Saturday, August 29, 2015

Can we become the immune system our grandkids will need?

The modern engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy. That is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. (John Kenneth Galbraith*)

Globalization is yet another approach to this pursuit. Nothing could be more clear than that those who have more want more, and they justify their selfishness by arguing, however speciously and arrogantly and however well funded their arguments and access to their proliferation, that globalization will bring jobs, education, health care and dignity to the world's poor.
Nevertheless, (globalization's) "assault on resources and the production of waste, coupled with the extirpation of cultures and the exploitation of workers, is a disease as surely as hepatitis or cancer. It is sponsored by a political-economic system of which we are all a part, and say finger-pointing is inevitably directed back to ourselves. There may be no particular they  there, but the system is still a disease, even if we created and contracted it. Because a lot of people know we are sick and want to treat the cause, not just the symptoms, the environmental movement can be seen as humanity's response to contagious policies killing the earth, while the social justice movement addresses economic and legislated pathogens that destroy families, bodies, cultures and communities. they are two sides of the same coin, because when you harm one you harm the other. They address what Dr. Paul Farmer calls the "pathologies of power," the "rising tide of inequalities" that breed violence, whether it be to people, places, or other forms of life. No culture has ever honored its environment but disgraced its people, and conversely, no government can say it cares for its citizens while allowing the environment to be trashed. Farmer writes, "More guns and repression may well be the time-honored prescription for policing poverty, but violence and chaos will not go away if the hunger, illness and racism that are the lot of so many are not addressee in a meaningful and durable fashion.**

We are currently watching, (withstanding as much as we can bear) the convergence of several events, and with each even a different chronologies of time. The dominant and most obvious is the chronology of commerce, business, the entrepreneurial spirit, that 'engine that creates all the sought-after jobs'. Welcoming innovation, adaptive to change, needing to grow more quickly than ever, they often cease to exist by failing in these endeavors. Into this chronology, we could lump the insatiable media coverage of military exploits, mass killings, stories of lab discoveries, the occasional reporting of research findings in their minimalist headlines, social media, fashion as a sector of business, and the reporting of epidemics, hurricanes, tornadoes and fires, drought and food and auto recalls.
A second time frame is culture, moving more slowly, stabilizing identity and serving as something of an anchor. Between the first two is a third time frame: governance, moving faster than culture and slower than commerce. The fourth chronology is nature, the slowest, including earth, nature and the web of life. (A more complete detailing of these chronologies can be found in Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest, p. 134)

Linking the power of the wealthy with the potential culture's time frame morphing (for their self-interest) into the commercial time frame, thereby subsuming the time frame of governance along with the complete avoidance of any public attention to the time frame and distinct demands and requirements of nature, we are in danger of losing our perspective on so many aspects of our situation.
We all know about the headlines focussing on the mass migration of refugees and asylum-seekers from Africa (several countries but predominantly Iraq and Syria), and the droughts and fires in North America and intermittently in Australia, and the economic crises in Greece (and potentially in Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Italy), along with the uprising in eastern Ukraine, and then the drop in oil prices and the collapse of the Chinese stock market....and we all feel more than a little unsettled. And we have not even mentioned the potential of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, and the fervent attempts to thwart that ambition, nor the "military exercises" along the border between North and South Korea, nor the expansionism of the military capacities of China and Japan, nor the atrocities being committed by ISIS and its many terrorist clones. Our "time frame" as presented by our current tidal wave of data, in "real time" simply overwhelms us. It cannot fail to do that.
There is, in our conventional conception of time, almost no past and literally no future.
We are locked in the dictatorship of the immediate nanosecond.
We are also locked in the repression of the vacuum of options, so it would seem, to make a significant difference to the crisis.
Those of us who grew up in dysfunctional families know too well the demands of living in crisis, jumping, hopping or running from one to another. We become hyper-vigilant, hyper-critical, hyper-tense and hyper-perfectionistic, not to mention hyper-frightened. The selfishness of the rich and the attempts to seduce the world into a narcissistic theocracy in which only they matter and the rest of us are merely their pawns, renders us all "black" in a white supremacy, Ukrainians under Russian threat of missiles, Syrians fleeing the bombs and the chemicals of Assad AND ISIS, the First Nations of Canada and the United States oppressed under a different face of white supremacy...
Oh there are some of you who are moving away because this is too extreme, not sophisticated enough for your palate to tolerate!
However, some might hang in a little longer!
Think about how we have become locked into a time frame that considers only this moment, and takes very little time for reflection, (unless it is to lie on a Caribbean or Great Lake beach for a day or two), given the underlying structure of the time frame of commerce: there is only 'this moment' for the transaction!
And, since there is only 'this moment' for the transaction, we yield our other 'perceptions' and attitudes, and beliefs and potentials to 'get through the moment'....
Investment organizations want us to see into our retirements, but primarily for their selfish commissions, most of which are not disclosed.
Churches want us to think of the 'hereafter' because, having premised their theology on "original sin," they believe we need redemption or be thrown into a fire pit of Hell, or having been "saved" we might gain entry into the Valhalla of a heaven. Both options, apocalyptic as they are, are attractive only to the extremely vulnerable and gullible, be they Christians in the west or Islamic terrorists enrolling in their campaign for a world wide caliphate (wwc...not www.)
Those seeking political office, in both the United States and Canada, electoral campaigns are underway: in the U.S. the vote is not until November 2016, but is already dominating the news media, in Canada the vote is October 19, this year, still the longest election campaign period in our history. Time has become the master of the political class, and while they "extend" the period in which they dominate the stage, the know deeply and profoundly, while also tragically, that the time frame of governance cannot and never will keep up to the demands of the marketplace, and so when they talk of planning for the next few years, they are ridiculed for "dreaming" and those who speak of only the next few months are dubbed visionless, and those who stub their toe on a malapropism, or even a politically incorrect gaff are doomed to rejection by the voters.
Once again, the single shot (whether from a gun, or a complaint, or a criminal charge, or a headline or a tweet, or a U-tube upload) is the weapon of choice in a militarized, frightened, reactive, hyper-vigilant and micro-aggressive culture.
In the United States, for example college professors are now required to provide "trigger warnings" for words, ideas, pictures or even concepts that might offend someone in their class. This uber-politically correct campaign is to stamp out any potential ideational bruise that a vulnerable student might experience if a racial incident is recounted from the past in a history lecture, or a victim of sexual abuse might re-experience in a sociology class on sexual research. The premise is that "emotional intelligence" shapes the intellectual experience, so that no individual student will be offended in his or her pursuit of academic credentials.
And the universities have bought into this charade! (For more, see  the cover story in The Atlantic's current edition)
Not only have the shackles of the video-camera, the U-tube phenomenon, the hacking of Ashley Madison's website, and the ubiquitous access to technology robbed us of our privacy, they threaten our cultural identity, so dependent are they on the instant.
Governance also has to find a new way to adopt to the rigours of instant-gratification narcissistic voter expectations and nature needs the voices of millions who grasp its beauty, its largess and its epic gifts that need to be preserved, including its eco-systems. And we all need to take a breath from the daily diet of extremes coming from the larynx of too many people like Trump, Putin, Kim Jung Un, and the leaders of ISIS and their ilk.
We enter into and attempt to dance with all four time frames, seemingly seamlessly, yet never without stumbling as if dancing in new shoes, to a band whose music we have never heard before.
And while we all know and share the conservative's selfish bent, we also share the idealist's imagination for a world that is more influenced by our altruism, our love of beauty, art, music and nature...all of those treasures held in contempt by terrorists and their ideology. And we must become the healthy immune system to prevent the take-over of those diseases which threaten not only our health and peace today, but the very survival of our planet in the very near future.
And selfishness, and commerce and narcissism and apocalyptic headlines will not serve us well, if they are our intellectual and emotional and spiritual diet.

