Monday, September 29, 2014

Making money is not the sole purpose of the public broadcaster nor of the individual

It was Adrienne Clarkson, Canada's 26th Governor General, and former University of Toronto English professor, as well as former host of CBC TV Arts programs, interviewed this weekend by Peter Mansbridge, who commented on the CBC itself, "The purpose of public broadcasting is not only to make money".....
She referred to her "numbers" of only 400,000 viewers for her arts program as not being adequate for the administration of the national broadcaster, with a sardonic and ironic smile, as if those numbers were not sufficient to justify the existence of the program. Nevertheless, she also noted the account of one of Canada's ballerinas, who first was exposed to ballet as a little girl through the CBC program Clarkson hosted, as one of the important purposes of the national broadcasting service.
"We all need to learn and the public broadcaster, if it is doing its job well, can expose us to things we need to know, and need to learn"....
It is the commodification of the national broadcaster that is putting it under a potential surgical reduction, if not potential elimination under the scalpel of the Harper "philistines"....(my word not Clarkson's). If the Canadian government is willing to spend millions on military hardware, it certainly can spend money to support and sustain and even enhance the mandate and the professional functioning of the public broadcaster, and then to monitor how well it is doing its job in ways that are not restricted to balance sh eets, and the degree to which it sustains itself through the sale of advertising to corporate sponsors.
Not all public services should be judged, as they are increasingly, through a lens of the accountants' cost-benefit analysis, based solely on the numbers of dollars taken in as revenue, and the actual cost of operating the broadcaster.
This idea of not reducing the public broadcaster to a self-supporting institution has application to other institutions and relationships in our culture. Universities, secondary and elementary schools, libraries, and hospitals, while having to monitor their spending of public dollars as an integral part of their operation, are nevertheless a feature of the Canadian tradition and culture worthy of the allocation of public dollars. Providing equal access to the services available at all of those public institutions for all Canadians is another feature of the "Canadian ethos" in Clarkson's view.
Pushed further, the concept of the public good includes the notion that not all transactions between human beings must be commodified. Not all relationships and encounters can be reduced to fiscal transactions, rendering both parties either consumers or providers. In fact, it is the erosion of that principle that infects too many of our 'human' encounters.
In transforming human beings into agents of the economy, through both the earing of wages and the spending of those wages on consumer goods and services, we risk the participating in the nuanced and toxic development of the definition of meaning and purpose to "making money"....and the top five employers  preferred by recent graduates from American universities are all financial services corporates. We are in danger of sending the wrong message to our young people, that they will have value and respect to the degree to which they earn a large salary...and the dangers of that message are already being felt.
We are not and never will be reducible to the kind of statistic that renders human beings as mere agents to a false cultural and economic and political mythology as serfs to the profit-motives of the corporations. We are not, and never will be reducible to the agents that are merely focussed on serving the consuming needs of other human beings. We do not live solely or even primarily for the purpose of generating ratings and income, the larger of both, the more "status" we merit.
In fact, it is this very core perception that risks our experiencing a kind of minimalist perception of what it means to be a human being.
We see parents competing for their child's seat in the platinum brand universities; we see executives competing for the largest houses in the most "chic" neighbourhoods, as if only those with the biggest houses, and the largest number of BMW's in the garage, and the largest vacation homes  in the Muskoka's and the Caribbean are to be emulated. We are witness the replacement of the arts, traditionally a less lucrative and therefore less pursued vocation, with an exaggerated swarming of young people to the highest incomes, as if this were the best direction for the lives of our young people.
And it is our elevation of the corporate "needs and purposes" to our highest priority, both in our personal and in our public lives that leaves too many people wondering if and how they might fit into the new world.
There is, however, considerable hope in the "Global Citizen" movement featured recently by MSNBC in their broadcast of the concert in Central Park to  shine a spot light on the initiatives for health and poverty elimination that have provided meaning and direction and purpose to many lives of the next generation. Similarly, the Clinton Global Initiative, at the 'upper end' of the world's culture, commits high profile individuals to the execution of promises that are dedicated to saving and/or enhancing the lives of those less fortunate everywhere.
This kind of initiative, rather than the pursuit of employment in the top five financial services corporations, deserve to be the focus of all those charged with the role of coaching and guiding young people into their futures.
There will always be enough of the best and brightest for the top income positions in finance; there will not always be enough of the best and the brightest for those positions, equally if not more important to the levelling of society's playing fields, that truly serve and that are not primarily or exclusively dedicated to making money, and the more  of it the better.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

An international mercenary force* to fight Islamic terrorist cells?....needs serious consideration

I never thought this space would mention the Fox "opinionator" Bill O'Reilly in a positive light.
Nevertheless, he has made a recommendation that first garnered the support of Former Secretary of State, and Head of National Security, Dr. Henry Kissinger, and may eventually gather "legs" in the vernacular of the news business...
O'Reilly has proposed an international mercenary force to seek and destroy all cells of Islamic terrorism.
Good ideas need to be free of the baggage of their originator. There is no need for or benefit from a perspective that dismisses the idea, because of the ideology of its generator. This is a conflict, a long-term struggle, for the whole world, far beyond the capabilities and the purview of the United States, Great Britain, France, and a few Middle Eastern Sunni governments. And, the marketplace would certainly attract men and women, with percs like considerable remuneration and enhanced reputation, to fight this cancer.
Clearly, the Islamic terrorists are non-state actors, morphing as the circumstances change into whatever strategy and tactics are required, funded by black-market sales of oil, ransoms of hostages, and recruits streaming from all countries in the world, especially from those countries desperate for their own survival. A mercenary coalition, too, would be a non-state actor, depending on the funding and the political support of several countries willing to permit recruits to join such a force, stripped of all ideological baggage. They would not be a Sunni force, nor a Shia force, not a Christian or a Jewish force....not even a force with any religious ideology, just another agent of the money from governments which could then acquire the political wall of protection, when seeking election.
The model of outsourcing government responsibilities, including military responsibilities, is well established in Blackwater, the mercenary force under contract to the George W. Bush administration in their fight in Iraq, begun in 2003. They were outside the purview of Congress, outside the purview of the international media, operating as they did in virtual secrecy, unless and until their actions were discovered, by accident, by media dedicated to their exposure. Only the bare facts of their numbers and their invoices, paid for by Congress, were available for public scrutiny.
The Islamic terrorist cells operate outside the Geneva Conventions of War, and a mercenary force too would be exempt from such conventions. Whether or not such a mercenary force would have access to the most advanced military technologies of all countries, requiring considerable training and experience to operate, is an open question. The relations between the military establishments of the various participating countries and this mercenary force would, of course, have to be negotiated, considering the support such established forces could provide especially in intelligence.
The model of outsourcing government responsibilities, especially when governments sought deflection from public criticism, has also been deployed increasingly in the United States, to operate hospitals, schools and other social services.
This specific application of the outsourcing model, to a force that would be a creature of multiple governments, would remove government commitments to "boots on the grounds" because all who volunteered would, in effect, be only those willing to risk their lives, for remuneration, to eradicate this cancer. As a consequence, no politician would suffer from the public contempt of having committed their country's youth to a complicated and murky military and quasi-military adventure for which there is very little literature and history from which to draw the parameters.
Nevermind that O'Reilly was one of those proposing the idea.
All options, from all quarters, in this struggle, need to be seriously considered, if we are to defeat and defang this metastasizing tumor.
*From Wikipedia:   
A private military company (PMC), private military firm (PMF),[1] or private military or security company, provides armed security services. PMCs refer to their staff as "security contractors" or "private military contractors". Private military companies refer to their business generally as the "private military industry" or "The Circuit".[2][3] The hiring of mercenaries is a common practice in the history of armed conflict and prohibited in the modern age by the United Nations Mercenary Convention; the United Kingdom and United States are not signatories to the convention, but the United States has stated that describing PMCs under US contract as mercenaries is inaccurate.
The services and expertise offered by PMCs are typically similar to those of governmental security, military or police forces, most often on a smaller scale. While PMCs often provide services to train or supplement official armed forces in service of governments, they can also be employed by private companies to provide bodyguards for key staff or protection of company premises, especially in hostile territories. However, contractors who use offensive force in a war zone could be considered unlawful combatants, in reference to a concept outlined in the Geneva Conventions and explicitly specified by the 2006 American Military Commissions Act.[5]
The services of private contractors are used around the world. P. W. Singer author of Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry says "In geographic terms, it operates in over 50 different countries. It’s operated in every single continent but Antarctica." In the 1990s there used to be 50 military personnel for every 1 contractor, now the ratio is 10 to 1 (Singer). Singer points out that these contractors have a number of duties depending on who they are hired by. In developing countries that have natural resources, such as oil refineries in Iraq, they are hired to guard the area. They are also hired to guard companies that contract services and reconstruction efforts such as General Electric. Apart from securing companies, they also secure officials and government affiliates. Private military companies carry out many different missions and jobs. These include things such as supplying bodyguards to the Afghan president Hamid Karzai and piloting reconnaissance airplanes and helicopters as a part of Plan Colombia.[6] [7] They are also licensed by the United States Department of State, they are contracting with national governments, training soldiers and reorganizing militaries in Nigeria, Bulgaria, Taiwan, and Equatorial Guinea.[8] The PMC industry is now worth over $100 billion a year

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Reflections on Cohen's new album, Popular Problems....

