Sunday, August 31, 2014

NATO meets in Wales this week....a hypothetical reflection of one at the table

So, just imagine you are one of the delegates to the NATO meeting in Wales later this week.
You know that your country's participation in the defence organization began as a response to a potential threat from the then Soviet Union's expansionist aims and goals. You also know that, for the last twenty years, following the collapse of that former Soviet Union, the west has treated the emerging Russia more as an ally than an enemy. You also know that your country's military budget has not permitted the 2% spending on military spending, both on new resources and personnel. It is probably more in the 1% range, and with the rest of your colleagues around the table, the people in your country are certainly not anxious to enter into a military conflict with the Putin-led Russia, especially as he has just reminded the world "not to mess with Russia, that I remind you is a nuclear-armed super power".....
And the question facing all of those seated at the table in Wales is "What does NATO do now in the face of the Russian continuing invasion of eastern Ukraine amid Putin's denials and Poroshenko's formal request for both military assistance and even NATO membership?"
An open military conflict with the Russian bear is likely off the table. And Putin is counting on that.
Another round of economic sanctions will likely produce either little impact on Putin or a reciprocal round of sanctions, possibly including the cutting off of needed heating oil and natural gas for the upcoming winter in Europe.
Approval of Ukraine's request for membership in NATO, while compelling, seems too big a step at this time, for most of those in the meeting, so will likely be deferred.
The EU has just announced a one week ultimatum for Putin to reverses course in Ukraine or face further sanctions, which most agree will likely have little impact on Putin's determination to prevent Ukraine from sliding further into what he sees as the 'western orbit' a position that could eventually include both EU membership for Ukraine and also NATO membership.
So, what's left could be a lengthy discussion of NATO's making enhanced contributions of military, intelligence and strategic resources to the Ukrainian government in a way of threading the needle with a very small opening, without actually ordering any "boots on the ground" or committing to what would eventually become an all-out war between Putin and NATO over the Russian meddling in eastern Ukraine.
While you contemplate making your own statement to those assembled at the table, you are fully aware that whatever you say will be reported to your government and people back home, and your capacity to deliver, should you agree to contribute substantially to the Ukrainian cause, on behalf of your government, could so raise the stakes between Ukraine Russia that could bring NATO into direct military conflict with the Kremlin. You also know that doing nothing is really not an option, especially when the future of both Ukraine and NATO are essentially on the line, at this moment.
As one EU leader has already stated publicly, "This is a significant moment in human history"...or words to that effect.
And so, you contemplate your words, very carefully. You listen intently to those words already being shared around the table. You recognize and respect the defensive aspect of the NATO origin, and recognize that Ukraine, although not a formal member, deserves the support of her neighbours, if invasions of other former Soviet satellites by Putin's Russian forces ( no matter how scantily disguised) are to be avoided. It was Poroshenko himself, in his petition for NATO support who warned that the stability of Europe was on the line, and while that scenario does not face this meeting in Wales, at this moment, he could well be foreshadowing a likely outcome should NATO come up short.
Even those people in countries represented at this table are, for the most part, deadly serious about avoiding another war and would be appalled if NATO succumbed to the slippery slope of full military engagement with Russia. Yet, talking with Putin, the very one openly seeking negotiations, is unlikely to generate the kind of resolution and withdrawal of his forces from the Ukrainian soil, or his agreement to resist further incursions. There seem to be no levers available for participants to deploy in an effort to reverse Putin's nationalist ambitions.
And so, you raise your hand, signalling your preparedness to speak to the meeting. When recognized you begin nervously:
With respect, ladies and gentlemen, we all agree that NATO, and in many ways, the world, seems to be a  boiling cauldron of various forces of instability, and nervousness, as well as fiscal restraint and political impairment. We are meeting when well over 2000 people have already died in the fight to preserve the territorial integrity and legitimate aspirations of the people of Ukraine, including those who consider their Russian heritage to be integral to their identity, while living within the Ukrainian boundaries. We are also meeting staring statements of denial and blame coming from Putin, including even conflicting statements to his own coming from the Kremlin itself. The fog of war, especially regarding Putin's full intentions, already engulfs our deliberations.
We have a responsibility to our NATO treaty, as well as to the assurance of freedom of the people whom NATO represents, to see clearly through the most intense fog we have faced since our birth.We also have a responsibility to acknowledge and to repel all threats to the territorial sovereignty of our members, and in this case, to one seeking membership, knowing full well that this could well be prologue to an actual Russian invasion of one of our own members, in spite of Putin's vociferous denials of any such ambitions.
Increasingly, and transparently, NATO is being asked, perhaps some would consider it "forced," to demonstrate a level of courage, commitment and leadership that none of us at this table could or wold have envisaged when we accepted this responsibility. Nevertheless, there are clearly many leaders around the world who are watching and listening to our deliberations, and especially to our decisions. We must demonstrate that we are both willing and able to find a series of action steps that can and will support the Ukrainian people, while simultaneously, posing a serious and substantive pause in Putin's thinking and his determination to continue his reckless and dangerous threats.
Speaking for my own country, I submit a commitment of the best of our intelligence technologies, including both the personnel and the training required to operate these technologies to the co-ordinated complement of NATO contributions to the people and government of Kiev. I also commit to engage our government's foreign affairs department to the pursuit of substantive negotiations between Moscow and Kiev, brokered if necessary by NATO leaders in conjunction with EU  leadership.
The future of NATO and the potential future of the Ukrainian people as well as the future of the nation state of Ukraine is at stake, and while not exclusively in our hands, nevertheless, our hands are intimately and permanently tied to its resolution. We must seek to remove the Russian rebels, indeed terrorists, from a future participation in the resolution of this conflict. And we must be seen to be and to remain steadfast in our resolve, through actions of which our grandchildren can and will be proud.
Thanks you for your attentive respect and continuing dedication to this moment in history.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Harper's reductionism in his rejection of a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women

In his public statements to justify his rejection of a public inquiry into the issues at the root of some missing and murdered aboriginal women, the Canadian prime minister, Steven Harper says "This problem is not to be treated as some sociological phenomenon."
To counter his "straw-man" sociology, Harper says it is a criminal problem, and the police are working to find those responsible.
That would be like your doctor examining an open sore on your leg as a skin infection, when a biopsy reveals cancer cells.
Reductionisms, Sir, are killing your government, and any respect some of us may have harboured for your perceptions of your responsibilities.
You have overplayed your "strong-on-crime" hand.
Sir, not all problems that the country faces can be solved through increased police activity, nor can they even be fully understood through a lens that refuses to acknowledge the conditions under which these missing and murdered leave their families and their communities, and scar both forever.
There will be some who say that Harper's unified approach, to criminalize the problem, is a minimalist approach, permitting government to allocate only those resources that will address the situation.
Others of us, however, know that it is not merely the allocation of an envelope of money to those with "authority" in the society that will address most problems. In fact, looking merely for a perpetrator leaves out more than it includes in the original definition of the problem.
Schools today brag about teaching "problem solving skills"....but first they need to develop a perception of the problem that includes the capacity to rank the variables and it would seem to some of us less "smart" than Harper that such a complex understanding of the problem of missing and murdered aboriginal women would want to understand the role that factors larger than bullets, or ropes or guns are integral to a concern.
While it is true that some of those factors may not be as amenable to complete resolution as the "settling" of the legal requirements of questions like who committed the crime, the processes that would seek to address those factors would significantly  re-shape the society in which these crimes are taking place.
It is not rocket science to note the rise of terrorism needs a soil of similar conditions to those of other abuses of power: poverty, alienation, hopelessness, a lack of education, a lack of access to health care and to employment with dignity and security, and to the various conditions that constitute a full acknowledgement of the social contract that used to be an integral component of the relationship between government and the body politic.
Control, and the excessive need for control seems to underlie the mind-set of those, like Harper who espouse a narrow perception of social issues facing government. The scale of various tax burdens, the scale of military and police investments and the rate of growth of the GNP....these are the guiding factors for such political leaders.
They do not link the wider and contributing factors that impinge on the achievement of "other" and to them "irrelevant" questions, and consequently they attempt to ride the tips of their chosen "benchmarks"....and both the media and much of the corporate world gives them the pass they so desperately need.
Others of us, however, remain sceptical, suspicious, and even dismissive of such reductionisms, although our recognition of the messiness and the complexities of our definitions of issues does not deter our idealism.
Increasingly we know from multiple research projects in so many different academic disciplines that the isolation of serious issues into simplistic reductionisms is a danger to the overall health and well being of the body politic. We can't pour sugar into our children's tummies through our school cafeterias and not expect them to develop diabetes and obesity. We cannot remove the arts and physical education from their curriculum and expect that science and math and technology can or will replace those missing ingredients in their balanced diet.
And we cannot remove the responsibilities of contemporary governments the need to publicly acknowledge and address messy and potentially intractable issues like racism, classism, and the abuse of power, in the definition of issues, that is permitted in too many human interactions.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The plight of young black and latino men in the U.S. and of aboriginal young women in Canada...racism abounds

