Saturday, December 26, 2015

Why I closed my Amazon Account....

Today I closed my Amazon account.
Here's why.
It is not about inconvenience of undelivered gifts.
It is not about gifts that did not work upon arrival.
It is not about their contract with UPS.
It is not about their mistakes in debiting either debit or credit cards.
It is not about their dominance in the consumer market, globally.
It is not even about their recent ventures into both drone and space travel.
When any company decides that it is in its best interests to market the SWASTIKA emblazoned on shoes, flags and other merchandise, then I know this is not a company with which/whom I wish to participate.
Call it an ethical incompatibility.
Call it a consumer decision to withdraw from activities with any organization whose leadership decisions are so contemptuous of the often failed and nevertheless persistent attempts to reach some kind of healing from the deep and profound wounds of World War II, that they place their own profit ahead of their ethical obligations to the world community.
Call it a voice crying in the wilderness, similar to that voice of John the Baptist, crying in the wilderness, asking Herod to change his ways, asking the people of Judea to change their ways, only on a much more modest scale.
Ordinary people from all countries, from all political ideologies, and from all religious persuasions have to find and deploy their clarion voice when the powers of money and the pursuit of money, under what is normally considered an out-of-control capitalism operate globally without regard to the working conditions of those slaves who manufacture their products, without regard to the carbon emissions of those manufacturing plants, and without concern for the ethical expectations of their consumers.
While the Pope calls for a curbing of a materialistic lifestyle, and the Queen calls for everyone to extend "love" (agape in the Christian community) for others where and whenever possible, such legitimate calls are so massively abstract and without clear definition that ordinary people are most likely to continue to walk the paths they have trod for the majority of their lives, without change.
It is the single voice of a single human being, however insignificant in his or her own circle of influence, speaking against the kind of actions, attitudes, beliefs and philosophies, uttered with all the power of whatever megaphone is accessible, that potentially can and will generate the breadth, depth and volume of decibels that people in positions of responsibility cannot avoid, cannot deny and must not disparage.
Power does not reside exclusively in the bank accounts of the wealthy.
Power does not reside exclusively in the cabinet rooms of the nations.
Power does not reside exclusively in the exchange floors of the world's stock exchanges.
Power doe not reside exclusively in the ballot box of the various degrees of political democracy that we see around the world.
Power does not reside, exclusively either, in the handgun, nor the uzzie, nor the Kalashnikov carried by the terrorists and the armies around the world.
Power does not reside exclusively in the nuclear arsenals stockpiled in the storehouses of the members of the nuclear club.
Power does not reside in the Supreme Courts of the various countries, nor in the Courts Martial of the various military establishments.
Real power resides in the hearts, minds, larynxes, and the journals and diaries of the ordinary people who are not imprisoned by any requirement to defer to their supervising power structure, are not imprisoned by their deference to the conventional wisdom demands of any public acceptance for the purpose of retaining a political office, operating or working for a specific corporation, serving under the command of any military establishment.
It is the power of an extremely insignificant (especially in the eyes of the megacorporation that is Amazon) to withdraw patronage that can impact others to do the same.
And, although this space has never asked readers to engage in any specific activity, has never exercised any direct or indirect political persuasion to get readers to behave in any specific manner, this time is different.
Anyone who is not cognizant of the cancer embedded in the SWASTIKA, and who is not cognizant of the many neo-Nazi individuals and groups that continue to operate both in North America and in Europe, as well as in countries on other continents, and who is not "in touch" with the potential for furthering the advancement even through symbols, of that contemptuous and contemptible vision of the world, should not be operating a world-wide business enterprise that profits from the sale of such symbols.
We have all heard the direct references to the "Christian" roots of the KKK and the racial and ethnic cleansing of the NAZI movement against the Jews in Europe both during the war and also much more recently. These references come in comparison with and often in rebuttal of the Islamic terrorist movement that currently holds much of the world 'by the throat.' Religion is too frequently deployed as underpinning of violent motives, inherent to the minds and the hearts of the most depraved of humans representing all perversions of all faiths.
Freedom of speech is one of the defences from those engage in the sale and marketing of symbols like the SWASTIKA, in a blinded and unalloyed motive for profit. Such motives could and must be alloyed with a wider and more substantive motive of refusing to enhance the hatred to which too many individuals are subjected daily.
And there must be a persistent and penetrating voice of sanction against those whose undisciplined pursuit of their own profit motives makes such sanction necessary.
If you do agree with the position articulated here, consider your own option and freedom to join in putting pressure on Amazon to reconsider their deplorable business decision, a decision which is not, cannot, and will not be contained within the transaction between the consumer and the marketing machine that is Amazon.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Reflections on Emerson's Self-Reliance

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,—— and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.....
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. (From Essays, First Series, Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson 1841, from the Ralph Waldo Emerson Texts website)

