and the people who have toiled for and in them for decades.
Corporal Francis has not brought dishonour either to his uniform or his force; he is and apparently has been a dedicated officer to that force, for which he has served proudly. He also retains a deep and passionate commitment to the improvement of that force, and has taken one step to attract public attention to the culture of repression, denial and avoidance that is clearly not in the public  interest.
And for public officials, both within the force and especially within parliament to condemn and judge his action, for the simple reason that it will send a bad example to young people who might be thinking about trying marijuana, or who have been prescribed marijuana by their physician, is more evidence of the ostrich that besets too much of public life, and the institutions that represent the public engagement in the lives of real people, with real needs and honest attempts to take the lid of secrecy off the public culture.
We all know that a family struggling with one or more members who suffer from an addiction is characterized by "secrecy" and "shame" because they do not want the community to know about their "elephant" in the room. And so long as that elephant remains a secret, the whole family suffers exponentially, from the illness of the individual and the self-imposed illness of the secrecy.
I lived in such a family as a young boy, and the secret that we knew we had to preserve was child abuse. And, from my experience, witnessing this spectacle of an RCMP officer suffering from PTSD, generated from his work with First Nations communities, in conditions that constitute another public "secret" of the cover-up of our own negligence and irresponsibility, and even what we have called in other places in this space, apartheid, it is not a family where healthy conditions will generate healthy children and adults.
We support Corporal Francis in both his illness and his public actions to shed light on the cover-up that inflicts too much of Canadian public life, and call upon both his senior officers and the national government to address the issues his action raises.



Thursday, November 28, 2013

"Dollar Diplomacy", Canadian government morphs into the latest iteration of Willy Loman on world stage

The Canadian government yesterday announced a "pivot" in foreign policy. Being dubbed "dollar diplomacy" the move is designed to use foreign policy primarily to generate trade.
It is not only that this is another of the Harper reductionisms, but the shift demonstrates the ultimate sell-out of the Canadian national interests to the interests of the corporate and business sector.
We are especially inspired by one of the following "experts", Gar Pardy, whose insight that most "Canadian" corporations are foreign owned and subsidized by the Canadian government, and the sole interest of those companies is to generate profit, so through this ugly and reprehensible shift in Canadian government policy, the Canadian government has not only reduced its perception and conception of its responsibility for foreign affairs, but also it has completely enmeshed the national interests with those of the "foreign" corporations, in what amounts to a complete sell-out of the Canadian national interests. Pardy's reference to the "revival of Willy Loman" is especially chilling, given the desperation of that Arthur Miller archetype of the fallen and trashed salesman, the first presentation of the Pulitzer play in the 1950's witnessed the weeping departure of many salesmen from the New York audience, so painful was the portrayal of their lives before their very eyes. While working in the U.S. where salesmanship is pontifical, if not actually sacred, I listened as one sad and tragic woman commented, "Jesus was the world's best salesman!" I knew at that moment that my stay in that country needed to come to an abrupt end, especially since I was attempting to revive an Episcopal mission that had been on "life-support" for several years prior to my arrival.
If we thought the Harper government had already warranted a full and complete and final dismissal from public office for both despicable deeds and even more despicable omissions of responsibility prior to the Baird announcement that we are proudly morphing into the latest iteration of Willy Loman, this latest and most blatant abdication of public responsibility and interest would clearly count as its final and most nefarious indictment.
Here is the way one former Ambassador put it in in the Globe and Mail, November 27, 2013:

This is a proven dreadful mistake. Foreign relations for democratic nations have three thrusts: economic interests; international peace and security; and value-driven support for human rights and democracy development. Their content is increasingly more people to people than state to state.
The moment any one emphasis excludes one or both of the others is the moment things go off the rails; eg., thirty years of the United States supporting a dictator in Egypt for (false) security reasons alone; or for Canada, sucking up to the Gadhafi family to help out SNC/Lavalin.
The United States is now pursuing just such a composite strategy - for Iran, Russia, China; supporting a strategic partnership in the interests of economic and political security, while also supporting civil society's legitimate aspirations.
Why is this Canadian government so blindly committed to a mercantilist policy without the other thrusts? It's a proven loser. It is not what Canadians want. 
Jeremy Kinsman was Canadian ambassador in Moscow from 1992 to 1996 
 
As additional support for this perspective, here are the words of Gar Pardy, from the same Globe and Mail piece:

Not a policy for the real world


Poor Willy Loman. Arthur Miller’s archetypical salesman died more than sixty years ago  by his own hand.  He is now revived by the government of Canada in a play of desperation to give new energy and life to the Canadian economy on the backs of the Canadian Foreign Service. Never have public servants been loaded with such an onerous responsibility; and before we get carried away with the rhetoric of the government and the clapping flippers of its trained seals, Canadians should take a walk in the real world where the Canadian coin is of less value than the CFA franc of the Central African Republic.
 The antecedents of this policy are not hard to find. The dismantling of the Canadian International Development Agency, putting the International Development Research Centre on life support, the bad-mouthing of the Commonwealth and threats to cut Canadian support funding, the back-of-the-hand treatment for the United Nations and a visceral disdain for the Foreign Service have all been large signposts of the illusory world this government has created. 
 Now Canadians are expected to accept that “All diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector.” This is more than just changing the channel.  It is throwing out the television and expecting the world to accept the ethereal messages this prone government receives from its self-created cosmos. 
It has been evident for some time that this is a government that lives in an illusory universe where science plays on role and reasonableness has been eliminated from its DNA.  As such, not surprisingly, it can today with a face straight say to a complex world that Canada cannot be counted on to do anything more than to “marshal” its foreign service in support of its business community.
It is a policy that is constructed on the shifting sands of ignorance of the international scene and sleigh-of-the-hand illusions to fool Canadians. To suggest that there is a “Canadian” business community is to deny a central Canadian illusion.  There is hardly a large Canadian company that is today not controlled by foreign interests and supported by hidden Canadian subsidies of policy and money.  Even more insidious is that many of these foreign interests are the products of foreign governments whose interest in things Canadians do not go beyond their wallets and their own national interest.
 So today we resurrect Willy Loman from his long forgotten garage and give him new life as the guardian of Canadian foreign policy.  With apologies to Joe Clark we now will “lecture, peddle and leave.”
 Gar Pardy is a former ambassador who comments on public policy issues from Ottawa.
 
And here is Paul Heinbecker, weighing in on the same issue, from the same Globe and Mail piece:

The world won't allow for a simple focus on trade


The world will not let us focus on economics and trade even if it were a good idea for us to do so.
From natural disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan and the Haitian earthquake to man-made calamities such as 9/11 and Syrian civil war, events will force us to respond. Further, Canadians' interests and our values will demand we pay attention to, for example, the Iranian nuclear program, cyber security, pandemics and the spread of communicable diseases, international crime and the drug trade, climate change and Arctic sovereignty, the alleviation of hunger and promotion of human rights and religious freedoms as well as improving global governance notably preserving Internet freedom.
To say nothing of assisting Canadians abroad who are sick and need help. Mercantile policy will not get Canadia tourists out of hell hole jails or repatriate the deceased.
Nor will it alone burnish Canada's reputation as a constructive, responsible global citizen.
Paul Heinbecker is now with the Centre for International Governance Innovation 
 
And finally, these are the insights from Derek Fraser, taken from the same Globe and Mail piece:
 

A not-so-simple shift


If the government is serious, then what it proposes would amount to a revolution, for this government has up until now often given priority over trade and investment prospects to its support for human rights, humanitarian aid, and international security.
Canada’s support for the Western humanitarian intervention to get rid of Colonel Gadhafi harmed the commercial interests of a leading Canadian engineering firm. Canada’s criticism of the Sri Lankan government and Canada’s boycott of the Commonwealth Heads of State in Colombo cannot have helped Canadian business prospects in Sri Lanka. Canada’s support for international sanctions against Iran and North Korea because of their nuclear ambitions has not helped Canadian commercial interests in either country, notably those of the Canadian nuclear industry.
Canada’s support for Israel cannot further our business possibilities in the Arab world, which are probably larger than those in Israel. Canadian support for democracy, human rights and national independence in Eastern Europe, notably Ukraine, cannot endear us to the Russians. Appointing an Ambassador for Religious  Freedom and supporting women’s rights may actually harm business interests in certain countries. The commercial fallout from sending the Dart Team to the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan may turn out to be disappointingly small.
If the Government does not mean what it appears to say, then it might consider embarking on a serious and balanced analysis of all the strands of our foreign policy. Such an analysis would likely recognize that other interests sometimes take precedence over commerce.
Derek Fraser is a former ambassador to Hungary, Greece and Ukraine.
 