More and more frequently, the 49th parallel is becoming like swiss cheese....very porous.
This week, we learned that the American fast food giant, Burger King is purchasing Canadian business "icon" Tim Hortons, another fast food veteran of the past half century in Canada. For the American audience, the purchase/sale is about tax avoidance on Burger King's part. By joining a holding company, whose head office will be located in Oakville Ontario, a distant suburb of Toronto, the company will pay at least 10% less in federal tax, given the difference between the Canadian and U.S. corporate tax rates. For the Canadian audience, the merger is about lowering standards and tarnishing what has become a national "brand" of considerable pride, even though the coffee, donuts and other baked goods do definitely deserve to be known by consumers around the world.
The purchase price of $12 billion seems quite astronomic, given the waning sales of Burger King products over the last couple of years. Reports are that the two companies are not intending, at least for now, to merge their offerings: no burgers will Tim's coffee, and no Tim's Donuts with a Big Whopper.
This story has received much coverage in both American and Canadian news rooms for the last few days,
There are two other stories boiling on both sides of the 49th parallel that are boiling, yet separate and unique to each country.
In the U.S. there is a public outcry following the Ferguson Illinois police shooting of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown. Reports from various sources who are outraged indicate that there may be as many as 1080 unarmed  black and latino young men who have been murdered by police forces across the United States over the last two or three years.
In Canada, the issue is murdered and mission aboriginal women, some 1200 according to published reports. The most recent case involves a young aboriginal woman who was buried this past weekend in Winnipeg.
In the United States, the Justice department is conducting an investigation into whether or not civil rights charges might be laid in the Michael Brown case.
In Canada, however, the Prime Minister Steven Harper has steadfastly resisted a public inquiry into the murdered and missing aboriginal women.
A Justice department investigation and a Public Inquiry are clearly not the same thing. Canadians and Americans, through their public figures and governments do things differently.
However, both issues beg some obvious questions about the fabric of race relations on both sides of the 49th.
Black and latino young men being murdered by public police officers, paid by the taxpayers of various states and counties offer a continuing scourge on the reputation of a country that has not shed the shackles of deep and profound racism in well over 200 years.
The fact that over 1000 young women from First Nations communities in Canada are dead or missing, while the federal government refuses to open the discussion formally and fully to a public inquiry into the root causes of Canada's most enduring and most racist blight on her conscience is no slight cause of embarrassment for Canadians. Premiers of all provinces and territories are demanding a public inquiry. Citizen activists of all ethnicities are calling for a public inquiry. The Harper government insists the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women is a criminal issue,  requiring continued, uninterrupted police investigation. They contend that a public inquiry would only impede such an inquiry. Some in Canada are asking that public focus include the numbers of missing and murdered young men.
In the United States, we have not heard voices focusing on the needs and issues around young black and latino women,
So, amidst the racism that is magnetizing political conversations and debates in Canada and the United States, issues of poverty, ceilings on opportunities through education, employment, family nurturing and the relations that have existed and continue to exist between the black and aboriginal communities and the body politic, including those in government and those responsible for public peace and security, that means law enforcement overlap the issues facing public officials in both countries.
Focussing only or mainly on the legal issues, looking for the criminals both in the police forces in the United States, and the policed forces across Canada is merely a Band-Aid approach to the fundamental issues facing those young men and women living at the bottom of the sociological ladder in towns, cities and regions in both countries.
Both countries face a serious danger of objectifying these young men and women, by grouping them as statistical numbers, thereby reducing them from former living and vibrant human beings to digits under study, so they might fit into some policy forum, fixable through both the laying of criminal charges and convictions and removing the obligation on public figures to address underlying and root issues that are far less amenable to political or legal "pills".
Racism is not something that can be crammed into a politician's "file folder" under the broader title of "UNSOLVABLE ISSUES".... Each and every politician of all political parties in both countries is sharing responsibility for removing those clinging barnacles and tumors of both overt and more insidious nuanced racism, that includes a form of sexism. We are watching racism play out, with quite different faces and forms in Canada and the United States, while politicians in both countries would prefer to deal with single issues, one by one, without digging more deeply into the far more disturbing underlying issues.
To dig into those underlying issues, of course, would require a complete re-thinking of the fundamental principles of how the rich are getting richer and the outcasts are being thrown into the ditch in both cultures, with what looks like complete impunity on the part of those in power in both countries.
Clearly the top 1% in both countries have a common white face.
Also, clearly, the governments in both countries are comprised of primarily white faces.
Also clearly, the sensitivity to issues underlying murdered black young men, and murdered and missing aboriginal young women seems to be a publicly shared need by both populations in Canada and the United States. The power structure strongly resists digging deeply into the root causes especially of issues that have plagued these so-called "advanced" and "liberal" countries, because, presumably they do not wish to expose themselves to  the dangers of relinquishing some of their treasured and jealously guarded power "percs". However, for the power blocks in Canada and the United States to continue to bury their heads, hearts and eyes in the sands of denial brings shame on the people in both countries.
It is a no-brainer for ordinary folks to recognise the facts of racism, of ostracism, of insouciance and even of negligence of those most in need of public support throughout their lives, beginning at birth, continuing through early education programs and nutrition programs, access to quality health care, reasonable housing, public security and responsible parenting, as well as access to the same opportunities that "white young people" enjoy....
And, that gap is growing, shaming both countries.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Calgary Imam declares ISIS will destroy Islam!...he is right and we need to hear his hunger strike as a call to action

Canadian Imam says ISIS will destroy Islam.
Those are his words not mine and the Calgary Muslim cleric said them in a video recording on CBC television.
Naturally, we agree with him and support his hunger strike to gain attention inside the Muslim world for the depth and breadth of the danger, not only to Islam but also to the whole world.
We are not proud of the fact that we have been crying out for months, perhaps even years, against the spreading cancer of Islamic jihad. without witnessing any apparent sharing of those fears among the leaders of the world's nations, at least to the degree that this Calgary Imam has now joined and proclaimed.
The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, through the Home Secretary in his Cabinet writing an article that appeared in the British press last night, is proposing legislation that would take direct aim at those in Great Briton who espouse Islamic terror, even British Imams who advocate violence through their homilies and the distribution of leaflets, on behalf of the recruitment of new jihadists to the ISIS campaign to establish a caliphate. Just yesterday, a digital advertisement imposing the ISIS insignia on the image of the White House, proclaiming the promising the destruction of America and all of her allies.
Whenever and wherever I have encountered Sunni Muslims, over the last few years, I have formally and directly pleaded with those men to "tame their monster" referring firstly to Al Qaeda and more recently, ISIS, as well as the Imam in Great Briton who was quoted as announcing that Islamic jihad intended to take over Buckingham Palace, leaving the Royal Family two choices, convert or leave the country. It is neither as advocate for the preservation of the crown as the head of state in Canada, nor as rocket scientist that we have spoken out against such abhorrent statements. It is merely a non-Muslim, Caucasian Canadian's response to the facts as reported on the ground in too many countries on too many continents, in Nigeria, Sudan, Central African Republic, Somalia, Spain, the United States, Great Britain and elsewhere.
It has been neither comfortable nor comfortably received that these admonishings were delivered and received. I do not like telling another human being that there are men (almost exclusively) operating as agents of his faith community in their own perceptions and words and actions, with a purpose and goal of violently imposing their tyrannical will on innocents, both Muslim and "infidel" (their word).
The Imam in Calgary has obviously, and with much more relevance and credibility than I, been making similar overtures against this cancer. He has experienced direct death threats, and another such threat just this week. Just this week, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyhu spoke this way about Hamas: "They are a branch of the same tree as ISIS!"
And that is just another reason why all people, Christians, Jews, and all others including Muslims who do not subscribe to the radical Sunni interpretation of the Koran held by these scum, must, for the purpose of the survival of all humanity, join in solidarity against this scourge in its current and any future iterations.
The military wing of Hamas just yesterday, is reported to have executed some 18 Palestinians whom they accused and convicted, in a terrorist court, of spying for Israel. Six of those 18 were executed in public, by masked terrorist members of Hamas, as a demonstration of what will happen to others who might consider spying for Israel. Also, just yesterday, another suicide bomber drove a vehicle into the Security Offices of the government of Baghdad, killing another couple of dozen Iraqi's....reports have not yet confirmed this latest act was committed by an ISIS agent, but here is little doubt that it was.
ISIS, sadly, has also infiltrated Syria, to the degree that the United States might actually be compelled to ally with Assad, the hated leader of that country, in a marriage of  necessity, certainly not of choice. The Sunni members of the Iraqi government this week walked out of talks dedicated to the formation of a unity government that represents all factions of the Iraqi population, Sunni, Shia, Kurd and minorities.
Will the United States be forced to drop bombs on Syria, in their drive to eradicate ISIS, a country that has already faced the deaths of over 120,000 in the three years plus of its civil war? There are strong indications that that development is imminent. Will other western governments be forced to join the military initiatives against ISIS around the world? Will the people represented by those governments subscribe to the need for actions on all fronts to not merely drive ISIS underground as bombing raids certainly will, but to decapitate its many heads, and disperse its many cohorts, including the use of the intelligence cohort, the police and criminal cohort, the military cohort, and sadly, the citizen cohort.
If all citizens do not share the Calgary Imam's perception and reality, that ISIS will destroy Islam, along with all other models of western culture including all faith communities, then this initiative (much more than a "project", to use the president's latest word for his many initiatives) will fail and ISIS will indeed impose its terror not only on the Twin Towers of Manhattan, but on the many structures and targets of our way of life.
For them this is a Holy War, analogous to the Crusades, only this time, we all face the threat that these thugs will eventually acquire not only our left over tanks and humvies, but our loose nukes and the capacity to fire them into our towns and cities. Last night's rocket attack on a Kibbutz in Israel, killing a four-year-old Israeli boy, fired by another arm of Islamic terrorism, Hamas, could be a foreshadowing of the kind of actions to which we could all be subject, without our having pushed back as vigorously and as coherently as each of us can.
And our leaders have to listen to the Calgary Imam, and to his perception of the risks of doing nothing, or doing too little too late, a tradition on so many files that does not do us proud or serve our purpose.