*Lester Thurow, American Fiscal Policy: Experiment for Prosperity (Englewood  Cliffs, N.J. Prentice-Hall, 1967) p. 125, quoted in Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest, p. 115)

**Paul Farmer, Pathologies of Power: health, Human Roights and the NBew War on the Poor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), p.xxvii, quoted in Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest, p. 145

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Is there anyone listening or caring enough to see beyond my cheque or purchase?

Everyone has experienced the "no-response" response from the big corporations. Phone them, email them, fax them....and all messages vanish into a black hole of emptiness, with no one knowing about their origin, their existence, their importance....and you have the scenario that defines contemporary business, especially in the service sector.
We all grew up knowing our family doctor, our lawyer, our accountant, our car's mechanic, our insurance agent, our dentist, our kid's teacher and the operator of the preferred gas bar where we filled the tank in our cars. And the first line response personnel in each of those offices/organizations knew us and answered our calls or appearances with a smile, a listening ear and a deft triage decision about how to proceed although they never over-stepped with answers 'above their pay grade'.
There was a kind of fabric to our existence, a trust even with price comparisons, and a degree of ease and comprehension of at least how we might find answers when we needed them, While the level of "education" may not have reached the kind of "market data" or even the diagnostic skills and access to a bank of information respecting the patient, the client, the car or even the insurance policy options, we were engaged, served, respected and even honoured in our pursuit of customer/client/patient SERVICE.
Back in the mid-eighties, while working in Public Relations and Marketing at a local community college, I had the opportunity to host a "teleconference" from a southern university, in which  two business professors, authors of a text entitled "Service America", told audiences across North America not only how important the "service" component of their businesses/professions is but also how to reach new levels of excellence in the provision of that service.
It is not rocket science to answer the phone, to read the emails, to surf the texts or even to schedule time in a manner that accounts for both those files/customers/patients/clients that require extended time allocation, but also for those "walk-in's" who present for the first time, or for a modest need/request.
Human engagement, of the kind that formed communities through their multiple encounters among people whose status never interfered with the transactions, and even whose transactions themselves did not define the experience.
There is a profound difference between completing a transaction, collating the sum of those transactions, mining those transactions for their exclusive benefit to the organization's growth and profit potential (what additional 'products' could we unload on which prospect we already service?) and a human interaction that sees, hears, acknowledges and even wants to know the person seeking service. There is a profound difference between a focus on the profit potential of the company as a measure of "my" contribution and thereby potential for notice and promotion, and an authentic interest in, commitment to and delivery of a meaningful, purposeful, engaged and mutually beneficial exchange with the client.
The reduction of our working lives to the primary service of our careers and thus our employers results inevitably in our shaping our performance to those goals and thereby to the performance objectives set by our "masters" who give us the direction and the training and the reinforcements to perform as their pawns.
And the atrophy of the notion of relationships between the professional provider and the recipient is not only a signature of our culture; it is a sign that the "suits" have become our masters. And we have not only witnessed this change; we have essentially enabled its swallowing up too many of our ordinary experiences.
And the elimination of our being known and valued and respected has been replaced by our "preferential choices" as data for those service providers to use in their insatiable appetite for more profits and their pursuit of those profits.
A few months ago, for example, I surfed the web for a product that was not available in local stores, only to find, following my search, that ads for that product were popping up in my research for information on public issues. After a purchase, the web jumps into my face offering after-market purchases that complement the initial purchase as if not only have I been reduced to a "target market" rather than a human being, but so has the source of those ads.
We as individuals, are much more, more complicated and more interesting and more demanding than anything that can be reduced to a business transaction, a cheque, or a card insertion, tap or swipe.
We are much more than a tooth ache, an abdominal pain, a soldier trying to march to the legal requirements of a jurisdiction like a province, or a country or even a municipality that sets some mutually beneficial rules and guidelines.
We need insurance, for example, in order to protect us from catastrophies beyond our control and the costs of cleaning up those incidents. And in the process of filling that need, we also need the few minutes of a service agent's time who may not always be seeking another sale. Service cannot and must not be reduced to the provider's pursuit of additional sales. Service, when provided as a discreet provision, can and may lead to a gestalt that the customer might actually want to do additional business with that provider. Service, however, as merely another opportunity to make a sale, is a perversion of that service.
The abuse of power when viewed in so many situations, is cause for alarm, even for legal action. However, that abuse is never applied to the organizations providing clients with service, only the individual doctor, lawyer, dentist who may inadvertently make some error. Corporations are not being held accountable for their abominable disrespect of their clients/customers....the only reason for their existence. The needs of the investors in the corporation have come to trump the needs and expectations and the persons whose needs have created the corporations in the first place.
We have morphed the corporation from a service provider to a glutton whose appetite for profit and thereby reduced costs (making fewer people work longer and faster to produce more profit, without regard to the working conditions of those serfs). And those corporations are not only eager and willing to swallow our cash, but they are also willing and eager to swallow the people working for them, as if they were nothing more than "raw materials" in the production process of a factory.
Labour has been gutted by the linked forces of governments and corporations, the silencing of the lambs/innocents whose ancestors fought and even died to guarantee some respectability for the workers, who were being exploited by their employers. Now even client base is being slapped in the face with the back of the corporate hand, as if without the power of association, and without the power of embarrassment, and without the power of a consumer protection provider, and certainly without the protection that once was expected and often came from governments (now reduced to merely those incidents that cause injury or death, exempt as they are from the scrutiny that would attend the kind of expectation that accompanied our small communities where everyone knew where to get respect as a consumer.
And there are mountains of deficits to our corporate culture: the cold shoulder, the recorded phone message, the disinterested and apathetic front-line worker, the lost file, the lost email, the lost fax, and the failed transaction....but not enough to bring the corporations down. In the big picture, however, our losses are even more significant.
They include a loss of something we might call community, or even shared expectations, shared needs, and the meeting of those legitimate needs, the alienation of humans not only from families, but also from their neighbours, and the people with whom they interact as customers/consumers/clients/patients.
A family doctor, now literally an artifact of history, cannot and will not be replaced by a computer file stuffed with some numbers about our health condition. We will always need a trained professional to see into and beyond those numbers to a gestalt of our person, our lifestyle and our capacity to commit to our own health.
Our alienation and our disconnect from the world represented by the corporation, and the larger the corporation the more profound is the alienation (for the simple reason that only our cash/cheque/purchase/contract matter to the provider).
Removing the human contact, the human interest, and the human engagement from our transactions, in the service of our idols: "profit", "dividends", "promotions", "attention", and "business growth"....really all substitutes for the "dollar".....has reduced our culture to the jungle of Darwinian survival and now we all wonder why our health budgets are exploding, our police and social service budgets are empty and starving for funds, our libraries are closing and our casinos and digital gambling outlets are booming.
And we are both victim and enabler of our own reduction....victim as described, and enabler by continuing to act as if we have no power to reverse this wave of insult.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Memo to Trump:You are just what we do not need, another vacuous bully on the international stage

Those eleven million undocumented immigrants, they're outta here the first week I'm in office!

I will build the biggest wall you’ve ever seen between Mexico and the United States, and make the Mexicans pay for it!

Bomb the ISIS oil fields!

Jeb Bush’s crowd down the street, do you know what they are doing....they are sleeping, sleeping sleeping? There is no energy there!

Mexicans are bad people, perhaps a few are even good people, but there are rapists and bad people coming into our country and they have to be stopped!

Hillary is by far the worst Secretary of State in our nation’s history and she could be in so much trouble that sh may not be able to finish her run for the presidency...If General Petraeus, someone everyone liked and respected is destroyed by much less (wrongdoing), how could she not deserve a similar treatment? She might well have to spend time in a cell, not the White House!

All of the other candidates are losers!!

These are just some of the radioactive political statements by the front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination for the president of the United States.