Leonard Cohen's latest album, Popular Problems, includes one song titled, Born in Chains, in which we find these lyrics:

I've heard the soul unfolds
In the chambers of its longing
And the bitter liquor sweetens
In the hammered cup

Let's try to tease some of the ripples evoked by such words.
An unfolding soul, like an opening petal of a rose, finds its voice, meaning and coloration only in its searchings, its hopes and its painful pursuit of whatever it turns itself to seeking.
There are no maps for this unfolding; there are no instruments to foretell the pathways or the snags or the turbulences of the winds to be encountered in listening to the rhythms and the melodies of the longing. As we seek out the weather to plan our days, and then shape those plans to fit into that weather, we form a perception that we are 'fitting into' that natural flow of temperatures and winds and degrees of light or dark.
Our longings, conversely, fit no weather, comply with no natural conditions that make them appropriate and simply emerge like crude from the depths of our emotional energy that needs neither pipes nor pumps for its extraction.
Chambers of longing, like the pipes of the organ, generate sounds of dreams, sights of visions, hours of hopes that contain within their essences all the seeds of all of our tomorrows. They are the pulses that drive our bodies, our imaginations and our encounters. Just this week, on re-reading something I wrote when I was a mere pre-teen, I found words, written completely in innocence and naivety, that have served as one of many beacons that have provided direction and even motivation in all of the activities and reflections for the subsequent many decades. Are there others whose early thoughts and observations now seem to have been the seeds of many of the paths undertaking in the decades and in the meetings and in the projects that followed?
Does the bitter liquor (really) sweeten in the hammered cup?
I have a colleague whose sister had planned to give her a hand-crafted chalice as commemorative gift upon the occasion of her ordination to the priesthood. When the chalice emerged from the oven of its forging, it was profoundly bent, rendering it inappropriate for the original gift purpose. However, she nevertheless decided to offer it, and later replace it with a "perfect" one.
The recipient, my colleague, refused the second "perfect" chalice, preferring the bent one, as a much more appropriate vessel for the Eucharistic wine, given the "bent" (or "hammered") reality of all of our lives.
Needless to say, the bent chalice found its way into the sanctuaries of many churches, as other clergy learned of its existence. Did Cohen hear the story? Or did Cohen learn the same truth from difference sources within his circles?
Whatever the source, Cohen continues to give lyrical release to many of the kernels of insight of the "people of the past" whose lives included "singing" unlike the lives of many today....
If you have not yet found the new album, you will not be will haunt your "unfolding soul" as you set aside all the busyness and really LISTEN....allowing your unique and bittersweet wine to sweeten and find its voice.

Counter Extremism Project brings additional resources to fight the terror of extremism

The first time I heard about the Counter Extremism Project, former Senator and Vice Presidential Candidate, Joe Lieberman was explaining it on television. As one of the several "heavy hitters" providing non-partisan leadership to the new group, Lieberman, himself Jewish, is eminently suited as spokesperson for the initiative.
Here is the Mission Statement from the website of the new project:
The growing strength of extremist groups threatens the peace and stability of nations and the security and core values of people everywhere.Whether their gains are achieved by force, terror or politics, by undermining modern pluralistic societies, or by creating extremist states, these groups impose an insidious ideology, give sanction to violence, reject basic human rights, and suppress economic and social progress. By using modern communications, social media and business practices extremists are spreading their ideology and recruiting support across the globe, posing a complex and urgent challenge that cannot be redressed by governments alone.The Counter Extremism Project will expose the architecture of support for extremist groups and their ideology and combat their spread by pressuring their financial support networks, countering the narrative of extremists and their online recruitment, and advocating for strong laws, policies and regulations.The Counter Extremism Project will:
  • Expose, degrade, and stop the financing and other economic support of global extremist organizations;
  • Build a best-in-class clearinghouse and database of extremist groups and their supporters, mapping the social and financial networks, tools and methodologies on which these groups rely.
  • Assemble a global network of experts to promote our collective security, and the universal values and interests that are threatened by extremist ideology, recruitment, and practices.
  • Oppose the spread of extremist ideology by advancing compelling counter narratives, and by stemming the recruitment of support as these groups take advantage of at-risk communities, and youth to promote their ideology and power.
By employing these tools we will join the fight against extremism, build support for the fight around the world and serve as resource for governments, the media, NGO’s, academia, businesses and the public. - See more at:
Representing the Canadian perspective in the project if former Liberal Cabinet Minister, Irwin Cotler.

Clearly, it will take more than bombs, missiles and drones to stop the flow of political and economic and military "transfusions" to the many extremist cells that are infiltrating too many communities around the world. This ideological movement can and will morph into whatever form and shape are required to elude the most invasive counter-terrorism opposition. Likewise, all the world's best minds, and most sophisticated resources will be needed for the foreseeable future.
Remaining free of ideological entrapment, including religious institutions, political alliances and corporate take-overs will be one of the most significant hurdles guiding the path forward of this new initiative. Former ambassadors, homeland security specialists, representing  both Democrats and Republicans. comprise the majority of the leaders. And through these men and women, the project will be able to open doors to discussions and decisions, without generating 72-point headlines, that could effectively dry up the flow of all resources to the extremist cells. Naturally, as one cell closes, another will open.
So this project, like that of the military of several western and Middle Eastern countries, will have to persist far into the future, including drying up funds that support the schools teaching hatred and fomenting bigotry in many quarters, thereby providing a fertile recruiting hothouse of innocent and warped young men mostly who transition from these schools of hate to paid militias carrying, in too many cases, abandoned weapons built and left by American forces.
Americans, including the American weapons industry, do have a stake in the future of terrorism. And that stake will have to be abandoned, if these extreme movements are to be defanged. Of course, not all terror cells depend on highly sophisticated weaponry, but they clearly benefit from the residue of American hard power, the most current example the left-overs in Iraq from the ill-advised Iraq war.
Could this Counter Extremism Project also tip the scales when political leaders attempt to re-draw the boundaries of their neighbouring countries and bring some balance and some equanimity back to foreign affairs?
Even without attempting to reach such lofty aims, the project merits the support and endorsement of all those who see that extremism, in all of its many and nefarious forms, is little more than the expression of fear and jealousy and bigotry and absolute terms. Negotiating with such attitudes, and the people deeply infused with their toxicity is not feasible.
Suffocation of all of the resources on which these attitudes depend is a laudable if somewhat ethereal objective.
We heartily endorse all such projects, in the hope that by linking this one with others already operating in other countries, we might build a global network of "moderation lobbies" that expose extremism everywhere and always.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Absolutism and Atavism* rule this chapter of Islamic history

For many months, this space has urged the Islamic world, both Sunni and Shia, to "tame the monster" within its midst. More recently, the world has watched as AlQaeda morphed into Al Shabbab, Al Nusra, and more recently into ISIS, the most virulent and most violent and most extreme of the Islamic terrorist groups. The world, for a very brief moment, glimpsed a 'new world order' birthing from the so-called Arab Spring, hopefully based on a more democratic and more diverse and more inclusive Middle East, and perhaps even beyond, without harsh dictators like Mubarak, Ghadafi, Assad, and those in charge in places like Saudi Arabia. Single "man" rulers, a holdover from history, have, in the modern world, given way to a much more diffuse deployment of political power and influence, along with the need to make public and articulate arguments by those aspiring to political office. And those offices were only available to those willing and courageous enough to offer their names for the turbulent experiment of submitting their ideas to an educated electorate where they would (or could) be examined critically in comparison with ideas proposed by opponents also seeking the same office.
However, in the last few years, the world has learned from painful experience that it may well have been those very dictators with whom the west made significant deals, for the military needs of the Arab leaders and for the fossil fuel appetite of the industrial, modernized developed world, who kept the rise of radical and virulent Islamists from exploding both in their own countries and around the world.
Egypt is a case in point, where the overthrow of Mubarak, followed by the "election" of the Muslim Brotherhood and the erstwhile president Mohammed Morsi was succeeded by the overthrow and imprisonment of Morsi by the military, with the installation of Sissi, a military general as president. A 'secular state' in which individual human rights trump all religious ideologies, permitting the practice of a personal faith along side the practice of a personal atheism and agnosticism, a condition to which most of us in the 'west' take for granted, after centuries of heavy-handed dictators, is a very complex and difficult goal to achieve. It will not be achieved in a decade, or perhaps even in a century.
Furthermore, in the process of the chaos that poured into the streets of the Middle East in the Arab Spring, opportunistic individuals searched and found allies among the disaffected to wreak violence on those they perceived as infidels, starting with the Jews their lifelong enemies, and spreading easily and quickly into the Christian world and eventually into other branches of Islam. Their campaign first used violence to attract attention and to bring about their desired change, and more recently has morphed into what looks like a state of mind that says violence is not only the means to the end, but actually sees violence as the end in itself. Inside this world have been schools and instructors where hatred, contempt, distrust and bigotry have been the menu of the curriculum, linked deeply with a view that women were never to be educated, released from the absolute control of their male dominators, in an impassioned pursuit of something lost, some distant vision of a world in which only radical Islam belonged.
This week, the world, including Sunni-Islamic states, declared war on the ISIS as well as the Khorasan sects of the radical Islamic terrorist movement through diplomatic and financial and military air strikes. Significantly missing from the world's attempt to excise this cancerous tumor from the world's body politic are countries like Russia, Iran, China....all of whose intentions will emerge over time. The president of Iran, interviewed yesterday by Charlie Rose, the dean of U.S. interview broadcasters, directly confronted the Obama-led coalition as 'the use of violence to create even more violence" and stated that it was not the road to go down to eradicate this scourge.
It is true that violence begets more violence, as history demonstrates. Revenge is an integral component of the human psyche and certainly the beheading of now four individuals, two Americans, one Brit and just yesterday one French mountain climber in Algeria are acts of revenge for the air strikes on ISIS in both Iraq and now in Syria.
Nevertheless, as Obama told the world in his address to the United Nations General Assembly, there is no negotiation with these terrorists and the only thing they understand is violence and killing.
For Americans, and now for a few Sunni nations, taking action to denigrate and perhaps even destroy this killing machine is trumping all other options, if they do in fact exist. (The Iranian president did not offer any alternative in the Rose interview, by the way.)
However, this period of disturbing and even frightening turbulence is likely to continue to see more refugees, more deaths, more dismemberments and more violence for a long time. And in the Middle East, where the old world has eroded, it will take even longer to evolve into a truly 'new' and humane and compassionate and respectful world in which human rights of all are respected, protected and sustained.
Even those who study Islam and the Middle East, have written about the roots of this virulence, within the Islamic world itself. And that is an honest and courageous dialogue long overdue. Here is an excerpt from the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that begins to outline the initial stages of this troubled and troubling dialogue:

The rise of the Islamic State, also known and ISIS, is triggering some long overdue, brutally honest, soul-searching by Arabs and Muslims about how such a large, murderous Sunni death cult could have emerged in their midst. Look at a few samples, starting with “The Barbarians Within Our Gates,” written in Politico last week by Hisham Melhem, the Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya, the Arabic satellite channel.
“With his decision to use force against the violent extremists of the Islamic State, President Obama ... is stepping once again — and with understandably great reluctance — into the chaos of an entire civilization that has broken down. Arab civilization, such as we knew it, is all but gone. The Arab world today is more violent, unstable, fragmented and driven by extremism — the extremism of the rulers and those in opposition — than at any time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago.
“Every hope of modern Arab history has been betrayed,” Melhem added. “The promise of political empowerment, the return of politics, the restoration of human dignity heralded by the season of Arab uprisings in their early heydays — all has given way to civil wars, ethnic, sectarian and regional divisions and the reassertion of absolutism, both in its military and atavistic forms. ... The jihadists of the Islamic State, in other words, did not emerge from nowhere. They climbed out of a rotting, empty hulk — what was left of a broken-down civilization.” (By Thomas Friedman, New York Times, September 25, 2014)
*(Atavism is the tendency to revert to ancestral type. In biology, an atavism is an evolutionary throwback, such as traits reappearing which had disappeared)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Breaking News:Sunni Arab countries join United States in airstrikes against ISIS in Syria....what's next?

Is there anyone else who has heard what Obama has been saying about " no American boots on the ground" in Syria and Iraq in the fight against ISIS? There are so many other roles than actually bearing arms and taking the fight "man to man" on the battlefield including strategy, intelligence, training as well as airstrikes.
Even former Secretary of Defence Robert Gates has cautioned Obama to avoid "trapping" himself by repeating the "no boots on the ground" litany, given Gates' perception and belief that there will no victory without such boots on the ground.
There is a much bigger issue than the question of whether American forces will repeat the mistakes of both Iraq and Afghanistan: and one of the most important is that Obama is vigilantly and earnestly seeking a path that does not, once again, say to the world that the United States is in a fight against Islam.
This morning, we are learning that five Middle Eastern countries, along with the United States, have begun to launch airstrikes against ISIS cells in Syria. Included in the list are the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
As we learn of these new air strikes, we await decisions by both Egypt and Turkey, both of which countries, if they were to join the campaign against ISIS, would send a loud and unequivocal message to the Islamic world that this extreme Sunni version of Islam is not either tolerable or valid as an expression of Islam. The question of bringing Sunni's, moderate Sunni's, into the coalition has been one of Obama's long-term goals in his pursuit of ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups that have been wreaking havoc in so many corners of the globe.
The King of Jordan, appearing on Sunday talk shows in the U.S., was barely able to utter the words ISIS and Islam in the same sentence, so contemptuous of ISIS' incarnation of the faith he and his people have been practicing for centuries. His country, not incidentally, has tried to "absorb" nearly one million refugees from Syria, putting extreme pressure on the resources of his country. He estimates that the refugee total now living in what amounts to a tent city, now reaches approximately 20% of the population of Jordan, and equivalent to some 60,000,000, if the equation were applied to the United States.
Let's not minimize or simplify the complexity of this "humanitarian struggle," to quote the new Prime Minister of India Modi who, as a Hindu, has been excluded from visiting the United States for his previous conflict with Islam while he was governor of an Indian province, prior to becoming the leader of his country. Lifting the struggle out of merely a Sunni versus Shia context, within the Islamic community, and framing the conflict as one that threatens the peace order and good government of all countries, Modi has significantly added to the international support for the broad and appropriate goals and the agenda of the American president.
Nevertheless, having entered Syria, where the civil war has witnessed the killing of well over 100,000, in a three-year-plus conflict to overthrow the dictator Assad, no friend of the Americans, and supported by both Iran and Russia, the U.S.-led coalition is attempting to "threat the needle" in attacking ISIS, supporting the moderate Syrian rebels, and even without apology, aiming some of their arsenal at Assad's Syrian government forces. There is some legitimacy to the question of whether Obama is and has been so patient in refraining from attacking Assad directly while calling for the elimination of his chemical weapons stockpile, that he now has Islamic cover for the "inadvertent" overthrow of the Syrian dictator.
And, another question that must be asked is, "How long will both Iran, an open backer of Hamas and Hezbollah as well as Assad, and Russia (Iran's most vocal advocate in the negotiations over that country's alleged development of nuclear weapons, and Assad's source of weapons) stay on the sidelines of the military conflict inside both Syria and Iraq?" The new leader of Iraq has already asked, not exclusively rhetorically, why Iran is not being invited to join the fight against ISIS in Iraq?
It is not rocket science to wonder out loud, as did the former Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chretien, this weekend, how long countries like Canada can remain on the periphery of this conflict...."once we're in we're in" was the way he put it in an interview on CBC radio on Saturday morning. How long will it be before many more than the initial 69 military personnel from Canada will be sent to the war theatre as combat soldiers, notwithstanding the pleas of the Canadian prime minister that echo those of the U.S. president, not to commit "Canadian boots on the ground" to the fight.
The campaign to de-fang ISIS, including the ideal goal of destroying the terrorist group, will take its "dog-and -pony show" to the United Nations tomorrow when the Obama chairs a meeting of the Security Council to bring even more nations into the effort. This event itself is almost without precedent, when a leader of a country actually chairs a Security Council meeting for any purpose.
Presumably, Obama will be attempting to put pressure on countries like Egypt and Turkey, among others, to help them to see how important they would be to the struggle to remove this scourge from the planet.
We have learned this weekend of the dangers to the health of humans from global warming and climate change, as the United Nations ramps up its efforts to bring some public attention to their campaign to bring diverse nations to an agreement to take substantive action on this front. Is anyone in some office in some university in Canada or the United States, actually taking the pulse of the impact on the health of human beings from the threats posed by the now-more-than-adequately funded ISIS? Is there any person in any city who can perceive or believe that s/he is safe from the tentacles of this radical and savage movement?
ISIS is truly a "humanitarian" threat, with a human face.
Global warming is also a "humanitarian threat" with multiple corporate faces as enemy, in their increasing entanglement with politicians to preserve their pursuit of profit, at the expense of the world's shared air, water and land.
Is the silver lining in the cloud of the war against ISIS the possibility of achieving a similar and also potentially effective coalition to fight the destruction of the planet's environment? We can only hope.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Public issues need a nuanced and articulate body politic for both action and reflection... not kneejerk reactivity