 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Reflections on Canadian by-elections...

The pundits are claiming the Trudeau beat Mulcair on Monday in the by-elections in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, as if the battle were between these two. While is it true that the Liberals, under Trudeau held on to both Bourassa in Quebec and Toronto Centre in Ontario, the NDP significantly increased their vote totals.
Nevertheless, there is another very important cultural meme in play in Canada.
While we are nationally ecstatic about our health care system, a single payer model, we nevertheless don't want to be seen as "radical" or as different from the rest of the world, especially from our U.S. neighbours. And, currently the world, including the U.S. has such a strong and toxic right-wing political propaganda machine, Canada is catching cold from the U.S. pneumonia. And the right-wing freeze in the U.S. is analogous to pneumonia, reducing the U.S. government to the ashes of selfishness, mean-spirited budget cuts to social programs, including deep cuts to education, while continuing to pour billions into defence, law and order, national security and all things dedicated to fortification.
The fear of the ruling class has trumped the needs of the poor, the indigent, the homeless and the helpless.
In Canada, although the situation by most estimates is less severe, the gap continues to grow between the have's and the have-not's and the NDP history and purpose is to level the playing field, while the Liberal Party's primary purpose is to seek and to acquire political power, in order to facilitate the opportunity for their own "deep pockets" to exercise power. It is true that during much of the last century, under Liberal administrations, significant advances were made in social equality and social justice. However, like the rest of the continent, the Liberal Party has also shifted to the right, and while Trudeau Jr. sings his chant about support for the middle class, it is little more than another "pop" song playing on the lips of the new leader, equally as vacuous as the non-answers provided by Harper about his knowledge and participation in the Senate expenses scandal.
In Toronto Centre, for example, a seat held by Bob Rae and previous Bill Graham, the electorate is stolid, sedate, erudite and unlikely to make even the slightest noise that could be taken as radical or even pushing the lines of conventionality a little to the left. While Freeland will make a contribution to the Liberal Party fortunes, her NDP opponent, Linda McQuaig, would have provided considerable edge to the cause of levelling the playing field for the poor and the underclass. Liberals would like to believe there is no underclass, and that blind spot hurts both the party and the country. It is the edge to McQuaig's pursuit of equal opportunity that the country needs, not more of the slick elan of the Liberals under Trudeau.
In order to put that "edge" into play, however, Mulcair has his work cut out for him.
While substantial, credible and both sincere and earnest, Joe Clark has demonstrated just how far those qualities will take one in Canadian politics. Sadly, it is true that the rock-star sex appeal is still, perhaps even more, alive and thriving across the country. And for too many, politics is not about policy so much as it is about "style" and image.
Projections of the voters, for or against political leaders, includes a large component of centreville behaviour, never too much this way or that way, and in Canada bland reigns supreme.
Mulcair cannot and never will be bland, while Trudeau and his party have long ago mastered the political art of the chameleon: whatever colour is in vogue, they will present.
It will take the best minds of the best political strategists to create a platform and public message for Mulcair that contains the best of the NDP tradition and the necessary genuflections to public aspirations...and we can only hope those strategists have not been hired by the more affluent other parties, where they could make more money selling a different bottle of soda. We need strategists who are willing to fight for clean water, clean air, and equal opportunity for all, and only the NDP can and will offer that option to Canadians in 2015.

U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments about a corporation's right to express religious views...tragically

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments joined by some forty-four corporations to overturn the Affordable Care provisions that employers must provide, in their health care coverage for their employees, access to contraception, the nation and the world is going to watch unfold the spectre of a nation that publicly defends the legal and constitutional concept of the separation of church and state, while it slowly, or perhaps not so slowly, sinks into the mire of a theocracy.
First there are the hot-beds of anti-abortion theology that seek, through whatever means available to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the act making access to therapeutic abortions available to all women in America. Now, after three appellate courts have already sided with the  corporations bringing the case against Obamacare, the Supreme Court, dominated as it is by Neanderthal conservatives, led by chief Justice Roberts and followed by Justices Alito and Scalia who have already declared themselves more "pro" corporations that most previous courts, is too likely to run in favour of the corporations.
Hercules Corporation, (never more ironically named has a corporation been), is headed by a Roman Catholic who does not "want to pay for" contraception, thereby using the corporation to exercise his personal religious views. When interviewed, he of course claims that the case is "not about whether a woman practices contraception but about whether 'we' should have to pay for such a practice, attempting to reduce the issue to simply dollars, when it is much more an issue of the imposition of religious dogma on all the employees of Hercules and all other corporations with 50 or more employees.
There are some scholars who argue that in the history of the U.S. there is a significant difference between the corporation's right to exist (as an individual) from that of the single person. They argue that corporations, while they operate under laws that provide considerable public/state support through various tax and legal measures, do not have the capacity, nor have they been designed and created to express "worship" to a deity. Employees are not hired on the basis of their religion nor are corporations religious institutions. If they were, they ought to apply for inclusion under the "religious" institution legal  framework, gaining access to non-profit status, and then the public would recognize their claim to a religious purpose.
In our view, these corporations cannot have it both ways: seeking profit for the provision of their products and services, and also seeking religious status as defenders of any single faith dogma.
And yet, in March of 2014, another push and shove, not only against the Affordable Care Act, but also potentially opening the doors for an onslaught of religious-based claims that threaten the very cornerstone of American public law and policy, including access to therapeutic abortions, will dominate the Supreme Court agenda. In Texas, there is already a state legislature move to require all doctors performing abortions to have hospital privileges in the town or county in which they perform those abortions. Many of the doctors in that situation do not have such privileges, and the result will be the closing of many of those clinics, requiring women who seek an abortion to travel long distances to secure the procedure.
This is just another example of the "swiss-cheese" reality of the holes in the wall keeping church and state separate.
As the government, allied with forces that support the separation of church and state, attempts to resist the "creep" of religious domination, coming from the right, (those people who want a smaller government, until it comes to controlling a woman's body and liberty) we continue to watch a more blatant, yet nevertheless equally as toxic,  tide demanding the creation of Islamic states governed by the radical right in that faith community. Can both sides not see the dangers implicit in these  conflicting, while also similar, thrusts into the public square of too many states? And at the core of both, women's rights seem to be paramount!
What is it about Roman Catholicism and evangelical Christianity, as well as Islam, that seeks to dominate, even too often persecute, and control their women? How does that theme square with a religion of tolerance, compassion and agape love? In a word, it doesn't.



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Is China's latest Ten-year plan too timid...and is timidity a sign of our times?