The Donald also, evocative of Hitler’s entrance into Berlin at the opening of Reni Reifenstahl’s propaganda file, Triumph of the Will, in his bi-plane casting a huge shadow on the buildings from the sun, drops out of the sky at the Iowa State Fair, in his own helicopter, blazing his name in large letters on the side of the plane.....and having cauvght everyone’s attention, including the national media cameras, immediately offers free rides to the waiting if any of them would not jump at the chance of a free helicopter ride at the State Fair!

Eugene Robinson writes a piece today in asking the rhetorical question, “Can anyone out-Trump Trump?” Detailing the respective tactics of his opponents to Trump’s style and statements, Robinson is beginning to wonder if this nuclear campaign can or will be stopped. Up until now, most political observers believed sincerely that Trump would flame-out on his own sword, and for his opponents, their initial strategy was to let that happen, without raising a syllable in protest, Only Marco Rubio, taking the high road, and Ted Cruze, sidling up to The Donald are now keeping their powder dry in taking him on. Even Jeb Bush is plaintively crying ‘foul’ over his decade long flirtation with the Democrats, compared with Bush’s career as a  bonafide conservative.

As history and the political gods would have it, former President Jimmy Carter, yesterday announced that in addition to the cancerous tumor that has been removed from his liver, he has been told that there are now four cancerous lesions on his brain. Political pundits, especially on MSNBC, decry his having suffered an imposed reputation as a weak man, since his defeat by the hawkish Ronald Reagan. It is not incidental to note the for the last eight years, the Republicans have painted President Obama with the samje brush and colour they used on Carter. (This space has already been dedicated to the thesis that American presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 were each a referendum on masculinity, not on nuanced debates over policy.) In 2008, Obama presented the voters with a very different choice, especially when compared with his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton who voted for the Iraq war in 2003, and also when compared with his Republican opponent, John McCain, infamous for his “bomb bomb Iran” imitation of the Beach Boys pop music.

The American people are not only frustrated over the massive job loss to Asia, and the inconclusive results of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as the Mexican stand-off in Ukraine with Putin. And then there is the seemingly interminable conflict with ISIS, with their be-headings (most recently of an antiquities scholar in Palmyra) and their massive slaughter of infidels, a conflict that no authority or agency really has an proposal to terminate (all the while uttering words like “degrade” and “destroy”).

Posturing as the real answer to Putin’s bravado, to Kim Jung Un’s sabre-rattling, to the Congressional stalemate over immigration, to the funding of ISIS through black-market sale of oil from fields they control, while name-calling his political opponents in both parties, (as if he were in a high school election for student council president) bragging about how rich he is and that he is only doing this (campaign) to “make American great again”...these features may offer the country an illicit, but not banned drug for their political obsession, their pain and the shame and embarrassment of appearing weak, but the power-drug cannot provide more than a brief, if dramatic and unconventional reprise from the obstructionism and paralysis in Washington. Manufactured in the television and advertising/marketing/public relations offices on Madison Avenue, disdainful of and devoid of all thoughtful, researched and debated public policy options, Trump is becoming what Margaret Atwood hated, a “thing” (after the fame she achieved through her writing), although all reports that outline his performances on the stump and in the television studios shout out his “real” and independent humanity, without the programming that is imprinted into and sabotaging most political candidates today.

The ironies abound. His vacuity of feasible policy options is overlooked and submerged by his bombastic magnetism; his wealth belies his poverty of political acumen, except as salesman. If Putin can and will remain in power through duplicitous deception of the Russian people, controlling as he does, the national media in that country, then how different is Trump really, given the sycophant reporters and talking heads who hang on his every word. Trump blatantly and caustically insults a female reporter for asking “rude” questions and then panders to the owner of the Fox network where she works and everything is smoothed (or smoozed) over. Fox knows a thing or two about ratings and although they expected some 2 million viewers for the first Republican debate, on their network, the viewing audience numbered 24 million. And they were glued to their television sets to see or listen to Jeb Bush, or any of the other candidates, non-entities in Trump’s mind and vernacular.

An instructor in another life reminded the class that there were two kinds of people: givers and takers. And conflicts arise when the givers, realizing how they are being taken advantage of, stop giving. It would seem that the duality of politics in the United States, could be seen through a lens marked “fighters” and negotiators...and the former are more to the liking of a majority of the voters. Hence, Hillary’s “I will fight for the middle class” sell line for her campaign. Bernie Sanders, too, is attempting to generate a revolution, fighting the financial interests of Wall Street, and the politicians whose votes have been bought by the barons of wealth, for the preservation of their narrow interests. President Jimmy Carter wistfully longed to have sent an additional helicopter to rescue the hostages from Iran immediately prior to the election of 1980. He believes today that had he made that decision, he would have won another four years in the White House but will still prefer the opportunity he had to create the Carter Center over a second term.
However, is Trump’s bullish rhetoric, larger-than-life persona, excessive hubris and contempt for his opponents, all underpinned by his $400 billion estate the only answer the American political system can come up with when the world is starving for collaborative, collegial, thoughtful, pragmatic, visionary and sustainable leadership. Stamping out all enemies may have resonance in North Korea or even in Moscow; it hardly serves the west’s attempt to stand strong. In fact, ironically, the  bully is the weakest and most frightened kid in the school yard, just as Hitler was the most neurotic figure in the twentieth century by a long shot.

As Churchill reminds us, The Americans will always do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other options....Let’s hope his prescience is still relevant....
If we find ourselves waking up to a Trump presidency in January 2017, we will all have the biggest and longest-lasting geopolitical headache of the last few centuries.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Reporting Child Abuse is a sea full of sharks....beware!

