Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Honour killings" bring dishonour to all human beings everywhere

There is no way for a western observer to comprehend the stoning of a family member, especially the stoning of a female family member who, while pregnant, has chosen the person with whom she wishes to spend her life with. There is also no comprehension, in the west, about the manner in which women are being treated by some in various parts of the world.
Denying young girls a formal education, as part of the path to escape the kind of domestic bondage to which women have been "subjected" for centuries, and denying those same women the right to dress as they wish and also to choose the partner, for love, are also concepts we find heinous and intolerable.
We watch as young Muslim women walk a few paces behind their male partners, on our streets, covered almost in what we would consider a 'nun's' habit, so that their whole being is hidden from public view, except their faces, and we wonder what other kinds of "oppression" they are suffering under their male partners, their fathers and their brothers.
And while human rights abuses take on multiple forms, in many countries, the rights of women may well be, or will become, the primary focus of human rights abuses in this century.
In the contemporary landscape of news stories that have inflamed the whole world, the Boko Haram kidnapping of some 300 young girls from their dormitories in Nigeria ranks as a possible turning point, along with the shooting of the young Pakistani girl, Malala by the Taliban.
The west is slowing awakening to the plight of women around the world, although there is also a considerable degree of oppression of women, more subtle and based on making money through advertising, modelling, and in a perversion of the "Pygmalion" archetype, turning young women into cash-cows, through photo-shoots of their barely clad bodies both for 'entertainment' (porn) and for the purpose of selling various products.
So the perception of women's sexuality, whether for capitalistic profit or for political morality, another form of ideology, is a central issue for the world's consideration. And there seems to be a widening gap between the perceptions, values and aspirations for women in the west from that in many countries in the east and Middle East.
Yesterday we read of another stoning of a pregnant woman in Lahor Pakistan, that revolted many westerners.
Here is a brief account from the Globe and Mail:
A pregnant woman was stoned to death Tuesday by her own family outside a courthouse in the Pakistani city of Lahore for marrying the man she loved.
The woman was killed while on her way to court to contest an abduction case her family had filed against her husband. Her father was promptly arrested on murder charges, police investigator Rana Mujahid said, adding that police were working to apprehend all those who participated in this “heinous crime.” ( By K.M. Chaudhry and Zaheer Babar, The Associated Press. in Globe and Mail, May 27, 2014)
However, such 'honour killings' are also occurring in Canada, where there have been some study done on their meaning by professionals whose credentials fit the task.
Here is a brief excerpt of an report from one such professional:
Dr. Amin Muhammad is a psychiatrist at Memorial University in St. John's, N.L., who is currently working on a report for the federal government about honour killings in Canada. He said there've been 13 such cases in the country since 2002.
"We are seeing an upward trend," he said. "More cases are coming to the forefront in the legal system."Noting honour killings are not in any way condoned in the Qur'an, Islam's holy book, he suggested the idea is coming up more as a defence for murder by people hoping to take advantage of Canada's cultural sensitivity in order to receive a more lenient sentence.He also said he suspects mental-health issues are behind most cases."We cannot rule out personality disorder among the perpetrators or some sort of psychopathology," he said."I think all such cases should be evaluated from a mental-health perspective."Muhammad said that since the UN began cracking down on the issue of honour killings, no country is any longer officially supporting the practice.That said, a report Muhammad published two years ago found a number of countries actually allow for a partial or full defence against criminal charges on the basis of honour killing, including: Argentina, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Guatemala, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Venezuela, Peru and Egypt.While many recent cases in western society involve Muslims, Muhammad said honour killings have also been committed in the name of Hinduism, Sikhism and Christianity. (By Tobi Cohen, Canwest News Service, in Vancouver Sun, May 27, 2014)Unfortunately, however, while 'personality disorder' may be a significant contributing factor in these heinous events, there is also a social, political and cultural side to the issue.Can the world simply stand by, as too many in the west have done when mass killings have occurred in the United States in particular, and merely dismissed these acts as those of people suffering a personality disorder, or does the fact of these occurrences demand some collective, concerted and preventive action?Is there not, and we respectfully submit that there is, some broader social, political and cultural development in these acts which the 'body politic' cannot and must not ignore? Are we witnessing, not only the emergence of 'personality disorders' in greater numbers, but also acts that demean not only those who are victims, and those committing these acts, but also the whole of a society that countenances such acts, while not being able or willing to take collective steps to provide the safety and security of too many innocent people, like young children and women.Case studies, while necessary to the establishment of culpability in legal matters, do eventually link and combine into a coalesced mass of public opinion which says, "We have to take collective action to reduce the impact of these inhuman acts of cruelty and brutality, especially when we can see that the most vulnerable are under attack."And our response does not have to be more heinous than the acts which we are attempting to prevent. We all have a massive task ahead of us if we are to create conditions in which women and young girls, especially, are to be able to make the kinds of choices that we consider normal and acceptable, in conditions free from fear and assassination, from those whom they considered part of their family.And, while in too many places, those committing these heinous acts, in the name of 'family honour' are too often given very light sentences, if any, dependent on sloppy police and prosecutorial work, these acts will not only continue but perhaps even grow in numbers.There is, or at least there seems to be, something like penetrating education and transformation of human values that we might consider, at the highest levels of our political decision-making, to begin to address this form of terror against women and young girls.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Muslim Brotherhood, a threat to Canada? according to a report, perhaps!

Declared a terrorist organization in Egypt, with hundreds of their members jailed, and under investigation in the United Kingdom, the Muslim Brotherhood is now named in a reported entitled, The Muslim Brotherhood in North America as seeking to provoke, incite and accomplish systemic overthrow of existing free and open societies.
This year, British Prime Minister David Cameron ordered an inquiry into the group’s activities in the U.K.
"What I think is important about the Muslim Brotherhood is that we understand what this organization is, what it stands for, what its beliefs are in terms of the path of extremism and violent extremism, what its connections are with other groups, what its presence is here in the United Kingdom. Our policies should be informed by a complete picture of that knowledge," Cameron said in April.
(Tom) Quiggin (author of the report and a court expert on terrorism and member of the Terrorism and Security Experts of Canada Network, ) believes that the organization’s period of relative moderation has come to an end and it is now becoming “increasingly aggressive in its actions."
But the threat facing Canadians is not so much physical but more systemic.
"This is cultural, this is political, this is a different kind of threat," he said.
The goal of the Brotherhood in North America is to establish front organizations and eventually gain political power, he said.
These front organizations are interlinked by a common ideology, set of beliefs and set of leaders, Quiggin said.
The Brotherhood has already tried to spread influence and raise money through these adherent groups, which have "sought to systematically and repeatedly circumvent and break Canadian regulations and laws," according to the report....
“The aim of the group in North America is to weaken and destroy the free and open societies within Canada and the U.S.A. from within and replace them with the heavily politicized views of [founder] Hassan Banna, Sayyid Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood,” according to the report, entitled The Muslim Brotherhood in North America (Canada/U.S.).
The report, written by Tom Quiggin, a court expert on terrorism and member of the Terrorism and Security Experts of Canada Network, raises concerns about the Brotherhood’s alleged ties to Canadian organizations, some which have either been accused of being terrorist organizations or alleged to have links to extremist groups. (From CBC News. May 27, 2014)
Who are the Muslim Brotherhood?
The Muslim Brotherhood (known in Arabic as al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen) is a transnational organization headquartered in Egypt. Founded by Hassan al-Banna in Ismailia, Egypt in 1928, the brotherhood is the oldest and largest Islamic political group, with representation in most Middle Eastern countries.
According to the group’s founding document, it is "an international Muslim Body, which seeks to establish Allah’s law in the land by achieving the spiritual goals of Islam and the true religion." The current chairman of the group is Mohamed Badie. Due to its often fraught relationship with ruling parties across the Middle East, the Muslim Brotherhood operates under different names in different countries, from the Al-Menbar Islamic Society in Bahrain to Hadas in Kuwait to the Islamic Movement in Israel. Hamas, the party that currently rules Gaza, is a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. To circumvent a ban on the group in Egypt, the Brotherhood fields independent candidates in elections.(From CBC News January 31, 2011)
Muslim Brotherhood beliefs:
Al-Banna founded the group as a response to a growing secularism in Muslim society. The Brotherhood views liberal Arab governments as an impediment to the establishment of Islamic states.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s stated objectives, as laid out in the group’s founding document, are as follows:
  • Inform the masses of Islamic teachings.
  • Unify mankind under Islamic teachings as well as bring "closer the viewpoints of the Islamic sects."
  • Raise the standard of living of marginalized people.
  • Expand social justice and social insurance to cover every citizen.
  • "Liberate the Islamic nation from the yoke of foreign rule."
  • Establish the country as an Islamic state and defend the nation against "the internal enemies."
  • Support global co-operation based on the provisions of Islamic Sharia law.
As one  born and raised in what many would consider a "free and open" society, Canada, I am sensitive to the implications of this report, given how innocent and naïve the Canadian culture is to threats from organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood. Accommodating thousands of immigrants each year, and absorbing them into our workplaces, our governments and our communities has significantly enriched the Canadian "mosaic" as it has traditionally been called. Pockets of various immigrants cultures have been integrated, relatively smoothly, if not completely assimilated, in all provinces and regions of the country. However, with some exceptions, we have not witnessed, or found the need for such a report as the one just released.
Naturally, we concur with one of the report's recommendations, that Canada co-operate with Great Britain in the investigation of the Brotherhood, and that perhaps our advance scrutiny of immigrants requires additional detailed checks, in addition to uncovering the organizations within the country that have already been 'engaged' in supporting the goals and aims of the Brotherhood, perhaps even without knowledge of that purpose.
While the Brotherhood disavows "jihad" in the Al Qaeda model, systemic penetration of a non-lethal nature can be, and often is even more 'lethal' to an established culture and society's norms than what might be accomplished through violence.
Canada is not Egypt, nor any of the Middle East countries and we are not willing to move in that direction, under influence of any organization that espouses Sharia Law, whether imposed through violence and terror, or through more 'moderate' and 'modest' measures like political influence. Witness the right's victory yesterday in France, and the anti-Semitism that is finding resonance in many parts of Europe and in Russia. The world is considerably "smaller" from the perspective of transmission of information, including political interference, and there is a need in all countries to guard and protect the freedoms and the openness that have characterized our culture and our history, and even to move to enhance those freedoms and that openness, not to restrict it with a tidal wave of Islamic extremism, of any kind.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Soros: "Russism," a new word to describe Putin's percption of Russian ethnic superiority and nationalism that threatens Europe