There is a note of challenge and idealism in Emerson's conviction in his own conviction. "To abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humoured inflexibility when the whole cry of voices is on the other side," is a mantra to which so few adhere. To be willing and able to challenge the conventional 'wisdom' in any social situation, is inevitably to compromise the degree to which one is willing and able to 'fit it'.
Giving voice to our "latent conviction" and anticipating that it shall be "the universal sense" is hardly the core curriculum in most educational institutions in North America. We are the sponges for our parents, teachers, professors and eventually our bosses, especially should we need to acquire their "blessing" and their endorsement and their character references for the next step on our career path. We are taught the "content" of peace treaties, causes of war, logistics of battles, and perhaps, if we are extremely fortunate, exposed to the authentic words of the letters and the diary notes of those whose lives have shaped our nation's history. If our textbooks and our teachers consider a rebel to have been worthy of his death sentence, carried out by the state, then we too are expected to adhere to and to adopt that perspective. If those same sources consider the discoveries of the Madame Currie's of the world, or the Banting's and Best's, or the manuscripts of the Beethoven's and the Bach's to be the steps to civilization on which they and now we walk, then we are so conditioned. And, in the process of our assimilation into the conventional "academic criticism" of the specific discipline, we are shaped as prototypes of the perspectives of those who leaned on the lecterns, and those who circled the laboratories while we conducted the prescribed experiments, (really robotic repetitions of the same tests, and the same dissections in the same laboratories for the past century at least). We are expected to apply the equations of our classrooms to the problems of our examinations, following as closely as feasible the rehearsals of our homework and our studies prior to those examinations.
We learn the definitions of the glossaries of our 'courses' and the meanings of the theories of our intellectual giants, in order to become acquainted with, and disciples of those giants.
When required to write a paper, even in graduate school, about the 'problem of evil in Augustine' and we write that he could have written the twelve step program, for a reader who may have a dependency on alcohol, we are ridiculed as submitting a paper beneath the academic standards of the graduate program in which we have enrolled. "I need quotes!" came the repeated chant of the reader in the evaluation session which demanded a re-write.
Upon exiting her oral defense of her thesis for her doctorate in history, one adult woman commented, "That was more about how and whether I fitted into the parameters of the history department than an inquiry into my thesis, its content, perspective or the standard of proof of my evidence."
We read the writings of  both the original writers, and the critics whose opinions have shaped the opinions of the academic departments built on the reputations of both those writers and their intellectual critics and critiques in a vainglorious pursuit of the kind of academic credentials required to fill an academic position in any of our esteemed universities and colleges. Of course, our work must be "original" in the sense that should another thesis on the same subject or author, or theory complete and defend his or her thesis, with the same perspective as ours, we must begin again, from the beginning.
However, in the social intercourse that comprises our public lives, the working out of our business enterprises, and the conduct of our professional lives in law, medicine, education, social work, and psychology, it is our adherence to both the principles and the established knowledge of the "field" that will first plant seeds of our reputation and sustain the development of that stature, not our thinking and observing and operating outside those parameters.
And yet....
A recent encounter with a registered nurse, some seven years following her graduation, demonstrated the missing ingredients of her formal education, and pointed to her own discernment of a practice which she now includes in each evening/night shift with each patient. "PRN" are initials that signify for nurses, that the patient is given medication as required, and the requirement is expressed by the patient. If the patient does not ask, the medication is not administered. The nurse in questioned learned that such "protocol" (and that is the word ascribed to nursing and medical practice) resulted in confusion and unnecessary pain and discomfort for many patients. Consequently, she asks each patient, prior to their going to sleep for the night, "Do you wish to be wakened for medication, or do you wish to be left sleeping?"
It seems such a simple discernment for the nurse, and an obvious useful practice for her patients, and yet such a question was 'never part of my nursing training' in her words.
Religious institutions, especially, depend on the contrite and disciplined observance of their clergy representatives to the doctrine and the dogma of their faith institution. Church rules against the use of contraception, for example, or the rules against abortion, couched in legal terms like the "right to life", are two prominent examples embedded in both the theologies and the political ideologies of hundreds of politicians in many countries. Searching for potential exceptions, in itself, has been considered worthy of apostasy, as has the administration of the Eucharist for those who have gone through a divorce.
When asked about the teaching of new approaches to the management of business, the assistant dean of one of the more respected business schools in Canada replied, "If you want that, you will have to find it in the training offered by one of the corporations; here we are teaching students to operate a system effectively." And yet, corporations are paying handsomely to "brand" their employees with the insignia of the institution, following completion of the Master of Business Administration (MBA). What they are paying for is effectively "social engineering" in the most unadulterated sense. Albeit, such business training has the status and the power signified in the remuneration that is warranted, for decades....decades of fitting in, complying and operating systems for their corporate employers. Of course, many leave those corporations to try flying their own enterprises, using the training and the experience of their early working years to sustain their new ventures.
And then there is the corporate executive who, after more than a decade of successful business, when asked how he would like to see his company grow, replied, almost with missing a breath: "I want to see everyone in the company "innovating every moment of every day here."
And when I reflected on his clarion call for innovation, especially upon re-reading Emerson's words on self-reliance, I was saddened to think of all the classrooms in all of the towns and cities of this country, and potentially many other countries, where teachers excel at creating an ethos of "control" to the point where even a thought or an opinion offered in satiric rebellion is cause for discipline.
If we are going to help our children and our students, and later our colleagues, to trust their own opinions, and to trust their own truths, especially when the whole world is chanting an opposite opinion and an opposite truth, then we are going to have to begin that process very early, with ourselves.
What questions do we ask ourselves, when faced with a situation with which we feel a deep and profound sense of ill-ease? Do we too often merely bury those thoughts and feelings of discomfort, and continue our usual tape of self-talk, "I must not understand something about this situation so I must repress my thoughts and feelings and go along to get along, once again!" Do we even privately ask another if they are experiencing similar thoughts and feelings about what they know about the situation? Do we summon up the courage, including the political courage to confront the situation, even after giving full consideration to the options available for such a course? Or do we go home, have a glass of wine, throw our discomfort over our shoulder, telling ourselves "that is the way the world works and there is really nothing I can do about it"?
Self-reliance, in Emerson's context, is not merely about making adequate income to support a family. Nor is it merely about not applying for social assistance following a serious accident. Nor is it about the repression of our feelings of inadequacy, when we lose a job, or we lose a family member, or we lose an inheritance, or we lose a valued and cherished reputation through our own weakness. In fact, at such moments of particular "darkness" we are then especially being challenged by Emerson to listen to the inner voice that compels us to reclaim the power of our own truth, even if that truth is in direct odds with the truth of those currently condemning us, excommunicating us, firing us, or leaving us in the ditch.
And when we come to the place where we have the confidence to "tell our story" in all of its warts and all of its embarrassments and all of its complexities, our story will then fill the empty spaces in the universe of others, who, like us, have silenced their truth as not worthy of public exposure.
A story that embodies such a drama has unfolded in Canada recently. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to investigate and report on the Residential Schools for Aboriginal Children, after six-plus years of listening to the stories of the survivors and the families of those students who were uprooted from their families and transported sometimes thousands of kilometers from their homes and their parents and siblings and grandparents, and committed to residential schools operated by various church denominations, under the funding of the federal government. Hundreds, if not thousands of those students died while attending those schools, or have died since; hundreds if not thousands have also carried the scars of the brutality of being called savages, of being called uncivilized, of being called heathen, of both physical and emotional abuse by those 'holy' people who were their teachers and their guardians. And, following a national apology by the former Harper government, the Commission of three, chaired by Mr. Justice Sinclair, himself an aboriginal, spent the last six years listening to and compiling both hard copy and digital reports, including some 94 action items, to which the current government has committed to implement.
It is the truth of those children, now mostly septaginarians or octogenarians, that filled the room, and the hearts and the minds of those attending the presentation of the report, including the Prime Minister, himself having teared up while listening to the truth of the survivors. It is the truth, taken from witnessing such a highly charged national catharsis, that emboldens and enlivens the words and the beliefs and the convictions expressed so many years ago by Emerson. It is also such truth that resides in each person, as his or her "sacred gift" of his or her unique expression of truth for which the world is waiting, without perhaps even being aware of its own waiting.
It need not take such a national tragedy, of such monumental proportions, especially after so many decades of denial and repression, both publicly and privately, both individually and collectively, to evoke the truth that lies under the rock of our own pride, under the mask of our own creating, under the fear of our own generating.
"What if 'they knew' my truth?" as Jesuit John Powell reminds us in his spell-binding little book, "Why I don't tell you who I am".....If I tell you who I am, since that is all I have, you might reject me and then what would I have and who would I be?
Emerson counters with, "You would be yourself, the man/woman God created in whom is planted the unique seed of truth for which the universe is waiting."
Can and will we accept Emerson's challenge, and experience the transformation that emerges from such truth-telling, even if we doubt the world's readiness and openness to our truth?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Challenging traditional images of power, for our long-term survival

It was Ted Koppel, formerly the icon associated with the long-running ABC public affairs program, Nightline, appearing yesterday on NBC's Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, who reminded his viewers of the addiction of the news media in the U.S. to a "story" of conflict, any conflict, that generates both ratings and personal career enhancement. The reference was made during discussion of the potential of a "floor fight" at the Republican national convention next summer. Given the wild swings in poll numbers, and the large size of the class of 'candidates' seeking the nomination, there is a chance that, for the first time in decades, a party convention could include a contested nomination process, with all the drama that could emerge from the wheeling and dealing among the candidates and their "camps".
However, it is not only nomination conventions for presidential candidates that serve like polar magnets for the crass, self-serving and narcissistic media. All expressions of difference especially when those differences are personalized by attaching a face and name to the conflicting actors, serve like honey to swarming insects, who then pour their collected morsels of gossip, essentially little more than tweets, through their cameras and screens. Personal conflict, like war between combatants, not only feeds the Everready bunny appetites and ambitions of those who consider themselves journalists.
In Canada, for example, immediately after the October 19 election, the news media talking heads persisted in asking "when" the new government would complete its over 200 commitments. The barrage of both sycophantic and impertinent questions, on all networks, in attempting to expose the unpreparedness of the newly elected government ministers, served primarily to expose the crass and unseemly vacuity of timing and imagination of those asking the questions. At one point, the newly elected and just appointed House Leader of the government, Dominic LeBlanc, became so irritated, legitimately, with the "when" questions, that he responded to Robert Fife, on CTV's Question Period, "I was born at night, but I was not born last night!". He formally, publicly and assertively embarrassed his interviewer. And the retort spoke for the whole government caucus.
The news media, on a different and far more significant front, serves to enhance the recruitment efforts of the hated and despised ISIS. Ted Koppel, in the same television appearance, dubbed "Donald Trump the chief recruitment operative of ISIS" through his pandering to the fear among a segment of the American populace. Announcing his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, Trump obviously fueled public opinion around the world, enhancing the contempt all Muslims have for some parts of the U.S. perspective, and likely generating recruits for the radical terrorists. Furthermore, it is Trump himself, in his Barnun and Bailey hawking and barking for voter support, who is playing the media as his personal trumpet. Wall to wall coverage seems a guarantee for his every hiccup, belch and vomit. So fixated is the media on the 'storm' that Trump generates, through his guile, manipulation and contriving, that no matter the time of day, and no matter the network, his face and voice like talking wall paper, comprise what the news media vacuously calls responsible news coverage.
Koppel slapped the wrist of both Trump and the media, in his caution 'that we listen to what ISIS wants and not give it to them'.
His gentile, reflective and penetrating comment, of course, will wash over the glazed-over eyes and ears of the editors in the news rooms of the United States, like a gentle breeze, rather than the sharp and biting insight it is.
Public policy, coping with existential threats that confront humanity, needs the caution and the reflective perspective that Koppel's comments bring to the decision makers, along with the news audience. And his perspective is at odds with a corporate business model that demands ratings on which to base advertising sales, and on which to base career promotions and demotions of the scribes enmeshed in the corporate net.
When the strength of the combatant's pugilistic manipulation of both the facts and the emotions of the cowering political audiences trumps the truth and the authenticity and the seriousness of the thoughts and the proposals of political candidates, as it seems to do in the current campaign for the presidency (now the longest running soap opera to emerge from a reality-television national sound stage) then the world is being treated to the most profound dose of political cynicism and the most serious form of patronizing insult one expects from the adolescent bullies in fringe gangs.
We are tired of such a co-dependent diet of political candy floss; it endangers the cardiac health of the body politic;  exposes the vacuity of the expectations of the citizenry, and it endangers the transparent, accountable and transcendent leadership that the world so desperately needs.
How can the world expect a climate agreement that includes both "shoulds" and "musts" with penalties, when all negotiators know that the fine print will be read by a minority of less than 1% of the world's people, and an even lower percent of the worlds journalists?
How can the world expect a serious, thoughtful and potentially successful coalition to reduce ISIS to ashes, if both the political leaders and the co-dependent media are addicted to a diet of military violence?
How can the poetry and the insight of all the Malalas in the world, advocating that a book and pen are more powerful than all the guns and all the bombs, like  birdsong, be heard amid the cacophony of all the "hard-power" militants?
We are not only facing a needed transformation of our sources of energy that drive our cars, trains, planes and factories; we are also facing a needed transformation of our conceptions of real power, at both the personal and the political levels, from bully-infested superiority linked to the corporate-political axis that operates as national conventional wisdom in too many countries, to a much more modest, more moderate, more paradoxical and sustainable power of vulnerability.
We cannot sustain either the level of our hubris in our accomplishments and our conventions, nor our dependence on numbers, size, obliteration of our enemies, and our complicity in sustaining a mammoth machine of propaganda that reinforces profit, hard power, bombs and the decimation of the human element in all our endeavours.
We are deeply embedded, all of us, in feeding on a fast-food diet of gossip headlines, vacuous bullies vying for important political power, and a media machine that runs on the energy of corporate buying power. And complicit in our own self-sabotage are our television and movie empires, our political elites, our news media and increasingly our academic institutions.
The call for peace, security and a healthy and safe environment must include our conscious acknowledgement of our dangerous dependence on status, power, money, and superiority as the keys to a happy life. And there are so many faces of these demons: superiority includes, for example, seniority, tradition, and length of life. While we need not disrespect our elderly, we must make way for new people and new ideas that expose the dangers of our complacency and our complicity in what are obviously counter-productive attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and exercises of power over.
We need to develop curricula that exposes our social and political subservience to image of traditional power and status. We have to expose the superficiality of our access to detailed information, information that is needed, for example, to deter the power structure from embedding us all in the deep internet, to deter the power structure from expecting the minimal exposure of their agendas, their attitudes and their beliefs. And those beliefs cannot and must not be reduced to a mere slogan of a religious affiliation. We need to be much more sophisticated in our "reading" of the intentions of our leaders, the connections of their networks, their dependence on traditional sources of power, money and 'conventional wisdom.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Facing the impact of world culture on our kids and grandkids....