The Ontario College of Teachers’ publication for members carries, in its latest edition, a feature piece on “Protecting the Children” as a way to open the minds of teachers to their legal obligations to report any and all suspicions of child abuse. And we commend the college for its leadership on this issue.
However, (and there is always a but or a however!)  as both a retired career teacher and a survivor of child abuse in my family of origin, I am familiar with the omissions of my generation of teachers who, while we may have reported “child abuse” to the guidance department, rarely if ever did those reports find their way into the offices of the child protection agencies. It was more usual for the child protection agencies to bring child abuse to the attention of the schools and teachers, and even then the fact that a child might be in a foster home would be about as far as the information would go.
One grade twelve co-ed asked to speak to me after class one day, only to sit in her desk, crying as she reported that she had been thrown down the stairs to the basement of her home by her ‘father’ on the previous night. Shocked, I attempted (however lamely!) to comfort her in her obvious and warranted distress, asked her if she had supports to whom she could turn, did her mother know of the incident, and after a few minutes, we both departed, she in shame, embarrassment and a modicum of solace (I hope) and me in more empathy and identification than the student would ever know.
Her courage in bringing the matter to the attention of any person, in any public institution is even today somewhat remarkable, although there is more evidence of similar reportings, as well as more obvious incidents to report. It is the non-reported side of the story that requires our attention here.
Having worn long sleeved shirts and sweaters so school for most of my youth and adolescence, to cover the welts and the bruises on my arms, and to preserve the “family secrets” of what things were really like in our home, I am too familiar with the strategies and the tactics of those in similar situations. Abusive families generate children who are not only ashamed and frightened and tenaciously holding a pervasive internal question, “What is wrong with me?” or “Why is this happening to me?” or “What have I done to deserve this?”....the precise form may differ but the cracks and the erosion in self-respect and self-esteem are deep and permanent. Of course, the bruises and the welts heal and disappear, and permit short-sleeved tee’s and shirts. But long after the welts, the self-analysis often morphing into self-absorption as another route to deciphering the roots of any tension or conflict with another, continues. What never really evaporates is the imprint deep in the unconscious of the persistent criticism and verbal abuse from the parent who, as we all know intellectually much later, is projecting his or her self-loathing onto the child. And, keeping secrets, especially those sacred to the family, and the abuse that accompanies those secrets, remains as a permanent “skill” or trait long into our dotage. So it was, in my late teens that I took the family half-ton truck out, without permission, and drove it into a rock and flipped it onto its side, as an early expedition into rebellion and raging hormones and social acceptance. Three teen-aged boys visiting camp counsellors at the local YWCA, in secret, was merely the occasion and purpose of the truck. But secrets and secrecy were at the core of the incident, along with the other factors.
And now in a time when privacy is such an important public issue, with the advent of the digital web and the billions of postings on hundreds of websites, people on the other side of the world can and do know what some people ate for breakfast, whether they want to or not. And that capability does not remove or eliminate the reality of personal, private secrets, many of which will never be released to the light of day, perhaps until long after the people involved are no longer living. There is another co-relation too that may be missed in the teachers’ “protection” manual....and that is the oxymoron that most students who are “in trouble” in school are living in conditions that are not conducive to learning the socials skills necessary to navigate the school system. And once labelled, or categorized as “trouble-makers” there is little likelihood that such students will receive the qualitative and compassionate scrutiny that undergirds any and all “protection” manuals.
In order for such a seismic cultural shift to occur, enabling professional teachers to see past the “acting out” into the real problems in the students’ lives, we will need a substantial long-term, sustained and professionally designed curriculum in adolescent psychology that promotes looking beyond the empirical, the behavioural and the attitudinal. Such a curriculum needs to be offered at the Colleges of Education, the training institutes for professional teachers in Ontario. Teachers’ roles will also have to morph from disciplinarians or “cops” into mentors, counsellors and coaches. And that will necessitate a new type of recruitment plan from governments who seem fixated on budget controls, class sizes and breaking up the public education system. Nothing short of a transformation of the public education system will be required. And any and all attempts to educate teachers about their role in reporting child abuse, when they see evidence on its occurrence, worthy though they are, will fall short.
In fact, such tutorials will be little more than band-aids that serve primarily to cover the legal backside of both the professional and the school boards. We can all see, and even experience the shift in attitudes, perceptions values and the treatment of others in our culture. Where it once exhibited deep and heartfelt respect, trust and integrity, there is mounting evidence that such values and approaches are being replaced (if they have not already been replaced) with a large serving of self-interest verging on narcissism, on narrow pecuniary goals, and an accompanying disregard for the people standing in the way of the achievement of those goals. We may be setting our public sights on addressing physical abuse, as a determinant to avoid legal battles, while simultaneously disregarding the conditions necessary to foster such abuse.
Abuse, be it physical (including sexual), emotional, psychological, economic or even religious, is really about the inappropriate exercise of power and the obeying of a subservient “partner”. And the signs of such abuse are not, and will never be, evident to a probing professional who may be considered “invasive” into private affairs, if he or she probes too deeply. In fact, in order for such a culture and relationship to begin to exist, the teaching profession will have to drop its “power-tripping” attitudes and the supervision that enables such power-tripping, given that most senior administrators are, themselves, on a massive power trip of their own, attempting to climb a career ladder, by avoiding many of the very kinds of situations that present as “social” problems. Learning difficulties, however, are very different. They are readily boxed in a category that reads “needs special help” and the student is off-loaded onto the special education department where there really are, and have always been, empathic compassionate and perceptive teachers ready to listen, to develop a trusting relationship with all students, and they are the ones most likely to hear about abuse in the lives of their students.
However, let’s recall the grade twelve student from an East Asian background who came to me after report cards were issued and asked if I would change his mark from a 58% to a 66% because he was afraid to go home with such a poor result. English was not his first language, and while his oral capacity in the language was developing rapidly, his written work needed considerable improvement. Fear of going home, while sad and even tragic, was not indicative of parental abuse, although to me, he was suffering undue emotional stress. I did not alter the grade and did not hear what happened when he took the report card home where family and cultural pride were in charge. Would such a situation be reported as indicative of child abuse today?
 Another grade eleven student approached me after receiving her examination results (77%) to inform me that I had completely destroyed her future as she intended to be a writer. Was she not deserving of a much higher result on the examination? Upon re-reading the paper, (something I always offered to do, with the proviso that the mark could go higher, lower or remain the same and that was the risk they took in asking for a re-read), I concluded that the original grade of 77% was indeed probably more than I would give it on a second reading. Nevertheless, because the student was already distraught, I left the grade as it stood. I have often wondered what kind of future that highly emotionally charged co-ed found, and whether or not her early signs of emotional discomfort continued to plague her in adult life.
Is it child abuse when a peer student calls another vicious names in front of his buddies, and if so, will such incidents have to be reported as child abuse, with the perpetrator subject to legal entanglements? Is it child abuse when a grade eight, sixteen-year-old kicks in the head of a classmate, knocking him unconscious on the playground at lunch time? And will the perpetrator be required to be charged with assault and appear before a justice who can and does impose a sentence? And will the school culture be a subject for legal minds in their pursuit of “justice” for their clients when a case is filed in the judicial system?
I have thought long and hard about whether or not I would be  better off today if the Children’s Aid social workers had been called to investigate child abuse in my home, and my mother (the abuser) had been separated from the family, or I had been sent to live in a foster home.* The workers would not have been given to point to the real problem in our family: my father’s fear of my mother, and his unwillingness to step up to the plate and confront her on behalf of both his son and daughter, both of whom were abused by our mother. Spineless men, frightened men, living with dominating women, while perhaps at the root of some child abuse, is not on the agenda for investigation and reporting to the authorities. Neither is, unfortunately, the spectre of alcoholic men coming home drunk and abusing all other members of the family. Nor is the secret alcoholic mother who hides her alcohol and drinks in secret when the rest of the family is away under the watchful eye of the school authorities when they investigate child abuse, even though her behaviour is more than incidental to the family’s drama, including the required keeping of “her” secret.
And let’s not forget, or ignore the fact that many of the abusers are themselves professionals; in my case, my mother was an exemplary nurse whose patients thought she walked on water; others may be teachers or spouses of teachers themselves. Some may even be administrators in the school system itself, inflicting their illness on their family, with impunity, and which teacher is going to confront such a situation when a superior is involved? And then there are the clergy, some of whom, preach such abusive theology (as did the one in my family’s history) that adolescents who attend school dances, movies, or wear make-up or adults who prepare meals on Sunday or who consume alcohol, or who worship in the Roman Catholic chuch, are “going to Hell”...Is that kind of preaching from a pulpit in a recognized mainstream faith community not a form of child abuse? And who, pray tell, is going to take that abuse on and prosecute that preacher for his “sins” one!
Just as no one is going to expose the imam who preaches radical Islam to his mosque going to face the police or the Crown Attorney with charges of child abuse...
And we could go on....
Reporting child abuse is, on the surface, a seemingly worthwhile social policy goal. It is also fraught with pitfalls whose tales will lead any who venture into them into much deeper trouble than the current trouble faced by former Prime Minsterial aide, Nigel Wright, who did not expect such a public outcry from his writing that $90,000 cheque.

 Beware the good intentions implicit in the Ontario College of Teachers tutorial on reporting child abuse. There are serious sharks in those waters!

*I actually did report through a personal letter to my nurse aunts then working at Sick Children’s Hospital and Mount Sinai hospitals respectively, an incident in which my mother broke a shiny new Spalding Nine Iron I had just received for Christmas, when she learned that I had got a grade of 63% in history that term and I had hidden the report card until after Christmas Day, in order not to soil the holidays and my aunts’ visit to our home. Both aunts reported they were afraid of what my mother might do if they were to go to ‘the authorities”. And when my mother did learn of the letter, she beat me brutally for what she charged me with as “deceit”...her pride was really bruised, I guess.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The response to blatant racism needs a moral compass and leader in the U.S.