Listening to an erudite discussion, once again, on NPR's "On Point with Tom Ashbrook" about the latest document to come out of the Communist Party/Government in Beijing, I was struck by something said by Susan Shirkchair of the 21st Century China Program and Ho Miu Lam Professor of China and Pacific Relations at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS) at the University of California, San Diego. (@IRPS). In her detailed and convincing review of the Ten Year Plan, she commented that she believed one of the important questions was whether it was not a question of leadership, both in its design and the degree to which the plan can and will be implemented.
Chinese President, Xi Jingping, according to Ms Shirk, may have been too timid in his and the central committee's design of the latest plan, because he may not have the kind of "clout" once held by some of his predecessors. There is a growing middle class in China, many of whom have received substantial educations, and their compliance, without objection, to government edicts, may have already eroded. Many of these recently educated Chinese are buying property, businesses and investments in foreign countries, and moving out of China in order to escape the suffocating smog that hangs over many of China's cities, and also to escape the kind of state control of businesses, of government and also of individual liberties that prevails, emanating out of Bejing.
 His capacity to implement the plan which includes a slight relaxation of the one-family-one child policy, a slight softening of the forced "labour/education" camps for undesireables, a slight easing of the restrictions on agriculture workers moving from field to city (only to certain designated cites, not the ones most people would want to move to) and a move to encourage more consumer spending may also be restricted by the narrow location of real power in the country.
As one panelists observed, "There is a perfect moment in China when the wealth and the power are  both centred in a very small group of people, and their resistance to giving up that power may prove too strong for the president to fully enact his plan," even though it is not considerable nearly as transformative as some of those of his predecessors, nor as many current observers were hoping for.

Imagine, too much power being too tightly held, controlled and manipulated by too few people, in order to permit even a communist state government to grow a real middle class!

Does that not sound like precisely the same anthem that is echoing out of Washington, Ottawa, London, Rome, Moscow, Madrid, Dublin, to varying degrees, but certainly out of Washington?
There is a gathering storm on the world's horizon, and the canary of the Chinese emigrants that are leaving to find a better life, is a song the rest of the world had better start listening to.
While those Chinese emigrants have enough resources to move, many of the rest of us, living in countries some more and some less controlled by heavy-handed state governments, will have to find our futures, however short they may be, where we are.
And that means that we will have to exert much more political clout on our political "masters (in their minds)/servants (in our minds)". We too need a healthier middle class, cleaner air, access to clean water, adequate and safe food supplies. One story of an ambitious Chinese worker, from the On Point program, illustrated his fear of Chinese products: he purchased all the paint he would need to cover the walls in his home in Japan, because he did not trust the Chinese paints, and  he nervously wondered what he and his wife were going to do to feed their newborn, after her mother stopped breast-feeding, because the available food was  neither safe nor adequately nourishing.
While the Chinese plan is to reduce the dependence on coal-fired power generation, and move to alternative sources, (a commendable move!) it will take decades to wean the country off of coal. Meanwhile, the people have to wear masks, in some cities on some days, just to  breath.
How long will it be before, following the lead of the Ontario government (today it tabled a bill to terminate the use of coal-fired power generation by 2014), the United States especially, Canada, and the western countries, along with India, abandon their dependence on coal-generated power?
There is a crippling political disease, too much power and wealth in too few hands, that is choking off the deployment of common sense government legislation, in China, the U.S. and other countries, demonstrated by the failure of the Warsaw talks on Climate change and global warming, demonstrated to by the need to produce a text for a treaty with Iran, bilaterally, and then present the text to the "stand-by" countries in the Group of 5+1, much to their contempt, demonstrated by the upcoming vote in Scotland to withdraw from the Commonwealth (although only 38% support independence in the latest polls) and certainly demonstrated in the spate of denials, obfuscations, and smoke-blowing out of the Langevin Block in Ottawa, the building that houses the Prime Minister's Office, over the recent Senate expenses scandal.
The most significant drop in public approval of President Obama's conduct of his job, surfacing on the heels of the disastrous roll-out of Obamacare, results...
  •  in part from a determined silence on the part of the insurance companies to sell the new coverage,
  • in part from a determined political assault campaign from the political right both on the president's very existence and on the program which they senselessly consider "socialist" if not actually "communist" although the former Republican candidate for president, Romney, passed an almost identical bill in Massachusetts, when he was governor of that state
  • in part from a civil service grown flabby and undisciplined as well as untutored in the extreme requirements of a digital roll-out
  • in part from an over-inflated "contractor contingent" that seeks to suck both the oxygen and the cash from the capital, so long as there is still some of  both available
  • and also from a too-loyal and compassionate president, too busy by more than half on too many issues, and unwilling to chop heads, even when the political ship is sinking....(Kathleen Sibelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, please take note!)
Obama's Affordable Care Act, too, in our eyes, was too timid, given his earlier preference for a single-payer system, and his default to an insurance company supported (and profit-driven) system that albeit clips the wings of those companies on pre-existing conditions, and on refusals to cover clients they did not want but fails to go far enough by more than half, especially considering the political damage in the long run.
We need bold political leadership, and we need in from all corners of the globe....and not over petty disputes like the one currently developing between China and Japan over sovereignty in the South China Sea, nor over Obama's trustworthiness, nor over Obama's level of courage in the face of Iranian threats of a nuclear bomb.....and we need a strong, independent fourth estate, in all countries including China, the United States, Canada (where very few observers could be classed as courageous and provocative) and those covering the United Nations....and we will not get either the political leadership nor the fourth estate that supports that requirement (as China is proving) through a culture of sycophancy, fear, sleep-walking narcissism and hopelessness.
My thirty-something daughter said to me last week, "The global warming/climate change battle is already lost!"
And I pleaded, "It may be, but I have to continue to fight the battle, even if just to know that I continued to protest until the very end!!!"
"Alright," she demurred.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reflections on the interim agreement between the Group of 5+1 and Iran...better than military action, at this time

"An historic mistake"...Netanyahu
"Deeply sceptical"....Baird  (Canadian Foreign Minister)
"A deal worth making"...CNN
"A distraction to the disaster that is Obamacare"....Senator Cornyn (Texas)
"We're not stupid"....Kerry

However one parses the deal that attempts to curtail, impede, slow or even hopefully derail Iran's nuclear weapons program depends largely on one's national, and personal/political interest and motivation.
Israel, Saudi Arabia, and presumably Quatar despise any deal with Iran....being the Sunni hegemonic opponents of the hated kingdom of the Shia Muslims.
The Group of 5 + 1, that includes China, Russia, the European Union, the UK and the US, have signed onto something that critics claim is far too little, given the "high water mark" of influence at this stage of the negotiations....inferring "we should have extracted more from the Iranians."
From some 300 centrifuges in 2003, Iran now has 19,000, and has to give up none.
The 400+ kilograms of enriched plutonium are supposed to be removed and destroyed, and then production at a 5% level, as opposed to the 20% level needed for a weapon, can and will proceed.
Coming only a week after the ayatollah himself ranted about the "cancer" that is Israel, no one can be surprised at the Israeli reaction coming both from the Prime Minister and his spokesmen appearing on CNN yesterday.
Is the Israeli threat of a military attack against Iran off the table? Some pundits think it highly unlikely that such a strike will occur in the six-month window, prior to the conclusion of a final agreement between the Group of 5+1 and Iran....however, from this perspective, all bets are off.
Will the I.A.E.A. (International Atomic Energy Agency) achieve the level of co-operation required by the agreement to monitor the degree to which Iran complies with the terms of inspection to which it has agreed? Once again, from this perspective, we are deeply sceptical.
Trust and verify may be a neat political slogan, but when it comes to putting personnel on the ground, in order to ferret out all the hidden nuclear production facilities, in a country known for its deception and its mercurial even blatant ambitious goals in the region, to become the strongest power through whatever it takes, (supporting and arming Assad., supporting and arming Hezbollah and infiltrating Iraq.....and there are likely other instances of interference)...the Iranians still have a lot to prove, about their integrity and their meriting a place at the international table of respected nations.
Different from North Korea, Iran is a civilization of historic proportions, intellectual and cultural accomplishments, deep and historic hatred of the U.S. and led by clerics who marry political and theological goals, objectives and strategies.
Canada, unfortunately, has to remain mute, unable since the closing of its embassy in Teheran, to learn "on the ground" of the street-level consciousness of either the Iranian people or the success/failure of the IAEA's mission. Having a considerable history with the country through the story of the escape of American hostages, our own government has now emasculated our capacity to play any role in assessing the degree of compliance of the Iranians with this or any other agreement on nuclear weapons. This is the point at which Canadians must make a mental note of the irresponsibility of the Harper government on this file, regardless of how close the Canadian government's ties are to Israel. We could and did maintain an important embassy while we did and could have maintained a strong alliance in support of Israel....we are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time....or we were before Harper.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Right-wing censorship of science texts because censors do not agree with evolution and climate change in Texas