The public and ubiquitous broadcasting of the beheading of two captive hostages by ISIS ignited the United States public, along with the ordinary citizens of other western countries like Great Britain, France, Australia, Canada as well as a few Islamic countries in the Middle East. It was a step too far. However, that was the deliberate and cunning plan of the leaders of ISIS, to demonstrate their growing hubris, to enhance their recruitment efforts and to taunt especially the U.S.
Similarly, the Ray Rice punch of his then inebriated fiancé caught on casino video in New Jersey, after its release, prompted a significant change in the process of "dealing" with such behaviour also considered a step too far.
However, in the case of ISIS, their virulent violence has been imposed for months on the innocent and unprotected people of Syria, and more recently Iraq, in pursuit of an Islamic caliphate, without arousing the western public and thereby their politicians. Similarly, domestic violence has been an out of sight out of mind issue for decades, if not centuries, in many countries, including most 'developed' western countries.
What is it about an igniting "match" that finally brings about a kind of alarm and the necessary ensuing change in public attitudes, and thereby permission even demands, for leaders to take action on threats that have been extant without public rage, for a considerable time?
Have we become so inured to the parade of human tragedy, both those stories resulting from man's inhumanity to his fellow man, and those stories that depict what are perceived as "acts of nature"? Yet we all know that the line separating those two categories of stories is blurring by the minute, and after all, humans are, as they have always been, an integral and intimate component of "nature".
Are we so immune to the 24-7-365 drum beat of disasters through the deployment of the latest technologies, that, in order to merely continue to live our lives, we close our mind, heart and even conversations to our individual and our collective relationship to those "dark stories"?
Have we so cocooned our lives that it takes a "shock" of such considerable proportions that our consciousness is finally aroused? It would seem that there is something to this theory in our lagging and dangerous response to the Ebola epidemic, which some estimates now say could infect up to half a million before it is brought under control.
The government in Westminster was certainly laggard towards the threat from the independence movement in Scotland until the polls were finally so dangerously close that all three party leaders were moved to place a "VOW" in the Daily Record in Scotland promising radical change, without having to take account for the implications of their promises, just to move undecided voters towards voting "No"....and now those very leaders face increasingly loud protests demanding similar devolution of powers from other segments of the body politic of the United Kingdom, including England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and even Northern England.
The world, and this time it means all countries, has certainly been and continues to be a reluctant participant in the effort to counter the environmental dangers of climate change and global warming, once again dependent as "officialdom" is on the push-back from those corporate and government institutions which profit from the conduct of their business using processes that are clearly detrimental to the ozone layer in the atmosphere.
If there is a fire in a neighbourhood, then the people of that neighbourhood awaken to the dangers to their own homes and their lives from that fire. We send firefighters, trucks amid loud sirens to announce the emergency. If an individual has a serious spike in pain from anywhere in his or her body, similarly sirens go off in the consciousness of their family, prompting phone calls to ambulances, health care professionals, and eventually, if needed, a trip to the 'emergency' room.
"Emergencies" are regarded as a last resort, and so long as events do not rise to the level of an emergency, we muddle through, while the circumstances that will eventually and inevitably lead to an emergency continue to grow. And, embedded in that conventional consciousness is the notion that no one wants to draw attention to him or herself by making a public statement that announces a perception of real and impending danger, lest s/he be deemed to be exaggerating the danger, suffering from the disease of seeing an apocalypse in every threat, and thereby incurring the scorn, even the contempt of those in the neighbourhood by giving in to "fear"....the greatest of all public enemies.
It is our relationship to our own fear that is the thermostat,  that 'turns on' our actions, both individually and collectively.
We grow up in homes and schools which attempt to dampen our fears, often through a minimizing approach that makes most circumstances more "manageable" mostly for the benefit of those responsible. We work in organizations that have become paranoid of lawsuits initiated by those injured on the job, and hence institute training programs to "make the workplace safe"...probably more to avoid the insurance premium increases that result from legal settlements than from any altruistic motive to keep people safe. Doctors have withdrawn from performing specific procedures as a direct result of the incompatible insurance premiums spikes that occur too frequently from even the slightest glitch in those procedures. Teachers no longer hug their primary school students out of fear of discipline, including removal, following a nasty hearing that will inevitably distort whatever incident that prompted the litigation in the first place.
Politicians, naturally much more mirror than lamp in their respective districts, fear public contempt, scorn and removal, if and when they articulate threats before the public is "ready? to listen, and to support the proposed actions to the shared perception of the danger. And that means that, given the highly responsive human nerves to the immediate surroundings and the much less radioactive response of those nerves to dangers to others far away, we are in danger of failing to respond to those threats that have become universal while our collective perceptions are stuck in the NIMBY vice.
(Not In My Back Yard)
It is not only our legislative process that has not caught up to our laser-speed changes in technology; it is our very survival instinct that provides a filter to the increasingly ubiquitous radar screens and their broadcasting agencies that bring stories at the instant they occur to television and computer screens and even to phones and watches around the world. We are so intimately wired that we are overwhelmed with hourly tsunamis of negative information, the cumulative impact of which could be our digging even deeper holes of isolation and insulation, just in order to carry out our tasks.
In a memorable poem by Robert Frost, a young man severs his hand while sawing a timber in a rural home, bleeds to death, and the family, "being not the one dead," goes on with their tasks. We are perceived as, and welded to the perception and the belief, that we "must go on" regardless of the circumstances, with or without pausing to grieve. Our resilience, our tenacity and our determination have helped us to withstand and to overcome such threats as the Black Death (to which the current Ebola epidemic is now being compared), the London Blitz, the D-Day battle on the beaches of Normandy, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the growing number of nuclear disasters, the various epidemics of pneumonia, diphtheria, tuberculosis, and various flu epidemics while discerning and developing antidotes to many of our biological threats.
Nevertheless, we continue to face new dangers such as the mutation of the Ebola virus, the mutation of the Islamic terror threat, the clearly demonstrated mutated Russian bear under Putin, the mounting and incontrovertible evidence that we are all participating in the pollution of the atmosphere through the release of carbon dioxide, even though there are signs that the ozone layer is recovering from its most depleted level over the last thirty years, given our agreement to detoxify our emissions of hydroflorocarbons.
There is a disconnect between the language of the daily/hourly newscasts dependent as they are on the headline-worthy, 'breaking news' seduction designed to generate audiences, and the language of political and corporate and academic leadership dependent as they are on reflective, non-emotional, empirically based observations and projections and predictions. Our water-cooler conversation oscillate between the two kind of verbal representations. We are in possession of increasingly available dishes of both kinds of "language"...and it has always been the case that "In the beginning was the word and the word became flesh".....
And that means that at the core of both our perceptions and our resulting frames on reality is our capacity to give "words" to whatever we are experiencing....and the degree to which those words reflect a capacity and a willingness to include nuance, variety and increasingly fine distinctions, devoid of the nuclear extremes on either side of "the reflective" and the "inflammatory" does have and will continue to have a significant impact on our capacity to confront and to resolve our most serious dilemmas, threats and dangers.
As I read the texts from those in the next generations, I am struck by their brevity, their succinct character and their excising of nuance....partly out of the pragmatic reality that keyboard size militates against nuance, and partly out of the busyness of our lives. However, while we may be making more frequent utterances, are we also in danger of reducing those utterances to polarities that escape nuance, because nuance is too complicated for us to entertain.
We have for a long time considered the major difference, beside ideology, between Dubya and Obama is the comfort level with nuance: Bush proudly declaring he never does nuance, while Obama swims like a fish in the oxygen and the creativity of its oceans, rendering him not only cautious but also refined in his perceptions and his policies...a framing of the American political and cultural reality that is out of sync with the simplistic and Manichean perceptions held by the news media, and their audience.
Those beheadings, including the most recent foiled plot of beheading a "random" person on the street in Australia, are beastly and ghastly and need to be prevented. However, we need to guard against a political culture than can and will only be aroused by such abhorrent acts or dangers, when the reactions too often prove to be too little too late.
Not only would our conversations be enhanced with a more awakened perception of the underlying dangers of many of the issues we currently consider far off and thereby benign, they would also be significantly enhanced by our openness and our use of words of nuance and sublety and complexity....neither the news media nor the political and diplomatic voices have a monopoly on the presentation of our reality...and we have to continue to be vigilant, articulate and impassioned in our curating of the realities presented by all the voices of officialdom....
Can we and will we accept the challenge?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Super Ego is no surrogate for God, in any religious institution

My wife and I recently re-watched the excellent movie, "The King's Speech" and while there were many moving moments, especially those based on the former King George VI's relationship with his father, one moment stuck out in my mind.
In a conversation around the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey with his speech coach, the volume and intensity of the dialogue escalates to the point where two things happen. The student in extreme anger actually "finds his voice" and the Archbishop of Canterbury enters disturbed by the escalating verbal conflict, enters the scene and without being asked, volunteers his advice that he will find a certified and qualified professional to replace the current unqualified and uncertified one.
It is the voice of the Archbishop that is echoing in my ears.
The church's highest leader  is heard speaking for the formality and the conventionality of formal certificates, respectable standards and, in essence, the voice of what Freud called the Super Ego. In the William Golding novel, Lord of the Flies, Piggy's 'what would auntie think' when events are tumbling out of control on the remote island where the downed choir boys have landed following their air accident, is another voice of the same Super Ego.
Political correctness, social conventionality, the repression of  even the slightest note of questioning of authority, and certainly of raising one's voice even when such attitudes and actions are warranted by the injustices being imposed, is not an incarnation of any God worthy of the name.
Political correctness disguised as religious dogma does not merit the obsequious adherence of infantilized 'disciples' of any God. Political control, on the part of those responsible for ecclesial leadership, is one of the primary motives of such politically correct super ego voices.
And while every person has that voice in our psyche, it is the prominence of that voice to which the church has for too long given both permission and advocacy.
The church, and while my experience is primarily from the inside of the Anglican/Episcopal institution, is enmeshed with the establishment, with the 1% at the top of the income and political status ladder. The church in fact even provides 'moral protection' for the perceptions, standards and attitudes of those in the 'establishment' for many reasons, one of the main ones being the dependence of the church on the cheques written to the "service of God" through the church's own establishment, for the added benefit of tax credits.
The Christian church, including the Anglican/Episcopal church, has provided cover for those virulent advocates of slavery, of the death penalty, of not granting women the vote, of linking AIDS with homophobia, of those advocating reversal conversions of those attempting to live a gay lifestyle, of the use of gunpowder to impose "civilized" attitudes on aboriginal peoples on too many continents, of abolition of alcohol, the war on drugs, including a virulent 'top-down' imposition of the will of those in authority on those without power. And in a highly ironic twist, the Christian church will both write and deliver homilies, received with adulation and warm praise, extoling the virtues of giving "voice to the voiceless" in our society.
This irony is not merely an accident of history, in the light of everything, including every nugget of wisdom, contains the seeds of its opposite. It is an extension of the power that corrupts in all institutions whose institutional interests trump its capacity and willingness to uphold a conscience.
When people are charged with the preservation of the interests of the institution, including the bishops, canons, archbishops and military generals, not to mention corporate executives, continue to a abort their moral and ethical barometers and thermometers as human beings, to which the exhortation to give voice to the voiceless is directed, in favour of their allegiance and their responsibility to their shareholders, and in the church that means those largest of the benefactors.
Scriptural exhortations and aspirations invoking the notion of a deity whose vision includes "I came that you might have life and that more abundantly" are not only antithetical, but actually incompatible with the requirements and definitions of the Super Ego and political correctness.
And for the purpose of probably first, gaining, and later retaining control of the people choosing to occupy the pews in their sanctuaries, the Super Ego, as a legitimate interpretation of the sacred texts is deployed, virtually without rebuttal, given the pursuit of "fitting in" of those seeking entry into the holy halls of those sanctuaries. God is not reducible to the Super Ego, as an arbiter of the conflicting interests and ambitions of both the Ego and the Id. God is also not reducible to the cloak of respectability that adorns the shoulders and the backs of those wearing albs, and Hardy Amies suits, in power within the church, and outside in the body politic.
In fact, it can and should be more legitimately argued, that God is much closer to the extremes of both Ego and Id, as pathways to the sacred, than elevating the Super Ego to a sacred status.
The application of the sacral instinct to the Super Ego is accompanied and reinforced by the elevation of power and wealth as sacred trusts in the minds of millions of devotees to a thin and thinly veiled theology of convenience and immediacy and self-serving interests. Recently, I listened to a humble man tell me his son is enrolled in a middle-ranking accounting firm, in pursuit of his Chartered Accountancy. His voice resonated with pride, and the expressed hope that 'he will be able to write his own ticket' upon completion as he told his story of his son's future. And the father has sat in the pews of the Anglican church for all of his nearly seven decades, absorbing the teachings, leadership, admonitions and dogma of the church.
And literally a permanent tattoo of the Christian church on the psyches of those who have submitted to the teachings and the mentorings and the theology of the institution. The best of intentions, as were undoubtedly those of that Archbishop of Canterbury when he volunteered his unsolicited advice to the then about-to-be king, are not enough to justify the actions of that Archbishop nor the traditions of ascribing the sacred to the trash-can of the Super Ego.
It is, in fact the Super Ego, that asks questions that are primarily focused on the maintenance of correct appearances, of public image, of extreme measures to avoid having to acknowledge hubris, myopia, injustice imposed in the name of God, racism, sexism, ageism, and corporate and personal greed. Super Ego also is no raison d'etre to support the kind of culture that raises public image and personal denials to a norm, although it inadvertently becomes a cover for such attitudes and culture.
And what is most insidious is that the ecclesial institutions are exempt from having to atone for their misadventures in both theology and praxis. And the world has paid, and will continue to pay a sizeable indemnity, almost unconsciously, for the terror imposed through fear and a misplaced sacralising of the Super Ego, as a surrogate God.