There is reported evidence of a shooting of one black man by white police officers every ten days over the last year in the United States. Public officials like to point to 'how far we have come' in race relations following the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King prior to his death. In his challenging and inspiring work, Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken includes a passage from Stewart Burns' To the Mountaintop: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Sacred Mission to Save America*
that portrays the South in the mid 1950's as background to  the Rosa Parks' act of civil disobedience in refusing to move to the back of the bus when asked by the bus driver:
...a that time, the segregated South was a different place from what it is today. Behind the mannerly speech and outward politeness was a heightened tension that was conveyed in the body language, in the eyes, and in any number of dismissive gestures. And beneath it ran an even deeper current, one of latent and explosive violence, even mayhem. Months before, in Mississippi, fourteen-year-old Emmett Till had unintentionally whistled at a white woman shopkeeper (he had a speech defect from polio) and was lynched three nights later by a party led by the woman's husband. He was mutilated, castrated, and shot, his skull crushed beyond recognition. The lynch mob was arrested, tried, and set free. This incident, though highly publicized, was not anomalous; there had been on average one lynching per week in the ninety-year-period since Reconstruction.
As Hawken also reports, on December 5, 1955, the same day as Rosa Parks' court appearance, Dr. King, at a community meeting to decide whether to proceed with the boycott, delivered his first civil rights speech, after only thirty minutes to prepare. The speech, a foreshadowing of his "I have a Dream Speech" later, is worth remembering in light of the recent spate of shootings of black men by white law enforcement officers. The lynching may be gone, the mutilation and castration may be gone, but have the bullets replaced them, leaving the racial bigotry and the power imbalance untouched?
Here is a refresher on the King homily courtesy of Hawken:
 There comes a time. (long pause) There comes a time when people get tired---tired of being segregated and humiliated, tired of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression. We had no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we like the way we are being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice. (longer pause) One of the great glories of democracy is the right to protest for right. The white Citizen's Council and the Ku Klux Klan are protesting for the perpetuation of injustice in the community. We are protesting for the birth of justice in the community. Their methods lead to violence and lawlessness. But in our protest there will be no cross burnings. No white person will be taken from his home by a hooded Negro and brutally murdered. There will be no threats and intimidation. Our method will be that of persuasion, not coercion. We will only say to the people:
"Let your conscience be your guide." Our actions must be guided by the deepest principles of our Christian faith. Love must be our regulating ideal. Once again we must hear the word of Jesus echoing across the centuries. "Love your enemies; bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you." (The audience in on its feet shouting affirmatively.) If we fail to do this our protest will end up as meaningless drama on the stage of history, and its memory will be shrouded with the ugly garments of shame. In spite of the mistreatment that we have confronted, we must not become bitter and end up hating our white brothers. As Booker T. Washington said: "Let no man pull you down so low as to make you hate him." (The audience is cheering and shouting.) If you will protest courageously and yet with dignity and Christian love, when the history books are written in future generations the historians will have to pause and say, "There lived a great people--a black people-- who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization." That is our challenge an our overwhelming responsibility.**

We wish and earnestly hope that in the current racial unrest, imbalance of power and unwarranted killings of black men and the ensuing protests, the United States  could find a voice that could and would emulate, echo and enhance the rhetoric and the leadership that we heard from Dr. King.

*(San Francisco: Harper, 2004, p.19)
**Paul Hawken, ibid, p 81-2, from Steven Millner, The Montgomery Bus Boycott: A Case Study in the Emergence and Career of a Social Movement, in The Walking City, The Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955-56, ed. David Garrow (New York: Carlson, 1989), p. 461

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fringe voices from left and right leading U.S. political polls

Trump leads by at least 5% over his nearest opponent in the Republican race for the nomination while, in New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 44% to 37%.

Both Trump and Sanders are giving voice to a deep reservoir of anger, resentment and alienation among the ordinary people. Of course, there is the lingering residue from the economic collapse of 2008-9 which burst the bubble of dreams for millions of Americans, and linked to this development is the continuing bitterness directed toward the Wall Street perpetrators of those credit default tricks and the continuing skyrocketing of the Dow and corporate and investor profits. Sanders is the public voice of this anger and disappointment; as he repeats in every speech, “The billionaires cannot have it all!

Trump, the billionaire himself, is also protesting the straight-jacket of political correctness that pervades public discourse. Like a ‘white rapper’ Trump is giving the metaphoric “thumb” or “finger” to that kind of pre-programmed, focus-group-tested political persona. Relying on no ‘sugar-daddy’ (he is his own!) Trump can and does reject all forms of dullness, boredom, headaches and other snoozes he attributes to his opponents, while he “brings energy” and unpredictability and showmanship to the race for the Republican nomination. Fox, of course, loves Trump, given the 24 million viewers who tuned in to their debate last week, featuring Trump and the ‘nine dwarfs’, the mini-dwarfs having been dispatched to a smaller stage, with microphones powered by less electricity, politically and metaphorically.

Hillary, for her part, is mired in an increasingly muddy morass around her use of a private email server while she served as Secretary of State, aided and abetted by her own (and her husband’s) penchant for shaving the truth so finely that many wonder if they don’t actually ‘break it’ with their fine tuning (remember the definition of ‘yes’?). The inevitable consequence of when a message was declared “classified” is lost on many, while to Hillary, if it was not so “classified” at the time of her writing or receiving it, the her hands are clean.

Whether Trump or Sanders, both are voicing the margins of their respective party ideology: trump to the far right, Sanders to the far left.

The issue is becoming, Is the United States giving voice to a bi-polarity that has always existed in its political culture? And if so, what are the implications of this extreme expression on both sides?

To be interesting, even riveting, all drama must seize the sensibilities of the audience, through a portrayal of character, plot, setting and language that grabs the audience by the shirt collar and pushes it up against the wall, in empathic identification with the main characters. In the political theatre that United States politics as polished to an art, perhaps even tarnished to a fault, has become, without the creativity and the nuance of language of the artistic playwright, political aspirants have had to adopt the persona of a Swarzenegger in Terminator, the pose of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky in his many iterations, Patton, and Evil Knievel rolled into one. In order to garner the attention of the media serfs, the “act” has to trump the substance, otherwise the substance is never heard, listened to or even acknowledged. It is a truism of politics that candidates must campaign in the primary by pandering to the base, and then revert to the centre when competing for the top prize in the general election. Another truism is that one campaigns poetry and governs in prose.

This campaign is so bereft of poetry that, if any of these candidates actually wins his party’s nomination, each will need an infusion of Obama’s literary talent even to enter the final campaign. Wrestlers, even with a hint of political gravitas, are still wrestlers in a ring of faux flips and phoney throw-downs. And, given the early stages of these two races, phoney and faux are ‘trumping’ substance, garnering media attention and disclosing a vacuity of both aspiration and inspiration. Rhetoric that shouts out “that is the problem” is not rhetoric that either inspires or solves that problem. Muscle, macho-media power, and even charisma are no substitute for nuanced and relevant feasible and credible proposals on policy, governance and making a broken Washington function effectively.

Does the American voting public have such an insatiable appetite for “the show” that they do not even require political nourishment. Are they so determined to die of political diabetes, given a surfeit of “sugar” and “salt” by both sides of the political spectrum. Certainly the media is not above reproach either. They really seem starved for horse races, opinion polls by the nano-second, so co-dependent are they on ratings and so deeply embedded are they in ‘the show’ as well.

In professional sports, when one makes it to the big leagues, one enters the “big show” as a rite of passage. And then the performance is measured and monitored so microscopically as to be the literal definition of one’s career and fortune. However, the analogy with professional sports does not hold in politics. Decisions, even those recommended by presidential candidates will not be enacted, no matter how charismatic the “voice”, unless and until the Congress debates and votes on the measures. At best, only the broad outlines of a prospective policy will waft across the podium from all candidates, stirring as much passion and adrenalin as it is possible to generate. It was a candidate for the Prime Minister’s office in Canada, back in the early 1990’s, Kim Campbell, who uttered a fatal statement that campaigns were no place for serious debate on government policy. She was both right and vilified. Right because her observation is factual; vilified, because no one in the political class can accept that mere sound and fury are the stuff of political campaigns, and not nuanced debates about policy merits. Only broad brush strokes are delivered, and then couched in such narrow caveats that no one has to deliver. Furthermore, issues in both domestic and geopolitics are so complex and so rife with differing points of view, even among those in the same political party, that scorecards of accomplishments, of a leader, and of a representative body are and have to be left to historians.

