Friday, September 30, 2016

The river of truth flows in, through and around us...asking us to grasp its full current

Are we becoming caught in the vortex between a change in our reading and writing habits and the growing dependence on stereotypes, aphorisms, headlines and out of date fossils of intellectual habit and conviction?

 There is some evidence that, in some quarters, refined consideration of the sounds and the rhythms of both language and thought have been normalized, even elevated to an artistic level. The narrative on feminism, for example, has witnessed and demonstrated various stages of anger, defiance and empowerment, and more recently a deep and profound acknowledgement of the similarities between the genders, in a word, androgyny. While the narrative on the rise of the feminine voice, in all areas of public life, (as well as in domestic lives) may well have and continue to confuse most men, it has generated a far different level of conscious awareness and potential reduction in the use of some of the many blunt, insensitive and downright offensive attitudes and encounters that men have perpetrated for centuries. Similarly, many women continue to dismiss men as “jerks” who want only one thing at the same time as the number of fathers walking, changing, feeding and nurturing their young children has grown exponentially.

Ideology too, has a trail of expression that entraps some in intellectual cages, while others attempt to ride both sides of the left-right divide. Newspapers, for example, as well as television networks, have tended to represent a political point of view, a perspective, in order to attract viewers of a similar persuasion. Others, like the New York Times, have worked hard to become respected by both right and left political thought leaders.  Nevertheless, we are all subjected to a cataract of headlines, both in 72-point type and in their highlight position and distressing repetition, many of them becoming lodged in our brains as “reality” even long after they have changed, developed, been proven inaccurate or actually disappeared.

Trump’s berating China for manipulation of their currency, for example, is so outdated as be virtually a distortion of reality, for which Trump needs to be held accountable. A firm grasp of both history and the nunc fluens (the flowing now) is a minimum expectation of a presidential candidate, as well as the ability and willingness to differentiate the two. However, there are some examples of “failing to keep up” or in other words, holding tight to deep bias, prejudice and offensive attitudes that are appearing in too many headlines.

The courts have given us some of these examples recently with a judge asking a woman complainant in a sexual assault case “why she did not close her knees”….and there is another from a case of sexual abuse in Arnprior, presented by The National last night, in which the evidence in trial was recorded, in  one judge’s notes that, except for a single piece of testimony on the part of the male defendant, clearly defined the female judge’s perception that his testimony was unreliable. Prior to sentencing, however, this judge became ill and the case was turned over to a male judge. Upon reading the first judge’s notes, the second judge elevated the single piece of credible testimony to the point of justification of his declaration of a mistrial. All other evidence was disregarded, apparently.

Are we witnessing in this case, and in so many others, the unshakeable “stuckness” of too many who have the power and the opportunity to shape how we grasp and interpret reality that our biases are now in charge? Certainly the Arnprior complainant would be justified in believing that the court either did not hear or did not accept her testimony, much of it repeated on national television last night. Similarly, Trump’s followers are mired in their conviction that “internet” polling (of absolutely no scientific value) tells them that their candidate ‘won’ the first presidential debate, when all the “reliable” and verifiable polling tells us otherwise.

While Hillary tells Trump “he lives in his own reality” during the debate, there is a real danger that competing realities are now engaged in the mud-bowl of public opinion. Assumptions, distortions, misrepresentations, even now apparently mental fixations have replaced a common apprehension of an objective reality…and even when there is some common empirical reality agreed upon, it comprises only the overt committed actions, or words of an actor on the public stage. The omissions, silences, withdrawals and avoidances have been buried deep under a public unconsciousness.

The news, the courts, the governments the hospitals/doctors, the social service agencies, the schools and the churches….and certainly all the corporations are dedicated to a version of extrinsic “reality” that mostly boosts their public appeal, acceptance and trust, at least in their minds, while public trust for all of these “institutions” has never been lower.