Can we shift from reactivity to prevention of human threats?

Although some 100 fewer people face starvation today, compared with only a decade ago, there are still millions, especially in Africa and Asia, who are hungry. A new report from the UN points to the continuing problem, especially in the face of the galloping Ebola epidemic.
"We cannot celebrate yet because we must reach 805 million people without enough food for a healthy and productive life," said World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Ertharin Cousin. (From PressTV, September 17, 2014)
This hungry population is a ready and highly receptive host for the Ebola virus, that some observers fear could double its attack every three weeks, leaving the world potentially facing an epidemic comparable to the Black Death by the end of November, 2014.
And it is not only the lives of endangered millions that are at stake, although clearly that is the primary focus of the belated aid campaign; the countries in West Africa whose populations have been hardest hit could become 'failed states' if the institutions there fail because of the demise of their respective staffs. And this prospect has now been publicly uttered just yesterday by the president of the United States, as he announced that he was sending some 2000 troops to West Africa, primarily Liberia, to build emergency hospitals.
This Ebola epidemic has slowly crept into the consciousness of the world, without the 'benefit' of a large headline, such as a tsunami or hurricane, that would normally generate a comparatively large aid response from all quarters of the planet. This crisis is not generating such an outpouring of both state and private contributions, leaving the WHO and the Doctors without Borders both to claim that there is a real danger that the window of opportunity to bring the killer disease under control is nearly closed. One of the worst case scenarios portrays the mutation of the virus from one that can be transmitted only through bodily fluids to one that is airborne, and thereby spreads even more quickly. As a killer of nearly 50% of those who contract the disease, Ebola carries a severe punch, and although there are small glimmers of reports of the development of an effective antidote medicine, so far the world has no known protection against the virus.
Similarly, the world has no known "antidote" or proven strategy against the human epidemic that is known by a variety of names, the most highly visible currently being ISIS, or ISIL. Yesterday the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the U.S. told the Armed Services Committee of the Senate that, if required, he would recommend to the president the option of ordering "boots on the ground" in both Iraq and Syria to fight this ideological "epidemic".
Traditionally, both the military and the medical fraternities have been virtually under a halo, especially in the mind of the people of the United States, as well as in many other western countries, for their prowess to counter both biological and political enemies. And the pages of the history books are filled with stories of the mounting evidence of the "successes" of both the medical and the military "protectors" of our countries and our lives.
Now, in the face of these growing and complex threats, the world is scrambling from behind to address the potential dangers.
And while the headlines are filled with the daily exploits and evidence of the destructive impact of both the Ebola epidemic and the ISIS terrorist threat, both heinous threats could and likely will demonstrate their capacity to mutate, to adapt to whatever impediments they face in their pursuit of their targeted enemies. Already ISIS has issued public statements welcoming the United States forces to the battle in Iraq and Syria, to be met with suicide bombers strapped to the waists of their brain-washed recruits.
What is really sad in both of these "files" (without in any way depersonalizing their respective impact on the lives of individuals, families and the view of the world they generate) is that while the human response is to "act" to do something that would demonstrate our capacity to "react" and to take responsibility to the degree that we are both able and willing, in the face of the headlines, we are far less interested, willing and able to address the conditions in which both epidemics have developed, continue to grow and potentially to outpace our best efforts to bring them 'to heel.'
Human beings risk being victims of our own proclivity to put off until tomorrow our need to face those complex and initially benign but clearly evident causes of many of our most serious problems. We rush in to situations, for example, that we now call "domestic violence" without paying equal and adequate attention through both policy and programs, to the root causes of that violence. Prevention as a conventional approach to problems is much less radioactive and generative of public notice; it is, in a word, much less "sexy" than a reactive approach that rushes to meet the danger.
We have imported the fire-fighting drama, the battle-field model, the surgical model, the headline-grabbing reactive response on the part of mostly "surprised" officialdom as a way of accomplishing two highly "insider" motives:
1) the refusal to spend public dollars when there is no impending headline that grabs the attention of the public and therefore creates an expectation of action from those responsible for the maintenance of our individual and our body politic's health
2) the demonstration of the willingness of officialdom to respond when they can no longer avoid responsibility for action.
This is not an argument for deploying millions of fingers in the millions of holes that might appear in the dykes we have constructed to protect us, as a way of sapping the creative energies of the human spirit. However, it is an argument in favour of balancing our "rear-view mirror" reflections of plucking the lessons we have learned from our previous  behaviours with an equal, and in the short run, even more emphatic concentration on our capacity and responsibility to both envision the future dangers, and to take individual and collective policy and action steps to make prevention a more relevant and effective strategy for our protection.
For example, our failure to fully address the underlying issues of poverty, hunger, disease and access to education and work with dignity, including access to healthy water, sanitation, in our view, contribute significantly to the growth and development of both the Ebola and ISIS threats. Addressing the most basic of human needs, for the most part, is not an initiative dependent on the deployment of guns, missiles, drones and bombs. It is also not generative of dramatic headlines; it is far less 'useful' to the public relations efforts of political and thought leaders' personal agenda of re-election; it is, in fact, pointing our eyes and our consciousness toward the horizon.
We set up international agencies like the International Criminal Court, and then accept the refusal to sign on important countries like the United States, as it seeks to protect its personnel in conflict. We establish the World Health Organization, without providing adequate funding and professional support to do the job for which it was designed and created. We let organizations like the International Labour Organization atrophy, as the rampage of corporatism rages across the planet. We establish the United Nations as a talking and leadership forum, while denigrating its efforts in our home countries, playing national and personal political interests and ambitions off against the wider interests of the world population. We have warm fuzzies for the Red Cross and other agencies of human compassion, care and protection, especially when we are aroused by some headline, yet bury our individual and our collective heads in the sand when we are less aroused.
In short, we are far more indebted to our own individual "personal and short-sighted" attainments of good feelings, and much less dependent and reliant on our capacity to look a little further down the road, to those easily visible trend lines that could and likely will ensnare our individual and our collective lives, if we, as usual, refuse to acknowledge our complicity in our collective denial of their very existence.
We have made idols out of our narcissism, our "instant-gratification" needs and our "life-is-short-have-fun" attitude...and sacrificed our capacity and our commitment to the future we are leaving to our grandchildren and their children. And we are going to pay a large price for our myopia, as evidence today serves as our canary in our own coal mine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Corporate culture of compliance and conformity stifles democracy, innovation and human development