There are buckets of memories needing to be dumped from each of our minds.

These are the memories of people shouting at us, punching us, correcting us in condescension and superiority, and even for some of us, beating and violating our bodies.

These memories are so inflammatory that they cannot be forever subsumed in a locked barrel, like the nuclear waste we hope never leaks into the ground. And, on the other hand, like nuclear waste, these memories are themselves radioactive, not in the clinical definition of that word, but rather in the emotional and spiritual and psychological sense.

They have a half-life of many more years than we are given on the planet. They have a pulse that throbs whenever we are faced with the ‘right’ triggers, people, voices, situations that evoke their awakening from unconscious slumber. “Hot buttons” is a phrase that some apply to the activation of these memories and their power to inflict themselves on what would normally be considered situations hardly worth the effort. We learn of teen girls who ‘find’ the ‘hot buttons’ of their mothers, especially, and then push them mercilessly, unless and until those mothers stop reacting, thereby depriving their adolescent offspring of the thrill of instant power and instant gratification.

We hear of people “snapping” at the least likely moments, when, for inexplicable reasons, they find their circumstances so horrible that they resort to extreme steps like suicide, or worse, rampages of violence that too often bring down those once considered their closest family and friends. And then there are similar outbursts from people whose lives and public images would belie such explosions. “It is the quiet ones that are the most dangerous,” is an axiom many have heard for decades, about the most likely to explode of the panoply of characters who live in each and every town and city on the planet.

However, there is something happening that, many agree, has not been so evident for most of the last century. In the United States, for example, there have been 352 mass shootings in 2015, dramatically more than in any year in recorded history. Elsewhere planes are being shot down out of the sky, with clouds of conflicting evidence shrouding the prosecution of such acts; borders are being invaded, (Ukraine, Crimea, for instance) with apparent impunity for their perpetrators, given the capacity of the world community to prosecute so many crimes: instances of violence, terrorism, blatant extortion of public funds (example Nigeria), the recruitment of child soldiers for the purpose of wreaking havoc among innocents, the kidnapping of hundreds of young children for the apparent sole purpose of providing sexual favours for their captors, and possibly the conversion to a perverted form of a religion and its militaristic application as just another route to complete control over their victims by the thugs.

Psychology looks at individual human behaviour; sociology at the larger collective impacts of human behaviour. What we are witnessing, through a daily diet of bad news is not only extremely disconcerting and emotionally destabilizing for individuals, but think for a moment about the cumulative impact of the stories of violence on the millions of young minds and hearts whose lives are being forever twisted in ways we cannot fully appreciate or even imagine, as they attempt to cope with the steady cacophony of bullets, bombs, missiles, improvised explosive devices (IED’s), and all other instruments of death.

Born in 1942, I was effectively shielded from the news of bombs dropped during the Second World War. The kids in our neighbourhood were free from the kind of information that inserts itself into the ears, hearts and minds of kids today. Occasionally, a local man (by far the highest percentage) would take his own life and the story would literally fly through the phone lines and the neighbourhood coffee klatches, along the aisles of the supermarket and up and down the main street. Living in a “tourist town” we would also learn of motor vehicle collisions, especially in summer, along the area highways, as cottagers made their way to and from the “city” in hordes, mostly on two-lane roads. Occasionally, too, a fire would erupt, for example, in a downtown business, and the whole town would rush to do whatever to help rescue things like files, while the volunteer firemen fought the blaze. Infrequently, we would learn of the death from ‘natural causes’ of our elderly, or the occasional drowning in the waters of Georgian Bay. However, for the most part, we were unimpeded by and unimpaired with the burden of the kind of perpetual, ubiquitous and unrelenting drum beat of killings that comprises the “black noise” that invades the conscious and unconscious sensibilities of a whole generation of the world’s young people.

These news reports of violence are themselves buttressed and punctuated by commercial messages of video games that also “engage” their interactive combatants in virtual killings, naturally pitting good guys against bad guys, in a long-running episode of “kill or be killed” that endangers the very stability of the culture of our time.

Of course, there are glimmers of negotiations (on the Iran nuclear development, and even on global warming and climate change); however, the pounding of the ‘heavy-metal’ of world events points in a far different direction, as does the scepticism that undergirds the trust of many in the sustainability of any negotiated treaty. And with the steady drum beat of high level nonchalance that seems to have accompanied most of the previous “high level” meetings on global warming and climate change, linked to the pounding of military hard power, both state operated and terrorist-operated, there is little doubt that little people are growing up in a world of dangers, threats and missed opportunities to lower the dependence on military power.

And we have not even mentioned the millions of refugees, at least half a million children, who are growing up in tents, going to schools in tents, going to markets in tents, (where there even are markets) and living in conditions for which they can only hold their adult “leaders” responsible. And those leaders include every single person on the planet; we are aiding and abetting from our cynicism, from our apathy and our silent “compliance” with the failed attempts to bring the Middle East conflicts to a cease-fire, the failed attempts to reign in carbon dioxide emissions, and with a very slow and lethargic international impulse to confront Islamic extremism.

We are failing our children; we are failing our grandchildren; we are failing even ourselves, in our desperate impotence to bring our political leaders to account. We neglect the United Nations at our peril, and the peril of thousands of powerless, voiceless and innocent children. And we have only ourselves to face when we see so little being done through collaboration and through conscientious political negotiating, of the kind that requires the putting aside all ideologies, and all political differences, in the interest of bringing our demons to heel.

And we are providing frightening memories in the hearts and minds of those children that will reap their own havoc in the lives of their own children, both directly and indirectly. We are not reigning in the production and sale of guns; we are not compelling our political leaders to write and debate and pass laws that would require background checks for gun purchasers, (Quebec has announced it will bring in a gun registry, requiring all non-prohibited guns to be registered, at a cost of some $5 million...but why only in Quebec?)

If we were really serious about the impact our contemporary world culture is having on children, we would have to weep an ocean of tears at our own impotence, and then we would all have to write, text, email and even break into polite conversations over dinner with our circle of influence, in order to make our voices an intimate, integral and impactful part of the national and the international debate.

Our children and our grandchildren deserve far better than we are doing. And they deserve and need it now!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Maybe Chris Hedges is right: We need a revolution!