Sometimes, we have listen to those who have no political office to maintain to find out what kind of situation we might be facing. Such people, and I am specifically thinking of American businessman and philanthropist, George Soros, have access to information and to the microphones that disseminate such information that no politician would be ready to discuss. Soros has a considerable interest in the future of Europe, has established a foundation to assist in the development of open societies in countries such as Ukraine, and studies the situation from a much broader perspective even than those whose careers focus on the needs and instruments of foreign policy and diplomacy.
In his interview with Fareed Zakaria, on CNN's Global Public Square yesterday, Soros expressed some concerns that might, or should, interest a wide and deep audience. He suggested that Putin's activities in Ukraine ("he came out of the closet in Ukraine") and his (Putin's) perception of a dangerous genetic superiority of Russia and his overt attempt to destabilize the European Union through Russian nationalism, while not precisely "fascism," is quite dangerous, and here Soros used a new word, Russism, to describe a new ideology  based on Russian superiority. And linked to China through both trade and common interests, this new Russism, according to Soros, is a development to which the world needs to pay close attention.

Here is s portion of the interview Fareed Zakaria did with George Soros yesterday (May 25, 2014) on CNN's GPS
ZAKARIA:  You have been very pessimistic or - or gloomy about Europe. Um, do you think that in this Ukraine situation, you're seeing another aspect of the tragedy of Europe, the lack of collective action?
SOROS:  Unfortunately, Europe is very weak.  It's preoccupied with its internal problems, which are unresolved.  The euro - the euro crisis is no longer a financial crisis, is turning into a political crisis.  And you're going to see it in the elections.  And - and Putin...
ZAKARIA:  Explain what that means.
It's going to be - you're going to see it in the elections because you're going to see the rise of nationalist, anti-European forces?
SOROS:  Yes.  And interestingly, they are supported by Russia and pro-Russian.  So Russia has emerged as an alternative to the European Union.  Putin has sort of come out of the closet in - in Ukraine with an ideology that is Nationalist based on ethnic nationalism.  You could call it Russism...
ZAKARIA:  Right.
SOROS:  - that's a new word to describe it, because I don't want to call it Nazi, because it is very similar to what you had in the interwar period...fascism.  You know...
ZAKARIA:  Protecting your ethnic groups with military force, if necessary...
SOROS:  Well, it's more than that.  It's - as an ideology, a new sort of myth of Russian superiority.  If you - those who watch Putin's speeches, he actually has revealed this new myth of Russian genetic superiority.  You might have heard that previously from someone else.  It's a - a new ideology based on ethnic Russian superiority.
ZAKARIA:  And as you say, a lot of these nationalists who are we - who are doing well in European - these European-wide elections seem very pro-Russian...
SOROS:  Yes.
ZAKARIA:  - whether on the left or the right. Do you think this nationalism could break up the European Union?
SOROS:  Yes.  It's a real threat.  And - and Europe needs to recognize it.  And we need to recognize it, actually.  We need to have a bipartisan foreign policy.  We used to have that and we have lost it.  So we need to reestablish it, because there is a real threat.  It's a ret - it's a threat to America, also, because what's happening in - in Ukraine and in - in Europe is having repercussions in - in Asia.  You know, the - the Chinese drilling rig that is establishing facts on the ground...(in Vietnam)
So, if the west is too focused on the short-term crisis in Ukraine, if I read Soros correctly, there is a danger that we might miss the longer-term ambitions of Putin's perception of Russian ethnic superiority and the combination of both overt and covert moves he has, is and will continue to take to magnetize a vulnerable Europe as a counter-magnet to the west. And he could and likely will use China as support for his larger design.
The word "Asian Union" was allegedly used by Chinese Premier in ShiangHi in his speech this week, announcing that $400 billion energy purchase over thirty years from Russia, as compared with the normal phrase used by President Obama, the "Asian-Pacific Union" which would and does include the United States.
If China and Russia are proposing the development of an Asian Union that excludes the United States, and that threatens Europe's congruency and stability, then Ukraine could well be seen as a minor skirmish very quickly, inspite of the many lives already lost.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A respectful submission for an alternative "problem" to the BBC Longitude Contest

In 1714, the British government passed the Longitude Act, which offered a prize to anyone who solved a great challenge of the time  accurately determining a ship's longitude. Navigation problems caused wrecks and trade disruption, so the prize was large  20,000 pounds, $3.5 million by today's standards. A working class clockmaker eventually won after years of developing reliable marine clocks, or "chronometers," that allowed sailors to pinpoint their position at sea.
  1. Fast forward 300 years and Britain is offering the Longitude Prize again  this time it's $17 million for solving one of humanity's biggest problems. And a group in the U.K. is letting citizens pick the problem this time. Asking them through a BBC poll if it should be:
  • Flight – How can we fly without damaging the environment?
  • Food – How can we ensure everyone has nutritious sustainable food?
  • Antibiotics – How can we prevent the rise of resistance to antibiotics?
  • Paralysis – How can we restore movement to those with paralysis?
  • Water – How can we ensure everyone can have access to save and clean water?
  • Or Dementia – How can we help people with dementia to live independently for longer?
(From Fareed Zakaria, GPS, May 25, 2014)
Sorry, BBC, but we are not satisfied with your list of options.
We would respectively and even fearfully like to add a seventh:
Human tolerance of all people (including their ideologies, faith beliefs, communities and practices, gender orientation and economic status)
The list of problems detailed by the BBC is exclusively "extrinsic" and focuses on: 
  1. the provision of some balance between movement and the environment, or
  2. the provision of food and the environment, or
  3. the provision of drugs to combat disease, or
  4. the enhancement of movement for those suffering paralysis, or
  5. the provision of clean drinking water, or
  6. the provision of a longer physical and autonomous life for those with dementia....
all of them extremely worthy problems needing attention, research, solutions and the reward of the $17 million you are offering.
However, none of these problems can or will be resolved in a sustainable manner for a future that includes a minimum of one century of life on the planet without a reversal of the general and somewhat legitimate human pattern of bettering one another, of competing with each other in all areas of our lives, and a transformation of human attitudes from the pursuit of survival at the expense of the other, to a shared pursuit of the authentic and unrestrained acceptance of the rights, aspirations, and the legitimate needs of food, shelter, work, safety... for actually accomplishing one's life in dignity, honour, respect and freedom from fears imposed by threats of a human origin or a natural root or some combination of human and natural.
And the more abstract issue of human rights, dignity, value, tolerance and respect in a world free of the deeply entrenched arms trade, the pursuit of power over instead of empowerment, and the acceptance of a shared, warranted and rewarded participation in a common, universal and sustained security of the individual, the family, the tribal, national and global interests and resources  is much more intractable and fundamental to the provision of all the other legitimate problems.
This is not solely an issue of economic and political ideology, nor is it an argument of the provision of international institutions that can and will shape the path to a different and both transformed and transformative perception of the human being, and his place in the universe, as one of interdependence and collaboration, nor is it an issue of religious inter-faith accommodation and celebration of the tenets and the rituals and the beliefs of all faiths (as in Bahai), nor is it an educational/learning initiative to better acquaint each country's people with its neighbours regionally and across the globe, nor is it only a question of the sovereignty of outer space and unclaimed oceans, or of land masses, or a question of the provision of institutions like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, nor any one or a combination of the original six problems outlined in the announcement of the Latitude Award.
It is a matter that encompasses a new way of conceptualizing the problem, not from a single and legitimate academic perspective, but rather from a gestalt perspective in which the whole is the focus and not the individual parts of the problem. It is really, metaphorically, an application of the theories of relativity and quantum physics and micro-biology and macro-economics and history and meta-history, anthropology and astrophysics, calculus and philosophy, language and epistemology, theology and the shared issues common to all human beings and all academic pursuits.
We are at one and the same time, as Rollo May has reminded us, both subject and object, both within a time frame and transcendent of time, competitive in the extreme and altruistic to a similar degree, hopeful and fearful, creative and destructive, warlords and refugees from human conflict, mothers and fathers, men and women, workers and homeless, scientists and poets, while at the same time, androgynous beings capable of both comprehending and accepting the 'gifts' of our individual and our collective Shadows, if and when we are offered the secure opportunity of such a pursuit. We are also unique individuals and socially hard wired for relationships who can and do exhibit a capacity for annihilation and for mutual restrain, for commitment to legitimate contractual obligations and a profound intolerance for restrictive authority of any and all kinds.
We have, through the somewhat and sometimes heroic achievements of our ancestors, achieved some success in the goal of human tolerance and acceptance and respect and dignity of the other. And now, with this BBC initiative, it is time, surging on the wave of digital technology to bring much more information to the design of the problem of the pursuit of our shared and balanced and sustainable futures, to make a quantum leap forward in our understanding of and our commitment to those common and agreed needs and aspirations that depend on a vision of the limits of our needs, and the raised ceilings of our imaginations.
If  this "problem" is deemed too large for human solution, as some may legitimately consider it to be, and therefore unworthy of consideration in this contest, then consider the alternative of how a ranking of the original six problems is a reduction of what is perceived as within the realm of the possible, the feasible, the reasonable and the measureable. It is our empiricism and our need for benchmarks that has simultaneously stirred our achievements and restricted our vision.
And perhaps it is time for us to reconfigure how we approach the situation in which the world finds itself, not from a mere apocalyptic and frightened perspective but also and simultaneously from a magical and courageous and unrestricted perspective that is not reducible to what is already known (in both content and in method) but that stretches the human capacity for adventure and for discovering and sharing new horizons of possibilities not currently within our epistemology or our understanding.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Reflections on perfectionism