Along with many others, I have been sensing a dramatic shift in North American culture, from one dedicated to inclusion at the grass roots level, openness to new ideas regardless of their source, a kind of tolerance of generalists and the views of ordinary people, to one committed to the pursuit and retention of power by those currently holding it.
The word that crystalized these perceptions for me came from a corporate manager of a large Canadian corporation, a very highly profitable one. And the word that described his organization's operation from the inside, is "verticalized". His corporation has been verticalized, meaning that only those who have been vetted are permitted to hire anyone to work with the corporation. And there are approximately several hundred of people, a kind of inner sanctum 'think tank" whose job it is to vet and then to hire "experts" suitable for entry into the corporate culture.
The corporation deploys several levels of managers to supervise those "below" in the organization chart, all of them dedicated to the fulfilment of corporate values, a statement that reads not unlike the values statement of the Department of National Defence. Those managers are then shaped, through conversations, worrkshops, seminars and newsletters, not to mention all of the latest cyber technology, to enhance their performance by implementing various skills, most of them dug from the books of "gurus" in leadership, time management, conflict resolution, relationship building, or whatever the corporate leadership thinks and believes will enhance the profit margins, as well as the individual well-being of the workers.
There is no union in this corporation, if there ever was one. There is no employee association representing workers, in the design of how the corporation operates. Managers at the same level frequently communicate with each other through the latest technology, in order to ascertain the degree to which they are implementing the latest "leadership" advice, from the last book for which budgets were provided so that they can purchase, read and digest, and then implement the prescriptions that have been selected by someone "up top"....
Since the corporation is in the service business, in the financial sector, the building of relationships and their healthy sustainability is among the prime goals of the organization. Friendly, is the most basic moniker to use to describe the goals of the current upper administration.
Affable, approachable, available, punctual, congenial, and fully engaged in one's own health and wellbeing are clearly among the operative adjectives. Whether or not there is yet a measuring instrument to determine the level of achievement reached by corporate managers on each of these words, I do not know.
However, what strikes me as quite troubling is the notion that human traits are analogous to mathematical or spelling and grammar rules, primarily cognitive in nature, and both conveyed and implemented through a process of classical conditioning. And that a "vertical" organization is the most effective instrument to achieve this goal. Of course, the universe the corporation operates in is, from their perspective, an "extrinsic universe" in which all operations are measureable, right down to the cost per minute of each worker's labour, and the profit generated by that minute, and the relationship of those two figures will determine the viability of that position and the person filling that position. Another way to characterize the universe in which the corporation operates is to say it is exclusively "transactional"....meaning that it performs a service for its clients, who in turn pay a fee to acquire and use that service. So long as the clients continue to demand and pay for the service, and so long as the corporation continues to provide that service while making a substantial profit, both in terms of cash flow and also in investor dividends, the stock of the corporation will continue to climb in value on the various indices, and investors will continue to purchase shares in that corporation.
And since there are others competing for the same clients and the same dollars, by providing similar services, these is considerable data, undoubtedly now "big data" available to characterize the nature of the typical client for that corporation, and the culture in which that typical client wishes or prefers to do business, in that market sector.
Notions of honesty, trust, integrity and credibility, of course, are so removed from the various encounters between clients and workers in the corporation that every transaction has both a digital and a paper trail, so that every move is traceable not only to the specific office of the corporation but also to the specific worker who performed the transaction and the very precise second, hour and day in which it was performed. Occasionally, there are likely to be a few "keying" errors, merely resulting from a loss of concentration or an unscheduled interruption or a slip of a finger onto the wrong key on a keypad, all of which are likely noted within seconds of their commission or omission, and corrected very quickly, eliminating more room for error from the inordinate level of control of the operating variables in any transaction.
Consequently the exchange between client and worker, at all levels, is reduced to a kind of predictable script, based on the rules of the corporation and the procedures it has established to conduct the transaction requested by the client. Ironically, remember the word that is used to best describe the public presentation of the culture the corporation seeks to incarnate: friendly.
Programmed answers to predictable questions from clients, offered in the most "spirited" and
"friendly" manner, including voice projection, smiling face, attentive attitude, even the occasional but "trimmed" compliment on a piece of wardrobe if it seems appropriate, do not, in fact cannot make the encounter "personal" and authentic, both of which adjectives, we speculate, the CEO of this corporation any many others of similar size and scope, would die to have used by objective evaluators of the relationship between the clients of this corporation, especially when compared with the words used to describe the "transactions" or the "exchanges" or the "encounters" between clients and workers in competitive corporations, in the same sector.
The corporate agenda is attempting to blend into what one might call a neighbourly agenda, the kind of conversation one might have over the back fence with a neighbour, after spending years living  beside and getting to know that neighbour, and being able intuit the kinds of things that will make the neighbour smile, frown, engage in retort or repartee, or turn him off completely. And the attempt, no matter how herculean the efforts to achieve that model is doomed to failure. Whatever occurs will be a meagre and shallow imitation of the kind of conversation that occurs between two people who have become friends. And any representation of that conversation as more than a pale imitation of friendship will be little more than an analogy of the exchange of tweets between strangers, commenting on the same headline, sports score or weather event.
Extended length, the trained skill of active listening, the enjoyment of exploration of mutual interests, the stories that both excite and dismay the parties from their lives...all of these aspects of friendship are missing. And any attempt to integrate them into the "business" of the corporation will be resisted by those responsible for the accounting side of the enterprise.
In our casual analysis too, we must add that corporations will inevitably spend more time with those whose resources make them the "better" and the "best" customers, and less time with those with fewer resources, and these resources are measured by dollars spent, invested and earned.
So, the way the system operates is based on a replication of the pyramidal structure of organizations formed in the 18th and 19th centuries, fell off considerably following the Second War, when peace and plenty replaced war and scarcity, and people were more open to the contribution that could and did come from ordinary people, not only from those vested with power and status.
Power and status, these are the weapons of political "hard power" and they are being deployed by those in executive positions without having the caution of critical examination from worker unions or worker associations, and those who deploy them most vigorously and most transparently are too often considered "fit for advancement" because they have the balls and the spine and the temperament both to withstand the pressures from the top of the organization that is engaged in a process analogous to social engineering, and the pressures from dealing with the public clients. They will have demonstrated their compliance with both corporate rules and regulations, with corporate philosophy and culture, and their "fit" among their peers, never disturbing the smooth flowing river of the corporate culture by rebelling, or by calling out a colleague or a policy that merits serious public criticism....and the way in which the corporation will talk about a person is "we are grooming him or her for more responsibility" and "s/he will be one of our leaders of tomorrow."
Military hierarchies, like military hardware, are not amenable to adjustment, compromise, or serious public debate, because the corporation believes it cannot afford the embarrassment of public criticism, even within its own board rooms.
We can look in almost any direction to find these neurotic corporate structures, including a very heavy hand from the CEO, a silencing of the "troops" below into such full compliance that they become almost redundant to the decision-making of the corporation, a very thinly sketched roadmap for the short-term future of the corporation, just long enough for the executives to secure a large exiting parachute of stock options, shares and percs, from their "tour of duty" and the consequences are already plaguing our state democracies, our schools, our institutions and our futures and the futures of our children and grandchildren.
We have built row up row of corporate "vaticans" each with their own pope, their own College of  Cardinals, their own "Congregation of the Faith" (implementing compliance among the organization, through  both carrots and sticks, in the refinement of the worst of classical conditioning) and we are rendering mute the imaginations of our best and our brightest who know that, in order to make a living, especially a substantial income, they will have to leave their enthusiasm, their imaginations, their rebellious and contentious challenging of authority that lies at the heart of all improvements and progress in all of history, at the front doors of the rest of their lives, unless they can and do find an occasional corporate culture that thrives on friendly innovation, authentic conversation and human encounters.
We just read today of psychiatrists learning from their patients, a dynamic entirely appropriate and applicable to many other professions. Unfortunately, too few professions are engaged in seeking the extensive views of their patients/clients.
We know that leaders who inspire too often run afoul of the corporate "suits" because they do not colour inside the lines and do not uphold the corporate "buttondownedness" of their perception of the politically correct way to operate. One recent example is the short-term of Tim  Liewicke at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, falling on the swords of the executives from Bell and Rogers, models and archetypes of the "suit" mentality that plagues the corporate world.
A personal anecdote: I was interviewing for a position with a consulting firm which was using personnel assessment testing instruments from Waco Texas, as their key to assisting organizations in their hiring processes. I was specifically told, when requested to take the test, that the results would have no bearing on the decision to hire. Naively, I answered the questions honestly and openly, in a spirit that I hoped would prevail in the small group of people already on board. Following the second interview, before some dozen employees, the head of the organization had two observations:
First, "Whenever you are asked a question, you answer with a story and not a list! We want people who think in lists, not people who tell stories."
Second, "Your test scores indicate that you would be a very difficult person for me to supervise, because you seem to question authority too much. We wish you well in your future endeavours.
It is not incidental that this group is responsible for the hiring of several federal government departments, where compliance with authority is mandatory, and where innovation and imagination are feared.
It is also relevant to observe that our education establishment depends far to heavily on political correctness and compliance with the edicts of those in power, if one is going to succeed in the organization. And this level of compliance, of course, is extended to the various levels of students, all of them seeking opportunities to "try their wings" both in experiments of a formal nature and in those of a less formal nature. Clipping wings can hardly be defined as an honourable purpose of the education enterprise. Enforcing compliance on all workers, in the spirit that the "top" knows best what the corporation needs, too, is 'no way to run a railroad' or any other form of human enterprise.
We have surrendered the human side of the enterprise to the power and authority of the many popes, generals, commanders and autocrats who have wormed their way up the corporate ladders in too many organizations and we will pay a price far too high for the surrender, not only in the immediate future, but for decades, if not centuries.
And our democracies will atrophy, along with our capacity to innovate, to experiment and to distribute power through circles throughout the organizations. And we will look in the mirror one day and say, "We have done this to ourselves and to our society and we have no one to blame but ourselves and our ostrich-like avoidance and denial, while those most ambitious and most determined have wrested the levers of power out of the hands of ordinary people, in spite of the charade of the voting booth.
We are suffering not only from an income disparity, leaving the 99% literally in the "dust" of the 1%; we are also suffering from a power disparity, leaving all workers quite literally and tragically at the mercy of their overlord employers who prefer infantilized and dependable robots as workers to questioning and even debating human beings.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A counter-intuitive "take" on Obama's communications gaff..."we do not yet have a strategy on how to confront ISIS"