Raw power: the gun, the missile, the bomb, the rocket, the drone, the insurrection, the invasion, the willingness and the decision to ignore existential threats to the planet, the removal of all supports for labour, the refusal (with impunity) to govern, the capacity to assassinate another literally and/or through social media, the need for a perfect resume if running as a political candidate, the capacity to so manipulate all truth with impunity.....
These are just some of the ways we are witnessing the exercise of power, in a world infected with an epidemic of powerlessness.
We see it in the terrorist shooting of the Planned Parenthood (abortion) clinic in Colorado Springs, yesterday. We see it in the Turkish shooting down of the Russian fighter jet and the Russian shooting down of the Malaysian passenger jet.
We see it in the multiple police shootings of young black men by white police officers in the United States.
We see it in the murder rate of aboriginal men in Canada, three times that of women, although the public outcry points to the missing and aboriginal women.
We see it in the almost daily terrorist attacks by various "faces" of Islamic terror cells in various corners of the globe.
And we see it on the masks of ordinary people gasping for oxygen in China, another example of the canary in the proverbial coal mine, gone geopolitical and global.
We see it in the road rage of the Montreal police officer, off duty, who cut off a motorist who followed him, and then rammed that motorists vehicle to oblivion, while the police spokesperson says there is no discipline being applied, and likely none contemplated against the enraged off-duty officer.
We see it in the Toronto courts, where another white police officer is attempting to defend his multiple shots against a knife wielding young man, without attempting to de-escalate the situation. He claims his "training" told him that he was attempting to de-escalate through his use of the weapon! Duh!
We see it in the installation of soft-ware that defeats the pollution tests on Volkswagen diesel cars.
We see it in the export of asbestos to developing cars by countries like Canada, where "jobs and the economy" thrive on those sales.
We see it also (or rather hear it) in the abusive, racist and bullying rhetoric emitting like vomit from the mouths of Republican "presidential candidates"....all of it enhancing the poll numbers of the perpetrators!

It is not only that there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor.

There is a more important gap between those who choose hard power and those who choose to negotiate and to collaborate and to acknowledge that by taking "the matter into our own hands" by individuals, by terrorists, by law enforcement, by dictators, and by states, "we" (some would attempt to argue "they") have abrogated and rendered impotent those instruments of law and order, of compassion and altruism, of tolerance and diversity that we have spent centuries seeding, incubating, fighting for and protecting.

Of course, this view is countered by situations like democratic elections recently held in Myanmar and Canada, where popular individuals took power without military force, and without formally or even covertly purchasing that power. And of course, there are many other governments duly and legally and constitutionally and transparently elected by their constituents.

However, the resistance to working together on basic human rights, and the resistance to working together on global warming and climate change, and the resistance to working together to radically eradicate poverty, sexism, and to ramp up educational opportunities, while gazing complacently at the balkanization of the social structures of even the so-called developed countries and the infestation of radical attitudes, actions, and beliefs especially into those easily infected segments of societies that have proudly and honestly held themselves "superior" is a slide into a new kind of chaos.

We do not know how to eradicate the radical terrorist force from the planet. And we continue, nevertheless, to permit, encourage and then deny the rise of millions of disaffected and alienated young men (especially) from the social norms we have worked so hard, even fought so hard, to implement. We have been, in the developed world, worshipping at the altar of money, greed, and the enmeshment of state and corporate and military and economic power idols, seemingly blind to the exclusion of those outside the inner circle. And we have permitted that inner circle to grow smaller and tighter, richer and more powerful, as if a circle of "privilege" not unlike the circle of power that pervaded in feudal times, were the norm, and the rest of the world were the serfs who sustained that  cabal. And we have done this while covering our complicity with news reports of a rising number of billionaires, as if that had become the goal of our society, culture and economic and political system.

There was a very telling comment by the recently elected Canadian Prime Minister, this week, in an interview with the BBC in which he told his interviewer that he was confident he would still be prime minister "even if his name were not Trudeau." That line alone, while viewed as flippant and saucy and even cocky by the fawning media, demonstrates a level of noblesse oblige and stardom that only the son of a former prime minister would be able to pull off. Of course, he would never have come to power, either through the Liberal Party nor through the ensuing national election, if his last name were not Trudeau. And to deny that fact is to verge toward self-delusion. Of course, he was aided considerably by "not being Harper" so deep was the national antipathy to the former prime minister. And for the media to dismiss Trudeau's comment as "flippant and cocky" and mere "swagger" is sad, to say the least. In our powerlessness, and in our sycophancy to all of the icons of power, money, status, the name-brand cars, vacations, properties, and "friends" we have turned much of the apparatus of state power into the levers of the rich and the powerful.

It used to be that a television show entitled "Lives of the Rich and Famous" pandered to a class of people whose yachts and mansions and parties and "friends" were the subject of both envy and entertainment. And careers were mounted to invade the privacy of those lives, in a blatant attempt to entertain those who did not "have" such opulence. There continue to be segments of that industry operating in magazines, television, and movies, where ordinary people both fawn and dream of  becoming "stars" just like those whose lives have all the adornments of style, fashion and stardom.
Naturally, in a narcissistic age, and one fully equipped with the most advanced technology that puts into the hands, minds and hearts of nearly everyone, devices that can exercise a kind of invasion that no culture has ever before had to accommodate, without the accompanying education, training, and expectations of modesty, civility, privacy and shared consequences, the soil into which this new technology is one that is not conducive to growing those shared and necessary attitudes and tolerances that had grown over centuries of fighting to flatten the pyramids of power and wealth that the world has always found repugnant. Of course, those with the power and the money have also resisted any and all attempts to reign in their power and influence, judging themselves best able and best equipped to decide on how the society will operate. Many deny the science of global warming and climate change, much of it resulting from their own very industrial enterprises. Many also seek to defray all taxes, as they seek havens of no tax or very low tax, those havens themselves evidence of desperate jurisdictions to bale themselves out of economic purgatory, much like the casinos that have been built in the developed world, to bale out the governments of those states and provinces, while using the economic renewal of the aboriginal communities as their rationale.

Now again, as previously in a history that we were taught to despise, dictators invade other countries while denying such invasions, and while attempting to cover their lies with "agreements" to work with those who despise such invasions. Putin invades Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine, while simultaneously meeting with Obama and Holland to attempt to form a common front to eradicate ISIS. Assad, propped up by Putin, Hezbollah and Iran, (how's that for a circle of "friends"?) refuses to exit the Syrian conflict, amid the death of hundreds of thousands, apparently with impunity, and the open wounds of chaos that permit the rise of the ISIS, and the migration crisis that threatens the stability of countries like Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

Meanwhile, western countries like Canada and the United States pump our chests about "taking in" a few thousand refugees, merely a drop of water out of a sea of despair (and debate severely the risks involved!) while millions face the threat of a cold and debilitating winter. The Prime Minister of India refuses to engage in any collaboration on global warming and climate change, thereby permitting increasing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide to belch into the atmosphere, while he and the whole world know the impact will eventually strangle our ability to breath, including those people living in his jurisdiction, whose lives are so caught up with everyday challenges to survive, make a living, find a drink of fresh water and a few morsels of food.

We are incubating, just as we have, collectively even if unconsciously, bred such a breeding ground for violence and terrorism, in a little segment of the city of Brussels where the male unemployment rate runs at 40%, in hundreds of pieces of geography around the world. We are doing it, with impunity in Africa, where Al Shabbab and Boko Harram and probably other terrorists operate to murder and rape and terrorize thousands. And we are also opening our civilized societies to the return of trained terrorists bent on wreaking havoc in their homeland, as testament to their radicalized ideology and their own martyrdom, all of it begging for the denouncement from the thousands of imams who know it is not a responsible representation of Islam, yet are afraid to come out of their own closet for fear of violent reprisals. We have heard of only a couple of imams, one in Calgary, another in Europe, who have risked those reprisals by their public denunciations of the Islamic terrorists. Nevertheless, the Islamic community in general remains silent, for the most part, and certainly very infrequently engaged in formal training of young Islamic children, as one in Brussels is doing.

The  bombing of ISIS, the spread of economic devastation at the hands of the corporate elite, and the spread of toxic gases from the engines of the power of those elite, whether they be state-owned as in China or privately owned, and the universal war on women and human rights, (impediments to the continuing power of the "elite" bullies) linked to the rampant spread of weapons both under trade agreements and on the black market....all of this generates a churning cauldron of power unleashed, leaving so-called "legitimate" governments unable to discern who are the "good" guys from the "bad" guys, including both the formal and declared terrorists who champion beheadings and slaughters, and the more polite and more integrated corporate moguls who treat their human labour as little more than "raw materials" to be used, exploited and dumped on a trash heap like coal ash.
In Syria, who are the Assad rebels, as separate and distinguishable from the ISIS monsters?
In China, who are the government "officials" as separate and distinguishable from the self-serving apparatchiks who line their own pockets while laying waste the environment and the society of their workers.