For the right wing to publicly advocate for, even demand, smaller government, and then potentially to overturn the selection of science texts that posit evolution and climate change as scientifically valid, for public school boards, in Texas, is a step too far. And, of course, their objections would have to be fringe at best, yet hollered with loud voices, to make them seem all the more plausible.
The same tactic is being deployed by the Republican leader of the Senate in his denouncing of the "nuclear option" that was adopted in that body this week, to defang the obstinate and apparently permanent thwarting by filibuster of three presidential appointees to the DC Court of Appeals by the Republicans, without any reference to their qualifications or character. McConnell is wrong on the facts, and also denying his and his party's culpability in the matter. The constitution did not and does not include reference to the filibuster, and of the some two dozen times it has been used, more than half have occurred under Obama, demonstrating, factually that the current Senate Republicans will take any step available to thwart this current president and his goals and objectives.
It used to be that, when public debates were held on public issues, there was agreement on the facts, and then differences were weighed based on the opinions of those participating. Now, it is the facts that have succumbed to the tsunami of opinion, with the loudest voices dominating the public discourse.
And of course, the right wing has the loudest voices, for many reasons:
  1. They are fanatical about their opinions, because they hold them not as opinions, but as outright beliefs;
  2. They know that their method garners more media coverage than merely outlining, dispassionately, their reasons for holding their opinions;
  3. Their funding agents  are determined to grab power and to hold it for the several generations, whereas previously, political debates were framed by, at most, the next few years up to a possible decade, in order for projections to remain valid and reliable;
  4. Their fanaticism grows out of the religious right's narrow and radical and non-negotiable fanaticism about their black-and-white interpretations of Christian theology, in which literal interpretations of scripture morph into political ideology, and then get trumpeted from their apocalyptic pulpits.
  5. Included in their beliefs/opinions is the sine qua non, that whatever or whomever disagrees with them is EVIL, because they hold the only Righteous and Holy views that pertain to whatever issue. Projections of the Satanic are essential to the religious and political fundamentalists; that is their "default" position, and it paints all opponents with the same brush, thereby eliminating most from participating in any discussion with their breed.
  6. As the representatives of God, in a political culture not yet deemed a theocracy, but nevertheless sliding quickly in that direction (they hope and pray!), they divide the world into two camps, just as Dubya did in his "Either you are for us or you are against us!"...in a Manichean world view, that, one has to assume, provides the kind of faux security that, for them is unavailable in ambiguity, paradox, and the reality in which no motive, no person, no ideology and no interpretation of any book is ultimate, final and non-negotiable if we are willing to agree with anything worthy of concensus.
  7. Their's is a world view that rejects out of hand, all arguments with which they do not agree, and that includes all writers whose writing might just make it into the classroom for which their taxes have paid, are paying and will continue to pay. And so their children must pay the price of their tyrannical and absolutist views, as a matter, not of intellectual pursuit, (a pursuit for which they have only contempt), but of religious piety and purity.
This is a war of potentially more import than the many military "boils" that are currently attracting so much legitimate concern, the war for the hearts and minds and spirits of the next generations, who, if they are to be restricted and corseted into the "right" political and religious belief system, will render the next century one of constant aggressive conflicts between those who seek, through the application of the best minds, methods and debating skills, to find the truth and those who, without having to endure the growth that such a process imposes on its participants, already claim to know the truth, having received it in some tablet from some mountain, as did Moses.
When opinion morphs into belief, and then finds agents willing to trample the very pursuit of truth, to which education aspires for all of its clients, in order to grow the body of agreed and validated information, that starts out as speculation and only reaches a kind of acceptance through a most rigorous and even flawed process, in order to facilitate political control by those who reject both the findings of the intellectual community and their methods of acquiring those findings, we have a different kind of society, culture and freedom...all of them constricted from full access to oxygen, debate, discussion and the pains and gifts of ambiguity, uncertainty, humility, tolerance and fairplay...
and with or without military backing, the fascist  mind-set of the right be both dangerous and debilitating for us all.

Texas Education Board Flags Biology Textbook Over Evolution Concerns
By Motoko Rich, New York Times, November 22, 2013

The Texas Board of Education on Friday delayed final approval of a widely used biology textbook because of concerns raised by one reviewer that it presents evolution as fact rather than theory.
The monthslong textbook review process in Texas has been controversial because a number of people selected this year to evaluate publishers’ submissions do not accept evolution or climate change as scientific truth.
On Friday, the state board, which includes several members who hold creationist views, voted to recommend 14 textbooks in biology and environmental science. But its approval of “Biology,” a highly regarded textbook by Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist at Brown University, and Joseph S. Levine, a science journalist, and published by Pearson Education, was contingent upon an expert panel determining whether any corrections are warranted. Until the panel rules on the alleged errors, Pearson will not be able to market its book as approved by the board to school districts in Texas.
“It’s just a shame that quality textbooks still have to jump through ridiculous hoops that have no basis in science,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the activities of far-right organizations.
Ms. Miller (no relation to the Pearson textbook author) said she nevertheless gave Friday’s vote “two opposable thumbs up” because the board “adopted all of the science books and the publishers made no effort to water down evolution or climate science in those books.”
Three members of the state school board — Barbara Cargill, the Republican chairwoman appointed by Gov. Rick Perry; Martha Dominguez, a Democrat from El Paso; and Sue Melton-Malone, a Republican from Waco — will select experts for the final review panel for the Pearson textbook. The board voted that the experts must have at least a Ph.D. in a “related field of study” and could not have served on the original review panel for the book.
The alleged errors that will be reviewed by the new expert panel were cited by Ide P. Trotter, a chemical engineer and financial adviser who is listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the website of the Creation Science Hall of Fame and was on a textbook review panel that evaluated Dr. Miller and Mr. Levine’s “Biology” last summer. Mr. Trotter raised numerous questions about the book’s sections on evolution.
“I think I did a pretty good review, modestly speaking,” said Mr. Trotter, speaking from his home in Duncanville, a suburb of Dallas. He said Dr. Miller and Mr. Levine’s textbook “gives a misleading impression that we have a fairly close understanding of how random processes could lead to us.” He added, “If it were honest, it would say this is how we are looking at it, and these are the complexities that we don’t understand.”
Susan M. Aspey, a spokeswoman for Pearson, said that the publisher “is proud of the work we’ve done with educators and scientists to create effective materials for the state of Texas.”
Ronald Wetherington, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Southern Methodist University who has already looked over Mr. Trotter’s complaints, described them as “non sequiturs and irrelevant.”
“It was simply a morass of pseudoscientific objections,” Dr. Wetherington said.
Joshua Rosenau, programs and policy director at the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit group that defends the teaching of evolution and climate change, said he hoped the Texas school board members would select scientists with mainstream views.
“Tomorrow morning, you could walk five minutes up to campus and knock on any five doors in the biology department,” Mr. Rosenau said, referring to the University of Texas at Austin. “And in five minutes they would say these aren’t errors,” he said of Mr. Trotter’s list.
Separately, the board also directed Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher of an environmental science textbook, to make minor changes to its sections on climate change.
A spokeswoman for Houghton Mifflin said the publisher had already responded to the change requests.
“We stood by the integrity of our content,” the company said in an emailed statement, “and made no material changes to instruction or point of view.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

Star power integral to all democracies....