Could it be that our shared failure to acknowledge our failures, our omissions, our silences, and our avoidances are more important in determining our shared outcomes than our overt extrinsic actions, and words? Could it be that we have been impaled on and by our own myopia, our own denial and our own refusal to share all of those attitudes, biases, prejudices and beliefs as integral to our shared lives? Have we so submitted both our selves and our culture to a fundamental secrecy, privacy and ghost-like mask in order to find a safe path so that we do not have to face the truth of who we really are, what we really believe, how we really think and perceive? Is Trump just the latest and the most visible model of our own capacity to dissemble, to distort, to modify and to champion our fragile ego while trashing the deep truths of our souls? Are we part of this big cover-up, so big that we are unlikely to be able to find and to summon the courage, and the shared capacity to reverse course?

Are stereotypes replacing our detailed perceptions of unique individuals, of unique moments, different from other moments, and our shared knowledge of both current events and certainly more remote history? Is manipulation, both corporate and political and also personal and spiritual, now the name of the game in which we are all complicit?

Is the winner not only the one with the “biggest and most expensive toys” but also the one who can get away with the biggest cover-up? Are we hiding behind whatever protective ruse, self-designed and self-imposed, a stereotype, an extrinsic act, or word in order to preserve and protect our less-than-innocent truths?

And if there is even a grain of truth and “reality” in our potentially affirmative answers to these questions, then we all have both an opportunity loudly and collectively “ to shut the door” on the world of 1984 that Orwell warned us about half a century ago. And we can begin, through basic things like learning to “READ” and to converse beyond the plastic images of the headlines and the stereotypes to expose the acts of omissions as just as important, (if not even more important) than acts of commission.
Motive, for example, is highly significant in all legal matters, although very difficult to discern. And yet, without motive, the truth of the crime and the truth of the person charged with its commission is withheld from consideration by judge and jury. Motive, too, is part of the mystery of the truth that is being endangered as we all rush to worship at the empirical, stereotypical, conventional and reductionistic altar of the “visible”…..the accountant’s balance sheet, the doctor’s many and varied test results (mostly numerical and comparative), the psychiatrist’s diagnoses (in the DSM-V, depression determined primarily from anecdotal evidence from women) and the politician’s proof of his/her good work and headlines.

Integrity, that word that encompasses a shipload of expectations, requirements, judgements and infrequently confessions and penitentials, cannot be reduced to a recording and accounting of acts done, words spoken. Even acts done and words spoken in pursuit of justice, while legitimate, are not adequate to depict one’s integrity.
 It has to encompass the heart of one’s spirit, the emotions that are kept locked inside the vault of our hearts and then protected by the discipline of our minds, especially in a culture so banketed by privacy, especially the kind of privacy that is needed to protect one’s reputation. Our personal integrity has to encompass the attitudes and the beliefs and the perceptions that include revenge whether overtly sought and committed or not, jealousy, whether enacted or not, coveting whether pursued or not, destruction of another’s person and character whether voiced or not.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the medical profession resisted conveying a patient’s diagnosis, especially one that included a serious cancerous tumor, given the considerable evidence that such a diagnosis often contributed to a significant decline in the patient’s health and well-being, and often precipitated the death of that patient. So, the simple judgement of whether or not to tell the truth, or the “whole truth” cannot be reduced to a simple prescription that applies in all or even most situations.

The specific situation, and the comprehensive awareness of its uniqueness are essential to a clear accounting and assumption of responsibility for defining and acknowledging one’s integrity, and definition and acknowledgment go a long way past the “Sunday school” commandments of so many faith . In fact, the need to compress an individual’s acts, words, and the expresions of others’words about them into a neat, compact, and easily memorized and transmitted ‘moral rule’ is among the several ways by which our affinity to simplicity and reduction demean our persons, our lives and the fullness of our reality.  A case in point just jumped out of the radio on CBC News. The Roman Catholic bishops in Alberta and the Northwest Territories have announced that the priests in their charge will not be permitted to conduct church funerals for those Catholics who choose to die with dignity, under the new federal legislation permitting such a choice for those terminally ill who are suffering inordinately. It is a grave sin to make such a choice, in the eyes of these Bishops, and their congregants will have to choose between a church funeral or a death with dignity.