And the capitalist/corporate/elite/uber-elite power brokers who seek absolute power, and the absolute freedom that comes with absolute power, have the blood of thousands of innocent people on their hands, for having demanded the kind of exemption from their fair share of the tax burden to operate a civilized, educated, sceptical, and respectful, not to mention lawful culture of independent-minded, and courageously reported institutions including governments who govern for all of their constituents, corporations who refuse to abuse their customers, and individuals who find meaning and contributing careers and vocations after a full and comprehensive education fit for a world that requires it of all its people. And these people experience enhanced power in all societies in all countries. And their religion, nor their political ideology nor their academic credentials cannot be their excuse.

And because we all have some of that blood on our hands, having grown up and participated in the slide into the kind of chaos in which we all find ourselves, it will take a kind of cleansing of that blood from all of our hands, not just the Kochs, nor just the Putins, nor the Assads, nor the  Ben Ladens, nor the FBI not the CIA, nor the MI5, nor the KGB, nor the Chinese Communist Party....but all of us, each in our own sphere of influence. We will have to acknowledge our compliance in a global economic system that threatens our continued existence, not only from the dumping of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from our "scientific wonders" the engines that run our industries, our vehicles and our profit machines that go "ching=ching" with every fossil-fuel dividend paid. We will have to come clean about how we individually use not only fossil fuels, but also the ballot, in permitting only those with "street creds" (in Canada that means Bay Street credentials, as expressed by CBC's Terry Malefski in his reporting on the new Finance Minister, Morneau) to take the levers of the financial system. As if someone without a career among the billionaires would be less qualified!
It is the "inner circle" of the respective Bay Streets, Wall Streets, Fleet Streets that have actively participated in the deceptive and seductive rise to power of the millions of billionaires, while ignoring the plight of millions of human beings, except through a patronizing and demeaning and debilitating "foreign aid" flow of dollars to assuage our collective guilt in the process.

We not only have to reduce dramatically and immediately our dependence on fossil fuels. We have to wean ourselves off a culture of star-power that emanates from the rich and the famous, from the serfdom that cripples the ingenuity and the imagination and the courage and the independence of literally millions of people across the globe. And, when the NDP "brain-trust" is afraid to headline the policy of increasing corporate taxes (as opposed to increasing the income tax of the richest 1%, the Liberal offering) in the Canadian election just completed on October 19, we know how deep is the political resistance to changing course in any meaningful way.

In Canada, and in the United States, and in Great Britain, and most likely in Germany, the corporate moguls are still in power, and their capacity and courage to confront the depth and the danger of their own history and the promises to which they are deeply welded for the vacuity and the danger of those promises continues to be hampered by their own hubris and their spinelessness in refusing to acknowledge the mess from which we have to dig ourselves out.

Boeing, McDonell-Douglas, Northrup Grumman, The Pentagon, General Electric, Pfizer (just having pulled off another tax-evasion scheme through an inversion merger to move its head office to Ireland and lower corporate profits) and the "circle" of the elite who "make the rules," not only for the statutes passed in the legislatures, but for the media who cover the important people, will have to be stopped from their monopoly on power. Those inside the circle of power, those the culture considers elite, are not in possession of  the best ideas, nor the best ideologies, nor the best attitudes and beliefs, that are required to reduce the power of their patrons. They are, in fact, merely human beings, each imbued with the capacity to see clearly when their actions and their attitudes benefit the whole of humanity, or their own immediate circle of influence. They are not blind to what is happening and their are not blind to the short leash of their own political power. And that leash is, admittedly, determined by the size of their investment portfolio in the current environment.

However, that leash, more appropriately, would be cut short, through the ballot box which is still available to millions around the globe. However, there are others, like Chris Hedges, in the United States, who have already succumbed to the notion that only through a revolution, a physical, intellectual, political and economic revolution will the world survive. And he may be right!
Revolution, joining forces in the streets of our cities and towns, as the people of Chicago did yesterday to protest, in the heart of the consumer-buying week of Black Friday, the killing of another young black man by the 16 shots fired from the revolver of a white policeman, may have to be the instrument, among others, of choice, if the revolution is going to overturn the power structure that has ensnared the globe.

We will never eradicate ISIS without such a revolution.
We will never eradicate poverty, hunger and disease without such a revolution.
We will never bring back the power to govern, without such a revolution. (Ever Bernie Sanders is trying to abrogate the word "revolution" in his likely doomed campaign for the White House!)

We will never liberate the imaginations, and the ingenuity and the creativity and compassion of the ordinary people so long as we hang tight to the "power-and-money-and-greed" model of social governance. We will only participate in the continuance of the pattern we are currently witnessing: the increasing grab and deployment of power absued, by dictators, by governments, by corporations and by the supporting cast of tax accountants who drink from the same straws and the same cocktails as those writing the cheques.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Are we going to persist in playing into the hands of the terrorist cancer?

Just how dumb are the political class, especially the Republican candidates for president, who, in varying degrees, want to bomb ISIS into defeat, and who want to block all attempts to resettle refugees in the United States? Those two positions are precisely the desired goals of ISIS leadership: getting into hand-to-hand combat with western soldiers and driving thousands or millions of refugees out of Syria, thereby flooding and destabilizing the rest of the world. A third, the rush to what some are calling a police state, replete with surveillance on everyone everywhere all the time, contributes additional angst to a western way of life that remains under threat, and eminently worth preserving.

And if at the bottom of the “food chain” of inside information knows these basics, (including your scribe), then who doesn’t really comprehend the implications of those givens?

President Francois Holland of France is currently engaged in a global campaign to bring as many world leaders and their governments into the military campaign to defeat ISIS. He is especially interested in bringing Obama and Putin, and through them, American and Russian fighters (not just their jets and bombs and missiles) into the campaign. And yet, even with his determination following the devastation in Paris last Friday night, in soft targets hosting ‘ordinary people,’ he must also be fully conscious that he (and whomever he conscripts to his goal) are playing directly into the hands of ISIS. And, ordinary people are left wondering out loud, with a cohort of some 50-80,000 conscripts in their fighting force, and with a spike in those numbers following each successful attack against “civilization,” why would western governments and their leaders be so anxious to rush into the ISIS trap.

The need for “power” and the immediate gratification that comes from a defeated enemy (and who does not want to see ISIS etherized and buried in the deserts of their own caliphate?) especially when provoked by such a heartless, inhuman and inhumane, brutal and depraved gang of thugs, is an extremely powerful motivation. And when the whole world knows that using the full force of the western military establishment, including both Russia and the United States, no enemy could or would survive, then the prospects of “wiping” ISIS from the face of the earth look especially attractive.

Let’s pause for a moment and think about some of the ‘other’ facts: Holenbeek, a section of  Brussels, is literally overflowing with a social petrie dish of ripe candidates for ISIS recruitment, given the 40% unemployment rate, the tight living conditions, the disaffection of many north African migrants, and the predominantly Muslim population of young displaced and disaffected young men. The prospect of fighting a holy war against such western powers, many of which they would consider at least implicated in their own predicament, if not primarily responsible for it, linked to a false promise of a heavenly reward for martyrdom, is a rousing and sugar-coated call to take up arms. Would that call be silenced by the burial of ISIS in Iraq and Syria? Would there not be an even more powerful motivation for those young men, and some young women, to rush in to replace their fallen martyrs if the whole world were engaged in their elimination? One could see at least for a period of time, an acceleration of the conflict, if not a morphing of its methods and locations, drawing the whole world, literally, into the conflagration.

The French Prime Minister has also used those infamous words (echoes of George W. Bush) “chemical and biological weapons,” in his plea to the French legislature to pass the Emergency Measures legislation. That development, if it ever ensues from the mess that is Syria, Iraq Yemen, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Mail, Nigeria, would naturally strike terror into the hearts and minds of all civilized people everywhere.

Many others are also now writing compellingly about the potential for so much enhanced “security” apparatus, that personal freedom is being, if it has not already been, sacrificed. A permanent, or long-term military conflict, added to the prospect of the western world’s putting a surveillance camera on every street corner, and the combination would suggest, if not openly assert a terrorist victory.

The many voices of Republican governors of some twenty-five –plus states, plus the several Republican candidates for president who are calling for a halt to accepting thousands of refugees, out of fear of a potential terrorist hiding “under the body of the Trojan horse” as it were, in just another of the ways by which the terrorists are quite literally smothering the best instincts of a free and democratic and tolerant and diverse culture and society. And then there is the spike in physical and verbal attacks on Muslims in Canada and elsewhere, plus the burning of a mosque in Peterborough, Ontario Canada, (approximately 150 miles from where I am pounding these keys) all add up, along with the rush to military war (the Pope calls in the “piecemeal Third World War”) and the rush to such extravagant surveillance techniques (Britain just this week added another $3 billion to her already exhaustive surveillance campaign of at least one camera for every ten people in her population), along with the blocking of refugees from the United States adn several European countries (at least Canada has not joined that madness!)...and one has to conclude that not only have the people in power been spooked, partly because they do not know what to do about this cancer, but so too have many of the ordinary people whose lives are already undermined by such tragic and dramatic events as the economic crisis of 2008-9 and the spike in unemployment and the capacity of people everywhere to wreak havoc on anyone at any time, for any indiscretion.