A Canadian imam known for his pacifist sermons warned Friday that Islamist militant group ISIS was actively recruiting in Canada and said one member issued him a death threat.

Syed Soharwardy, founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada (ISCC), called on Canadian and Western authorities to intensify the fight against Islamist militant movements.

"Absolutely I am convinced that this recruitment is going on right here in this country, under our noses, in our universities, in our colleges, in the places of worship, in our community," he told CBC public television.

Soharwardy added that a Muslim man from Ottawa who was fighting with ISIS in Mosul in northern Iraq had sent him a death threat on Facebook.

"He was condemning me for condemning ISIS, and he was saying that 'You are a deviant imam and your version of Islam is not the right version,'" Soharwardy said, using another acronym by which ISIS is known.
(Al Arabiya, Middle East. August 24, 2014)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Harper opens 2015 campaign with hollow rhetoric about straw men shelling "new" without substance....

According to the Globe and Mail, Stephen Harper just yesterday opened the campaign for the 2015 election, warning supporters in British Columbia, on a stop before heading for his annual trip to the Arctic, that liberals will attempt to sell "new" policies without putting any meat on those bones.
Actually, Harper has no need of expressing anxiety about "new" ideas from the opposition parties. He has so radically misshaped the historic traditions of Canada, and not for the better for Canadians, that it will be the job of both opposition parties to attempt to restore Canada's best and most cherished traditions, through turfing the Harper gang out of Ottawa.
Multilateralism, balance, human compassion especially for those at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, balanced initiatives that preserve and enhance economic growth while balancing the serious needs of the environment, respect for the provincial governments, engagement on health care sustainability and enhancement within the confines of shared provincial and federal leadership, shifting the "wealth" from the most affluent to a more shared and egalitarian approach....these are just some of the "old" and trusted and proven approaches that have stood Canada well, when applied by both "liberal" and "progressive conservative" governments over the last century and a half.
There would be a return to respect for the institutions like the Supreme Court, the Civil Service, the historic role of departments like Statistics Canada whose work has fueled social policy for both academic researchers and social planners in the field since its inception, falling into disrepute through the elimination of the long-form census. Federal support for scientific research of the fisheries, and for significant and long overdue initiatives that would help to push back against the pollutants belching into the Canadian atmosphere by the friends of this government who rape our natural resources for profit while leaving the environment devastated in their wake, as the government turns a blind eye to environmental regulation and oversight.
It is the old chestnut of "common sense" and respect for all regardless of their political or economic status and ideology that Mr. Harper has more to fear than "new" policies without substance.
Demonstrating the capacity to critically self-examine one's performance, as we have witnessed from the White House podium by the current occupant of that office for the last six years is another of the Canadian traditions that could and would return with the removal of the Harper government and the willingness and the courage to work with political differences in Ottawa would be another sign of a return to something Canadians have cherished for the length and breadth of our history.
A willingness and a determination to negotiate honestly, openly and respectfully with First Nations with a view to bringing that population fully into the mainstream of Canadian life and culture would be another obvious change that Canadians could look forward to with the removal of the Harper Neanderthals.
Answering questions posed by the reporters attached to the campaign, as another sign of respect for the role and responsibility of leadership, rather than staged and scripted phoney exchanges with selected reporters and planted questions would be another sign that Canada has indeed returned to something like her former self-respecting status of respect for the deployment of political power with a light touch, and not with the fist of arrogance.
No, Mr. Harper, is it not "new" marketing ideas from the opposition parties that are your greatest enemy. It is the record of your government that has so taken this country off course from the history and traditions that leaders much more successful and treasured than you have engrained into our DNA that poses your most serious threat to re-election. And for you not be aware of that reality is another way by which you demonstrate your existence in your own bubble of the wealthy, the privileged and the 1% whose cash fills your party's coffers and whose authority will be challenged along with yours in 2015.

Mr. Harper said other parties will ask Canadians not to think about the choice between change and the strong economy, safer country and stronger position in the world the Conservatives will tout to win votes.
“You can listen to the liberal elites, and the liberal media pundits and liberal interest groups and you can hear the plan: Tell Canadians there’s something new and exciting,” Mr. Harper said, speaking to an audience of several hundred.
But he suggested there would be no details beyond the plan being “new.”
“They’re going to tell you this. Just close your eyes, dream but don’t ruin it by asking any hard questions. If you want something from the government, whatever you want, they’re going to tell you you can have it. Don’t worry about how it’s going to be paid for.” (By Ian Bailey, The Globe and Mail, August 21, 2014)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Can the NDP take power in Canada....some modest proposals for consideration of that worthy goal