Furthermore, if it takes sound and fury to get attention, then how is character, that so sought after and so proferred commodity, to be judged. Is getting attention from a public addicted to another reality television show really a valid measure of character? Hardly. Is even a political record (Sanders has one, Trump does not) a determining factor in judging character, possibly. Are the friends one keeps a sign of one’s choice of company and thereby one’s upstanding character. That may have had some legitimacy when we were adolescents but no longer.

The real danger in this melodrama of the larynx is that billions will be expended to buy the air time necessary to make that larynx audible, and that only an emotional ‘gut check’ will be available to voters who are both victim of the money used to purchase the air time, and victimizers of the political process by permitting it to be high-jacked by the wallets and the suits. In the U.S. voters will be choosing the “leader of the free world” as we are so often reminded. And the choice has to be founded on much more than the demonstrated capacity to attract a crowd. That, in itself, is merely another “paint-by-number” program available from millions of good marketers and political consultants. It is highly possible that literally anyone can master the twists and turns of such a program, if s/he is willing to prostrate his/her person to the dictates of the program’s designers. Someone even wrote a book outlining the campaign of Richard M. Nixon as comparable to the marketing of a Coke bottle. The world needs serious, and complex and sensible and articulate and collaborative leaders who can and will do more, much more, than draw big crowds and then feed them political pablum.

This is not yet a third world country, and its political campaign must be a visible and credible manifestation of the high level of sophistication to which the United States has reached in so many fields of human endeavour. What we have seen so far fails the candidates, the voters, the media and the rest of the world. And as one listens to the sound bites in the Canadian election campaign, without the loud decibels (we are Canadian after all!) one is struck by the  simplicity of the offerings as little more than the minimum requirement to “make the nightly news casts”.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Marshall Plan-size campaign of information and education to confront ISIS

So Stephen Harper says he is the only political leader in Canada who will attack ISIS. Beating the drum of war, along with the U.S., U.K. France, and to a lesser extent Germany and more recently Turkey, Iran along with what’s left of Iraq, against this most virulent and scurrilous band of thugs, in the hope that by bombing the hell out of them, they will somehow disappear, has considerable cost.

Of course, the western allies are keeping their losses to a minimum by refusing to “put boots on the ground”...the “only” way ISIS will ever be eradicated according to the military Mensa group..

Nevertheless in the midst of a Canadian national election which is basically a referendum on the decade of Harper rule, the Prime Minister is using his “military bravado” as another weapon against his two main opponents, Trudeau and Mulcair. And while that poses a threat to their potential for replacing Harper, in either a majority or minority government, there is certainly a case to be made for alternatives for the campaign against ISIS, outside of bombing them.

Clearly, the bombs that drop on ISIS locations prompt the vigorous recruiting of more radicals from around the world. Also, the capacity to erupt without warning in any town or city in any country, gives the radical Islamic terrorists a kind of unpredictability and massive media coverage for a minimum attack (not minimum for the victims, but compared with the more virulent and massive attacks on ‘infidels’ in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan). This capacity does not abate with the continuing bombardment by high-powered jets. Also, given the “pseudo-religious’ fervor of the Islamic radicals and their avowed dedication to suicide bombing for Allah, there is no time frame, in their mind, for the termination of their cancerous effort to establish an Islamic caliphate. On the other hand, there is no way the western bombers can or will sustain an interminable bombing offensive, whether the cessation comes as a result of empty coffers or public counter-terror-fatigue.The likelihood of a ‘peace treaty’ with this bunch of troglodytes is so remote as to be ethereal. Further, the flood of refugees pouring out of countries like Syria and Iraq is putting such serious strain on the capacity of adjacent countries like Jordan and now even reaching into Europe and Great Britain, without any prospect of stemming the tide. And the longer the bombs keep falling, the more refugees will seek asylum elsewhere. They really have nothing to lose in their pitiful pilgrimage to whatever looks like peace and security to them.

And while there is really no precedent, and no library of research among the armed combatants pointing to a potential resolution/termination of this plague, this ‘enemy’ of civilization is like no other. Furthermore, they are, by all accounts, highly adept at drawing their desired opponents into a pitched battle, thereby reinforcing their commitment and determination to continue their various methods of circumventing legitimate state governance using even stolen and “found” weapons abandoned by U.S. forces following the two Iraq wars. They have weapons, and they have oil which they sell on the black market. And, although we “know” most of their activities, we continue to rely on bombs and missiles as if we are bankrupt of creativity, ingenuity and the courage to experiment with potentially more radical, if potentially less physically lethal approaches.

Even “The Donald” has leapt into the vacuum with a suggestion that their access to oil reserves somehow be cut off. He does not say how, at least not yet. Yet the public discourse around the danger and the ways to eliminate ISIS continues to focus on bombs and missiles. Public security, the core of vulnerability among the nations and people in the crosshairs of the ISIS forces, is much more complicated an issue that needs more than bombs and body-scanners and ‘watch lists’ to combat. It needs the kind of Marshall Plan-size financed massive educational campaign, using all the various social media, formal curricular institutions, marketing creativity and public dollars. This idea is to saturate the environment of these Islamic infidels (assuming that they are indeed outside the mainstream of Islam) with information of an historic, religious, philosophic , gender-equality-infused, from all points of view of the world’s faith communities. Central figures in the campaign would have to be respected imams who are prepared to risk the wrath of these punks, in the short run, in order to reclaim the international respect for their faith community in the long run. There is so much to commend the moderate, tolerate, rights-respecting multiple political and faith expressions that have painted themselves into the landscape of the human population and culture, including those who prefer agnosticism and/or atheism. Individual freedom of choice, including individual freedom to worship or not, including individual freedom to speak whatever language(s) one prefers, and to seek to make a living in any of the legitimate, lawful and proven paths, following a full formal education that exposes the learner to the widest possible range of human experience, and academic pursuits (something Islam has historically been highly reputed to value)....

These are just some of the  themes of such an educational campaign, delivered through the most interactive and creative platforms available, without any attempt to prosletyze for a specific religion, in fact, at the outset, an agreement would have to be tendered for all participants that conversion from or to a specific religion is outside the scope of the project. And there would also have to be included in the initial agreement prior to funding commitments, a pledge to avoid prosletyzing for a specific political ideology.

In fact, these two caveats could well pave the way for a larger agreement on the reduction or elimination of poverty, disease, and the provision of clean water, air and food for all humans, linked to a joint commitment to work toward full employment in all countries. Imagine the potential from such a campaign, where the “participant teachers” become the participant learners and demonstrate their awakening through decades of collaboration to eliminate ebola, and other pandemics as they appear, and to reduce carbon emissions everywhere.

There is truly a hollow sound and impact to the dropping of bombs and missiles: of course, select targeted individuals are eliminated, and there is the instant gratification of a short-term win; yet there is also the spectre shared by even those engaged in the military mission, that there is no end game, no long-term conclusion to this war and no prospect that minds and hearts and bodies will be changed, resulting in the self-immolation of this incendiary movement. The bombs and missiles remind this writer of the taunts, insults and headline-grabbing of “The Donald” who has so perverted the Republican campaign for the White House into a narcissistic egomaniacal television drama. There are no characters, (and no character demonstrated by the protagonist) no plot and no resolution of the many besetting issues facing the United States, and the international community. Sucking all the oxygen from the rooms where rallies are being held, parallel to the bomb sucking all the oxygen from the newsrooms covering the military campaign, is no recipe for governance, nor for thoughtful confrontation of this many-faced demon of radical Islamic terrorism. “Sound and fury signifying nothing” is what the world is left contemplating.