Celebrity, the "star" figure, as in movies, television, sports and occasionally politics, is one of the legacies of the late president who was shot and slain fifty years ago today. We all know where we were when we got the news, and for many moments, we were literally and metaphorically stunned. The world seemed to stop, go into a multi-frame 'slo-mo' as everything was drained of meaning, purpose and hope. We all lived our 'chorus' role in an epic "Greek tragedy" on that weekend in 1963, glued to the black and white television, and walking with our heads down, greeting others in their disbelief that matched our own, and finding ourselves reduced to tears at various moments, although for me that iconic photo of Jackie and her two children standing together as the body passed them, John saluting, is etched in some dark purple ink inside a young teacher's memory, only ten weeks after I had begun my first full-time job.
JFK's looks, his social and intellectual power and wealth, and for me, above all his rhetoric and the timbre of the voice...they were all of a piece, a piece of 'what-the-heck-is-this-phenomenon' who seemed to stride Pennsylvania Avenue, the Capitol Inaugural "set" and the many 'stages' prepared for him and his "family" as if he really were larger than life.
Of course, he had a supporting "crew and cast" of make-up artists and speech-writers and photographers and clingers who had their own niche of fame: Sinatra, brothers Bobby and Teddy, Jackie, Rose the matriarch, eventually Nikita Kruschev, Castro and many others, some even less than 'perfect'...and many unknown at the time (Munroe, for one). And all stars have to have a supporting cast, especially in the meta-theatre that has become the United States, both displaying and dependent upon all the latest 'technologies' for marketing and for selling and for campaigning and for entertaining an audience of consumers-critics-voters-and willing sycophants to the big seduction.
If a country is to have morphed into a stage drama, or television drama, as the United States did on that sunny day in Dallas, and then a Washington weekend of mourning and grief, joined willingly and in pathos by a planet in disbelief, then the most important supporting cast are the people whose eyes, ears and hearts are fixated on the screen, and the 'transistor' radios. There were, of course, no advanced technologies that we  have today.
And, among the actors in the national drama, were and are the scribes, and the talking heads like Cronkite, with his professorial horn-rimmed glasses and his deep and resonating, even quivering at times, larynx playing his scripted and reflective role.
The Greek amphitheatres and Roman coliseum and then Washington are the stages for many of the most memorable and even tragic dramas in human history, both in reality and in fiction, increasingly  blurred as one, while we continue our walk past those dramatic and moving and mysterious and almost stretching moments of our lives, taking those who we have deemed as "larger than life" (while we all know they also have their personal demons and devils to fight) and painting them on our canvases for both inspiration and despair.
Vicarious as we all are, we must have some of these characters, if we are to have a shared memory, a shared consciousness, and also a collective unconscious. In one sense we live 'through' their lives, including all of the dramatic swings of births, marriages, divorces and deaths, not to mention their professional accomplishments and struggles.
It is in watching how much a 'star' culture has overtaken the popular culture, through the newest technologies, that one has to wonder if John Fitzgerald Kennedy, if he were among us today, after a half-century of absence, would not shake his head in sadness, reflecting on his having donned the robes of power and influence, stardom in his day, and while he clearly inspired millions of others to public service, also deeply aware of the legacy of 'tinsel' that has become the model of stardom in the early part of the twenty-first century.
And, for our part in the chorus, are we prepared, ever again, to attach such importance and awe to any individual, planting them on a pedestal of power and kleg-lights, only to then inevitably bring them down through our own inevitable jealousy and shame at having planted them there in the first place, through all of our unconscious projections....
And that, too, is an integral component to all of our democracies...the projections of the chorus onto the figures in the camera lens!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Unreasonable men and women must show defiance when government fails

It was George Bernard Shaw who reminded us that reasonable men attempt to fit into the society, while unreasonable men attempt to fit the society to them, making unreasonable men the most important, if not the only, agents of change.
As a young boy, I can recall a chant/mantra "sung" by my mother almost literally on a daily basis: "If the whole world took a walk off the town dock and drowned, would you take the same walk?" She was reinforcing her view of the "unreasonable" person, in a world filled with lemmings.
It is not too difficult to see that, in this case, the "acorn did not fall far from the tree."
There is an irony in the current battle of some "heat" and very little "light" coming out of Ottawa.
On the one hand, the government is attempting to pass an anti-bullying bill to prevent anyone from displaying images of another on the internet, without permission. On the other, the government is, simultaneously, bullying the Canadian people and the pursuit of the truth, with a histrionic display of stonewalling on who knew what, when surrounding the Senate debacle.
Various versions of documents, allegedly "protecting" some players, affidavits that seem to put in doubt some statements made on the public record of some highly placed elected and appointed persons, a Question Period now having become almost "appointment television" for many Canadians, overlaid with RCMP affidavits in pursuit of additional evidence, while all the time proclaiming there is no investigation of the PMO, and attempting to build a firewall around the prime minister....these are the signs of a well-oiled political machine that is attempting to ride out the current political storm, a storm whose core element is the pursuit of  literal, absolute and total truth in a political climate analogous to a petri dish that is friendly only to deceptions, distortions and dissembling...
Problem is that  there is such a monstrous cloud hanging over too many governments, and their actors, the politicians, that the public's disdain of the public arena is making effective governance nearly impossible.
Unreasonable men, in the case of the current spate of political scandals, would call for a public inquiry, a clearing of the air, a public decision to "take responsibility" for the pursuit of truth under the very laws which are intended to define the purpose and the parameters of the government which seems to be making the rules as it goes.
Unreasonable men, too, would put all public statements from all public leaders under a microscope, but of course we do not have either the time or the patience for such an ambitious undertaking. And so, as unreasonable men/women, we have to build our own filtering system for judging the truth, and for assembling some modicum of stability and balance in a world given to attempting to put us off balance. And a public inquiry, on our behalf, would attempt to accomplish what we, individually cannot accomplish.
We are, the unreasonable electorate, the ballast that keeps the ship of state afloat, when the winds of personal aggrandizement and personal agendas, and personal power-addictions attempt to blow the ship of state off course, and overturn it into the seas. We are all that is left between a government seeking absolute power, not only to pass laws but to define what is the national "truth" and a nation that resists such ambition. We are all that is left to protect the national interest from all those who would be so contemptuous of anything resembling a "national interest" as to throw such "interest" overboard.
Unreasonable men and women have always stood defiantly in front of the tanks in Tienanmen Square, and outside embassies and consulates and houses of government whenever and wherever such defiance was required. And it will be, once again, unreasonable men and women who demand that the government take responsibility for those issues currently abandoned, at least in Canada, such as the Canadian environment (we are at the bottom of the heap in fulfilling our responsibilities in this file, 54 out of 58 countries), of aboriginal rejection and denial, of support for those who are unable to support themselves...and all the while Ottawa fritters in a pursuit of truth from sources who might have difficulty recognizing it if and when they met it on Sparks Street Mall.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

AlQaeda clone bombs Iranian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon....is Syrian conflict spreading?