For the second or third time, my wife and I just watched a re-run of the Sandra Bullock-Hugh Grant comedy, Two Weeks Notice. While I did not recall many of the specific comedic scenes, I also did not have a vivid recall of the scene in which Grant's character, George, explains to "Lucy" (Bullock) why no one wants to be with her, that she has such high expectations, like noting the split infinitive in his last speech, and that such "perfectionists" are "boring" his words.
Perfectionism, that dreaded disease that afflicts many of us who have spent decades practicing the piano, or perhaps other decades "perfecting" our skills as brains surgeons, or "perfecting" our skills in detecting many of the details we face on the faces of those we meet, in an endless search for full awareness of the complexity of the immediate social terms, is both dangerous and destructive, especially to relationships, where "moderation" equals mediocrity.
Once, in a private conversation with a bishop whose duty it was to "filter" candidates for ministry, I heard these words, "No congregation wants to hear the full truth; they can't stand it!" And upon hearing those words, I wondered, silently, of course, why I had chosen to pursue a life in active ministry if the full truth were not going to be permitted in that pursuit. And then I quickly learned, to my dismay, that politics trumps truth-telling in the church, that whom one associates with is more important than whether that person tells the truth, faces the truth or even wants the truth in his or her spiritual journey.
Persistence, in the pursuit of full disclosure, is one of the most noxious of social diseases. It offends those who have chosen to hide their private lives from the eyes and ears of their families for decades. It offends those who know members of their family who have hidden their pasts, and have developed a family "rule" never to speak of that 'dark' truth forever.
It offends those who believe that the telling of 'dark' truths is an offence to the human condition, so dependent is that condition, in their minds, on a "rose-coloured-glasses" picture of the past, the present and the future.
Since it is a prevalent and growing disease, especially in circles in which snobbery triumphs, political correctness reigns, and let's look at some of the reasons why many of us protect our mask of demanding, pursuing and expecting perfection.
First, we know that we are not now, and never have been fully adequate, in whatever endeavour we have pursued. Whether we failed in our final examinations for our 'associate' degree in piano studies, or whether we failed in our first, second and third attempt to acquire an undergraduate degree, or whether we were refused admission to both a doctoral program and law school, the first based on an unprofessional letter of reference by an anal-retentive math-grad high school principal, the second based on poor undergraduate grades, or whether, for many years we heard the words, "You are no good and you never will be any good, just like your father!" so often that in our innocent adolescence we believed there had to be some merit to the evaluation....the message of inadequacy was writ both large and indelible in our minds, our hearts and in our belief systems.
And so, we kept our 'nose clean' and kept on marching to a drummer that demanded more than any
human being should have had to "put out"...and in a manner that kept us driving for more....more responsibility, more respect (that illusive and illusional elixir that never fills the bottomless pit of a "worthless spirit". We applied for more positions than we should have. We attended more interviews than we could expect to be approved in. We performed more tasks, professionally and extra-curricularly than our families deserved (guaranteeing our continual absence) and we also hit a wall when, on a long walk in the northern Ontario forest, we suddenly grasped an epiphany: What if the Christian faith really were true, that a man-God named Jesus, the Christ Resurrected, actually died for us, and to atone for our sins, our's and our neighbours, not only our neighbours, then why were we playing God and imposing our limited perception on this universal act of grace, meaning that 'that' was only for the destitute people, and for me?
And then, without skipping beat, we wandered off on another voyage of self-discovery, to delve even more deeply into why we were so driven to  succeed, and to encounter new mountains and seas of awareness of our perceived compulsion to work longer and harder than our bodies and our minds and our spirits could sustain.
And, in the process, we were provided with opportunities like training in pastoral skills and post mortem reflections that were dependent on our enhanced awareness of our identity, especially as perceived by others whose perceptions were not based on any authority or obligation to please, but rather on a sceptical penetration of insights that challenged our illusions, removed many of them, and caused us to further question our basic assumptions of our identity and purpose. And when we overlaid our 'work ethic' with our affective learnings and began to discover how we had become a human "doing" instead of a human "being" and then we proceeded on another 'trip' to grow new comprehensions of what it means to mature and become a 'man' in a world dominated by controlling women, without our learning, first and foremost, that acceptance of self, fully, completely and unconditionally was the sine qua non of any healthy human relationship and that such acceptance would always be a work in progress, and never a finished "product".
And with the help of a partner who too, accepted her vulnerabilities and her incompleteness, as well as mine, we were finally able to begin to walk a trail over whose entrance were emblazoned the words "Go gently into the dark are not alone" and find those words full of meaning and truth, not the kind of public and political truth that passes for "reality" in the practical sense world, but rather a deeper and more sustained, less fickle and  less stable reality of mood, or of intellectual prowess, a truth that was firmly grounded in open and full disclosure of all truths: factual, fiscal, emotional and a spirit of a conjoined search for each other, ourselves and a new self, the relationship.
Once, in an acrimonious conversation with a former professional colleague who had deeply and profoundly hurt me, in a character reference that far exceeded both ethical and professional boundaries, probably out of the jealousy of an extremely insecure man, he said, "I understand that you are unhappy with me; so let's have a conversation with you laying out all of your arguments and I will counter every one with mine!" in an act of desperate hubris.
To which I immediately retorted, "It is not a matter of winning an argument for God's sake! It is a matter of trust and I simply do not trust you!
And in that conversation, I became aware of just how much I had pandered to the political powers that had impact on my life, and sacrificed my truth in too many situations, in order to appear "perfect" but really as I then saw it, simply acceptable.
I believed that had I not been so "compliant" and adaptable, I would never have been accepted, and the truth was really that I could never be accepted unless and until I accepted myself, something that was denied me in my developmental years, and something that repeated itself in the many chapters of my first five decades.
Today, I have retained some of the nuanced and detailed pursuit of a life that accepts the limits of my abilities and my mortality, without the condemnation of restricted breathing or sleepless nights because I am not "good enough" but the battle is never over and will be with me until my last breath.

Ontario NDP prospects dim, and federal NDP is watching with concern for 2015

Ontario is Canada's largest province, with the largest population outside of Quebec, so the voting patterns of Ontario voters in provincial elections can be and often are a barometer of things to come in federal elections. This spring, Ontario voters will go to the polls on June 12, following a decision by the NDP not to support the Liberal budget and force the minority government to call an election. Emerging from the campaign of the Tories under current Harris-clone leader Tim Hudak are two prominent numbers: 100,000 and 1,000,000.
The first number is the number of civil service jobs Hudak would cut, if he became premier.
The second number is the number of new jobs, through the private sector, spurred by tax cuts he would introduce, Hudak promises under a Conservative government, if elected.
These are simplistic numbers, easily displayed in all media ads for the Tories, and easily digested by even the least interested voter, a standard that all political statements have to meet. However, they are also highly misleading and deceptive, covering up a multitude of issues with which the voters of Ontario are very familiar. Only a few years ago, another Conservative premier promised a similar ideologically pure right-wing agenda, and one of the results was the death of two and the severe illness of several others from water contamination directly attributable to reductions in water inspectors in Walkerton, an example of the potential buried in civil service cuts that Premier Kathleen Wynne points to at every press briefing when asked to comment on Hudak's "jobs" proposal. "Replacing pay slips with pink slips" is how Wynne characterizes his position.
Relying on the private sector for his "jobs engine" is also a proposition fraught with peril, given the resistance of the private sector to increase investment in either capital equipment or hiring in a modestly sluggish economy.
For her part, Andrea Horwath, the NDP leader explained her party's withdrawal of support for the minority Liberal government  because "we could not trust the Liberals to follow through in implementing their budget proposals". However, that budget was filled with NDP-friendly proposals including:

Establishing a new 10-year, $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund to partner with business to  attract investments, strengthen Ontario’s strategic sectors and support the province’s future economic growth.
  • Giving small businesses the tools they need to conserve energy, manage costs and save money.
  • Helping large businesses with their electricity costs.
  • Expanding the reach of Ontario’s exports to fast-growing emerging markets, to help many small and medium-sized businesses grow and create jobs.