Where is the integrity of the institution in that case? Of course, the church hierarchy have and will continue to argue that this position is congruent with the church’s teaching on abortion, yet for many Catholics, that teaching does not extend to capital punishment.

The pursuit of one’s integrity, in the light of one’s comprehension and clarity of the whole situation in which one finds oneself, is a highly complex and ambiguous journey the ethics of which are best left to one who does have a more full awareness of the many dimensions, not to leave individual humans hanging in anxiety and fear of damnation, but to support their constant striving to find “the light” both within and without, through prayer and reflection, through intimate conversation, through reading and through a deliberate and disciplined time of reflection and consideration, in order to minimize the potential role of stereotypes, aphoristic platitudes, quick and easy judgements and a denial and avoidance of the many ambiguities in all situations including the complex emotions that attend every ethical and moral choice.

Very often, those experiences we most fear, especially those situations that might tarnish our public reputation, force us into acting and  speaking behaviours that are more in keeping with protecting our good name, than with expressing our deep and conscious truth. Compromising our truth, for the sake of retaining only a good name is too often considered the (perceived and agreed upon) “right” thing to do. Whereas, the public convention of silence, the secrecy of “discretion” and the panache of political correctness too often compromise our real integrity, and leave us gasping for moral and ethical oxygen.

Reconciling Simon Peres’ commitment both to the development of Israel’s nuclear machine and his later pursuit of peace, while apparently troubling to many reporters, demonstrates a “development narrative” of patriotic proportions. However it does not justify a military build-up as “reasonable and condoned by the lustrous Jewish diplomat.” We cannot permit ourselves, or our culture to become entrapped in frozen fossils of manipulated still and sterile images, while the river of people and events drowns our poetic imagination.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A "real" president in graphic relief beside a "fake wannabee"

Based on yesterday’s near-unanimous vote to override the presidential veto, it is not surprising that a mere 19% of American people believe government will do the ‘right thing’.

The vote, in both houses of Congress, gives families of victims of the 9/11 terror attacks in Manhattan the right to sue Saudi Arabia for “justice” given a perception of state support of the terrorists, 15 of whom were Saudi nationals. All the “official” evidence could not establish unequivocally that the Saudi “nation” supported the terrorists who flew those four aircraft on that fateful day.
That vote shows how “low” the members of Congress have fallen, in pandering to the emotional pleas for justice, effectively revenge against a foreign state, thereby generating a potential for reciprocal retaliation against U.S. military and diplomatic officers serving in foreign countries, should some mishap occur, and the families of victims chose to sue the American government. Of course, it is an election season when, obviously, all reasonable thought and pursuit of serious government policy based on a serious and critical examination of the nuances of the issues has long ago ‘left the building’. And of course, insulting the president in the last months of his presidency just completes the political excoriation he has endured for the last six years of his administration.

Some of those who voted for the override did not even know what they were voting for. Others were merely pandering to their potential voters in November. Others were deliberately sticking their finger in the eye of the president whom they consider ‘weak’ and ineffective and resent his clear capacity to lead, ‘to take the high road’ and to endure the slings and arrows of their racist venom.

Its is not accidental or incidental that the same day of the vote the President appeared on a town hall on CNN at Fort Lee in Virginia in which he answered questions from Jake Tapper and from the service men and women gathered for the first presidential visit to the base. Two days following the first presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton, Obama, without inserting a single word of partisanship, demonstrated clearly and unequivocally not only his command of the issues, but illustrated reasonable expectations of a legitimate President. Just by his “presence” he effectively, subtly and yet very powerfully underlined his support for Hillary Clinton.

He took a question from a military widow whose husband failed to get treatment from the Veterans Administration and died following the metastasizing of his colon cancer. His complex and respectful answer about the systemic dysfunction in the VA and how far that process has both advanced and needs to go, acknowledged the serious impact of the bureaucracy and his aggressive attempts to change the culture.