"I do not want to put the cart before horse and we do not have a strategy yet on how to confront ISIS!" (Obama's comments, or words to that effect, in a press briefing prior to leaving for Estonia and Wales and a meeting of NATO leaders.)
Republican critics and the American media jumped with glee over such a "communications blunder" as many described Obama's misstep.
We would like to offer a different view from the one taken by Republican critics and the U.S. media.
American culture, especially corporate and political culture unfortunately aspires to be in the Lexus mode: striving for and achieving perfection, without making any mistakes.
Pride, nationalism, exceptionalism, and positive rhetoric, directed to children in classrooms, to the point where it drives home such exuberant confidence as to exceed performance expectations. American children, for example, rank relatively quite low in international testing in math, science and literacy while scoring very high on a scale that measures self-confidence. Leadership within the American culture can be easily and accurately defined as classical conditioning using exclusively positive reinforcement as motivation. Sadly, and even tragically, such conditioning is a form of entrapment.
Obama, striving to be a transformative president, in the model of Lincoln and Reagan, F.D.R. and even J.F.K. is attempting to transform the American culture from one based almost exclusively on "hard power" and "positive reinforcement" and dominance that issues from  both of those self-deceptions, is attempting to work WITH the rest of the world. Clearly, he is circumscribed by ten years of very expensive and highly inconclusive wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, (which some are arguing are the very reason for the tidal wave of Islamic terrorism we all now face!) and an American public who are suffering both budget fatigue and war fatigue. He cannot simply solve the world's problems, in Africa, in Ukraine, in Iraq and Syria by ordering the Pentagon to bomb the hell out of all enemies. (Remember former presidential candidate John McCain, he of prisoner of war fame from Vietnam, singing "Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran," while imitating the Beach Boys' hit, "Barbara Ann".)
Obama, fortunately, both for Americans and for the rest of the world, is committed to working with his allies to seek and to find solutions to the world's conflicts, including the economic crisis of 2008-9, knowing full well that alone both he and the U.S. are (and will remain) powerless, especially given the complexity and the danger and the relatively little intellectual research into the issues at the heart of the problems. Only by making the case for a shared perception and reality of these issues can and will Obama provide the kind of leadership still expected from America, while at the same time drawing and encouraging his western allies, including the Arab states in the Middle East in the fight to degrade and destroy ISIS, into a coalition that might have some chance of success.
When seeking allies, "convert" to a cause, if you will, leaders must not lay out an already prescribed and proscribed agenda, to which those not yet committed to the cause will conform. It is fine for the current leader of NATO to prescribe a "spearhead force" to be ready and deployed within days, and not weeks for his meeting in Wales. He is speaking to and providing leadership to member states already signatories to a document that commits them individually and collectively to the defence of other members states, in the event of an external threat.
However, Obama's comments at the press conference were made without a public acknowledgment of any sign of commitment from his western allies to the fight in Iraq and  Syria, and his open admission that he and his administration had not yet found or settled on a strategy to combat the terrorists left open a piece of the strategy to which those considering joining the fight might and likely would contribute, both in brain power and in material for the conflict, up to but not including "boots on the ground".
Another of Obama's cautions, made repeatedly at the original press conference and latter in Wales, is that he want to take the fight to ISIS but that he also wants to "do it right"...knowing it will take a long time to accomplish, especially if eradication is the ultimate goal. (Retired Canadian military leader in Sarajevo, Lewis MacKenzie, put it on Canadian television this week, "I have never known an ideology to be wiped out militarily in history!")
So opening a window to recommendations on strategy from those leaders in countries whose governments share Obama's angst, as well as America's angst, about the potential threat from ISIS,
is not only pragmatic, in terms of offering them a space in the design of a strategy and thereby demonstrating his openness to listening to such recommendations, but it is also pragmatic in terms of magnetizing the best brains in the world, from a list of potential participating countries to design and develop and then to deliver a strategy that does in fact "get it right".
This was no communications nor no political blunder, as Republicans and most talking heads and editorial writers dubbed it.
It was, once again, a far-sighted president looking down the road past the nano-second of the sound bite he was engaged in, and speaking to the world about the fundamental changes to the American leadership and government that truly means it when it says it wants and seeks a "coalition of the willing" in order to combat this nemesis. (Just for starters, imagine George W. Bush at the same press conference, making an announcement that would clearly have echoed McCain's adolescent and short-sighted "bomb.bomb.bomb" strategy.
In the White House, the American people have a nuanced thinker, a visionary mind and a steel spine fully cognizant of the hard power that is his to command, combined with a perception of the "real politik" of the limits to hard power and unilateralism, and American exceptionalism that may have helped both to bring the United States to its position of economic and political as well as military leadership in the world, but has also generated enemies committed to an ideology, even a phoney faith to which their commitment extends to their own suicidal deaths.
(Just this week, the World Health Organization announced that a suicide occurs every 40 seconds around the world. We can only hope that the statistics for the Islamic terrorists are not included in that data.)
Now with some ten nations signing onto a process of confronting ISIS, and the Islamic terrorist cells infecting other countries (India, for example, as well as Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, Yemen) as well as Syria and Iraq, Obama's invitation, with opportunity not merely to "follow the American prescription" but to participate in the design of the strategy, demonstrates its own effectiveness.
The Republicans should be thanking their political "gods" that Obama is not running in 2016, regardless of his current standing in the opinion polls. The fickleness of both the media and the public would and could easily be bent toward a third term, if permitted by the constitution. We are witnessing an extremely intelligent, imaginative and visionary, while pragmatic president operate in circumstances that far outweigh the Cuban missile crisis, the Cold War and the Crash of 1929. Obama's footprints can and will lead the American story in paths never  before contemplated by his political opponents and the frivolous, feckless and ratings-driven media scribes and talking heads.
And, from the perspective of the north side of the 49th parallel, we are extremely grateful that Obama is the occupant of the Oval Office in this period of exceptional turbulence.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ukraine, ISIS, India and what to do??????

There are both hopeful signs coming from world headlines and distressing indicators from those same headlines.
In Wales, NATO has pledged, in words to be followed by both deeds and dollars to support Ukraine, amid the flurry of venom spewing from Putin's rhetoric about the dangers of Ukraine's moving closer to NATO and Europe. Underneath these headlines, there is the serious risk that few if any of the commitments made by NATO leaders will be delivered, given the scant delivery on the commitment of 2% of GDP as a targeted minimum for NATO members. Politicians love to hear the sound of their "churchillian" rhetoric, as if their speechwriters were ever able to emulate the English bulldog. They also love to hear the sound of hands clapping when they say what the people whose arms are supporting those hands want to hear. Promising to the Baltic states protection against a potential Russian invasion, as Obama did prior to his arrival in Wales, may make good television for the global audience. He seems to be apprised of the risks in the Russian ambitions, and able to assess them and deliver a soundbyte that eminently captures the spirit of the moment.
However, there remains to be serious 'down and dirty" negotiations that would have to include Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Cameron, President Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin as well as probably the United States' Secretary of State, John Kerry, in order to tie up all the loose strings on any sustainable agreement for lasting stability in eastern Ukraine. Given that Russia refuses to acknowledge that the "bear" is even an active participant in the conflict over the future of eastern Ukraine, preferring to push forward into the spotlight the Russian "separatists" (those whom Obama says Putin is arming, financing, training and advising), one has to wonder how substantive negotiations can or will take place with only a phantom of the Kremlin at the table.*
On the Islamic terrorism front, the former Al Qaeda cell of that movement announced today that it is setting up "shop" in India, as a formal protest to the abuses Muslims have suffered under a Hindu government. Having rejected the more violent and brutal ISIS segment of the Islamic jihad (or having been rejected by that segment of the jihadi movement), former Al Qaeda operatives now feel some competitive urges to re-establish their bona fides as part of the world-wide attempt to dominate wherever and when they can. One of the more distinguishing aspects of the two sides of the Islamic terrorist movement is whether or not the killing of all those who are not ascribing to the Sunni interpretation of the Koran is necessary and compulsory. ISIS seems to believe and to act as if they believe that such killings are both necessary and valid, whereas the former iterations of Al Qaeda under Osama bin Ladin did not.
Whatever their different "takes" on their goal of establishing a world-wide caliphate, these terrorists are sparking push-back even from Muslim Imams, one of whom has called for other Imams to come forward to denounce ISIS and especially their recruitment of western agents, all of them with valid passports and all of them accessible to their home countries following their tour of duty in Syria and Iraq. Prime Minister Cameron has proposed new legislation that would make it possible for authorities to seize their passports should they attempt to regain entrance into Britain, and to make it more difficult for new recruits to join the jihadi movement in the first place. Both Cameron and Obama took out a joint op-ed in the British Telegraph today, telling the world that neither intends to be "cowed" by the Islamic terrorist movement.
Translating that sentiment into both policy and action, including the cessation of private funding, for example from individuals currently living in Saudi Arabia, and the decision to deploy airstrikes into Syria, without collaboration with President Assad, also an enemy of ISIS, and the decisions to ramp up intelligence gathering, including enhanced sharing of that intelligence, increased surveillance both at home and abroad of the intricate details of the plans of ISIS and Al Qaeda, not to mention Al Shabab, Al Nusra, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the training camps of Yemen....these are all speculation at this point. And without a concerted action among a large group of countries, all of which are potential targets for ISIS attacks, we could be receiving invitations to the television version of spraying insect repellent on an insect-infested field and watching the targets flee only to re-establish their colonies and return to bite those who sprayed the insecticide in the first place.
Only, these "insects" carry a venomous virus for which only God has any credible antidotes. All the research institutes committed to their diligent pursuit of digging deeply into the minds, hearts and belief systems of these jihadists cannot anatomize the precipitate of their intransigent wills, all of which are committed to the cause up to and including their own much sought-after deaths as suicide bombers.
Some even find their "calling" as assassins, callously and brazenly be-heading two American journalists before television cameras with the avowed purpose of wreaking revenge on Obama for his airstrikes into their camps in Iraq not to mention the secondary and reportedly successful purpose of recruiting new agents for Allah's jihad.
Rhetoric against ISIS or Al Qaeda, or any of the other cells of this cancer will prove useless, and will be even more hollow if the rhetoric has the impact of generating confidence that this monster can and will be easily or quickly slain.
Slaying dragons, the preferred role of western heroes, is neither called for against ISIS, nor will such a strategy succeed. Putin may think his bravado is impressing his audience back home, but if the Russian economy fails to generate the fruits and vegetables that his people have grown accustomed to putting on their tables in the middle of the polar vortex, then perhaps his bravado will have outlived its political life.
Equally, western leaders who believe and speak as if they can and will reduce Putin to a blithering compliant signatory to a sustainable peace deal with Ukraine, and who tell their national and global audiences that they have found the strategy to eradicate Islamic terror, will suffer serious and negative push-back from their electorate, and their inner circles.
We are living in a time when not only is the world under a powerful microscope and transmission technology making whatever happens available in a nanosecond to everyone on the planet, we are also living in a time when hollow rhetoric is so despised and so denigrated and so fraught with political suicide, that only those with the courage and the character to utter profound words like "We do not have a strategy yet for dealing with ISIS in Syria" Obama has already done to the anger of his critics on the Republican side, will have any chance of being believed by those whose trust is the only thing sustaining him for the remainder of his second term.
Tolerating the actions of the Mayor of Detroit, for example, who just this past Labour Day weekend hosted an Islamic conference in his city, at which too many speakers whose views are too close to those of the Islamic terrorist movement were not only invited to speak but warmly welcomes by the Mayor, is not the way forward. Appeasing the Islamic terrorist movement, a movement far too willing to jump at any opportunity to "sell its propaganda" no matter the venue or the purpose of the convention, is not the way to exercise leadership by avoiding the charge that we are not in a war against Islam.
All voices that concur with the Islamic victimhood in western democracies have to be cautioned, if not silenced, if recruits are not to continue trickling into the arms of the killing-training camps of ISIS. And the sooner the Muslim Imams join the fight against the Islamic terrorist jihad, bringing their mosque followers with them, the more secure we will all feel, including those Imams who are responsible for the future health of their mosques, all of which are under threat so long as this scourge continues.
*It is not incidental that the French government has postponed the delivery of its warship to Putin, given the Russian-generated turbulence on the world's globe. We applaud their courage and their fortitude.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Reflections on Labour Day, 2014