  • Investing in Transportation and Infrastructure
    Ontario’s projected population growth will result in significant demand for all types of infrastructure.  That is why the Province is planning to invest more than $130 billion in public infrastructure over the next 10 years, including:
    • Dedicating funding to make nearly $29 billion available over the next 10 years for transportation infrastructure across the province.
    • Investing a total of $2.5 billion in 2014–15 for highway rehabilitation and expansion projects across the province.
    • Supporting municipal roads and bridges through a new permanent $100 million fund.
    An Ontario-based retirement plan 
    • To help Ontarians, especially middle-income earners, be more secure in their retirement, the 2014 Ontario Budget proposes the first-of-its-kind provincial pension plan that builds on the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).
    A CPP enhancement would have long-term economic benefits by growing the economy and creating jobs, while providing for a more secure retirement for all working Canadians. Given the federal government’s decision to shut down discussions on an enhancement to CPP, Ontario will be developing a “made-in-Ontario” solution — the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP).
    The ORPP would:
    • Build on the key features of the CPP, including a predictable monthly benefit in retirement that is indexed to inflation and paid for life.
    •  Increase retirement savings while keeping contribution rates low.
    •  Be introduced in 2017, beginning with large employers, with contributions phased in over two years. 
    • Increase the level of earnings covered beyond what is currently covered by the CPP
    • Lowering costs in the system over the last 18 months, reducing what people would have otherwise paid by about $520 over the next five years.
    • Proposing to remove the Debt Retirement Charge cost from residential users’ electricity bills after December 31, 2015, saving a typical residential ratepayer about $70 per year
    (From the Government of Ontario, Department of Finance website.)

    Clearly the Liberals calculated that if the NDP vetoed the budget, they would put themselves at the mercy of the potential campaign strategy of being swept aside by the debate between the Liberals and the Conservatives, and lose their current 21-member standing in the Legislature. Furthermore, the  budget, with NDP support in a minority government would have had more chance of being passed dependent on the leverage Horwath then had with the governing Liberals. Not incidentally, the budget was very favourably received in labour and other "working class" voter blocks, and many wondered what was going on in the NDP strategy rooms when the decision was taken to torpedo both the budget and the legislative session.
    Now, the chickens are coming home to roost: not only is Horwath having trouble justifying her decision because it has not found resonance among the voting public but her own party faithful have come out swinging against her decision to torpedo the budget and for not taking positions that are equally if not more favourable to the left-wing of the party. They are accusing Horwath of having become another centre-right party, abandoning the principles of social justice and labour fairness, and job and workplace enhancement and are demanding that the party leadership change course before the election, now only a matter of two weeks away. When asked about the Liberal proposal to finish four-laning highway 69 from Toronto to Sudbury by 2016, Horwath was able only to imitate lamely the Liberals by promising to finish the project by 2015, hardly a significant improvement over what the Liberals have committed to do. If, by taking ads in the Toronto Sun, a right-wing populist newspaper, Horwath is attempting to woo blue-collar workers away from the Conservatives, her thinking is also off the mark, given that their ideological commitment to the 'right' outweighs their interest in and commitment to 'social justice' and even a neophyte NDP campaign worker would know that.
    Here is how CTV news reports on the polite and public insurrection from within the NDP, in a public letter to Horwath:
     In the strongest signal yet that Horwath is losing the support of some of the party faithful, she received an open letter Friday from 34 current and former New Democrats -- some well-known within the party -- who said they were "angry" that she did not support the Liberal budget on May 1, triggering an election.
    Calling it "the most progressive budget in recent Ontario history," they wrote: "From what we can see you are running to the right of the Liberals in an attempt to win Conservative votes. It is not clear whether you have given up on progressive voters or you are taking them for granted."
    The group went on to say that they were "seriously considering not voting NDP" this time.
    (By Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press, on May 24, 2014)
    Read more:
    While this may seem like a small skirmish inside the NDP, it has serious implications for the upcoming federal election in 2015, in which, if Tom Mulcair is to have any hope of dethroning Steven Harper's conservatives, he will have to rely on NDP support in significant numbers from Ontario. And, if the party, as is predicted by many pundits, falls below its current 21 members on June 12, and Horwath takes a political and embarrassing "bath" (pardon the corny rhyme!) in the voting booth, and has to resign, there will be very little time for the party to recover and dedicate needed and substantial resources to the federal cause. While there is currently no evidence that Trudeau Liberals will present anything as strong as the Wynne Liberal budget to Canadians, as an alternative to Harper in 2015, the NDP "brand" has to be even stronger in Ontario for Mulcair to win 24 Sussex and prospects for that "brand" enhancement seem incredibly low at this point in the provincial campaign.

    Friday, May 23, 2014

    Firing squads in an "enlightened" society....really?

    Bombs almost daily killing dozens in Iraq; explosives hitting election rallies for Assad in Syria; the largest killing spree in eastern Ukraine by Russian "separatists" and more killings in Nigeria from Boko Haram, while the world searches for some 250 young women still hidden in the custody of that radical Islamist terrorist 'gang'.....and then there is this...
    In the United States, following a botched "drug" injection to kill an inmate, several states are looking at restoring the "firing squad" as the state method of capital punishment, a method that many thought had been removed from the arsenal of the government decades ago.*
    Of course, the initiative for these new 'firing squad' bills comes from both the 'wild west' and the south east, where justice and vengeance are so enmeshed that even a "Philadelphia lawyer" would have trouble separating them. Also on the agenda of some states is  a return to the electric chair and the gas chamber. So anyone who thinks the people of the United States are engaged in an enlightened triumph of humanitarianism had better take a second look at the evidence and reconsider.
    The evidence that the civil society is suffering erosion from the pressure of a culture of violence, win-at-all-costs, "get the other guy before he gets you" mentality is like a neck collar that continues to tighten with both anonymity and impunity for those who are leading the attack.
    I first heard the notion of "do it to the other guy before he does it to you" from a child who was raised in extreme poverty as one of thirteen children. There were no floors in the house and the children had no winter shoes to fend off the below zero temperatures on their way to school, nearly a mile from their home. I can almost recall the moment when those words pierced my ears; my head literally bolted in shock; and my memory inscribed the words in indelible ink for future reference. For one of the very few times in my life, I was lost for words.
    Since that statement crossed my threshold, I have reflected on the meaning and the depth of all aspects of poverty, not only the lack of dollars of income on which to raise a family, but also the poverty that infects the way one sees the world. Poverty of what is considered fairness; poverty of what we might call legitimacy and value as a human being; poverty of, yes, those things that everyone else has and shows off in social settings, but also the poverty that makes one stay away from those venues, in order not to have to demonstrate one's inadequacy by comparison; poverty of experience in travel, reading, concerts and even in choices of nourishment. And, mixed into those galling and impoverishing aspects of scarcity, one has to factor in some kind of awareness of a Supreme Being, perhaps as antidote for the pain, or as a power that leaves those 'without' pining in the corners of our store doorways, under the bridges of our freeways, and in the back allies of our towns and cities, in too many cases attempting to medicate their impoverishment with various legal and illicit pain-killers. And then there is the poverty of expectation, in which one believes that the chances of moving out of desperate situations falls each day one survives. Of course, there are the exceptional and occasional stories of Horatio Alger 'victories' that through chance of a casual meeting, or a lottery ticket's numbers coming up, or a mentorship program that reaches out, or an inspirational story that actually infects one with hope, determination and the courage to climb out of the 'manhole' of hopelessness.
    Interesting word, 'manhole' given that it is used to describe a path to our sewers, both storm and effluent, in which those whose lives were on the edge sought refuge from the 'upper' world. A lower world, in which those whose lives have been distorted by their circumstances, imperiled by their surroundings and left to wander through the darkest places of our collective and civic blindness, ignorance and apathy always beckons an 'upper world' to consider whether and how to reconcile their lives with those below. Of course, those below, for the most part, are those who fall victim to the state, through its punishments, sanctions and its vision of justice and vengeance. To the degree that a culture considers rehabilitation an integral component of its responsibility, not only for the specific crime that has been committed, but also for the conditions that made that crime even conceivable, to that degree one could consider the culture to be enlightened.
    We do associate enlightenment with some kind of recognition of barbarity that has filled our history books with gallons of ink, while we considered our "progress" to be a more humane way to confront both the incidents that we consider criminal and punishable, but also the conditions in which those events were conceived, planned and executed. And enlightenment does not start or end with the prison system. It starts with the moment of conception of a child, and even before that with the conception of the child's parents and grandparents, in and through the notion of parenting that comprises language, body gestures and physical acts when encountering behaviour considered unacceptable from the child. And, as we have come to realize, both from common sense and from research, enlightened parents do not tend to raise children who become criminal, (again allowing for exceptions). And enlightened teachers and administrators who spend considerable time with the children of a neighbourhood, are especially aware of the degree of enlightenment that is being practiced by the parents and guardians of the children in their classrooms. Even the measure of enlightenment of the educators themselves, including their capacity for empathy, compassion and fairness in their pursuit of assisting the development of those children will significantly impact the trajectories of the lives of those children.
    And, it must not escape notice that if the public leaders are engaged in language and actions that demonstrate a brutality, a kind of insouciance, a high level of narcissistic pursuit of personal  goals at the expense of the "public good", then the children watching will inevitably be infused with a spirit of disappointment and discouragement and perceived unfairness, and whether or not they even know the word 'enlightenment' they will know intuitively that it is absent from the public consciousness.
    No matter how cynical and arrogant our political leaders are or become after they assume office, our children, like our pets, know intimately and indelibly how "fair" and how "just" and how "decent" and how "enlightened" is the world in which they are growing up. And in every town and city and hamlet and village, there are stories about a poverty of spirit that embody and demonstrate the pain of self-loathing which cannot be reduced to a personality problem disconnected from the surrounding culture. And the stories of self-loathing, while considered by many to be also of self-pity without considering the many incidents and encounters that generated that contempt, merge into the gangs of defiance and revenge, especially in children who have been given or have rejected options of 'enlightenment' that include negotiation, and meditation and a third party intervention, all of them based on the notion that together we can and will find a reasonable, fair and just solution to our problem, without inflicting all culpability and responsibility on one or two persons.
    When the society becomes deaf to the calls for a renewed and critical examination of the level of enlightenment it supports and practices, and replaces those calls with virulent calls for enhanced killing and punishing measures of its most deprived and most desperate individuals, especially at a time when the numbers of those dispossessed is growing exponentially, it is time for those of us who have and who have been exposed to the better angels of our humanity, through literature, art, music, dance and all forms of creativity and the creative expression of enlightened ideas and visions to call out the artists and the creative voices among us to bring the ship of state back to a harbour of civility, one that we can and need to create, or to re-create if we have lost sight of its importance, far from the cruelty of the hurricanes and the cyclones and the tornadoes and the sharks and the impalas that would have us return to the most base savagery that nature has within its bounds.
    And a return to the firing squads and the gas chambers is and will only embolden those whose hearts have been frozen and whose eyes have been shut to the pain and the agony and the poverty of all aspects of the lives of millions, even among the "developed" world, of which the United States would consider itself a leader.
    And if leadership no longer insists on envisioning and enacting enlightenment, then where are we headed?