He also took a question from another military widow whose husband, following several deployments in which he witnessed too much from battle, and from which he suffered PTSD. He refused to seek help for his illness because he did not want to be considered “weak” by the military, and he became one of the twenty-two military veterans who take their lives every day in the United States. Again Obama indicated that he has directed the Secretary of Defence and the Joint Chiefs to send the important message ‘down the line’ that seeking help is not a sign of weakness, and must not be held as such within the military itself.

Another cultural change that will take decades, if not centuries to reverse, especially given the tide of hyper-masculinity, epitomized by Trump, and upheld by millions of his frightened little men supporters that is running rampant across the country in this election season.

Whether he prepared for the first debate or not, and whether he prepares for the next two, Trump cannot escape the fact that if he secluded himself for days, or even weeks, he could never cover up the core truth of his arrogance, his incompetence and his lack of integrity, not to mention his idolizing of money, and the commodification of everything including himself, and by extension, the country, should he become president. And that list does not even mention his narcissism and his racial and gender and sexist “phobias”

One real president in graphic relief  beside a mere ‘wannabee’….and contrast could not be more clear or evocative of the danger in the nation’s reaching for the bottom of the barrel to vote for the cardboard cut-out.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Donald Trump: The Ugly American 2.0

In the book, The Ugly American by Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer, the episode that gives the book its title features Homer Atkins, a plain and plain spoken man, who has been sent by the U.S. government to advise the Southeast Asian country of Sarkhan on engineering project When Atkins finds badly misplaced priorities and bluntly challenged the entrenched interests, he lays bare a foreign policy gone dangerously8 wrong.

First published in 1958, the book became a runaway national bestseller for its slashing expose of American arrogance incompetence and corruption in Southeast Asia.
Donald Trump evokes memories of that arrogance and incompetence when neither quality, nor the current incarnation of those qualities, is appropriate in the vortex that faces the next president. Trump will not study, prepare, assimilate the fine details of either American domestic or foreign policy, so enamored is he with his Teflon bombast that has no place in politics and belongs inside a reality television show set and camera.

I grew up at the time the book was popular, and without then knowing the specific content of the narratives, I know the phrase “ugly American” had resonance as an admitted stereotype, even archetype, for the American political/military/industrial complex of which Eisenhower warned his compatriots near the end of his presidency in 1960. Even today, some nearly 70 years later, following another episode of misguided American foreign policy and military engagement under Dubya, there are still too many places where wearing an American flag lapel pin is ill-advised. Obama has worked almost feverishly, certainly deliberately and professionally, to try to normalize the American presence in world affairs, and a return to the kind of American attitude and presence on the world stage now, through the election of Trump, would be a disaster not only for the United States itself, but also for the whole world.
In its unrestrained, yet brutally honest endorsement of Hillary Clinton in yesterday’s edition, The New York Times, cites
·      the long span of her career in the service of children, women and families,
·      her highlighting of women in her address to the United Nations Bejing Conference in 1995,
·      her steadfast, if unspectacular pursuit of her bipartisan work in the Senate, securing the support of Republicans like John McCain, for her mastery of the details of military needs and goals
·      her intellect and command of the various files and importantly
·      her experience and attention to the complexities facing the world and the next president
The editorial acknowledges her preference for secrecy, her later-explained mistaken vote for the Iraq war in 2003, and places her candidacy squarely in the eyes of undecided voters whom Ms Clinton needs in order to defeat Trump.

As the “paper of record” in the American political landscape, this editorial, while by itself will not elect Ms Clinton, give a needed shot of adrenalin on the day prior to tonight’s debate, billed as a heavyweight prize fight in the American media, with a projected audience in the 100 million range, rivaling even the Super Bowl.
Promising filmy and glossy never-never-land solutions to highly complex issues needing leadership, sophistication and compromise evokes the image of the ugly American, stomping an unduely heavy footprint all over the world map, without delivering on the needed policy ideas is not what the world needs.

And, barring a significant toe-stub tonight, by Ms Clinton, the world can only hope that she will deliver what the American pundits are calling her “minimum” to win: a home-run in political terms.