Are the terrorists really going to “win” by our default in playing the very game they seek?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Military revenge is apparently not curtailing or even containing ISIS...what's next?

Revenge is the naked idol of the worship of a semi-barbarous age.
(Percy Bysshe Shelley) (From Brainy Quote)

George W. Bush vowed revenge from the pile of rubble that was the Twin Towers immediately after the 9/11 disaster. Hence the wars in both Afghanistan, and also, for different reasons, in Iraq. The doomsday scenario of 9/11 itself was an act of vengeance and revenge on the twin world powers of America and Israel, as seen from the caves of Afghanistan. Anyone who walked up that unpainted scaffold to peer into the abyss following the 9/11 bombing of the twin towers, and to cower in the face of carbon-painted buildings, from the fires ignited by those millions of gallons of aircraft fuel cannot fail to be viscerally moved to reflect on the scope and the depth of the impending threat.
Legitimizing revenge, as George W. Bush and his crony Cheney, did once again for the 21st century has got the world into a pile of trouble. Bombing Iraq and Syria, both essentially failed states, in spite of the  billions of dollars and the thousands of lives "spent" to reconfigure them as "democracies" is having its own pay-back:
  • witness the bombing of the Russian passenger jet over the Sinai
  • witness the horror of the six barbaric attacks in Paris last night
  • witness the Charlie Hebdo massacre also in Paris
  • witness the Boko Haram attacks on innocent Christians
  • witness the  bullets fired into the skull of Malala
  • witness the assassination of Captain Cirillo while standing guard at the National War Monument in the centre of Ottawa and the drive-over murder of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec
To this brief list, we now have to add the headline from French President Holland, that last night's attack is an "act of war"....and speculation is growing that "boots on the ground" is the missing ingredient to "decapitating" ISIS, that scourge, cancer, pandemic and lethal poison that has claimed responsibility for the deaths already of some 129, the wounding of another 350, nearly 100 of those critically.
Rounding up accomplices, charging them with crimes against humanity, will feed our appetite for justice. However, it was Mohamed Fahmy, appearing at Carleton University in a penetrating interview conducted by CBC Senior Correspondent, Nail MacDonald, who reminded us that, to the Islamic terrorists, it is the west, including the Americans, who are the terrorists.
Revenge for terrorism, the obvious plying emotional ointment on our open wounds of both pride and human treasure, now numbering in the thousands, will, in the end have the impact of demeaning all participants whose motive is captured by Shelley's naked idol of the worship of a semi-barbarous age.
Daily, we hear the drum-beat of barbarism, of beheadings, of targeted assassinations, of a missile-crushed hospital staffed by volunteers from Doctors without Borders in Afghanistan, by the Americans, after, we now learn, a formal request from Afghan military who knew that hospital was caring for both western troops and Taliban, their hated enemy. Daily we also hear of the billions of dollars that have been spent on "national security" and defending the homeland, especially from the American press. And, all decisions and the actions that execute those decisions are premised on the concept that defeating the Islamic terrorists will be the ultimate reward for those decisions, actions, and the men and women who lose their lives in that fight.
Syria is awash with acts of revenge, starting from the top with Assad who has allegedly used chemical weapons on his enemies, his own people, moving to rebels, allegedly armed and supported by the United States, and opening the door to ISIS terrorists whose entry into the open cracks in this failed state have provided a battlefield for recruits, along with the video documentaries of dozens of acts of brutality. Iraq, too, has been laid waste by over a decade of civil war, now supplemented by Iranian forces, supporting the Shia majority, as the Sunnis in the western part of that so-called country prefer a Shia government to taking up arms against the Sunni terrrorists.
In most school-yard fights, "he started it" echoes in the memories of school administrators, and the blaming phrase comes from both combatants. Who really started it hardly matters if one of the combatants is lying on the ground unconscious, after receiving a severe kick in the head from the army boot of his opponent. The trigger, too, that turned the adrenalin "on" to land the first blow, is also irrelevant, in the aftermath of the damage.
Politicians can and will point to the extremely complicated set of variables, in most failed or failing states like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, (we must not fail to note Pakistan in this list!) as a way to couch whatever proposals they might offer to get the world out of the mess we are in.
Everyone wants to eradicate the scourge of ISIS or whatever name it prefers; everyone wants Muslim countries and their soldiers and airmen to take up the fight (except perhaps those very Muslim states themselves); everyone knows that 'if we don't put soldiers on the ground to take their terrorist fanatics "out" then, as the current cliché goes, we will see our own blood spilled on our own streets, as it has been this weekend in Paris.
However, there is a vacuum-like pressure coming from ISIS itself to have the "west" commit troops to the fight they are just baiting us to join. And into that vacuum, many of the current conservative candidates for president are more than willing to rush. A couple are more isolationist. On the Democratic side, the three primary candidates, Sanders, Clinton and O'Malley all envision enhanced intelligence, a reshaped and refocused military, and a coalition of countries, including the Muslim countries that are so far bowing out, to provide a lethal injection to this virus.
For our part, this 'critical moment in history', as some are calling it, occurred two or three years ago. Nevertheless, hindsight does not move us forward; it only exposes our blindspots on our record.
This Islamic split between Sunni and Shia is both epic, in that it fully threatens the history and viability of the Muslim faith, and all Muslims, everywhere, must realize that danger, and join in the chorus and in the person-to-person conversation to stop the madness that threatens the safety and security of all "humanity" . (Obama calls the Paris attacks of yesterday "an attack on all humanity"!)
Bernie Sanders is holding a light on the need to reduce or even eliminate poverty and the lack of opportunity from all areas of his own country, and by example, from all countries in the world. While that initiative, if successful, would go a long way to removing one of the more fertile root causes of terrorism. It will, however, take decades to accomplish and we simply cannot go along for decades under this sword of Damacles
In other places, we have advocated for a vigorous and enhanced and fully funded information/education program, as another initiative to stop the flow of recruits to terrorist camps. Others have recommended the cutting off of all opportunities for funding, including black market sales of oil, in order to cut off the flow of "blood" that sustains ISIS. Humanitarian aid, in places where it is targeted, monitored and successfully delivered would also reduce the angst and the anger against the west and its uber-wealth.
Nevertheless, this weekend, the world stopped, looked into their television screens and asked themselves, "What is happening to the world? And how can or will the necessary intellectual, and strategic and creative collaboration be brought together, in unity, in solidarity and in a sustainable long-term program to deliver on the goal of eradicating this disease?"
And we are all necessary to the campaign to defeat the campaign of hatred that is founded, dishonestly and desperately on a perversion of a religion and a religious experience.
In this new "barbarous" age, (not merely "semi" as Shelley wrote about!), will revenge once again become the even larger and more penetrating "naked idol"?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

WADA Report points to Russian Sports Federation behind athletic doping....

“It is much worse than we thought!”
Those are the words of Canadian Dick Pound, a member of the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA), while discussing the most recent report on state-sponsored doping abuses,  focusing primarily on Russia. Of course, there are other countries who either cover-up or blatantly participate in athletic doping for the sole purpose of winning.

“The end justifies the means” is not merely a tired aphorism. It has been baked into the culture, and we all have our share of responsibility for the mess we are left with. Diplomacy, the preferred “talking” resolution to state-to-state conflicts, is only as feasible as the integrity and the willingness to disclose of the participants. Making available to the public disappointing information, especially when we are compiling mountains of data, is not longer just a requirement for governance; it is a mandate for all relationships. The unleashing of government scientists in Canada, following the election on October 19 in Canada, is only one of the more prominent and most recent examples of state disclosure. The release of 800 million tonnes of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River, by the city of Montreal, is the tip of a mostly secret history of neglect of public infrastructure by politicians seeking re-election and denying tax hikes, as their “end” justifying the means of refusing public disclosure.
Who defines the appropriate “end” in any situation? Unfortunately, those with the information are best equipped to define or shape a public issue, in terms to their own “aggrandizement”. And the acquisition and full critical apprehension of information is a skill so integral and so monumentally important that its ownership and dissemination are essential to all healthy relationships, including the effective and healthy functioning of families, schools, organizations and corporations, as well as governments.