Al Qaeda affiliates struck at the Iranian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon yesterday, apparently in revenge for Iran's continuing support of Assad in the Syrian crisis. And most observers now point to a wider struggle between Shia's and Sunni's throughout the Middle East.
Little wonder that western observers suggest that any deal reached with Iran to contain, or potentially eliminate their nuclear weapons potential by the U.S. and it allies will have to satisfy, (because it clearly with not "please") very diverse actors: the Saudi's And Qatari's are financing Sunni rebels in Syria, including sadly the Al Qaeda clones, whereas Iran is blatantly supporting with men and material and funds the Shia-leaning Assad regime. Israel, whose existence is publicly and aggressively threatened by Iran and her creeping hegemonic ambitions to become a major player in the region, no matter the cost.
So will all western nations and leaders have to make a clear choice between support for Sunni's or Shia's, when that conflict is so arcane and so irrelevant, in and of itself a matter ultimately between two warring factions within a single faith.
How, for example, are leaders in the Islamic community to bring this conflict to heel? And what will the outcome be if those leaders fail in their attempt, or abandon any attempt to reconcile these two factions, in a conflict that has the potential to re-define the Middle East in ways not either contemplated or perhaps foreseen by diplomatic strategists in the west.
And what of Middle East oil, given that both the Saudi's and the Iranians are " blessed" with considerable supply, competing, when Iran is less subjected to western sanctions, to the world market and its own vagaries for revenue to support their economies.
Canada, sadly, has closed her embassy in Teheran, just at the moment when a presence in Iran would enable our diplomats to secure valuable information about the more intricate and nuances details of the ayatollah's real designs, notwithstanding the public utterances of the newly elected president of Iran. It is that kind of "binary" diplomacy, hardly worthy of the word, that the world, especially the major powers must avoid, if we are to continue to talk and work with and potentially resolve major disputes like the Iranian nuclear ambitions.
The western media is filled with expressions of Israel's continuing threat to strike Iran, whether or not that country abandons or continues to escalate her nuclear weapons program. So, in effect, there is at least one "gun" pointed at Geneva, opposed, it would seem, to any and all attempts to reach an accord with Iran, and Netanyahu is now able to point to "alliance" and "support" from some of his Middle East, Islamic neighbours, who also have contempt for Iran and her galloping ambitions for increased influence in the region.
One the surface, western leaders are dealing with a common human gordion knot: how to discern whether or not to trust those sitting on the opposite side of any negotiating table. Reagan's phrase, when dealing with the then Soviets on nuclear weapons was "trust and verify"....but that, in itself, is a hedged bet, as are all bets in the diplomatic arena apparently.
And hedged bets, including the NSA's continued spying on the friendly leaders of allied countries, do no inspire confidence among ordinary people attempting to strike a path in their daily lives that keeps them safe between and among competing and conflicting interior and external agendas and ambitions.
In a binary "archetype", in which too many people rely on "one of two choices," where reality suggests a need for a much more complex and nuanced multiple choices dependent on multiple players with very different and competing agendas...and the media continues to perform a surgical reduction on those ambiguities, as if all leaders, in order to be represented, have to face such black and white choices....
What happened to all the multiple shades of grey in the diplomatic world, and in its public reporting.
We are an extremely complex and entangled set of actors on a very fragile planetary stage, whose resources are finite while the potential for exponential growth in population and the concomitant conflicts that follow increase every day...and if we attempt to reduce our options to a binary choice, we will inevitably choose inappropriately.
We have to begin to teach our students both the dangers and the potentials hidden in every situation, and not begin by deciding that we have one of two choices....it may be that life does not work that way, that we are not, on a daily basis, reduced to A or B, although those who espouse a calculus based on one of two choices, clearly dominate our intellectual climate and culture.
In the study of literature, we are constantly exposing and exploring multiple motivations, and agendas, some of them overt and even more of them hidden and requiring detective-like surveillance.
Are we already living in an Orwellian world where vigilance and secrecy dominate and wash all real evidence of integrity and authenticity into the already polluted seas? Or can we see through the masks of our enemies, in order to discern ambitions that could potentially unite powers heretofore confirmed and historic enemies?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Women: hold the hand of your man...talk to, walk with and teach him to listen to the depth of your life, as he opens to his

First it was The Atlantic magazine's cover story; next it was David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, and now, the esteemed Munk Debates in Toronto having the gall, (some would say hutzpa!) to invite four women to debate the obsolescence...and then posting results that claimed the "pro" side won!

Of course, male sperm is being collected, for considerable dollars, in sperm banks, making it both technically possible and societally condoned for women to conceive and deliver their "own" offspring without having the impediments of having to "raise another child" in a husband.

And, of course, the graduate schools of too many universities are tilting to a majority of female students, having abandoned the 50/50 ratio nearly a decade ago, and the 75 (male)/25 (female) demographic decades ago.

And, of course, there are examples of super-women, at least that is how too many writers portray the female heads of corporations who serve as chief executive/mother/wife/friend...and for them and for their circles of influence, we can all be grateful, given that they provide a role model for our daughters who no longer are literally or metaphorically constrained by a glass ceiling that caps their dreams and ambitions.

As for the obsolescence of men, well, we, men and women, have a lot of work to do, collectively and assertively, to bring some dignity, self-respect and self-confidence to the male portion of our population...and there is not a lot of time!

So long as the loudest and most politically correct voices in our culture begin their "story" with the determined, and malignant and bullying concept that men have oppressed women for centuries, we will continue to have a problem. How dare the feministas pawn that bullshit on an unsuspecting and mostly somnolent media, and culture. It just is not, and could not be true, given the difficulty of herding men into a joint effort of such complexity.

First, men have been more than a little occupied, in their narrow and too focused minds at least, on things like finding and securing food, and warding off enemies to their families and communities, and scratching out some kind of "living" in various iterations, depending on the nature of available opportunities, agrarian, industrial, military, and even marginally artistic, and more recently technologically and even more recently, entrepreneurially, to consider, as some principal plank on a gender agenda of their own, to even take into consideration how women might feel about the historic division of labour and roles, more defined in some cultures than in others.

Oh, there are still too many organizations that are "male exclusive" in reality, if not in policy. One such institution is the Christian church, in which male leadership, especially in the Roman Catholic brand, is engraved in granite, and, once again, premised on an interpretation of "scripture" that begs serious debate and scepticism.

Men are, it is both true and tragic, more fragile and dependent that we would like to admit.

Men are, it is both true and tragic, detached from their emotional lives, and the language that would help to connect them to that part of their beings...and also resistant to the changes that would only free them and their partners should they open up to and embrace their emotional lives. It is OK, but not history-making, for Joe Clark to appear on national television to criticise the Harper government for having no interest in "soft power" and for having put all its "eggs" in the basket of hard power, (a minimal criticism) but the real import of that statement is not unpacked, even by an interviewer as sensitive and "hip" as Strombolopolous. What Clark is saying in effect, is that the definition of masculinity that restricts a government to hard power (the military, the hierarchical and the formalities), while ignoring soft power, (the diplomatic, the informal and the relational). Clark's persona is so un-macho that inspite of his incredible determination and persistence, he nevertheless has been the ridiculed joke among males in Canadian political history, much to our own loss.

Similarly, Bob Stanfield, another "progressive conservative leader," who suffered from too much "unconventional" behaviour and image, (eating a banana, for example on national television during his leadership convention) while merely telling the world he was comfortable in his own skin, and not dependent on the requirements of a politically correct perfect image.

Trudeau, also unconventional, nevertheless wore the cape of a mysterious character of fiction, or the headband and robes of the bohemian world traveller, and the pirouette (in tails) in the presence of the Queen (albeit behind her back) as his way of never falling victim to the male-generated slur of "wimp" or "gay"...the long-time enemy of all western masculinity, once again to it everlasting shame.

By taking the "high road" and by pointing their individual and collective fingers at "men" as jerks, a..holes, and the many other epithets hurled with impunity and immunity by women at men, both individually and collectively, women are taking the very steps that would see their premise become their prison.