Winning even a minority government, for the Canadian NDP under Tom Mulcair's leadership, in 2015 is and will continue to be a national priority. However, it is certainly not a foregone or predictable result. There are many residual impediments deeply buried in the national culture that stand between Mulcair's move from Stornoway, the home of the Leader of the Opposition, to 24 Sussex, the Canadian home of Prime Ministers.
Some of these impediments, while nothing in politics is exclusively dependent on merely empirical, scientific evidence, have been shaped by the complex combination of some evidence generated by history, and the process of how that evidence is perceived over time by the general public, the body politic.
One example of that 'distortion' is the lamentable reputation of the Bob Rae NDP government in Ontario in the 1990's. His government admittedly made mistakes, as have all governments. However, transferring those mistakes to the national party bearing the same name is nothing short of misplaced resentment, misplaced revenge and a denial of the full truths of  both the previous Ontario government and the potential of the current NDP in Ottawa to operate differently. Mulcair has to confront this "demon" of distortion and reclaim the high ground, in Ontario, using the positive evidence from the record to reconstruct the Rae government's reputation first among Ontario voters and second with the national media. To some extent this is a project of defeating a straw man, one based on distortions, and on misrepresentations and on exaggerations incubated and nurtured by a right wing dismissal of a 'bad apple' of a government that does not deserve the dissing.
Another 'demon' that Mulcair has to confront is that the NDP cannot and does not provide competent administration when in government. The pages of Canadian history abound with examples of excellent administrations all formed and led by the NDP. Some of these governments bear the names of premiers Tommy Douglas, Allan Blakeney, Roy Romanow, all of them leaders whose administrations provide more than adequate shoulders upon which Mulcair can  build a case for his own potential administration. Once again, however, he has to demonstrate the aspects of successful administrations he actually likes and would adopt, as his way of earning and earning and re-earning the trust of the Canadian electorate.
And then there is the question of the relationship of the NDP to the labour movement, a movement that just last night blackened both its own eye and that of the party through its protest in the city council chambers in Montreal when the city fathers were debating a measure that would require unionized workers to contribute more to their own pensions. Smoke bombs and overtaking the council chambers, treating the members of Montreal city council with disrespect including physical punches and raining copies of their collective agreement throughout the chambers is no way to protest changes to their pension contributions.
However, there are ample opportunities to begin the process of restoring the public respect and dignity of ordinary workers for Mulcair to embrace the issue of worker protections without falling into the trap of a Siamese twin relationship with the worst elements of the labour movement. Providing tax incentives for corporations who actually respect their workers, whether they operate within a union framework or not would be a reasonable beginning. Providing leadership through the contractual relationships that exist between the federal government and its own employees and contractors, through minimum wages, monitoring the ways through which the federal government achieves labour trust and respect would be helpful to other employers and their workers, through the publication of such examples of enlightened leadership. A serious look at the question of the federal minimum wage would also demonstrate a commitment to the lives of ordinary workers. And of course, the question of temporary foreign workers needs a unique, compassionate and fair approach, as compared with the exclusively pro-corporate approach of the Harper government. Workers also need the kind of legislative support for their legitimate needs, perhaps under a different rubric, such as worker associations that are unique to each corporation and not linked to an international union, working through a reinvigorated International Labour Organization, when comparing best practices (like those in Germany) as standards for Canadian workers. These modest steps would help to bend the arc of public perceptions of how the NDP would deal with the current realities of employer-employee relations.
And then there is the fundamental question of how Canada extracts and protects our natural resources which include not only oil and gas but also water, forestry and mineral extracts. A national approach to extractive processes that respect the long-term needs of the environment while permitting the exploration of new claims, including how Canadian resources are negotiated on the world market, and how the workers of Canadian corporations are treated around the world, while respecting the global environment....without necessarily imposing a carbon tax but through more creative fiscal structuring of natural resource extractions and the needed confrontation of how Canada will both use and protect our water in a world hell-bent on privatizing water, with the big guys already depleting the underground reservoirs in places like California one of the most productive world garden.
And on this note, the NDP could provide tax incentives for Canadians who return to local gardening and providing fresh fruits and vegetables for local populations, without the use of harmful toxic fertilizers.
And following up on the "greening of Canada" theme, the NDP could provide significant tax incentives to individual families to move off the electricity grid, and to purchase those fruits and vegetables grown in local community gardens, and to encourage provincial governments to subsidize new initiatives that link bedroom communities to their larger workplace hubs through commuter buses on a smaller scale to the already successful examples like the GO system in the GTA. People are moving out of cities and are crowding the township roads back into the cities where they work but would benefit from medium-sized buses to convey them to their work, without having to drive or spend excessive dollars on energy to drive their private cars.
And still with energy, the question of  the refining of Canadian crude inside the Canadian refineries, including the question of reversing an existing pipeline and the potential need for additional pipelines, as well as assurances that rail cars will meet minimum standards in the transition needs to be a priority for the party's energy position.
And then, there is a question of another national intervention into both the health care field and the field of transportation and communication. With respect to health care, we need a national drug plan and provides access to needed drugs to all in need, a national program to provide access to dental services for at least all children regardless of the economic status of their families, a nationally supported, if not Ottawa directed early child education program including access to high nutrition and physical activities through enhanced leadership and support for such programs as participaction and access to physical team sports for all children with both interest and commitment.
And while we are dreaming of a more "perfect" Canadian society under an NDP government, we will naturally expect prisoners to face rehabilitation that works, judges to return to a flexible sentencing posture, and workers to find full-time employment with minimal safeguards from physical and political interference and dangers.
And then, lets begin the process of investigating the feasibility of a trans-national rapid transit monorail train system that emulates those being built (in part by Canadian companies) in other countries. Our vision of the Canadian iteration of the national monorail system would link all provinces and territories and provide opportunities not only for employment but also for enhanced exposure by all Canadians of all regions and local cultures and traditions.
It is not a complete list of proposals but rather a stimulus to provoke more submissions from others more qualified than your scribe, in order to enhance the prospects of an NDP government in the election of 2015. And there is no need to move rapidly into the Colorado model of "pot" fundraising in order to be popular.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri, the latest scene in a long-running American tragedy

America is once again bleeding!
She is fraught with so much anger and tension with so many background roots that official government seems unwilling or unable (or both) to do much to alleviate. Of course, the shooting by police of another unarmed young black man who was apparently holding his hands over his head while being shot six times twice in the head, in Ferguson Missouri is the precipitating incident.
However, with three autopsy reports being performed on his body, and dozens of people walking the streets throughout the nights, for the past ten days since the murder of Michael Brown, the removal of the local police force from the duty of providing peace and security, the responsibility having been handed over to the State Highway Patrol department, and the calling in of the National Guard just last night by the governor....there is no end in sight to the simmering angst, which is being compared favourably to other similar situations from other years and other locations throughout the U.S.
Militarizing the police, following 9/11 in a panic of fear, without appropriate training, naturally has provided additional means of crowd control, but the original police shots, plus the overriding of the local police by the governor and the demographic shift of the population of Ferguson, formerly primarily white, now primarily black although the police force itself is mainly white and the feelings of injustice that have been obviously lurking underneath the surface of the community for some time all combine to generate a toxic social cocktail that is leaving a black mark on the face of the community, as well as on the country.
The president has weighed in a couple of times calling for calm and dubbing violence against the police as well as over-reactions by those police as inexcusable, never wanting to "tip the scales" while the situations are proceeding and investigations continuing. People who have driven to Ferguson have allegedly  been arrested, so the situation is providing an opportunity for those seeking to express rage from outside the community to bring their own feelings of injustice and powerlessness to the streets of Ferguson.
This is not the Arab Spring, not the tension in eastern Ukraine, and not the war between Israel and Hamas. It is a very localized set of circumstances. However, it does have the potential of burning another historic wound into the consciousness of the nation.
Race relations, in spite of the election of the first black president, have not been reduced with that election. Race relations, in fact, have undoubtedly become exacerbated, through the growth of the gulf between the have's and the have not's.
There are stunning facts about the suspension and expulsion rates of black young men from American schools, far higher than the rates for while male students. There are also stunning numbers of unarmed black youth having been shot by law enforcement personnel in all corners of the country, numbers that eclipse the figures of white young men in relation to law enforcement. Black mothers speak openly about "having had the talk" with their male children, introducing them to the reality of having to go out into an highly unfriendly world, orienting them to the rigours of how they will have to confront that world, without losing either their dignity or their life and freedom.
White mothers and fathers, on the other hand, simply do not have to have "that talk" and the disparity continues to haunt the streets of communities across the nation.
From the outside, we can only speculate at the depth and the angst of a nation conceived in the violence of rebellion, developed through the even deeper violence of a Civil War that set brother against brother, not over a foreign invader, but over the continuation of slavery, that monster of the abuse of power that will plague the United States so long as there is a United States.
No matter how "developed" and how "advanced" and how "progressive" the country has become, and will continue to become, it will always carry with it in its conscience and in its unconscious, the plague of its own history, in proportions that few nations will understand.
Even when the president sends the Attorney General, Eric Holder, himself a respected black leader, into the situation in Ferguson, to help calm the waters, there is no guarantee that his presence will have the desired impact the president hopes for. There is no single person who has the influence sufficient to the complexities of the situation unfolding in Ferguson to calm the winds of fear, injustice, vengeance and the sheer opportunism that always attaches itself to erupting social wounds.
Criminality, without race overtones, resides inside the body of every town and city; that element will rear its ugly head wherever and whenever the occasion opens to their subversion. With the race element added, the apparent lessening of prospects for young men and women facing a life of an education that is less than what is required to survive and a degree of poverty that attends many in the black community.... the shots fired into the body and head of Michael Brown are nothing short of the spark that ignites the tinder box of a dry and parched economy, that watches the rich grow their incomes and opportunities on the backs of those seemingly "sentenced" to lives of scarcity and resentment.
If those shots actually waken the country to the kind of disparity it has grown and fostered and nurtured, and brings all elements in the political leadership to their senses through legislation that levels the playfield through job opportunities, tax policies and long-term fiscal equity, then they will have brought a needed outcome to a festering disease of denial, insouciance and irresponsibility.
However, the prospects of that kind of long-term resolution to the underlying dynamics are not promising. In fact, the  public consciousness will shift from this crisis to the next, put the faces of experts on the television screens across the country, keep the news departments up all night providing coverage, and then move on to the next enactment of the long-running drama of division, both of race and of opportunity on the streets, in the classrooms, and in the court rooms of the nation.
And the world will be the needed "audience" for this most tragic and epic of struggles, the American battle the with demon of racism, their unique version of the eternal struggle between the powerful and the powerless.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Can and will the world come together to eradicate ISIS?