    *The botched execution of an Oklahoma inmate last month using a previously untried drug cocktail has prompted intense debate about how states carry out the death penalty.

    Now state representatives in Wyoming have directed officials to draft a firing-squad bill to be brought before the next legislative session.
    And in neighbouring Utah, a Republican senator said that he will introduce firing-squad legislation at the next session too. The state outlawed execution by firing squad for inmates condemned to death in 2004, although kept it as an option for convicts sentenced before that year.

    The firing squad was once a common method of execution in the US. But just three prisoners have been executed by that manner in America since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 and the firing squad is only on the statute books as a back-up option in two states.
    Several states are now taking a fresh look at firing squads as lethal injection has become increasingly difficult after European pharmaceutical companies stopped exporting drug compounds used for the death penalty.
    Tennessee has already passed a measure to reintroduce the electric chair and Missouri is considering a proposal that would allow the use of both gas chambers and firing squads.

    The impact of the drugs' shortage was horrifically illustrated last month in Oklahoma when Clayton Lockett, a convicted murderer, finally died of a heart attack more than 40 minutes after officials started to administer an untried drug cocktail.
    Death penalty opponents have argued that the restoration of the firing squad would breach the constitutional ban on "cruel and unusual" punishment.
     (By Philip Sherwell, From Irish Independent and Daily Telegraph, May 23, 2014)

    Thursday, May 22, 2014

    Putin and his gang grow their influence on the world stage

    Fresh from signing a $400 billion gas sale to China, a thirty-year deal that will more than replace any lost sales from his skirmish in  Ukraine, and only one day after the Prince of Wales, in Canada in a private conversation with a woman who left Europe before Hitler destroyed the remainder of her family, commented that Putin is doing the same thing today, Vladimir Putin continues to stride the globe under the illusion that he is himself the "Colossus"....
    And today, when the United Nations Security Council votes on a resolution to refer the Syria crisis to the International Criminal Court, Russia has announced she will VETO the resolution.
    So while we watch China appear to be moving closer to Moscow, as the United States increases its presence and its pressure in the Far East, Putin draws even closer to his mot dangerous allies, Syria's Assad, and Iran, deeply locked in negotiations with the west over their nuclear ambitions. With North Korea already allied only with China, it is not difficult to see a block of nations, albeit not necessarily the strongest nations in the world (except China), linking "arms" both literally and metaphorically, in an attempt to thwart the west at every turn. China, the public advocate for North Korea, has to be wondering just what kind of chicanery the new leader there will pull off, while attempting to lead the world in economic growth, and in providing a secure energy supply for that expansion for the next three decades.
    Putin also is attempting to burnish his image at home with his inciting of violence in Ukraine, putting the leaders of the west (UK, EU, US) on notice that any moves by NATO toward the  borders with Russia, through former satellite nations of the Soviet Union, will not be tolerated.
    In the U.S. there is a debate over whether a new world order can and will emerge from the already formed and progressively more activist chain of countries that includes China, Russia, Iran, Syria and possibly North Korea. Some observers suggest that, while the west needs to be vigilant, there is really no danger to the status quo being threatened by these rogue states (Putin will not greet any reference to Russia as a rogue state, yet his behaviour recently could clearly be judged in that light!) Others however, believe and fear that this new convergence of interests and alliances between Syria, Iran (increasingly stirring the pot in Iraq) and Russia and China represents a significant threat to the maintainence of US and western influence on the world stage.
    Human rights in all of these countries is reported to be vague and almost non-existent, with no international body able to bring pressure to bear on this file with any of the leaders in these countries. The reasons for their contempt of the western lifestyle, economics and political systems vary significantly, but that does not mean that they cannot and will not find common ground to make the life of western leaders and their people more fractious and destabilized. Overlay this convergence of rogue states, from the western perspective, with the continually growing threat from radical Islam, whenever and wherever they see an opportunity to infiltrate any kind of civil conflict or political instability (including Syria, Iraq and in too many countries in Africa) and it is not hard to envisage the arms trade in which Russia is also heavily engaged, supplying arms to different faces of the enemies of all liberal values, while at the same time attempting to reap many of the economic benefits from a global economic 'system' that includes both legal and illicit trade of both legal and contraband goods.
    It is the capacity of western countries and the governments and leaders to keep the pressure on the human rights abuses that are occurring every day especially in countries like Russia, China and Iran, and most obviously Syria, while also maintaining diligent surveillance of the chess moves by leaders like Assad, Putin and the cabal in Bejing, in a concerted effort to protect the vital interests of the west, without having to engage militarily to reduce the nefarious ways Putin and his gang of rogues will attempt to derail and destabilize and to parade and to preen themselves and their accomplishments for their manipulated audiences back home.
    If Harper can and will mount an expensive advertising campaign (really a propaganda war!) in Canada to cover his government's failure to address the legitimate needs of veterans from Afghanistan, in what we have considered an open democracy for over a century, just imagine the lengths to which leaders like Putin and Assad can and will go to present themselves in an heroic posture and mask to the people they reported "govern" (but effectively "rule) and the deception that those efforts do and will continue to entail. And while China's leaders are a little more hidden behind the veil of a ruling committee, their actions too will continue to  reek of deception and image making for their own political purposes, inspite of what we read and hear about in their attempts to control pollution, and to enhance incomes of the middle class.
    The UN Security Council will vote on Thursday on a resolution to refer the Syria crisis to the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged war crimes by all sides.
    The draft resolution has wide support, with over 50 countries behind the move.
    But Russia, one of the permanent five members of the council, said it will veto the resolution and called it a "publicity stunt."
    More than 150,000 people have been killed since the war began in 2011.
    The BBC's UN correspondent, Nick Bryant, says Russia argues that the move will destroy any chance of a peaceful solution to the civil war.
    But France's ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, dismissed Moscow's claim, saying the resolution would not "undermine the political process because there is no political process."
    The civil war in Syria is now into its fourth year and peace talks have continually failed to yield any significant agreement. (BBC News, May 22, 2014)

    Wednesday, May 21, 2014

    Obama is far from failing on foreign or domestic fronts...perhaps American could find and follow a new path