Where are the women who know, deeply and profoundly, that men live and die for the opportunity to be loved by a woman, and who, in their apprehension of that truth, are unwilling to betray that trust by manipulating one man, or all men, into thinking that their only or best route to equality is to compete, to denigrate and insult and to effectively drive men from the "field" of even wanting to be in the game?

Where are the women, (and certainly not the "Real Women of fundamentalist Christianity) who embrace the complexity that is and has always been masculinity. We are much more, and also much less, than a penis and a bag of testosterone. We are much more, and much less, than a gun-toting hunter, or an armored weapon vying for victory in a military, or a corporate or an educational, or a sexual war (either real or simulated). We are increasingly wandering in a fog of both uncertainty, siloed from both other men and clearly from too many women, at least collectively...and if and when one of us attempts to cross the line and embrace the totality, including the vulnerability, of our authentic emotions, through a search for spirituality or a pilgrimage into self-examination, we are condemned by too many other men, and idolized by too many women, starved for our kind.

So, in effect, we are competing with other men (both the 'evolved' and the stagnant variety) for a life partner, while we compete with other men for the decreasing number of vacancies in the employment in all sectors of the economy, and with the 'tin ear' of most political and thought leaders who take the public position that anyone (or group) that complains about their lot is a victim, an archetype completely anathema to the persistent, and persistently ensnaring archetype of a reduced and constricted definition of masculinity.

To the women who are reading this, in all countries, I implore you to 'take the hand' of the man in your life, and to walk with and to talk to and to listen to and to encourage him to listen to all the intimacies and intricacies of all of the stories you have to tell, both those of obvious import to your lives and those that seem most trivial. Some time along that path, your man will open, just a small crack in the hardness of his armour, to your deeper and unresolvable complexities, without having to worry about trying to "fix" you or the problem or complexity you are presenting.

Eventually, even C.S. Lewis, the English professor at Oxford, was opened to his own vulnerability, inspite of his "up-tight" and granite persona, encouraged and enabled by his austere and frigid faith and intellect, through the complexities of a women's love, acceptance, and even adoring truths.

And if Lewis is capable of such a thawing, so then are all men, including your scribe.

And if Lewis can become a role model, then that role model is available, along with other Joe Clark's and other Leonard Cohen's and other Earle Birney's and other "stars of battle of the blades" where the macho-hockey-player learns the demands of the artistic and much more complex figure-skating competitions and trainings, in front of millions of previously closed eyes and minds and hearts.

And if that can happen in Canada, perhaps our example can be caught by others in different cultures, for different reasons and purposes.

And both the male and the female stereotype that excludes the other can eventually give way to a model of androgyny that would serve all of us much more effectively and much more tolerantly.
 

 The End of Men

Be it resolved, men are obsolete…
November 15, 2013
From the Munk Debates website, November 19, 2013

Since the beginning of human civilization, men have been the dominant sex. But now, for the first time, a host of indicators suggest that women are not only achieving equality with men but are fast emerging as the more successful sex of the species. Whether in education, employment, personal health or child rearing, statistics point to a rise in the status and power of women at home, in the workplace, and in traditional male bastions such as politics. But are men, and the age-old power structures associated with “maleness,” permanently in decline? Or do men still retain significant control over the workplace, the family and society at large, including women? In sum, where are the sexes headed in the 21st century?
To find out, the Munk Debates will move the motion: be it resolved men are obsolete...
- See more at: http://munkdebates.com/debates/the-end-of-men#sthash.4WaeVOkZ.abJC4cgc.dpuf

Friday, November 15, 2013

The long, slow, ponderous, yet viscious, path to political assassination in Washington

A decent, honourable, conscientious, even brilliant man, elected to serve in the most powerful and also most challenging job in the world is being slowly (politically) dismembered, and the spectacle is both tragic and demoralizing.
His only "failing" is that he has power that others do not want him to have. (Oh, and not so incidentally, he is black!)
Political assassinations take a variety of forms, as do tragedies like suicides. Some are instantaneous; others take much longer. Some involve the individual's single most virulent opponent taking aim, either with a weapon or drug of some considerable power, or perhaps with a plan to expose some odious and nefarious secret of the target's life and thereby render him mutilated.
Others, on a larger stage, develop under 24/7/365 kleg lights with cameras running, develop with only a little more sophistication. And often there is a gang (polite conversation would call them a coalition, but polite talk has lost its relevance for this purpose), whose narrow, narcissistic and well-funded agenda seeks and pays big dollars, most of it to others to 'do their dirty work for them' while they philanthropize museums and artistic endeavours, attending all the right cocktail parties and receptions. Their 'hit men' and 'women' are easily pawned with a few shekels of bribery money, through campaign contributions, advertising campaigns for re-election, and even slush money to keep their mouths shut about just how corrupt, yet completely secret, this kind of assassination must be.
And while the man with the large target on his back, in a perpetual 'hunting season' with unlicensed and licensed killers attempting to bag their prey, seeks to maintain his equilibrium, his elan, his composure and his decorum in the midst of this hunt, there is no doubt that anyone subjected to this kind of pressure (for which he volunteered willingly, his opponents will gleefully shout!) would drop a few details through the cracks, for which only some could reasonably be considered his "failure"....except in this blood sport with no winners.
Having secured enough votes to pass the Affordable Care Act, in his first term, with Democrats in control of both Senate and House of Representatives, after over a half-century of others' failed attempts, in one of the only very few developed and allegedly educated countries in the world that had not seen the wisdom of such an obviously needed and highly worthwhile program, he now faces a fusion of capitalist, greedy and ideologically myopic forces that include the insurance companies, most of whose executives belong to the opposition political party (Republican), obviously elected Republicans in both Houses, a culture of selfish, and basically tribal people who not only fight change but also fight it primarily on long-worn-out shibboleths of specters of "government take-over" and "socialism" or worse, "communism" the most hated word in the American lexicon, outside of AlQaeda. And that hatred, even bigotry, against communism, that itself verges on a form of racism, is at least partly the product of religious training and indoctrination, especially by the Roman Catholic church, which, for decades preached the 'gospel' that the Soviet Union was the most recent rendition of Satan, as far as they were concerned, and the Americans bought the propaganda without reservation. That sentiment is still very alive and boundlessly jumping out of various caves, both public and private across the country whenever anyone utters a word that evokes "sharing" through the public purse. It seems that the only "sacred" sharing is private, tax-credited and outside the purview of the government. Completely omitted from the conscious and public discourse on the Affordable Care Act is the fact that the cornerstone of many communities, the libraries, are a socialist/shared resource from which all people can and do draw intellectual and emotional, not to mention, spiritual sustenance. The Holy Grail has become so restricted and restrictive as to include only those activities that begin and end with the private corporations, their flush executives and their ever-tightening noose around the neck of the body politic, with their PAC's and their unleashed check-books for political campaigns, whether or not they are of an "educational value" or merely propaganda, and regardless of whether or not they spew accurate information or, the core of all military campaigns, dis-and mis-information.
That cadre of political power has and will continue to block all effective attempts to curb carbon emissions, in favour of more and more profits for their resource producing companies and their oil-rich baron-CEO's. That cadre of political power literally pours millions, if not billions, into the multiple and often camouflaged 'think tanks' that generate propaganda couched in "research" terms, as if their staff were privy to the most up-to-date and reliable information on any subject about which they produce their "dis-information".
And, since in all wars, there has to be a human target, a villain, around whom all of the marching parades of sycophant-soldiers can chant "Evil!" "Satan!" "Hitler!" "Stalin!" and any other name of an historic figure whose name evokes passionate contempt among the mob, whose control, the 'gang' can and has purchased through their domination of media outlets, if not directly in ideological directives, at least indirectly through their ownership of the shares, and their power to hire and fire their increasingly subservient scribes, editors and management.
One such example, recently, concerns a CBS-60 Minutes apology for having mistakenly given 'air-time' to a 'source' who told a different story to the FBI than he did to the CBC-60Minutes viewers, about the role of AlQaeda in Benghazi, when the U.S. Ambassador to  Lybia was assassinated. The 60-Minutes story fueled the frenzy at the time, around the adminstration's failure to provide adequate security for U.S. representatives, and the target of both the failure to protect, and also the failure to "tell the truth" as the opposition will always put it, focusing on the "integrity quotient" of the targeted villain. Only now do we learn that the questionable interview on CBS was part of a book about the incident, the content of which CBS "assumed" had been vetted, and the publisher of the book employs as its senior editor, Mary Matlin, former assistant to Vice-president Richard Cheney, he whom many argue, should be brought before the International Criminal Court, for war crimes committed while he and Dubya were in power.
It does not take a rocket scientist to connect the dots from the "Republican inner circle" and Senators like Graham and McCain who were most vociferous in condemning the president for failure to "protect" the ambassador and his staff to Matlin and the CBS interview...whether the link was one designed as an overt campaign initiative or more subtly one of co-incidence. It really does not matter.
As one talking pundit on NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook pointed out earlier today, "Over 80% of the media have turned negative in their coverage of the Affordable Care Act, and with all the other problems, and reversals, this will be a very difficult problem for the president to overcome."
And as George Stephanopolous put it when asked how important the latest reversal (permission to keep existing insurance policies) could be to the rest of the president's second term, "If he loses credibility on this, he could lose it on many other important issues like immigration...and any others he may wish to accomplish in this second term."
The Republican/corporate/PAC/media/social media/public disillusionment with politicians...gestalt when arrayed against one single target, a decent, honourable, intellectually gifted and highly principled black man/president will never relent unless and until their target has been decimated on the field of battle, and they regain control of the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016, thereby triumphally completing their savage and vicious and take-no-prisoners war against someone with whom they refuse to debate, and to whom they refuse to offer ideas that could be compared with those offered by the president, and from whom they continue to squeeze every drop of political blood in his formerly flush veins, now emaciated through attrition, in their protracted and public (yet clouded in both impunity and immunity) military/gangland political assassination.
The United States has devolved, at least in this one important act in their political drama, into a third-world banana republic in which there are no real winners, and the biggest losers are the American people, but the date to be remembered will be the day when all of his valiant efforts on behalf of the ordinary people he was elected to serve have been thrown under the bus.
Little wonder, with foreign policy the exclusive purview of the executive branch, that more and more energy and emphasis and headlines will focus on the wider world, now that the noose of obstruction has cut off all oxygen from the real purpose of Washington, effective and honourable governance. That American ideal is now lost, and the president's legacy will bear the burden of that tragedy until history will no longer be written. And, the rest of the world can only mourn how Americans "eat their own" especially when the feeding frenzy is the work designed and delivered by the "right-wing conspiracy" that nearly felled Clinton also.