Labour Day, 2014, finds millions of well qualified workers without work, and millions of qualified workers underemployed, in an economy that is shifting to find the  least expensive way to produce products and/or generate services with the fewest regulations for worker safety and environmental protections at the lowest cost possible. Short-term profit is the goal regardless of the impact of such short-sighted policies and practices on the human component of the enterprise. This approach has become the norm in spite of protests of loyalty to workers and Employee Assistance Programs that abound.
(As an aside, ask someone who has sought support from those EAP "counsellors" and discover just how insignificant and trivial is their treatment of workers in the middle of personal trauma. The phone calls are received by a different "case worker" every time, with the client having to re-tell his or her story from the beginning, wasting valuable time, and delivering the indisputable message that there is no one "home" at the EAP phone number who is consistently monitoring and coaching the client through the trauma. And this is a service for which the employer is paying serious money seemingly more for the purpose of saying they have such a service than for the quality and the depth and the professionalism of that service.)
For sixty years, this scribe has found work of various kinds in the employ of large companies, and individual entrepreneurs, in both public and private sectors of the economy. Wandering over to a nearby house under construction, I found the contractor, a middle-aged man very receptive to a "foundling gopher" for the project. At twelve, what did I care about being paid. I felt valued, useful and engaged and those experiences have provided a template and a lens through which I have viewed every other opportunity for the next six decades.
Cleaning dirty pop bottles for a family business, a franchisee for Pepsi showed just how filthy were the bottles returned for their two cents of recycling rewards.
Stocking shelves, packing bags and carrying out grocery orders for Georgian Bay tourists in the 1950's was an introduction to retail commerce, customer service and worker high-jinks, including the kind of good-natured ribbing about weight and the panting it caused from co-workers.
Measuring cottages for provincial land tax assessments in unorganized townships proved that government employees in the late fifties and early sixties were not above pilfering left-over gasoline from the province when the day trips on lakes and rivers ended and pouring it into their own gas cans for their own outboard motor boats. It also demonstrated the difference between the cultures in the large corporations like the national grocery chain and the provincial government where, if I were to return for a second summer, I was asked "not to work so fast" if you can believe that.
An invitation from the local sales representative to join Canada Packers as a summer salesman, following a miserable few weeks attempting to sell nursery stock for  what I remember as Caradoc Nurseries then of Strathroy, when delivery of the product would not occur for twelve months, prompted an immediate, "When can  I start?" as I loaded the bread shelves in the local Dominion Store.
Selling sides and hinds of beef, pork rinds, bologna tubes and various forms of cooking oils and margarines took me into both independent retail grocers as well as summer tourist resorts whose clients paid dearly for their T-bone steak dinners on the shores of the Muskoka Lakes. Learning the various levels of business success or survival, as well as how to negotiate customer complaints, through a lens that kept both parties' interests equally in play was one of the more valuable experiences of all the opportunities I have enjoyed in any workplace.
And then there were four summer stints as a law student in a one-man law office, under the guidance and tutelage of a serious and generous and compassionate mentor who seemed to enjoy breaking social conventions, while complying strictly with the detailed requirements of the legal profession.
Client interviews in jail cells, will preparations, deliveries to other law offices and judges chambers, listening to the employer while driving him to appearances in the Supreme Court of Ontario in Toronto, preparing statements of adjustments on real estate closings, searching titles in both land titles and registry offices, and even preparing and conducting cross examinations in traffic cases....these are just some of the memories that remain, along with the gestalt of an experience of the significance of the profession as well as its tedium.
And then there were decades of teaching and coaching....first in Appleby College, in the private school world of the recently affluent aspiring parents to those of "old money" who sought the status of an education for their young boys (in the mid-sixties, the schools were mostly dedicated to male students) as well as the  connections that resulted from an old boys network for those entering business and the professions. Here I learned mostly how much a misfit I truly was for their world of the affluent. My attitudes, hopes dreams and world view were so completely detached, in fact alien, to the world of those on the "inside" that the dietician dedicated herself to a project designed to convert me to "conservative" politics. Clearly, in the long run, her efforts, however determined, failed.
And then public high schools became my workplace for two decades plus, during which I found a surprising level of insouciance from some staff members and administrators balanced by genuine caring from others who served as educators to several student populations. It is a highly concentrated "people business" this business of educating young men and women. They wear their emotions on their sleeves, and their foreheads, not to mention in their wardrobes. They rise and fall like leaves in a fall wind storm, as their emotions elevate and slam their psyches and their actions. They aspire, conspire, preen and roll up their sleeves in hopeful anticipation whatever the requirements of the moment,,,,a new basketball drill or offense or defence, a new riff in a new piece of music, a new poem or an extra-curricular activity....whatever it takes to seek and to find their "interest" and their passion. And then to nurture, coach, mentor and add a few twigs and puffs of encouragement to the fire that seems to have been ignited by whatever spark that found its way into their consciousness and eventually into their order to evoke their unique passion....This two plus decades were the most intense years of what seems, on reflection, to have been a process akin to gardening young hearts and minds and bodies into their flowering. Sometimes, it required weeding out the self-sabotaging habits, distractions, associations, or even inhibitions that were getting in the way of healthy human development. Sometimes, it was necessary to get out of the way of the energy and the passion and the determination of the young person's perceived immediate goal. And sometimes it was intervening when another staff member was inserting a personal agenda into the process that was clearly not in the best interest of the student.
Being dubbed "too liberal" and "too close to the students" was a familiar critique of my approach to the messy business of educating young men and women. It came from those more conservative staff members who saw their primary role as that of disciplinarian, I did not share their view of our  professional responsibility. It always seemed more important to provide opportunities for new experiences, for new insights, or new perceptions or new insights often through the words and insights of writers whose work had been included in the curriculum. Decades after leaving the profession, I heard that parents had complained about my having had discussions in  class that "went too far" for their comfort zone. I can only assume that points of view were raised by students that were incompatible with the views they were hearing around their dining room table and parents fears for the loss of control of their child's world view. Well, duh....since when did any parent have control of his adolescent's mind?
And then there were a few years in a community college bureaucracy, where political correctness, and a kind of walking on eggs seemed to characterize the culture, at least in the college administration. No raised voices, no tall men or women, no eccentric attitudes or wardrobes, and clearly a dedication to the power structure and its wishes, attitudes and expectations....all of these seemed to be much more important that whether or not students were learning, and were learning what they would need to succeed in the various workplaces they would eventually enter.
A few years in grad school and then out into the field of the practice of ministry were like walking naked into an Arctic blast, so painful and so mean-spirited were the experiences, that I have often been heard to utter: local politics was never as nasty as life in the Anglican/Episcopalian church where my capacity and willingness to "fit" into the straight-jacket of conformity to both the power and the structure of a culture embedded in archeological "digs" blind to the present and the future, both having been sacrificed long ago to the tentacle (even the barnacles) of tradition left me dangling naked in that Arctic blast. A decade plus later, I am beginning to thaw out from the cryogenic slab I became while attempting to serve as a deacon, then priest and then vicar.
I can only reflect on how ill-prepared I was to embark on a stint in the church, both by my own experiences and through the highly incomplete and inadequate training and formation I received from Ontario theological colleges. I respectfully warn any who might be considering such a career path to ask as many people for their honest perceptions and opinions before embarking on a course that is so fraught with landmines, generated both by the church hierarchy and by the people in the pews.
Labour has been a defining component of this scribe's life path, sadly to the default of a broken family, and a bent spirit.....however bent but not broken, thanks to those many helping hands along the way, culminating in one very firm and loving hand in my life partner and wife, Michelle.