Whether or not the world is prepared to confront ISIS, ISIL, or whatever these thugs want to call themselves, is still an open question. Whether or not the new iteration of Islamic terror is primarily the result of Assad's civil war in Syria, or the result of former Iraqi prime minister Maliki's pro-Shia approach, that excluded Sunni's from the government of Iraq seems almost a mute question, given the serious threat that these monsters pose for the Middle East, and much less hyperbolically that previously, to the "west".
What is facing the Obama administration, and through it the principal countries comprising the
G7, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, China, Canada (currently excluding Putin's Russia, now destined to reinstate spying capability in Cuba, after having forgiven some $32Billion in Cuban debt to the former Soviet Union) is the primary question of how to bring ISIS to heel, how to dismantle it, disarm it, destroy it....whatever verb seems order to rid the world of the scourge that threatens not only the land regions of Syria and Iraq, but potentially the way of life that includes both religious tolerance and some form of democracy, in order to accomplish their "holy" caliphate.
Iran's hands, arms, weapons and financial support are all over the former Maliki government's Shia leanings, excluding the Sunnis, and whether the new prime ministers, also a Shiite, is really prepared to change course, is another of those questions to which the world will have to wait to learn the answer.
It was Richard Hass, appearing on GPS with Fareed Zakaria, who proposed that the United States ramp up support for the Kurdish forces currently fighting ISIS in Iraq, and help them move through the swiss-cheese boundary that used to exist between Iraq and Syria, and begin to take on the Assad regime, ironically also opposed by the ISIS terrorists.
Why doe the people of the Middle East appear to be facing one of two equally "bad" options, rule under a repressive and Iranian backed tyranny or life under another chapter of ISIS?
And can the world even contemplate one or  both of these options, given the west's reluctance to become fully engaged, with "boots on the ground" in what looks dangerously like a quagmire of military and civil as well as sectarian conflict?
Ethnic and religious "cleansing" as a way to describe the overt mass killings of the encircled Tazidis on Sanjir mountain in northwest Iraq, likely to be renamed Kurdistan very shortly, seems almost clinical and antiseptic, given the impact on families and children. Is the world truly horrified about the massacre of this religious minority, given the hundreds of Syrians who have been slaughtered over the last three years plus in that conflict, without the west using air strikes to defeat Assad?
Or have the western leaders come to the place where avoiding military intervention in Syria is no longer a viable option, given the stronghold that ISIS has established there, far beyond what most observers would or could have predicted only a few months ago?
Of course, recruiting among the Islamists is galloping along, apparently including hundreds at least from many western countries, who, having converted to Islam, are seduced by the brainwashing propaganda of this version of the faith, including the promise of some kind of eternal paradise for those who volunteer to serve as suicide bombers. "National Security" is now the phrase that many observers are using, in reference to the dangers posed indirectly to countries like the United States, and potentially Canada, from these Islamic terrorists, trained to fight in ISIS camps, but potentially returning under their native passports, to inflict harm back home.
Fighting the last war, a theme that attends most conversations about how the western countries approach their military threats, is clearly no longer a viable option, given the dramatic changes that have evolved both through western inaction and from western action since 9/11. The course of Middle East geopolitics has changed dramatically, following the Arab Spring, that eruption that initially promised hope and change from dictatorships to democracies, for those of us naïve enough
to have swallowed that pipe dream. Violence, from and through the rapid growth and development of Islamic radicals, supported by sinister forces both civil and state from the Middle East itself, is now the norm in Syria, Iraq, as well as between Israel and Gaza with Hamas fighting under the umbrella of Iran, while she negotiates with the Group of 5 + 1 over whether or not she will be enabled to develop highly enriched nuclear materials, some fear that could be used in a bomb.
While there are attempts at diplomatic negotiations among and between "state" actors, it is clear that there can be no negotiation with ISIS, that Islamic terrorism, like Ebola, has to be stopped, stamped out and eradicated....and also just like Ebola, there is no known "cure" or political protocol that can or will achieve such an eradication...
The world is facing very dangerous threats from many quarters, spawned it seems by those ready and eager to inflict death and devastation, no matter whether military action is taken against them or not.
Quarantine is a medical tradition, that could help in the Ebola crisis; however, a similar measure is extremely difficult to impose against ISIS, if not impossible. And this ISIS cancer will not "spend itself out" if all carriers are quarantined; in fact, it has demonstrated the capacity to morph into whatever form and shape is needed, above ground and public, or underground and much more secret, depending on the ways in which it views the world's attempt to stop them.
Education, employment and the provision of good food and health care, while necessary in the long run to dry up the pool of recruits to ISIS, will take too long to remove the current threat. We have to come together, as this space has argued for months, as a world community, to put our intellectual, political, military, intelligence and creative capacities and skills together, to devise and to execute a short- medium and long-term strategy to eliminate this movement from our lives.
And we do not have much time.....and even the most responsible political leaders are now expressing similar views. They are no longer the exclusive rant of those who see the apocalypse in every outbreak of violence.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A defence of ambiguity in a world that worships dogmatic certainties

It was David Brooks, on PBS last night, who provided a clear picture of what he called the substantive differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on foreign  policy. Clinton, according to Brooks, is more of a "Kennedy-Truman" Democrat, preferring to use more muscle, or hard power, in more situations, whereas Obama has to be dragged kicking and screaming into any use of military force, to fulfil the goals of America's 'national interest' in the world.
The evidence of the last few days, especially following the Clinton interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, would seem to support Brooks, especially focusing on what Clinton sees as a failure to arm the rebels in Syria in the early stages of that civil war, a failure that Clinton seems to lay squarely at Obama's feet, and that she speculates led to the rise of ISIS, ISIL, the latest iteration of what began as AlQaeda, and many believe to be much more virulent than the original version.
On the macro level, Obama is following the red-neck Dubya who attempted to impose a wild west mentality of shoot first and ask questions later. Consequently, Obama may have begun his first term convinced that the world needed less of American guns, missiles and hardened will. However, on a more intimate, personal and perhaps even more important level, Obama may well have a different level of tolerance of what some would call "ambiguity".
Ambiguity is a word that has fallen into serious disrepute as the world pursues "all the facts-all the time and everywhere" through all of the means available, including 24-7 news channels, social media and the original establishment news outlets. Ambiguity is the perception that inherently includes uncertainty, even confusion, unknowing and the capacity to hold two opposite positions on the same issue at the same time.
Google defines Ambiguity as a noun meaning: uncertainty or inexactness of meaning in language.
vagueness, obscurity, abstruseness, doubtfulness, uncertainty;
ambivalence, equivocation, double meaning: these are some of the synonyms of the word.
"the ambiguity of the rule made it impossible to follow"
One of the more odious connotations of ambiguity is indecisiveness, a failure to choose between two options, in short a serious weakness, especially in a culture dominated by the pursuit and acquisition of power. Ambiguity could then almost be an antonym of power.
Our voracious appetite for immediate certainty speaks volumes about our deep and profound uncertainty, insecurity, fear and apprehension. We expect our leaders, unfortunately, to have thirty-second, black-and-white, unequivocal and unambiguous positions on the most complex and intractable problems, and to articulate those positions in the immediacy of the highest moment of the crisis that looms in the latest headline.
In tandem with that demand, (and it is clearly a demand because even in the feeding of our appetites, we are unrelenting in our pursuit of their fulfilment) there is a level of stature, respect and political influence afforded to those who can and do articulate black and white positions.
"We will decriminalize marijuana"....says Justin Trudeau, in a blatant bribe of the large segment of the population who has and continues to use the weed.
"White men are not permitted to live on the reserve" is a current dispute on a Canadian First Nation reserve.
"Black men have a target on their back" is a perception among many in Ferguson, Missouri.
"The white police force in Ferguson is racist" is another of the unambiguous perceptions in Ferguson.
Attempting to calm the storm, President Obama utters another "unequivocal" statement: There is no excuse for violence against law enforcement!" Also, there is no excuse for law enforcement to use excessive  force to achieve public security.....
And yet, for many it is not an excuse for the black people of Ferguson to protest the actions of a white policeman who shot and killed a black youth. It is normal, natural and a reasonable expression of both anger and apprehension that they or their son could be next. Venting  violently is what Obama is calling on the people of Ferguson to stop. Violence, as the unequivocal epithet goes, begats violence.
So what is it about Hillary's position to deploy American military power that evokes the American 'conservative' spirit, and about Obama's restraint in invoking that military power that evokes contempt from that same American conservative spirit? Is it possible that the American spirit is so dependent on action and action so dependent on clarity and the groundwork of that clarity is defining both the nature of the enemy and the nature of a clear, unequivocal response that will evoke public support, that the public discourse around all issues is limited by this dependence on action.
Many will argue that not taking action is also decisive, unambiguous, and clear. Refusing to act for reasons that are  based on a long-term assessment of a situation, both in the midst of the situation and also upon reflection (as was Hillary's critique of Obama's Syrian default) is nevertheless unambiguous. It is, however, for many in the American political class, the wrong kind of decisiveness, the wrong kind of clarity, the wrong kind of leadership.
And here is the place at which action comes into direct conflict with passivity....and for most Americans, these two are irreconcilable bedmates. Action and passivity....seemingly mutually exclusive, unless one is able and willing to include a tolerance of ambiguity in one's perception of the situation.
If the situation is deemed to be so fragile that intervention of hard power would only exacerbate the dilemma, then most reasonable and responsible people would choose to refrain from intervening. If the situation is so complex that it might be impossible to discern the enemy from the allies, then taking action by military intervention could and likely would rebound on the intervening power.
However, one of the dangers of ambiguity is that it can be easily deployed as a method of convincing oneself, or an administration, or a public, not to take action, for reasons unrelated to the situation, such as political survival. If the public has no stomach for military action (as does the American public after Iraq and Afghanistan) then political survival could well be deemed to be "inaction" or a kind of ambiguity with which the American public, as well as it history, is unfamiliar, uncomfortable and even in some quarters contemptuous.
It was Dubya who proudly proclaimed, "I do not do nuance!"
Obama, on the other hand, could be dubbed "the king of ambiguity and nuance" so capable is he of holding two opposing positions on an issue in a tolerant balance, while discerning the precise and appropriate and long-standing response that is in the best interest of the nation. And all the while is he restraining his response to any of the many complex and entangled situations boiling on the many stove elements around the world, he is inflaming his political foes, and to some extent emboldening them as well. For her part, Hillary could be forging a position midway between her two predecessors, should she chose to run for the White House and win the presidential election in 2016. Ambiguity, however, is not a political quality that warrants much public endorsement.
And yet, ambiguity could well be the foundation of a national maturity and even a personal or organisational maturity, that is quite distinct from "burying the head in the sand," in order to avoid facing responsibility.
There is much evidence to support the restoration of ambiguity to a position of respectability, especially given the forces ranged against it in their obsessive pursuit of political power. And while America, Russia, and ISIS are all engaged in their own version of excessive ambition, for their political ideologies, (no the American pursuit is not identical with either the Russian or the ISIS ambitions, yet has witnessed similar examples of the abuse of power throughout history) the binary aspect of technology is not as supportive of ambiguity, nor are the testing devices used to determine intellectual acuity, nor are the demands of political leadership, nor are the expectations of medical patients of their doctors, nor, unfortunately are the expectations of religious organizations on their flock. In our headlong abandonment, even destruction, of the value and importance of ambiguity, uncertainty, and the capacity to hold two equally valid and opposing positions on the same issue, we are in danger of a kind of scorched-earth policy against our intellectual capacity and complexity, as well as against our capacity to imagine a variety of situations that can and would readily inhabit the same universe engaging each other in new sparks of creativity and insight, from which some light could be introduced into previously dark corners of our consciousness.



Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The koolaid of extrinsic addictions: the drug of choice of the power elite

Everyone you meet these days comments somewhere in the conversation, if it extends beyond thirty seconds, that the world seems to be heading in a very dangerous direction....just waiting for a spark to ignite a very big explosion, the dimensions and the implications of which are too brutal even to contemplate.
And there is a trainload of evidence from many quarters that, taken together, bodes ill for a peaceful future. And there is another fleet of ships, all of them industries, schools, churches, corporations, armies, navies and airforces and most professions, all dedicated to the manipulation of the extrinsic symbols.
Pictures too are symbolic of our addiction to the world of evidence that can be manipulated, distorted, and deployed by those in the seats of power, for their own primary advantage.
We have lost our openness to our intrinsic, internal, often unmanageable selves, so busy are we, individually and collectively chasing whatever extrinsic symbols that are our fixations.
From a very early age, we learn how to perform, in order to "please" our caregivers; and we learn that pleasing trend through  both rewards and punishments. We are "conditioned" to seek, to earn and to receive, and thereby to become dependent on the smile, the treat, the hug and the many other rewards depending on the range of  both external resources and human imagination of the caregiver.
Then in schools, the process of our conditioning truly takes on monster proportions. We are herded into a sense of chasing after marks, the extrinsic symbols of those hugs and touches of endearment that we were introduced to in our families of origin. Of course, those whose first years were deprived of those "touches" of endearment will be less familiar with the power structure that seeks to maintain control through a balanced diet of both rewards and punishments and will seek and find activities and vocabulary and attitudes that evoke more negative responses than positive.
Whether through athletics, or technological skills, writing or scientific or math expertise, or just the exemplary capacity and talent to get along with others, we seek and develop paths that express our individual paths to the accumulation of "trophies", bursaries, expressions of applause, and the avoidance of those other kinds of neophyte infamy....frowns, scowls, reprimands, detentions, suspensions, and outright expulsions.
And there are multiple examples of how the "parents" actually interject their neurosis into the educational process, through such interventions as becoming active partners in the conduct of science fair experiments, even to the point of writing the "presentation" for the judges in order to achieve the "best" results for their child. Compete, win, achieve, keep the order of the tradition so that those with power, both legitimately within the family, and then within the social structures and later within the corporate, political, ecclesial and even artistic establishments can and do establish "standards" of behaviour that are uniquely suited to the achievement of their maintenance of that power.
Undergraduates learn the ideological leaning of their professors, including their "interpretation" of the literature under study, the political and historical figures and themes under the microscope, the  passions of their science, economics, technological and arts professors, and regurgitate those leanings through their essays, their reports, their examinations and their attitudes, including the display of incipient passions that reflect, and thereby burnish and polish the public images of their role models.
We rate the teachers, the professors, and even the administrators, through that ubiquitous public survey, a most blunt instrument, just like most of the other blunt instruments that seek to group attitudes, as if the average of the group was a full expression of the complexities of any situation, so that those in charge of "evaluation" can and will be better able to make their decisions.
For example, after attempting to instruct a group of aspiring police officers in a "private career college" on the ethics of police work, and failing miserably to inculcate the notion of withholding judgement while entering any scene of potential violation of the law, I included a optional question on an examination that touched on the issue, hoping that at least one of those students would have grasped the nuances of seeking, if not fully achieving objectivity, as a means of keeping one's attention open wide to the full spectrum of the evidence. When the owner of the "college" questioned those students, in an informal opinion poll, the very fact of the inclusion of that question was overturned into an act of irresponsibility because the "subject" was not covered in the classroom.
On another occasion, while teaching high school English, I constructed a marking scheme that included 5 marks for spelling, grammar and the issues of sentence structure, based on a deduction of one-half mark for each error. (This was obviously back in the dark ages of the 1970's and 80's when such issues mattered.) One student, with a bright mind, had written some very sloppy prose, from the perspective of spelling and grammar and had achieved a C grade when on content alone, the paper would have been an A. The parents, one a school psychologist, the other a professional social worker, petitioned the school in complaint of the marking scheme used for the examination, based on their belief that the classroom had not dedicated adequate time and attention to those issues of spelling and grammar for which their daughter received a low grade. They demanded a meeting of the head of department and myself, and removed their child from the school in order to avoid such poor grades.
Schools, and churches are merely complementary extensions of the families, given their deepening of the process of inculcating potential rewards and punishments for actions that both parents and churches consider "good and evil"....depending on their unique world view.
Only, with the churches, and the legal system, based as it is on a religious origin, there is the added power of God, or the criminal justice system with its many instruments to curb "deviant" those institutions have conceived that behaviour to be. And once again, it is the behaviour, as demonstrated by the evidence, that magnets their attention, and the motive is a much more difficult animal to tame. It is over motive and the history of the "accused" that the system is so weak, given the complexity and the time-consuming nature of any investigation into those two areas, especially the biography, given how the individual was oriented to the system of social and family controls that were taught, both by deed and by attitude.
Doctors too, in their pursuit of a professional career of "helping" are trained to examine the extrinsic evidence of a patient's "signs" through the use of various testing instruments, all of them conceived and developed in the culture of micro-extrinsic examinations, most of which either ignore completely or disdain sometimes monstrous stories that would clearly have shaped the mental, biological and attitudinal aspects of the patient's life.
And then, in one of the most negligent of applications of the "classical conditioning" manipulation of the culture, we have both consumer "education" and political pursuit of democracy, both dependent on the manipulation of evidence for the benefit of those "running" the systems, either the corporations or the political parties, for their own best results....while all the time expressing the benefits of their unique offering for their consumers, their electorate....and we, like sheep, seductively manipulated by the sheer bravado of their manipulations of their presentations, are herded into their various camps, crowned by their various "brands"....
And with the development of instruments of digital measurement of our attitudes, through the tracking of our internet searches, our internet comments and perceptions, all of them now available to the world, dangerously positioning the individual under the power of those whose power to gather such information has exceeded even their capacity to market their "wares"....and we have, on the one hand, the capacity of individuals with cell phones to collect instant mobs, but more importantly also the capacity of those who own the systems to manipulate the evidence, just as Facebook is now accused of doing, in order to socially engineer the responses of their "clients".....
And all the while, we are disdaining the kind of education, the liberal education, dedicated as it is to the discernment of bullshit, the discernment of manipulation through seduction, the discernment of underlying truths from the sizzle of the salesmanship in order to better understand our universe and our place in it. We have now turned our universities into job factories, concentrating on the pursuit of individual "extrinsic" trophies, like the BMW, the mansion, the exotic vacations and the power to command armies of drones, both human and technological, as if the culture needed only more people pursuing the same kind of sick live controlled by the conventions of our institutions and the people whose careers and reputations depend on the maintenance of those patterns...and our heart and cancer wards are filled with hordes of sick people, all of them having submitted to the rigours of following the "lead" of those in charge and refusing to challenge that "lead" as a matter of self-defence.
And we wonder why our health care budgets are straining to bankruptcy, and our armies and navies can no longer achieve the kind of submission of the enemy that once were their trophies, and their justification of their very existence, and the universities are incubators of  binge drinking, destructive competitions and career ambitions that trump, in the main, the pursuit of larger truths, more penetrating and more incisive insights that would, if permitted the light of day, transform this stampede of the cretins toward our own demise.
We have become so addicted to the pursuit of belonging, of fitting in, of achieving those extrinsic trophies that have now come to define our existence, when once they were considered means of motivation in a direction that could prove helpful for those less motivated but nevertheless capable of achieving breakthroughs in the complexities of all of our intellectual and ethical and industrial/economic theatres.
We have, in short, substituted the trophies and their acquisition for the intrinsic and much more significant activities of the mind, the spirit and the heart and in the process, we have reduced human beings to little more than transactional pawns in an overt series of exchanges of "what have you done for me lately" or "how can I manipulate you into my camp" on the part of establishments too proud and too fragile and too arrogant to acknowledge their complicity, indeed their addiction to their own powerlessness....hence their myopia in continuing the charade.
And this thesis has now been exported as the "success" of the western way of life into corners of the globe so innocent and untrained that they too will gulp our koolaid, without knowing the pits of despair to which they will be sentencing themselves and their offspring.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In Memoriam: Robin Williams