Congratulations to Krakow: UNESCO's City of Literature, an award for other cities to strive to achieve!

Krakow's story: a Unesco City of Literature built out of books

Home to two literary festivals, busy book fairs, clubs and writer after writer – this is a town where people queue for poetry
By Antonia Lloyd-Jones, theguardian.com, November 14, 2013

To mark Krakow's appointment as Unesco City of Literature, a set of super-sized, multi-coloured letters were placed in the iconic medieval Marketlplace ("Rynek"), spelling out "Krakow, City of Literature" in Polish ("Miasto literatury"). Overnight, the citizens demonstrated their creative spirit by rearranging the letters to form messages of their own (some not fit to be printed).

Krakow lives and breathes literature. No city could be more eminently qualified for the Unesco title, which is now in its seventh year, with Edinburgh and Norwich among previous recipients. It's hard to imagine how it can add to its existing plethora of literary events: it hosts two annual international literary festivals, a book fair, and any number of poetry readings; it is home to the Polish Book Institute – a superb public organisation which exists to promote Polish literature at home and abroad. It's also home to several publishing houses, from old and traditional to young and ground-breaking.

Krakow's literary residents have included the Nobel prize-winning poets Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska, science fiction writer Stanisław Lem and satirical playwright Sławomir Mrożek. Its living, internationally acclaimed poets include Adam Zagajewski and Ewa Lipska.

Literary Krakow has much to offer foreign visitors as well as Poles. The Conrad festival, and the Miłosz festival, held in October and May respectively, regularly present authors from all over the world, with past heavyweights including Seamus Heaney (who had many close friends here), Orhan Pamuk, Zadie Smith, Robert Hass and Adonis. The city has many ideal venues for cultural events – theatres, museums, medieval churches, restored synagogues, and atmospheric cafes, all within walking distance of the Rynek. Whenever a festival is in full swing, the whole city reverberates with poetry and music – they even project poems onto the 700-year-old town hall tower.

There are plenty of less official ways to enjoy literature in Krakow all year round, whether you know Polish or not. It is the best place to indulge in a bookshop crawl – even the passageway under the station platforms is lined with secondhand book stalls – and the English-language Massolit bookshop, café and venue is a book-lover's dream. Enter one of the cafes in the little streets off the Rynek or a bar in the old Jewish district of Kazimierz, and you're likely to see somebody sitting over a laptop writing a poem or a novel. Stay until evening and you might hear them reading it out – not least at the monthly "Talking Dog", where writers and performers are invited to talk about anything they like for a maximum of five minutes, as five red light bulbs go off in turn to mark the end of each minute. An English-language edition is being launched on 21 November at the Piękny Pies – "Beautiful Dog" – night club.

This event comes out of a Krakow tradition of combining literature and performance, which has always been encouraged by the many writers who have lived there. Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska – who referred to her award as "the Stockholm Tragedy" and retained the irreverent spirit of a schoolgirl until her death at 88 – was a regular instigator of unusual creative activities such as rude limerick competitions and lotteries offering bizarre jumble-sale prizes. In her youth she lived in the Writers' House on Krupnicza Street, set up after the war as a refuge for authors displaced from ruined Warsaw and elsewhere; just about every successful Polish writer stayed there at some time.

One important fixture was the Piwnica Pod Baranami cabaret, where scientists mixed with artists. In its heyday, the eminent physician and essayist Andrzej Szczeklik regularly played the piano there, while historian Norman Davies (a part-time resident of Krakow) played his accordion, and the great philosopher Leszek Kołakowski sang arias from famous operas. Rather than dampen Krakow's performing spirit, the constraints of communism fanned its flames; in the days of censorship, a banned literary journal was defiantly read aloud in a church each month. The genius behind it was the poet Bronisław Maj, whose post-communist contributions to Krakow literary life include dressing in a headscarf and pinny to deliver the inimitable monologues of Pani Lola, the cloakroom attendant at the Writers' Union, who revealed all the great writers' most intimate secrets, and her own crucial, Muse-like role in their literary success.

Oddly, as Adam Zagajewski points out in a short film made to coincide with Krakow's new role, there is no great novel about Krakow (yet), though it has inspired numerous short stories and poems by Poles and others. More than anything, it's a city that prompts unforgettable shared moments. When, after many years in exile, Czesław Miłosz came to live in Krakow in the 1990s, his presence prompted a unique gathering of 18 poets from east and west, including Paul Muldoon, Tomas Transtromer, Tomas Venclova, K Williams and Natalia Gorbanevskaya. After several well received readings, the poets went to a café in the marketplace, where each occupied a separate table to sign books and chat to their readers. To the organisers' amazement, a huge queue formed. "What are you queuing for?" asked curious passers-by. "For the poets," they heard, and joined the queue.