Let’s get real and roll up our sleeves, together, in an international effort to put the best brains together to design and then to “sell” a different modus operandi than simple reversion, regression even, to the military stand-by. Cut off the access to oil, cut off the access to the social media on which ISIS depends, cut off all access to disparate armaments, cut off the flow of recruits, open up the channels for the abundant flow of mercy ships, medical transports, compassionate volunteer agencies with food medicine and shelter for refugees, open the borders of all countries to take in as many displaced refugees as feasible, train as many as possible who are willing to contribute expertise, knowledge, methodology and marketing, generate a tidal wave of human energy to palpable and so self-sustaining that its sheer strength and longevity outlasts the terror movements. Leadership can and must include the United Nations, the Security Council, and the multiple trade agreements that are being signed and threatened by the continuing menace of ISIS and all other faces of this monster.

If the campaign to eliminate radical Islam is contemplated as a long-term effort, then let it be an effort that leaves us all feeling blessed for the opportunity participation in such a campaign would offer. Perhaps, the soon-to-be-retired President of the United States, Barack Obama, could and would serve as the working chair of such a campaign? And his two immediate predecessors (George W. Bush and Bill Clinton)  as well as former UK  Prime Minister, Tony Blair would agree to serve as part of an oversight board.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Inter-connected as we all are...why not take the opportunity it offers?

It is revealing to watch the BBC News America program, given two observations:
first, the newscast is not afraid to dedicate several minutes to an in-depth examination of what it considers the most important stories and
second, the stories, exhibiting a distinctive 'British' flavour and attitude, are gathered from correspondents around the world.
PBS Newshour, too, is well-known for its critical probing of important issues, through the insights and even opinions of expert witnesses. Increasingly, we are be exposed to news stories that document, beyond any doubt that parochial perspectives would deny, the deep and permanent interconnectivity of all humans currently living and previously contributing to who we are and how we are growing.
Fires, droughts, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes are one 'disaster' theme with which the whole world is contending. Similarly, micro-organisms know no national or even continental boundaries. Also, and just as important but not appearing in our daily menu of international news, music, art, literature, dance and all of the many platforms through which these expressions 'spread' continue to influence us, and through us the events in which we participate no matter where we live.
Listening to a Rimsky-Korsakov composition, in Canada, one cannot help but feel, deeply in one's bones, the throbbing pulse of the Russian heart beat; similarly, while taking in a Rachmaninoff performance of his Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini one cannot help but absorb the technical mastery linked to the virtuosity of the musicality of another  Russian musical genius. These shared gifts, like the novels, plays, poems and canvases that overflow museums and galleries of art around the world, re-acquaint readers and explorers of how the human mind and spirit are much more aligned than divided, notwithstanding the unique differences in both perspective and expression that characterize each work.
Mahatma Gandi wrote:I claim that human mind or human society is not divided into watertight compartments called social, political and religious. All act and react upon one another.
Two news stories this week, caught my attention. Both indicate our deep and permanent connectedness.
The first comes from the world of sports. The International Athletic Association reported that the testing of some 5000 athletes, from 2002 through 2012, indicates that some 800 showed dubious results for banned substances, some of these were medal winners. Most countries' athletes were involved, and the issue is so troubling that Dick Pound of Canada has been asked to head an investigation into the report's findings. Pound is quoted as saying that he doubts any punishments can or will be meted out to offending athletes. International trends to cheating link the world's athletic federations in a common cause to attempt to eliminate the abuse.
The second story comes courtesy of CBC:
Frances Oldham Kelsey, the Canadian doctor whose vocal opposition to the anti-nausea drug thalidomide helped keep it out of the United States, has died at age 101...
Thalidomide was prescribed to pregnant women in the 1960s before it was discovered that it caused serious birth defects such as missing limbs, internal organ damage, deafness and blindness.
Kelsey was a reviewer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration who raised serious concerns about the safety of the drug.
Ontario Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell had travelled to London on Thursday afternoon to present Kelsey with the Order of Canada, which was bestowed on her in the spring. 
Dowdeswell suspects that because Kelsey lived in the U.S. for much of her life, it took longer for her to be honoured in Canada...
Kelsey's refusal to agree with approval of the drug for use in the U.S. saved thousands of children from serious birth defects, and led to new safety standards for prescription drugs, a statement from the Governor General said. Only 17 children were born in the U.S. with thalidomide problems...
Kelsey was hailed as a hero in the U.S. and given the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service by John F. Kennedy.
But the drug's dark legacy continues in her home country: In May, the federal government announced Canada's nearly 100 thalidomide survivors will be each provided pensions of up to $100,000 a year for the rest of their lives. The aging survivors are seeking help to cope with their day-to-day needs.
Kelsey demonstrated how one person can change the world, said Alvin Law, a thalidomide survivor, currently in Crystal Lake, Sask.
"She was a hero. She was just simply that. She was a guiding angel. She was an amazing human being," Law said.
"She stood up to a lot of people and made us as a group have more relevance.… We weren't mistakes, we were human beings."
Through Kelsey's actions, not only did regulation of the pharmaceutical industry change, but she changed our mindsets about women taking drugs during pregnancy, he said. (CBC News, August 7, 2015)
Athletes using banned substances to enhance their potential for victory and pharmaceutical companies advancing their 'morning sickness prevention' for profit are issues that know no national boundaries. They are both at the heart of a common human compete and to overcome various odds and to succeed.
Restraint, of all human ambition to power, especially in a time when the unleashed venom of extreme power for its own sake is ubiquitous, may not garner headlines. Nevertheless, the need for such restraint, such prevention and such resistance, coming from individuals like Dr. Kelsey, and inspiring the efforts of international bodies like the Olympics, and the much-berated World Health Organization, has never been more demonstrated.
Dr. Kelsey, when interviewed by the CBC's Knowton Nash, sadly bemoaned the absence of an international drug-review and regulating agency that would have prevented the thousands of deformed babies resulting from the use of thalidomide by expecting mothers for morning sickness. It would appear that such an agency still does not exist, in spite of the many pharmaceutical products whose physical and emotional and psychiatric impacts have damaged the lives of millions.
It is not past time for such an international empowered agency with real enforcement powers?

In a week in which the world commemorates the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the threat of nuclear weapons rears is ugly head, could we not now 'come to our senses' in pursuing enhanced nuclear disarmament in conjunction with other collaborative, preventive and enforcement agreements of restraint of  the pursuit and imposition of harmful even deathly powers?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Reflections on TIME

Let’s take a look at how our perception of time plays a significant part in many of the actions, thoughts and beliefs in our lives.

How long will it take for the gazillions of out-of-control forest fires currently raging in California and in Canada’s western provinces to wake up those decision-makers who could begin a reversal of global warming and climate change?

How long will it take for the employers of many workers for to wake up to the fundamental truth that happy and engaged workers are more productive and also a better investment than “starved” workers?

How long have human beings inhabited this planet?

How long have men and women fought over their respective gender “rights” and “responsibilities”?

How long has racism plagued the species, with little or no bending of the curve of remediation?

There is apparently a direct co-relation between our perception of time and many of our urgencies. How urgent do we need changes in specific situations, in order to continue to engage in those situations? For example, if there is a persistent theme in the negative manner in which another speaks to us, how long do we “take” such treatment before we push-back, and how forceful is that push-back? If we belong to a church or another civil organization, and there are issues that are especially evident and persistent, issues that really matter to us, how long do we take to express our discomfort, to propose alternatives, or even to withdraw?