Not being a "student" of Hollywood films, my youth seemed to exclude most of the popular titles, sprinkled with the occasional "western" on Saturday afternoons, in the local "Strand Theatre" on James Street, the main street of our little sleepy town.
Although I took the opportunity to enrol in an undergrad course in the History of Film, an experience that exposed me to the pillars of film history, their cinematic technique, their production facilities, their plot structure and their "standing" in the museum of cinema, I remain an innocent neophyte with respect to the work of Hollywood.
However, there are a series of films, all of them starring the now-deceased Robin Williams, that both through his unforgettable characterizations and their narrative impact, have left me, along with millions, somewhat staggering in disbelief, shock, disappointment, and a little anger. He was the English Teacher in Dead Poet's Society, a role in which I was easily able to identify, having spent twenty-plus years in the front of English classrooms in both private and public secondary schools. His championing of both the art of acting in stage productions, especially in the face of "corporate parents" whose tolerance for such "trivial" pursuits, has to have ennobled thousands of other English teachers. while simultaneously disempowering those corporate fathers for their myopic and arrogant rejection of their thespian sons' ambition. Of course he was playing a role, but he chose to play that role.
And he chose to play the role of Patch Adams, another 'outlier-hero' in the medical arena, a therapist delivering lines that will endear him to audiences for decades if not more, as well as earning him an Oscar in Good Will Hunting, a nanny in Mrs. Doubtfire, ironically being called "back" to care for his own children following his divorce from their mother. "Doubtfire" appeared just at the time when I too had gone through the pain of a divorce, leaving three children behind, without the invitation, even in "drag" to care for them. And there was also "Good Morning Vietnam" in which he played the morning radio host, in his own "over-the-top" hypermanic style, urging  the world to take another look at what it meant to serve in the American military in that sadly tragic debacle.
There were also, we learn, dozens of appearances before troops in combat or even in peace-keeping missions, plus times when he surprised sick children by appearing in their homes, having travelled hundreds if not thousands of miles, when they could not travel, just to put a smile on their faces.
Whether it was his comedic stand-up performances, often with Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal in support of raising fund for the homeless, or on Comedy Central solo performances, or his dramatic film roles, Robin Williams never held back anything from the "gift" of his performance to his audience. Some cynics might call his antics "narcissistic" because whenever there were two or more people in his presence, he "turned on" to his performing persona. (Friends of decades also report if they were alone in an elevator with Robin, there was absolute silence, almost as if he was a complete stranger. One friend of thirty-five years even commented on CNN, "Robin Williams had absolutely no social skills!"
Social skills or not, his larynx and visage are indelibly inked on the memories of millions of people, from all countries, from all generations and from all ethnicities. His dramatic talent, linked to his comedic antics render him an electric charge of human energy, crafted and honed in hundreds of hours of formal and informal rehearsal, on and off stages around the world....and yet....
As so many experts have noted, comics are generally the most depressed people, using their "jokester" as their covering "mask"....there is a guarantee that the mask will always work in the sense that they will never have to disclose the nature of the demons that live in their psyches, nor the difficulty of riding those demonic monsters in the very private corners of their personal lives.
Unhappy mothers, especially for young boys, will, as did Robin's, evoke all manner of attempts to "make Mother smile"....that is the nature of the relationship between many mothers and their sons.
Manic depression will continue to haunt millions of people around the world, without the public becoming more conscious of its tentacles, nor the carriers of its extremes finding solace from the many pharmaceutical attempts to "manage" those high's and low's that often see these highly creative individuals fly-and-crash, without their being able to rein in the force of both winds.
And that Roman candle of human energy, creativity and spontaneity has spent its life-force, on its own terms, in its own time, in its own space...leaving the world pining for a different outcome to the belt that was found around his neck, and the cuts that were found in his left wrist.
Like others who cannot and must not consider themselves "learned" about film, yet nevertheless know what they like, I join with millions of others everywhere, in mourning the loss of this larger-than-life human being, who proved, once again, as T.S. Eliot observed in the last stanza of The Hollow Men:
This is the way the world ends,
This is the way the world ends,
This is the way the world ends,
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Eliot may have been alluding to the failed Gunpowder Plot amid the talk of war.
This last line alludes to, amongst some talk of war, the actual end of the Gunpowder Plot mentioned at the beginning: not with its planned bang, but with Guy Fawkes's whimper, as he was caught, tortured and executed on the gallows. (Wikipedia)
Nevertheless, the stanza can and does apply to other situations, ironic, tragic and unbelievable...leaving the world again in shocked dismay and grief.
We are all indebted to Robin Williams, for his complete and absolute commitment to his craft, to his world and to his audience, of which we are all honoured to be a small part.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Symptom responses do not get at root we hide our ambiguity