    There is a debate in the United States, in some quarters, about whether the Obama foreign policy is or has been a success. Critics point to Syria, and even to Afghanistan and Iraq, both legacies from the Bush administration, as well as the re-set with Russia, and even the "pivot" to Asia, as signs that Obama has been ineffective in the area in which he is supposed to have most competence and training.
    There is an American fixation on WINNING as if some prize, like the capture of Osama Bin Ladin, in their cultural hunt for the trophy, demonstrates success. There is no success in avoiding conflict; there is no success in having steered the American ship of state through quite troubled waters, both on the economic front and on the world stage, without incurring serious disaster, in a very turbulent (some say more turbulent and unsettled) world than we have experienced for decades.
    Americans also simply resist any attempt to encourage them, both individually and nationally, to look within, collectively, to examine the precepts that drive them. While there is a very loud and acrimonious debate in the political arena, between opposing ideologies, corporate/capitalist/militarist versus middle class/disarmament/and equality, some of the cultural archetypes that freeze the perceptions of American identity, limit both sides from seeing or considering a different way of doing business....and it is business that is currently guiding the American enterprise, certainly not looking to participate in the establishment of a new world order that does not worship trophies and profits.
    Obama was handed one of the most complex set of issues to face an American president, on both domestic and foreign fronts, in decades. His efforts, while not perfect, as he would most readily agree, far outstrip those of the Bush/Cheney administration (hardly a valid comparison given its bungling on virtually every front except perhaps the AIDS initiative in Africa). His administration has been able not only to bring health care to millions who previously had no hope of such coverage, but has worked with all other western allies in imposing severe sanctions on Iran which most agree has brought her to the table to negotiate on nuclear energy, while balancing the American response to the Middle East uprisings, the final outcome of which is still unwritten. He has also pushed to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have been frozen in vacillation for decades, although there is no sign of movement on that front.
    Ukraine poses a significant diplomatic and foreign policy issue for the west, given NATO's and the E
    EU's approchment with other former Russian satellites, and Putin's desire to return Russia to a former, and likely non-repeatable glory. Working "with" allies, and not grabbing the guns or the missiles or the bombs whenever a crisis erupts, is so counter-intuitive to the American history that Obama is colouring "outside the box" and will be found wanting by those whose picture of "success" includes the domination of any problem that America and the world can or will face.
    We are quietly literally appalled by the consistent debasing of the Obama adminstration's efforts to continue to forge new agreements on important issues, like nuclear proliferation, like climate change, and like a more stable world economy, including a more equitable distribution of the national income as a model for other countries to emulate.
    And we can only hope that it is the American cultural archetypes that are slowly and permanently thawing from warmonger to collaborator, from military activism and trophy-victories to agreements with sanctions and carrots that are the only way to maintain stability in the international order.

    Sunday, May 18, 2014

    Declaring war on Boko Haram...a good first step, but many more still needed

    Paris: France and five African states "declared war" with Islamist extremist sect Boko Haram, after the group abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in northern Nigeria.
    During an anti-terrorism summit hosted by French President Francois Hollande in Paris on Saturday, Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan and representatives from Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin agreed on a mutual action plan to stop Boko Haram.
    "We are here to declare war with Boko Haram," Cameroon's President Paul Biya told journalists at the end of the summit, which was also attended by the United States and Britain....
    The participants at the summit decided to strengthen the exchange of intelligence information in West Africa, coordinate the actions of their armies and military missions in Africa, and increase border controls.
    "These terrorists already caused hurt in the sub-region. Allowing them to continue will place the entire sub-region, if not Africa, at risk of disorder," said Chad's President Idriss Deby. (From Sydney Morning Hearld, May 18, 2014)
    Read more:
    French leadership on the Boko Haram front, African states agree to pool their resources to combat this radical terrorist threat. However, while the U.S. and Britain attended this conference, and both have contributed to the mission to find and return the girls abducted from their school, this is only one 'cell' of the menace that is encircling the planet and threatening to undermine political and economic, social and religious freedoms everywhere.
    While we applaud this convergence of interests, and this pooling of resources, we continue to advocate for a much larger and much more sustained effort of all the world's countries, regions and intelligence, to resist and to eradicate the scourge of radical Islam.
    We all know that already the movement has killed many, tortured many more, and continues to recruit, to teach and propagandize hatred of the west, picturing the west as evil, the Great Satan, as even some states like Iran are in the habit of doing. We also know that in too many civil conflicts, including Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, and even in Egypt, the threat of radical Islam, in one or more of its many 'faces' continues to destabilize and to seek power to impose religious law on the people over whom they have control.
    However, given that social and economic conditions in many countries leave millions struggling merely to survive, those millions are ripe for any kind of seductive and dangerous support in the form of food, weapons, attention of any kind and recruitment into whatever 'gang' promises a way out of the existence these millions are forced to endure. We know that even in urban North America, where poverty grows and hope wanes in many ghettos, those people are ripe for recruitment into something that promises protection and "membership" both of which are appealing to those with neither.
    So when will the world's political and economic leadership come to the view that only through the co-ordinated efforts of all, to combat the conditions that make radical Islam a reasonable alternative to the kind of lives too many people are forced to endure, will this cancer be addressed, and clearly its elimination is very unlikely?
    No one who is serious about the future of the world can stick his/her head in the sand about radical Islam. And no one who is serious about the goal of eradicating that scourge can ignore the economic and political conditions in which it incubates, festers and bursts like a noxious boil on the body politic. Only, it is more toxic than a mere boil; it is more analogous to a new form of cancer, one which, while some research labs have begun to study its root causes, has not produced a concerted effort to eradicate it from the planet.
    Clearly, the promise of a world economy based on capitalism has not, and will not, alone, generate conditions that provide access to education, health care, work with dignity, and human rights that promise clean water, air and land to all.
    Clearly, those with money and power (they are increasingly joined in all countries) want more of their booty, and could care less about measures that would offer opportunity to all. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet notwithstanding in their generosity with their philanthropy, the world's political leadership cannot rely on even a combination of such individual pursuits of help. There must be a long-term commitment (like the one we still cannot achieve on global warming and climate change) to address the obviously human scourge of radical Islam.
    And, that effort has to start with an internal effort to address extremism in all faith communities. It is as if faith in a deity exempts too many from taking actions that would otherwise be deemed unacceptable. And others in those faith communities lack either the will or the perspective to see the dangers embedded in the attitudes and actions of their extreme adherents.
    We have called for the moderates in Islam to work to remove the radical elements in their midst. However having witnessed, first hand, the radical elements in Christianity continue to attract new converts, without facing a concerted and effective antidote from their own ranks, we hold out little prospect that radical Islam will be controlled, let alone eliminated, through efforts by moderate Muslims.
    New technology, linked to the nefarious and dangerous purposes of a world-wide caliphate of radical Islam, in which seeds of initial 'comfort' are quickly followed by chains of bondage in places where learning is barely taking root, and political systems are replete with corruption....these together generate a toxic cocktail of intrigue offering power, status and purpose to people whose lives lack all three. And, to think that the drink is concocted, prepared and offered in the name of any deity is so reprehensible as to make one wonder about the human capacity to resist such seduction.
    The conference in Paris is one small step, albeit one in the right direction, toward a larger and much needed convergence of all the world's powers, to bring all the world's resources, including even new institutions comparable to the International Criminal Court (after all without criminal acts and intent, radical Islam would not exist) to bear on this monster, hidden in the streets of too many towns and cities, scheming to grab power however and whenever it might.
    Perhaps when radical Islam is finally seen as a common enemy of all, as is the threat posed by global warming, and similar threats from viruses not reachable through antibiotics, the world will finally sit down and admit we do not know how to combat common enemies through collaboration, and that will become the agenda for at least several generations.