When we are children of parents whose behaviour is abusive, for example, how long can/do we tolerate the abuse, before ‘reporting’ our situation? If we are in a marriage in which our needs are not being met, and we have expressed those needs to our partner without noticing much change, are we equipped with the necessary skills to negotiate the changes we seek? Or do we consider, after “some time”, that we have waited long enough for those changes to take effect, without inquiring as to how together those changes might be accomplished, and make a complete break?

When someone asks us for something, some help or an opinion or an answer to a question, and we are deeply occupied in another activity, and we know that whatever response we offer will be token at best, do we have the courtesy to inform our ‘seeker’ that while we would like to oblige his/her request, we need a little more time to get to a place in our current activity when we can stop without impairing the success of our project? When our new baby cries, for the first six months, as parents we are all trained or programmed to respond to the cry, without knowing fully the degree of discomfort of the child. As time passes, we relax a little, consider the situation adn the pitch and volume of the cry before rushing to respond. Similarly, when our new born falls the first time, we cannot respond quickly enough, believing that our response will pay dividends over the next several months when we know there will be other falls.

When we are at work, perhaps in retail, have we been trained, role modelled, or just extra-committed as a sign of our motivation to impress either the customer or the boss by our prompt and courteous response time. Time is one of the currencies all workers trade in, just as it is also a “commodity” in which the employer trades, depending on the need and the capacity to pay especially when overtime is required and if the contract calls for time-and-a half or double-time.

How precise are we when it comes time to estimate the size of a job or project we have to complete? Here is a skill required by those who estimate construction jobs for prospective clients, for doctors, dentists and lawyers who have to bill by the hour and quote for scheduling purposes. Operating rooms, emergency rooms, clinics, court cases and court rooms depend on some estimate of the length of the procedure prior to its beginning. In fact, some of our professionals are so adept and precise in their “guestimates” that they can be relied upon by those executing the schedule.

And then there are those who long ago threw time and their watch out the window, preferring to take as long as it takes to study a client’s problem, research the issue deeply, comprehensively and thoroughly, without regard to the cost, because they have utterly rejected the maxim “time is money” that so plagues businesses and most professional organizations.

Have you also noticed that some people use estrangement over a long period of time as punishment or revenge for a betrayal they consider inappropriate, unwarranted, or even unacceptable, and their silent and presumably inconspicuous punishment will go unnoticed by their peers while the target of their abuse will presumably suffer immeasurably. That is, after all, their intent, and the duration into permanency and even until death is their payback?

In diplomatic theatre, for example, America has remained estranged from Cuba for a half-century-plus, until the recent ‘thaw’ initiated by the Obama administration, initiated under the Kennedy administration for the Bay of Pigs and for the Castro revolution. Similarly, Iran was put in the deep freeze for several decades by the United Satess, a freeze that included economic sanctions and a ‘red card’ from engagement in international markets where she could sell her crude. Individuals in the military or quasi-military organizations who cross the rules of their hierarchy, are often court-martialled, or dismissed, terminated, fired, excommunicated or merely trashed, often for the remained of their lives, with or without due process, given the tyrannical authority and the expected absolute compliance of the minions with that authority. Frequently, such sentences do nto match the infraction, yet incur the wrath of the commanding officer(s) whose reputation for a “trim ship” without a blemish on his/her watch is required for any potential promotion. Of course, prison sentences are also “time-sensitive” depending on the considered severity of the crime, and the cultural conditions extant at the time of the occurrence. “Lifers” are those prisoners who have committed what society considers the most heinous offences, up to and including murder, in those jurisdictions where the death penalty has been abolished.

And then there are the romantic flavours, applications and connotations of time: “I feel as if I have known you for a century!” is an expression from one who has just met the one s/he considers a potential soul-mate. Another phrase in the romantic vernacular goes this way: “Time flies when I’m with you!”

A similar “fleeting time” experience attends those people, among them athletes, artists, musicians, writers, composers, laboratory scientists, philosophers who simply lose track of time, given them deep entry into an activity so engrossing and so consuming that it seems to literally “take over” their consciousness. On the other side of this part of the coin, are those students, audiences, and congregations who experience what they consider interminable lectures, speeches, homilies respectively and they cannot wait until the  pain and discomfort comes to an end. In these situations, time has replaced the content as the focus of the listener, and has literally taken over the experience.

In the broadcasting business, time is measured in seconds, 10, 15, 30, 60 or even 90 seconds of time sold to a prospective marketing client, seeking to sell a product or service. Similarly, in the news business, the length of a story, and its place in the order of the newcast, are both signs of its considered importance, by those editors responsible for the preparation of the “program.” Television programs, too, have a “time-slot” to fill, given the half-hour or one hour allotted to is, minus the time needed for commercials.

Digital communication has taken this measurement of time to another level: given the instant transmission of data, whether voice or text, from anywhere to everywhere. Again, time is measured and sold sometimes to re-sellers and sometimes directly to the consumer/digital device user.

We have become so enmeshed in the tick-tock of the clock that our lives are measured out by its numbers, its demands and the discipline it requires.

Of course the classical music composers, (as well as those in the contemporary arena) build their notes, arpeggios, chords and scales around the beat of a metronome, complete with a time signature, bar lines, a range of notes all of them symbols of lengths of time (a thirty-second note is half as long as a sixteenth note, a sixteenth note is half as long as an eighth note, which is half as long as a quarter note, a quarter is half as long as a half note, which is half as long as a whole note).

And of course, we are all on a timed-thread from birth to death, the length of which is unknown, except in the higher end when statistical data can usually predict an upper limit to our time here.

Is time a master or are we its master? Is our attitude, perception and concept of time one of the more important characteristics that define our interactions with other. Those of us who seem to be always in a hurry are very annoying to those who prefer and adopt a more leisurely pace, for themselves and for any changes they wish to integrate into their lives. (I once worked for a supervisor who said he would sent me to any graduate school where they would teach me patience, so much in a hurry was I for change in a public bureaucracy!) Governments traditionally, like huge aircraft carriers, move very slowly when considering change; corporations, on the other hand, have to adapt to changing market conditions, or cease to operate. Entrepreneurs, naturally, have to be even more adept in the timing of the changes they implement in their operation, given their size and ability to move quickly. Field generals, in the middle of conflict, have to integrate all the signals of the enemy’s next moves, adapt and deploy his resources in q manner that is timely and tactically and strategically optimal.  Baseball pitchers who have a range of “speeds” in the quiver of their pitches, knuckle-ball slow, change-up, fastball, breaking ball have a considerable advantage over the hitters they face, given the element of surprise in the timing of their choice of pitch and the timing of its trajectory to home plate. Hockey players, too, who can move from one end of the rink to the other in the shortest time rank high in their coaches’ evaluation, as do those who shoot the puck at a very high rate of speed, thereby making it more difficult for the goalie to block the shot. Once again, time is the critical factor in the exchange.

What kind of sense of time are we leaving with our children and grandchildren, if in all aspects of our lives, we are hurried, harassed, exhausted, incessantly moving and constantly complaining about the speed of time’s passing. Are we telling them that our lives are normal and even exemplary, as models for their future? Are we capable and willing to take “time out” from our  busy schedules and our imposition of excruciating demands on our time, to smell the roses, to play with the dog, to take a casual walk or  bike ride? In our conversations, are we intent upon fixing things as quickly as possible, or are we willing to explore the relationships without having to impose a result on those conversations? When we read a book, are we determined to “learn” something we can apply to our lives, or is helping to satisfy our general interest and curiosity, while gaining some new perspective enough for our time and effort?

Are we using our “time” here to work our way into some heaven, in an inexhaustible penitential process, paying for our many sins? Or do we see a deity as our friend, ally and even advocate who seeks our optimal engagement with time and others, based not on some deficit imposed by some external authority, but rather on an authentic and trustworthy acceptance and generosity? These questions may not be the subject of the next homily or holy book reflection. They are, however, cogent to how we reconnoitre with our time here.