What does it mean that a nation’s athletes are compromised by the authorities governing their athletic ventures, for the aggrandizement of the careers of those in charge? It means that those athletes have become slaves (‘means’) to their masters’ career aspirations and goals(‘ends’).....and as Kant so eloquently and succinctly reminds us, from an ethical perspective, no one is to be the means to another’s ends.
Agency, the exercise of real power, is at the core of many of our human interactions. And, all power is directed to achieving specific “ends”...partly determined and defined by the nature of the situation, including the resources available to address the situation, as perceived by those with the relevant levers of power. The most efficient exercise of power, as history demonstrates, is that of a tyrant, or a very small cadre of (historically) men, who consider themselves the ones best able to define and to execute whatever action they deem necessary to achieve their desired “end”. As part of their exercise of that agency and power, usually, is the design and execution of the dissemination of information, thereby disclosing the full degree of integrity and validity of that specific group. It is not that full disclosure always assures us of the ethical deployment of power; it is however, one of the guardians against abuse that full disclosure is significant.

In families, those who seek the truth, even if and when that truth is highly unpalatable, often incur the wrath of their parents and siblings. The more unpleasant the truth, the greater the likelihood that those involved with its perpetuation will seek to block the light from shining into the dark corners of whatever it is they seek to hide. It is not that people everywhere do not know if and when they are doing something the world would find “unacceptable”. It is more a question of the more refined calculation of whether or not the world will find out, that operates as the critical point of both the action itself, and its disclosure. In Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago invests considerable energy in his revenge tactics, believing he will never be discovered. It is only his wife who tells the world of his deception and the extent of his revenge, much too late.
Although we all know “the truth will out”, we sometimes find ourselves in places we believe that are so difficult and painful that only through “extreme” measures (read unethical for extreme in many cases) can we tolerate the pain. Our dive into “extreme measures” can also be with or without our conscious acquiescence. In some situations, the pressure we experience to “succeed” is so profound that “success” as our end requires us to compromise on the means of its achievement. Is that the case with the Russian athletic agencies? Quite possibly. Some are ever referencing the former Soviet Union and its most base methods of control, to put the current situation into perspective.

Parents, teachers, and all professionals, including those two policemen who shot and killed a six-year-old autistic boy this week, allegedly because of a long-standing feud with his father, (still recovering from his own gunshot wounds) have to be made aware of the boundaries  between their personal agendas and the requirements of their public responsibilities. And that specific exercise, to learn the deepest fears and motivations, including those that are less likely to garner public appreciation and support, like personal greed, and personal acquisition of power, and personal climbing up the career/success/status/power ladder....and only after discerning the degree to which such ambitions control us, without our conscious awareness, thereby making them fully disclosed to our conscious minds, can we exercise power/agency on behalf of others.
And that piece of curriculum is too often absent from the curricula of too many schools, universities, colleges and workplace trainings.

And how many of the refusals, denials avoidances of disclosure, and of incidents for which individuals are held accountable (some criminal, some poor judgement, some the alleged abuse of power, some simply stupidity, and some vindictive) arise from the errors in judgement, values and overt abuse of institutions? Too many!

And yet, it is the individuals who have ‘crossed the line’ who have to pay, rarely the institutions or corporations or organizations. The Volkswagen debacle over software that permits diesel cars to pass emissions tests, although they are emitting toxic gases far above the permitted limit, plus the Tanaka airbag tragedies, are two examples so large and so penetrating in their impact are two examples of corporations having to pay.
Recently CBC Marketplace presented a tale of cover-up of food including red meats that have passed their “best before date” and are still lying on shelves waiting for buyers, after they have been doctored to make them look “fresh”...

Once again, it was whistle-blowers who came forward to tell their ‘inside’ story.
Increasingly, there is evidence, however, that reporters, while they ask thousands of questions in their obsession with making news, getting a headline and thereby achieving their real objective, a promotion and pay raise, are rarely digging behind the gloss offered by public servants, to find just how bad things really are. Of course, investigative reporters do their required digging; yet, what is the real proportion of investigative reporters to headline makers? Headlines generate ratings and thereby advertising revenue while investigative reporting often exposes corporate “friends” of the news outlet.

Of course, as expected Putin and the head of the Russian Sports federation have denounced the WADA report, claiming that it oversteps its mandate, recommending banning Russian athletes from participation in competition, and removing the credentials from the Moscow laboratory that allegedly destroyed thousands of specimens that would have proven Russian athletes used doping techniques. The Russian counter is that WADA can punish only individuals, and not a specific state, thereby obviously attempting to preserve the immunity and the impunity of the State.

It is long past time when we need to start to hold corporations, states and organizations responsible for their complicity in many of the mid-deeds of individuals who, if treated with the respect and dignity they are due, would never have committed those misdeeds in the first place. And that includes most of the athletes who used doping techniques under pressure from their “state” masters. Stopping the doping, in the Russian case, has to include the deposition of those at the head of the Russian athletic federation. And that theme is relevant and appropriate to many other misdemeanors, for which the conditions created by the institutions have never been held accountable, nor have their executives

Friday, November 6, 2015

In celebration of bewilderment

While introducing a 400-year-old religious composition entitled Vespers, Julie Nesrallah, host of Tempo on CBC Radio 2, commmented that the music evoked in the listener both "awe and bewilderment". Of course, she was correct in her critical appreciation. It did indeed make one experience both "awe and bewilderment".
Reflecting on the critical phrase, following the experience, one is prompted to parse the rarity of our openness to, acceptance of and search for "bewilderment" in our faith pilgrimage, and more importantly in our search for our life path. We simply reject our acknowledgement of our own "unknowing" and of our bewilderment, until, having exhausted all of the available evidence for any circumstance, we are still unknowing of either what is going on or why.
And the limits to our unknowing and our bewilderment are so broad and wide that we need to recover our ownership if we are to fully integrate into our specific and our collective reality.
After centuries of exploring the human anatomy and physiology, we are still in the dark about many of the pains and symptoms presented by patients in their doctors' offices, and in the emergency rooms of our hospitals. We have a plethora of tests, in our determined initiative to "rule out" potential diagnoses. Like crime scene detectives, our medical professionals are probing the evidence through the most advanced techniques and technologies, and we are still taking many probes and extensive time periods to discern the unique situation with each patient.
We are probing the atmospheres of various planets, in our unwavering pursuit of "life out there" without really knowing where that pursuit will lead. We are exploring our own inner truths, pulling insights and feelings and perceptions out from behind blocked and twisted memories, perceptions, and encounters, previously inaccessible and therefore unavailable previously. Socrates famous phrase, "The unexamined life is not worth living" accurately paints a picture of a human being in constant, persistent and never-ending nuggets of character, interest, capacity, aptitude and even destiny, without an absolute unchangeable immutable answer. In fact, the process itself, documents the disclosing and evolving answers.
And in that process, we too often avoid paying appropriate attention to our own bewilderment, while never failing to be impaled in the apparent bewilderment of our colleagues at our actions, attitudes, perceptions and  beliefs. We are also embedded in our own ceaseless attempts to provide "structure" and definition and any of several depictions of what we are wont to call "reality" in order to avoid having to face the truth of bewilderment, of not really knowing the full truth and the full reality.
Having been privileged to attend training offered by Robert Fritz, known for his Technologies for Creating (c), I first came face to face with the concept that it was acceptable and necessary to admit "not knowing" as part of any situation. Subsequently, I learned from his colleagues who worked under the working title "The Learning Organization," that, upon encountering an issue in any organization, leaders are prompted to ask the question "why?" at least five times, in order to fully uncover the dynamics of the file.
In most human situations, most people are quite willing and even eager to look for and to accept only one explanation of any situation, especially in situations in which they find discomfort. It is much easier and therefore more conventional and also more acceptable to "blame" another, to scapegoat the problem, often an individual who merely speaks truth to power rather than to pursue our unknowing of some of the reasons the situation has developed as it has.
We are so driven by our intense and unforgiving pretense and determination and even belief that we must dominate every situation, that we must bring order out of chaos, that we must paint pictures of success and of future happiness and enhanced success, in whatever field of human endeavour, that we
build our need for "dominance" into each and every situation we find. We build our education system around the determination to solve problems, including the students'  capacity to deploy the latest technology in the process, as well as the evidence of previous periods of history to solve problems, while never failing to find ourselves repeating the same scenarios that resulted in those same problems.
We remain "in awe" of natural phenomena like the 'northern lights' or the birth of a baby, or the forgiveness of a wrong, the reconciliation of a long-held dispute, without acknowledging our bewilderment over such questions as the synergy of their occurrence, and certainly the unpredictability of their potential. We engage in statistical probabilities, in our honourable and inveterate pursuit of "knowing" the future, without acknowledging the fallibility of our methods, or our results.
We have elevated "experts" and "specialists" to very high status in our hierarchy of values of credibility in all fields of human endeavour, and when those with that status don't know, we are left wanting.
In our pursuit of "power" both the soft and hard varieties, we elevate models of "knowing" and of "knowing how to do" to stardom, creating an endless belt of generational clones emulating their heroes, and not merely on the athletic fields and ice rinks, or the scientific labs and the court rooms, and even in the literary awards. Underneath the public drama, however, are the stories of bewilderment, suspense, and unknowing that comprise the earth in which we plant the seeds of our lives.
And, while it may at first appear that "bewilderment" is an impairment to our individual and our collective lives, it is rather a gift, if only we can and will openly and courageously celebrate it appropriately. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so too it appears that human beings abhor bewilderment to our own self-sabotage.
Certainly, in our spiritual lives, bewilderment is the foundation of not every fully "knowing" about concepts like deity, afterlife, the relationship between our lives and a deity, the meaning and interpretation of holy texts, without ever compromising our attempts to discern our own answers to such questions. Bewilderment is, at its core, humbling and orienting our uncertain lives to an always-changing and unpredictable reality. It places us in harmony with nature, the forces we cannot "control" as mounting evidence continues to demonstrate.
On a pragmatic level, bewilderment also provides many doors behind many questions waiting our hands to unlock and to open to our own pilgrimage, and to contribute to the collective insight, not as dominators but more as participants in the inexorable complexities of all life in all times.
Ambiguity, uncertainty, suspense, surprise, reflection, collaboration, shared anxieties, shared fears and shared grounding, all of them sisters and brothers of bewilderment, serve us far better than we are likely to acknowledge. And the more we can and will include them in our relationships and in our education and spiritual journeys, the more those pathways will reflect our full and mature acceptance of our shared occupying a planet threatened by their denial and rejection.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The triumph of objectification....