The chair of the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a co-ordinated response from all countries in the face of the Ebola epidemic, given that it is now dubbed an international health emergency.
Public systems, including preventive health systems built on the learnings derived from the dreaded SARS epidemic, are extremely slow to rush into action, given their complexity, and the tendency of all human beings to resist "melodrama" by over-reacting to initial evidence that could turn out to be less threatening than it really is.
However, a co-ordinated response is not only required in the face of the Ebola; it is, or should be and become the response of the world community to the many "crises" or catastrophes or exigencies, or emergencies that confront the world's population. While there is some spotty evidence of incipient states developing a model of statehood that demonstrates courage, vision, democracy, the respect for the law and for human rights, including the rights of minorities, especially religious minorities (Kurdistan, Indonesia, Turkey, India come to mind) we are being fed a steady diet of crisis met by a growing failure of world leaders to come together leaving national interests and personal political ambitions aside, for the purpose of pursuing the common good for human beings of all races, ethnicities, historic and linguistic backgrounds.
We have witnessed the over-use of the military to 9/11, to Sadam Hussein, to the Taliban, to Assad, and even from Putin, to the threat of westernizing of Ukraine by Putin. Unintended consequences, that phrase that seems to be one of the more nefarious and unpredicted results of the knee-jerk response rush to military action, in too many situations, now are reported to include the significant rise in recruits to the Islamic jihadist movement, from the several theatres of military adventure. Both the U.S. and Israel, respectively the best militarily armed national actors in their separate theatres, have adopted the model that a huge military establishment is the best and most effective defence against those who would threaten a nation state. Unfortunately, that military response is analogous to the medical deployment of anti-bacterial drugs, to so many illnesses; they both provide limited relief, a kind of repressive of the current "pain" (threat, danger, invasion, assault) but neither is a curative of the problem.
In geopolitics, as in medicine, we are living in a state of "unknowing" of mystery, of uncertainty and of ambiguity, while, for those engaged in the professional practice of both medicine and foreign affairs, we are given to belief that the experts "know" both the causes of the illness, and the prescription for its elimination.
We can no more surgically remove our illnesses nor can we eliminate them through the application of heavy antibiotics, in all cases, or even in most cases, than can we surgically remove ISIS from Syria/Iraq, nor Hamas from firing rockets into Tel Aviv by firing missiles, rockets and explosives at the enemy. Surgical removal of ISIS from Mosul and northern Iraq is not going to happen no matter how "successful" we are told the current campaign is, has been or will be.
We are living between the unknowing and the best attempts to diagnose and to remediate of the professionals in medicine and in foreign affairs, and the public's demand for instant and completely effective elimination of the problems.
The truth, far more complex and unmanageable, is that we are going to have to live with several epidemic conundrums....cancer, terrorism, global warming and climate change, ethnic cleansing,
anti-Semitism, sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni, and the failure of those sharing the same threat to bring their best efforts to the table(s) to design a strategy that could possibly offer some glimmer of hope out of whatever the presenting dilemma might be.
It took an astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, the current director of the Hayden Planetarium, to put it succinctly in response to Fareed Zakaria's question about the old idea of a combined international approach to space exploration. It does seem that politics tells us that we cannot be friendly to those we wanted to befriend for reasons that we may or may not understand or accept, was the core of his response, in outlining the breakdown in cooperation in space that the United States has to rely in the Russians to transport their astronauts to the space station....and the emptiness of that reality given the current state of relations  between Moscow and Washington.
Human beings, the world community, will continue to face threats both of a human origin, biologically and politically, and of a "natural origin" (tornadoes, draught, tsunamis, earthquakes) for which we will have to continue to prepare. At the core of our response, however, will unfortunately continue to be the belief that human nature is by nature "evil," a cornerstone of many religious beliefs, and in need of corrective measures, designed and delivered by those adhering to a strict dogmatic set of sacred rules.
Perhaps, there is an intimate and complex connection between such a self-sabotaging premise and our continuing addiction to both intemperate and inconclusive, if violent, measures to address problems.
Just this week, a professor at Yale has released a book entitled, Miseducation....focussed on the principle that too many of our educational efforts are directed to the achievement of individual aggrandizement, and not to inherent and intrinsic human values, and the solution of human anyone paying attention?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Wall Street Journal: U.S. state Department report on international religious freedom....depressing and dangerous?

There are some appalling figures that pop out from the pages of the U.S. State department's report on international religious freedom, from the perspective of the plight to individual and family lives, and also to the social institutions that have played a significant part in fostering and sustaining social stability and the absence of violence.
A colleague let slip a phrase in our conversation yesterday, by calling the church part of the "correctional system" a name I had not heard used before in that context. Having worked with prisons and referred adolescents from the legal system, I had somewhat naively locked my definition of the "correctional system" around the institutions of the prisons in all their many and varied forms, the courts and their respective officers, the legal system and the criminal code and other assorted provincial and federal pieces of legislation that outlined both acts deemed punishable by the state and the nature of those punishments.
I had not included the "church" as an integral part of that "system."
Of course, my first reaction upon hearing the phrase was to break into laughter, given the wide berth the phrase incorporated into the concept. But immediately, I reflected on how important sin, miscreant, evil and both judgement and punishment are to both the church and the traditional correctional systems, I had to concur with my colleague's expression.
Now, it seems, in many quarters of the world, as all institutions are under attack, and a public armed with instant megaphones for their protest against whomever and whatever they deem appropriate targets flexes its political, ideological and even violent muscle against those targets, the concept of the freedom of religion is also under attack, and with it one of the long-standing cornerstones of social order.
Having worked both inside and outside the ecclesial establishment, I can see why some unsettled and perhaps unstable people, especially when collected into angry expressions of discontent, would target the ecclesial institutions of their community. First, there is the perception of "holier than thou" that attaches to those inside religious communities permanently installed on those communities by people who would never consider crossing the threshold of a religious building or institution. Then there is the deep and profound, and seemingly unbridgeable gap between belief systems, and their legitimacy including their history, that finds zealous newcomers to a faith "brand" seeking and finding revenge on those who are not believing and practicing the faith the "right" way.
Underlying much of the current discontent in all of its many forms, including religious persecution, terrorism and civil strife, of course are social and domestic conditions that are in a word unsustainable. Poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of education and access to health care, political instability and downright failed states in many cases...all of these contribute to the many forms of persecution that dot the world map like a bad case of red measles, everywhere. And included in these acts of violence and persecution are acts of religious persecution, as religion becomes both a recruiting force for those committed to the violent achievement of their ideological and "moral" goals for the world, and an army in that pursuit, with sacred texts read with untrained and insensitive eyes and imaginations operating out of their own desperate scarcity of human compassion and experience.
As you read the piece from The Wall Street Journal below, you might consider asking yourself how religion became the antithesis of the ideal. Was it because in our instant world, in which we can all see how things might be better, right here and right now, we are unwilling or unable to pursue legitimate goals for our lives and families, as well as for our respective cultures in a collegial and co-operative manner? Or perhaps, now that all regions of the world have been connected to instant information, mostly of the negative and violent kind, that we believe we are merely acting like everyone else in our anger, frustration and hopelessness.
Have we reduced human life to the acquisition of material wealth, thereby eliminating all other pursuits, and also reducing humans to allies or enemies, agents merely of human transactions?
Or perhaps, in a world in which power has seemed to flow to the powerful, leaving more and more behind, we have seen religion as another of the dividing canyons that separate the have's from the have not's, as the church too struggles to bridge the divide between the insiders and the outsiders, one that seems to have become a bridge too far?
  The U.S. State Department's annual report on international religious freedom released this week makes for bleak reading. Violent repression of religious believers the world over, whether at the hands of governments or of unchecked thugs, is creating personal tragedies for millions of faithful. This oppression also threatens social institutions that play such an important role in fostering peace and stability.
The Middle East is the most pressing hot spot at the moment. Iran and Saudi Arabia again make State's list of countries of particular concern for violations of religious liberty for their legalized intolerance of minority religions. In Syria, the report says, Bashar Assad's regime increasingly casts the ongoing civil war in religious terms, and it is ramping up persecution of religious groups it views as political threats. The number of Christians in Homs has fallen to 1,000 from 160,000 before the civil war began.
Increasing disorder is paving the way for violent non-state groups to harass religious believers. Although State's report covers 2013, the world saw a graphic illustration of this phenomenon last month, as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham drove thousands of Christians out of areas it has seized from state control. Thugs in Egypt and Pakistan spent 2013 harassing Christian and minority Muslim groups with varying degrees of government acquiescence.
In Asia, North Korea and China again rank as the most serious offenders as their governments persecute religious groups that might challenge single-party rule. Pyongyang regularly consigns believers to its gulag simply for being found in possession of religious literature. Beijing has accelerated its clampdown on Muslims in restive Xinjiang, in addition to its restrictions on religious practice among Tibetan Buddhists and its suppression of unsanctioned Christian groups.
And then there's Europe. The recent conflict in Gaza has brought to the fore a disturbing strain of anti-Semitism, but State's report shows this is nothing new. Anti-Semitic attacks already were on the rise in 2013 in France, and in a November survey 68% of Jews in Germany said they believed anti-Semitism had worsened over the past five years. In Britain the number was 66%.
Part of the problem is the decline in European governments' capacity to enforce basic public order, which also leaves Muslims exposed to growing religious violence and all citizens vulnerable to crime. But secular European elites increasingly appear contemptuous of religion and indifferent to its protection, and they are allowing their hostility toward Israel to bleed into disdain for Judaism.
That leaves America. Thanks to its history as a refuge for religious nonconformists, Americans more than many others understand the importance of religious toleration for social order—and the importance of religion itself for social flourishing. That is precisely why the Obama Administration's trespass against religious freedom in health care, which was mild in comparison to the troubles in the rest of the world, was so controversial and overturned by the Supreme Court.
Peaceful religious practice forms a bulwark against political tyranny and social disorder, and that bulwark is under attack. The State Department's report highlights a crisis that is undermining global peace and stability, and deserves far more public attention.
From Wall Street Journal,  Opinion July 31, 2014)