    Saturday, May 17, 2014

    How "being a man" infects public discourse

    Since we began this little project, with observations, reflections and even a few recommendations, we have consistently noted the appalling stereotypes on which the political culture, supported and sustained by the advertising and marketing and increasingly the academic cultures, rely for their brain -washing of the people for whom they hold their positions.
    Policy papers, detailing the data on which options are proposed, are routinely devoid of the individual human stories of desperation, poverty of spirit and poverty of opportunity. We regularly detach reports on unemployment, domestic violence, international terrorism, civil wars and even biological pandemics from their origins in conditions for which we do not wish to take full responsibility.
    Even education, that core and cornerstone of all "developed" cultures, as a subject for journalistic and documentary analysis, is too often, if not always relegated to the "Family Section" of the daily newspaper, or in more trendy publications, the "Life" Section. It is as if the ways we choose to live our lives, including the culture of our language, the conventional norms of what we consider success and failure, the kinds of role models we put under the spotlight/microscope, the 'style' choices we make are completely disconnected from our political choices.
    Perhaps many of these 'divisions' are taken in order to more easily categorize which 'section' of our papers the advertisers wish to have their dollars/ads meet their niche markets. Those reading the "lifestyle" section traditionally and stereotypically have been women and so decorating companies, furniture companies, and even cosmetic companies, jewellery companies and travel companies, with perhaps a few auto companies would like to have their ads placed in these sections. In the sports sections, stereotypically followed by male eyes, advertisers like beer and alcohol companies, deodorant companies, sports equipment companies and the like would pay more to have their ads appear there.
    It is in the "pay-more" and thereby generate more "profit" in the short run culture, based on the sales this week, because every advertiser knows that the buying public has a planning cycle, for purchases, of little more than seven days, (perhaps in home improvements and real estate, the cycle might extend to ninety days) that we have willingly embedded many of our attitudes and perceptions that bite us in our backsides, that sabotage both individuals and our culture, not to mention our public finances.
    Little girls learns very early that boys like and play with different toys then they play with. Little boys learn, even more quickly, that in the schoolyard, acting in ways that are similar to, if not identical to, the ways girls would act in the same circumstances, is a quick path to ridicule, if not complete isolation and alienation from other boys, and perhaps even from most girls.
    These stereotypes, born and incubated in the home are perpetuated and reinforced by the school system, whose co-dependence on the approval of parents seeking an educational culture that reinforces the home cultures of the neighbourhood, not to mention the political pandering to the taxpayer/parents who are paying the salaries of teachers and administrators. Gender roles, embedded in the sports teams allocated to boys and girls continue to reinforce the gender role stereotypes: males play "tackle" football, while girls play field hockey. There are, admittedly, significant examples of merging, for example in womens' ice hockey, a sport long played by boys only; nevertheless, once again the rules are quite different, with little or no physical contact in the women's game, and the men's game clinging desperately to the rough and ready physical, including, in our view, excessive violence, revenge and retribution.
    In a garden/culture in which how men behave, and perceive how they must behave, if they are to maintain their social status as men, the phrase "man-up" is often used to encourage and support the stereotype. And this includes how men articulate their pain, how they articulate their goals in life, how they articulate even their leadership aspirations, and how they articulate their policy positions if they chose to enter the political arena. Macho men, for example, find historically more role opportunities in movies and in television than "evolved" sensitive, and clearly "too complicated" men do. Only recently, are we beginning to witness television shows, like "Last Man Standing" in which the male perception has, ironically, some value in establishing and comprehending some of the complexity of human relationships, including those between mothers and daughters. Humour, once again, is the sugar on the pill that makes swallowing it more palatable. "Two and a Half Men" and The Big Bang Theory drew audiences into a plethora of situations in which the male awkwardness, and the male stereotypes were sketched in relief, and coloured with self-ridicule, another of the humorous "codes" for presenting men as "able to laugh at themselves".
    However, as one who inhabited English classrooms for a quarter-century including the habitual and expected 'theatre' and writing extra-curricular assignments, I also sought opportunity to coach basketball teams, football teams and even unexpectedly cricket teams. Often I encountered behind-the-back criticism from the 'jocks' on staff, because 'what would an English teacher know about basketball, especially when compared with physical education graduates'?  As a young kid, many of whose hours were spent practising the piano, I frequently encountered slurs like "fag" and "girlie" from other young boys (never from girls) whose ridicule provoked over-reactions from me like too much swearing, in a vain attempt to 'be a man'.
    From a competitive perspective, when entered in music festivals, I was so focused on my own performance that I rarely if ever considered other competitors as 'enemies' but more as colleagues engaged in the same pursuit. On the basketball court, of course, I wanted my teams to win, but never at all cost. I held out the now apparently phantom vision of 'team players' who supported each other, who got to know each other, respected each other and sought to commit to a common goal, while also pursuing the championship trophies and the recognition that winning brings. Individual stats were always trumped by collegiality, comradeship, bonding and friendship among the players, in my perhaps perverted attempt to blend life skills with basketball skills.
    Even when I entered seminary, and sought understanding and appreciation of what it meant to  be a man in a world now saturated with the feminist movement, I found that these stereotypes abounded. The focus on "feelings" and the complexities of human emotions, the primary focus of pastoral education in both chaplaincy and counselling modes, was rejected by those seeking to "save the world" of most male candidates. Even, or perhaps especially, among the hierarchy, the bishops considered how much money and how many people were being recruited much more important than how individuals were growing spiritually, both men and women. In fact, the pursuit of spiritual growth was not even on the radar of most bishops of my experience. The maintainance of the buildings and the budgets, the investment and foundation accounts and the career paths of those 'rising stars' who sought election as ecclesial leaders were their primary focus, and occasionally they would venture into some public expression of grief and tragedy, in order to better "position" themselves for public notice and personal gain. Liturgies, the Sunday morning homilies and eucharists, which demanded and frequently failed to evoke hard study and careful preparation, suffered at the energy put into seeking public exposure, meetings with community leaders and political liaisons for personal and political ambition.
    And, unfortunately, female clergy too often also adopted this approach, as they perceived their own career paths would be determined by following the same gender  stereotypes. If they were going to take over the institution, they would have to first strive to emulate and even surpass the men at their own game, and then make the changes they considered necessary.
    Men who are insecure in their own masculinity, and we would venture that this includes a majority of men, too often strive to be competing with the image of weakness that they perceive comes from showing their "soft" and caring and in their eyes, effeminate side. Too often, men draw back from expressing deep and authentic feelings so that they will not 'be taken advantage of' by both men and women. Too often, too, they consider 'giving in' to their female partners as 'dropping the ball' on their own masculinity. Shopping, chick flicks, theatre and musical performances and even some travel have been "out of bounds" for men,  because they would prefer to be hunting or fishing, or drinking with the boys. The television show, Red Green, has made an indelible imprint by focusing on male insecurity and often awkward stubbornness. And there is much to laugh "at" in male hard-headedness, as there is much to laugh at in male testosterone. However, there is also much to warrant concern in a social culture that only or even primarily uses men as the "butt" of its comedy, especially when that comedy is dependent on the male stereotype of raw, hard and inflexible power.
    It reduces all men to a mere cardboard cut-out of their finely tuned and highly complex humanity.
    It also reduces the expectation that women have of how to relate to their male partners. And in too many cases it renders too many men obsolete, at least in their own minds and hearts.
    It is long past time when the words we use, and the perceptions of gender including gender roles and expectations and the family and education systems that perpetuate and potentially enlarge those stereotypes are included in the hard news of the day and the week and the month and the year in both a formal and informal way. We can each become much more familiar with our own gender identity, and comfortable and willing to share that identity, with respect and honour, with each other. We can also make gender equality, not only in the policy and pay equity spheres, but in the ways we speak and relate to each other more accepting of the realities of both genders, and that includes respecting masculinity in all of its complexities.
    Failure, on our parts, individually and collectively is really not an option because regardless of how much money we pour into various public issues, at their core we will continue to face both men and women across the negotiating table, in the courtroom, in the laboratory and certainly in the classroom. We need more male teachers, at all levels, and more male social workers and more male nurses and more male clergy and more male leaders who are comfortable in their own maleness. And in order to achieve even some of these goals, we need to open to the complexities of masculinity, and that starts with men accepting males who are different, who are artists, and musicians and actors and dancers, and enlarge the hall of heroes that inhabit our consciousness.
    The Good Men Project is dedicated to the enhancement of masculinity, in all of its forms and manifestations. And here is a recent piece dedicated to the elimination of the phrase, "Man up" from our conventional vocabulary.
    We know now, for example, that a belief in rigid gender roles are a contributing factor in men’s violence against women. Domestic violence is far more prevalent in relationships where one or both partners enforce narrow definitions of their gendered responsibilities, particularly where child rearing is involved. (Hattery, A., Smith, E. (2012). The Social Dynamics of Family Violence).
    Whilst we see a growing awareness around how this language and these beliefs benefit men and disempower women; there is another side. It’s a side where men are suffering, and they are suffering profoundly. If we believe that ‘having balls’ is the ultimate affirmation of courage and success, and being a ‘pussy’ is the exact opposite, we are buying into a language and a system which continues to not only hurt women, but men too. The male fixation with avoiding ‘feminine’ characteristics is literally killing us.
    In 2012, approximately 2500 Australians committed suicide. 1900 of them were men.
    Not only are suicide rates amongst men nearly four times higher than women, men are also falling behind women when it comes to work and career. A recent study showed that women are succeeding in positions and industries traditionally seen as the ‘male domain.’ By contrast, men are showing little, if any, growth into traditionally ‘female’ spheres of employment. These notions of rigid gender roles are nothing new. Female leaders and feminists have been exploring and challenging them for decades. But so often when men hear the term ‘gender’ – or even worse, feminism – we either tune out, or feel we are under threat – as though at any moment, our tenuous grasp on masculinity could be taken away from us. But looking at the data, we realise this version of masculinity – with its balls and its hard cocks and all the language we use to perpetuate it – has been hurting men for as long as we’ve been subscribing to it. (By Alex Mills, Man up: Words that help no one, Good Men Project, May 13, 2014)
    See more at:

    Friday, May 16, 2014

    Sentenced to death for apostasy, in Sudan....begs many cogent questions

    KHARTOUM, Sudan (AFP) — A Sudanese judge yesterday sentenced a Christian woman to hang for apostasy, in a ruling which Britain denounced as "barbaric".
    Born to a Muslim father, the woman was convicted under the Islamic sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaws conversions on pain of death.
    Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 27, is married to a Christian and eight months pregnant, human rights activists say.
    "We gave you three days to recant, but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged," Judge Abbas Mohammed al-Khalifa told the woman, addressing her by her father's Muslim name, Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah.
    Khalifa also sentenced Ishag to 100 lashes for "adultery". Under Sudan's interpretation of sharia, a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man and any such relationship is regarded as adulterous.
    Britain's minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, said he was "truly appalled" at the death penalty decision. (From Jamaica Observer, May 16, 2014)
    It anyone wonders about the kind of rulings the world can expect under Sharia Law, this story might shed some light on the mysteries.
    The new definition of adultery, for example, includes marriage outside the Islamic faith. And for breaking 'the law' this woman is sentenced by a court jurist, to hang.
    It is not only Britain's Minister for Africa who could be "truly appalled" at this decision. The whole world would do well to pay some attention to cases like this that are likely to become much more prevalent and familiar, as the movement (and let's not kid ourselves, this is a very strong and irrepressible and inexhaustible movement!) spreads its tentacles, especially into weak and struggling political cultures.
    However, we must listen also to the caution of Nicholas Kristpof, appearing on CNN's GPS this past Sunday, when commenting on the abduction of some two hundred plus young women from their dorm in Nigeria allegedly by Boko Haram, a radical Islamic terrorist organization. Kristof pointed to a "conflict between extremists" in both Islam and Christianity, rather than a conflict between Islam and Christianity.
    So, if the world is to learn anything from stories like Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag's, it could be that we need to curb religious extremism in all faith communities, of which the Sudan story is only one tragic example. And yet by saying that, and reading that, we all know that extremism is integral to the most fervent and most impassioned and most feverish of religious fanatics in all faith communities.
    And, with the west's cultural and political acceptance of and even reverences for "religious liberty", in our case meaning freedom to practice one's faith without fear, and also freedom to practice no faith also without fear, the history of the relationship between religion and 'the state' is fraught with episodes in which extremism from one side is too often met with extremism from the other.
    It is no longer enough to "wring our hands" about the fanatics "over there" if for no other reason that "over there" is no longer very far away. "Over there" is of sheer necessity, our neighbourhood too, no matter where we live, given both the enhanced means of communication and of travel that more quickly and more intimately connects everyone to everyone else.
    One source disclosed, this week, that one person in four on the planet, (obviously through some research that would not have been feasible only a decade ago) is anti-Semitic, with the largest proportions, as expected, coming from the Middle East. That is a human scourge of bigotry the world has not found a method to ameliorate for centuries. And, as Islamic fundamentalism, including the imposition of Sharia Law, spreads, embedded in that prosletyzing march will be deep and profound contempt, hatred, for Jews. Christians, under the eyes of Islam, are also considered infidels, And so, the future forecast of relations between the world's three major faith communities is not one of sunny skies and soft breezes. With centuries of history in Judao-Christian 'values and precepts,' the west has grown to a position of tolerance of those of different faiths and of those who practice and believe no faith.  However, the 'west' with its combination of Jewish and Christian values, most of it somehow living amicably if not in total harmony, has not faced, in such a large movement religious opposition, for many years, as it is currently facing from radical Islam.
    And this rise of radical Islam, including Sharia Law as one of the most prominent cornerstones of its movement, comes at a time when fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity is witnessing a surge in its political participation, although there are admittedly signs that the Tea Party potency is waning in the current U.S. election cycle, with "moderate" Republican candidates defeating Tea Party candidates for nominations for the 2016 Congressional elections.
    Just as terrible crimes often encourage and embolden imitations, extremism from all quarters seems to encourage and embolden extremism from all opponents. And given the political enmeshment in Islam, of both politics and faith practice and belief, the ring of extreme Islam threatens, not only a former Islamic woman who marries and plans to have children with a Christian, and will not recant and return to her Islamic faith, but the political practices where there is a significant number of Muslims among the voting population and especially those in states with weak or perhaps even corrupt civil and legal systems.
    And so, not only is trade linked to our relationships with all other countries, increasingly so too will human rights be linked to our relationships with all other countries, if we are not to permit and enable the spread of such radical "legal/religious" laws to be enacted over the heads of unsuspecting and more moderate and tolerant people.
    It is not so long ago that people of different Christian faith communities were not permitted to marry, without paying a considerable price, in the west. It is also not so long ago that people of different races were not permitted to marry, or to attend the same schools (and we are seeing a rise of segregation among many U.S. state and city-sponsored school systems, given the Supreme Court's recent decision eliminating the need for specific decisions to implement integration).
    The town of Babel, the Christian story for the dispersion of languages and communities, while providing fodder for intellectual and cultural and political diversity through various languages, does however, continue to haunt the world's attempts to make progress toward collaboration, co-operation, and the establishment of norms that a majority could and would consider moderate, acceptable and tolerable of differences of faith, of language, of culture and of political ideology.
    It seems to our neophyte eyes, however, that the intimate link between religion and political establishment of a legal system that includes Sharia Law, a link that is a sine qua non of Islam, will continue to pose a serious threat to already established legal jurisprudence, and thereby to the lives of millions who have become accustomed to a very different and much more tolerant and accepting system.
    And litmus tests of how Sharia is likely to impact those in the world considered infidels by Islamic extremists will continue to play a significant part in our education to a new and possibly much less tolerant and peaceful world.

    Thursday, May 15, 2014

    Memo to the University of Saskatchewan: Reinstate your Professor/Dean, and open the doors to investigation and public debate

    Tenure has long been seen as a virtual guarantee of lasting academic employment, but it may be under threat after the University of Saskatchewan fired a popular dean for criticizing the institution's budget cuts. (By Matt Kwong, CBC, May 15, 2014)
    Whether one considered a university professor's job security as an arcane testament to the middle ages, providing some security for those whose professional lives involve research into any subject those professors consider relevant to their academic field of study, or another of the symbols of elitism that is no longer relevant to a democratic society, this little story, sure to be writ large on the bulletin boards of all faculty lounges this morning, needs some attention.
    This tenured professor, also Dean of the School of Public Health, was stripped of both of his titles, and ushered off the campus "for life" by campus security officials, according the CBC story quoted above.
    And for what? For publicly disagreeing with the budget policies, the allocation of funds, in his university. He apparently wrote a six-page report outlining his "opposing opinion" (something every court permits dissenting jurors for every case) and that report was made public.
    So, rather than take the position that his specific arguments deserved a reasoned debate, and taking the opportunity to engage in a public discussion of the various reasons for their budget decisions, another of the legitimate processes that have for centuries characterized the university culture, the university administration chose the "corporate" and public relations route, (once dubbed the "Russian method" of solving a problem by elimination by a former Comparative Education instructor of Russian origin at the University of Ottawa, Professor Ramunus) as their "wise" and rational approach.
    How tragic that this is now becoming normalized in the pseudo-corporate-university labour relations world.
    We all know that corporations behave in this manner if and when one of their executives "colours outside the line" fearing that internal disagreement will only damage the public reputation of that perfect corporation. We also know that in politics, cabinet solidarity is a cornerstone of conduct for those appointed to the lofty position of the inner circle in a parliamentary democracy. If and when one publicly disagrees with government policy on a specific issue, as a member of the cabinet that has to sell that policy to the general public, one is expected to resign from cabinet, not necessarily from the elected position that provided the path into cabinet.
    We also know that the rights of workers, including their public safety, are being eroded daily, in a downward spiral toward budget cuts, in a highly competitive world in which balance sheets trump the interests and legitimate needs of workers. However, we did not know that publicly funded universities would or had to resort to firing one of their academic deans because he disagreed with their policies.
    So now, not only is debate repressed about those budget policy decisions; one also has to be concerned that the contractual relationships between universities and their academic faculty has changed, and will never go back to its former "tenured" relationship, once this genie has been let out of the bottle.
    This 'canary in the coal mine' portends very dangerous and highly suspicious outcomes, in which universities will lose their public respect and dignity, while preserving their public persona (mask) as the corporate culture takes over. Like the Russian incursion into Ukraine, it is happening without the shedding of blood, but by the mere boardroom decision of frightened people charged with the responsibility of providing leadership at the University of Saskatchewan.
    Historically, universities have been seats of debate, openly and honourably, not only in specific cases, but also as role models for young people who are learning how the 'world works'. And, as the world shrinks, in this most visible and prominent situation, eroding the potential of the learning institution to serve its primary purpose, to educate, not only in the lecture hall and in the laboratory, but also from the prominence of the executive suite, we are all losers.
    And, if we are courageous enough and honourable enough, we will stand beside this professor/dean, taking all available steps to restore him to his position, and provide the public with both the arguments of the boards of governors for their budget decisions, and the professor/dean's paper outlining his position.
    These are, after all, public institutions, funded by public dollars, and the degree of transparency and accountability that the public is afforded is directly dependent on the degree of pressure the public imposes on the institution.
    A very small story, in the 'big picture' but a very critical one from the perspective of the long-term authenticity of not only this one university, but of the university system in Canada.
    From CBC, May 15, 2014
    The University of Saskatchewan said today it will offer Prof. Robert Buckingham a tenured faculty position, but he won't be returning to his old job after he was fired for speaking out against the school's cuts and restructuring plans.
    In a news release, the university says Buckingham won't be given back his job as head of the university's School of Public Health.
    U of S president Ilene Busch-Vishniac told CBC News that Buckingham should never have been fired from his tenured position, calling the dismissal "a blunder." She said the university is looking into how it happened and those involved will be disciplined.
    “Academic freedom and tenure are sacrosanct at the University of Saskatchewan. This case, however, is not about academic freedom," Busch-Vishniac said in the release from earlier today. "Dr. Buckingham was removed from his executive director position for acting contrary to the expectations of his leadership role.” 
    Buckingham was fired Wednesday morning for criticizing the institution's budget cuts as part of the TransformUS restructuring plan.