There is reason to  think that our broad ethical capacities were formed during a long phase of human evolution when family relations were paramount. In significant measure, right and wrong depended on the calculus of kinship.....The vivid evidence of the traumatized world is that ideology is not a good basis for ethical behavior. Too readily it yields over-certainty in times of ambiguity. It stimulates overarmament when human balance is fragile....
(O)ur principal society-wide means of judging students and other candidates focuses fiercely on people's ability to perform technical tasks- calculations, making technical projections, knowing the details of the physical process. Capacity for social judgement and making wide decisions need not accompany the technical requirement on the main route to entry--for example to medical careers Later in careers, those with technical skill may take command of their of their workplaces without having had or developing the capacity to make good ethical decisions. (Lionel Tiger, The Manufacture of Evil, Harper and Row, New York, 1987, pp. 324, 326-7)
Tiger's argument that we have so elevated the industrial process to the point where it not only delivers profits, careers, products and services, but it also embed a way of looking at the world, through such a detached, mechanical, industrial lens that we are in danger of losing our ethical capacity to relate to each other, and to see the world from a kinship, relationship, familial perspective, a view he equates to an ethical perspective.
Written nearly three decades ago, his thesis can now readily and feasibly be re-stated through the lens of an informational/digital-techno-consumed culture. If we overturned a familial, relational and connected culture with an industrial model, elevating the technocrats to positions of power and command, we have evolved that thesis to one in which the mere acquisition of wealth has replaced even our industrial model of social hierarchy.
The corporations, those behemoths of technology, including the arms production factories, along with the global technology that fosters enhanced trade of those weapons, and the other industrial/technical behemoth, the pharmaceutical industry, supported by its funding of its medical fraternity puppets, and the financial techno-systems and individuals whose doctoral grads manufacture and deliver equations like credit-default-swaps for their personal aggrandizement and the enhanced status of their superiors have increasingly grabbed our culture by the neck and refuse to let go.
It is not merely in the generation of products and profits that corporations dictate their modus operandi. It is through their hierarchical, pyramidal, abuse of power, based on their definition of responsibility, including their concept of ethical correctness, that they impose a conventional wisdom of what constitutes right and wrong. Just like their raw materials, gathered for their production purposes, their people are merely fodder for their processes:
  • processes of production,
  • process of efficiency,
  • processes of profit and investor confidence generation,
  • processes of ambush and take-over of their weaker competitors,
  •  processes of their personal acquisition of wealth, mega-mansions, luxury vehicles and vacations, early retirements, and
  • social processes that support their conception of success, the ultimate "good" opposed to the ultimate wrong, poverty, instability, disease, unemployment, illiteracy and enhanced millions of dependents on their "success"
  • language of "doing" in direct opposition to the language of "integrating" and "relating" and "including" and "considering" and "embracing" and "supporting" and "identifying"...
First there is the "task" that needs to be accomplished; then there is the gathering of the "means" necessary to accomplish the task; then there is the listing of those assets, mostly things, (including other human beings) needed to accomplish that task, then there is the plan and the monitoring and executing of the plan, easily substituting "weak" units of production, like damaged pieces of wood, steel, or plated metal parts, or subversive people who ask questions and question the authority both of their superiors and the ethical vision of those in charge, with "stronger" components, including more pliable, compliant and subservient serfs (workers).
Of course, because some jurisdictions require minimal "token" benefits for workers, the corporations trumpet those token benefits, as evidence of the lack of validity of their critics. Those corporations are also not above trashing the character of any of their critics, through subversive investigation of their private lives, (just as the FBI did with Dr. Martin Luther King) if their actual removal becomes political inconvenient or legally postponed.
And if there is ever a dispute between an individual and a system, a corporation, or a government, or a public institution like a school, university, hospital, then the mistakes of the individual (the ethical mis-steps) become the reason for the dispute, and the power of the "system" rolls over the resources of the individual and crushes his/her career, reputation, perhaps health and future prospects. Meanwhile, the "system" continues to knife the interminable "notches" in its belt of defeated subversives, corporate saboteurs, "judases" who were unwilling to march to their drum beat.
Much has been written about "neurotic organizations"....but clearly not enough!
The more untouchable and embedded in its sociopathic patterns the "system" is permitted to become, the more powerless will the individual be in the face of that convention and abusive power.
There is a highly valued "entry" passage into the inner sanctum of the "system". Anyone who has worked within those systems, is made painfully aware of the gate-keepers, and the gate-keeping rules that must be obeyed if one is to curry the favor of the "inner circle" of the "system".
And the system can be a church, even a single parish, or a diocese; it can be an individual school, or even a department of a university; it can be a hospital or a single department; it can be a for-profit or a not-for-profit organization in which the task trumps the way people are treated, on the way to performing the task.
People as "means" to the end, become merely expendable and even infantilized by a system so rigorously and too often imperceptibly imposed. Given the options of "complying" or leaving, whether by one's own decision or by the force of eviction, one is left in the position of being judged as to whether or not the future "contribution" of the individual is worth putting up with the degree of intensity of contravention of the system's expectations. And those expectations are almost without exception never fully explained, exposed or even acknowledged, leaving that process to the investigative imagination and persistent subservience of the rookie to ascertain.
There is an underlying "masculinity" about all of this. The muscle of conventional expectations of the "system" is compared to the masculinity of the wrestler in the ring who throws his opponent to the mat; it is so fragile that any push-back is so threatening that it simply cannot countenance. The arrogance and the intolerance of the "system's" fortress mindset is so threatened by change, and any of the many winds that attempt to implement change, that, for example the most recent Conservative government of Stephen Harper could only hear the most nuclear voice for change: electoral defeat.
The old IBM model of corporate "superiority" nearly relegated the corporation to the ash-heap of history, given its unwillingness to adapt to the massive changes in the computer sector from the behemoth model to the personal computer. The insensitivity of the General Motors to the evolving demands of the marketplace required a serious bale-out from government on both sides of the 49th parallel. The litany of disposable people relegated to the trash-hill of history, because of their unwillingness to bend to the dictates of the power of the "system" now includes the recently outed gay priest from the Roman Catholic church, embarrassed and abused by the defrocking of his personal reputation and identity by that same Vatican he served so sincerely for years.
It also includes people like Ted Lindsay who was abandoned by his fellow NHL players when he attempted to lead the movement for change in the manner in which the owners treated their slaves. It includes those writers, actors and poets who have "taken the road not taken" (Robert Frost) and that has made all the difference.
The "system" is not the arbiter, nor the visionary of the best and most ethical of social and cultural standards. The "system" is increasingly dependent on the voices it most rejects, those who can and will see through the façade of the hypocrisy and the pretense, and the phoniness and the deception and the addiction to perfection that infects all of its incarnations, rendering nearly all "systems" neurotic, and dependent on the voices of those who are willing to voice values, attitudes, perceptions and visions of a better way of seeing the world.
If all negativity, all expressions of moderation, all expressions of ethical values, including humility and reflection and scepticism are barred from the "systems" mental apparatus, and these features are replaced by idols like "making money" or completing the task, side-stepping all reasonable and legitimate checks on its power (witness the software injected into the diesel Volkswagens to avoid emissions pollution), and defining the parameters of the options available to its decision-makers, then the triumph of industrialism, technocracism, objectification, and reductionism even obliteration of kinship, relationship, and connectivity (read real family attributes) will be complete.
And we will all have the blood of our own alienation and objectification on our hands.