All of the subtlety of her many policy proposals will have to give way, at least for an historic moment in which, in the tradition of the gladiator fights of the middle ages, she “takes out” her political foe. He has certainly given her a arsenal of lies, distortions and fit-only-for-Hollywood conjectures on which to unleash her considerable and the public’s even stronger venom against Trump.

We will be watching.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Can we secure the "right to clean water" as a human right and save fresh water resources?

Here are some grains of unsettling data to stir into your morning cup of “joe”…..

·      Over 150,000,000,000 (that’s BILLIONS) litres of untreated, or undertreated sewage is dumped into Canadian waterways each year (Environment Canada)….That’s about 4 time the average flow of the Ottawa River!

·      Victoria and Esquimalt cities dump about 130 million litres of raw sewage every DAY into the Strait of Juan de Fuca

·      Ice coverage on the Great Lakes declined by 71% between 1973 and 2010 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

·      Glaciers hold as much water as all that is contained in Canada’s lakes and rivers….there are 17,000 glaciers in British Columbia…

·      Glacial coverage on the Alberta side of the Canadian Rockies has declined by 25% and 300 glaciers have been lost in last 3 decades

·      Researchers have detected traces of acetaminophen, codeine, antibiotics, hormones, steroids and anti-epileptic compounds in the Great Lakes at levels high enough to be of “environmental concern” (CBC)

·      A 2014 study of the Great Lakes by the U.S.-based 5 Gyres Institute found 43,000 microplastic particles per square kilometer; near cities the number jumped to 466,000.

These are just a few of the many arresting pieces of information contained in a new book by Maude Barlow, Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, a social justice think tank. The book, entitled, Boiling Point, Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis, was available to Barlow’s recent audience in the Grad Centre at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontaio.

Here is a quote from the Canada Water Act of 1985, a federal government statute, outlining the core of the federal-provincial shared, and thereby extremely complex oversight of Canada’s water resources:
 the Minister may, with the approval of the Governor in Council, enter into an arrangement with one or more provincial governments to establish, on a national, provincial, regional, lake or river-basin basis, intergovernmental committees or other bodies
·       (a) to maintain continuing consultation on water resource matters and to advise on priorities for research, planning, conservation, development and utilization relating thereto;
·       (b) to advise on the formulation of water policies and programs; and
·       (c) to facilitate the coordination and implementation of water policies and programs.
One of the many signs of shared federal-provincial jurisdiction, shared power and thereby frequently unattainable “action” can be seen here, given the overlapping footprints of this extremely important and highly threatened resource, really a human requirement, access to clean water.
The United Nations has expressed itself on the human right to clean water.
On 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights. The Resolution calls upon States and international organisations to provide financial resources, help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.
In November 2002, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment No. 15 on the right to water. Article I.1 states that "The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights". Comment No. 15 also defined the right to water as the right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.
·       Resolution A/RES/64/292. United Nations General Assembly, July 2010
·       General Comment No. 15. The right to water. UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, November 2002
Implementation, however, only occurs when and where the “rubber meets the road.” And, for example, although the Canadian government has recently announced its intent to move the hundreds of First Nations communities off “boiled water advisories” in Canada, by the year 2020, the issue of whether water is to be an authentic human right remains under a big cloud of confusion.
Just yesterday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that her government would be reviewing a policy that currently permits Nestle to purchase ground water from Ontario wells at a price of $3.71 for one million litres. Not only is this policy stripping the ground water from the south-western Ontario wells, Nestle then turns around and bottles and sells the water back to Ontarians for $1+ per bottle. And Nestle is only one of many large corporations dependent on the access to clean water for the production of their products.
So the question of whether or not water is “for sale” or is a human right, is one of the major issues facing jurisdictions around the world. And herein lies the nexus of the fight between “public” access to fresh, clean, water and “private” for-profit corporations’ ownership of that water.

In a “grass-roots” approach to raising consciousness about water issues, and to push back on the “sale” of clean water, The Council of Canadians with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has initiated a Blue Communities project.
On the Blue Communities guide, we find these words:
The recognition of water as a human right in Canada would ensure that all people living in this country are legally entitled to sufficient quantities of safe, clean drinking water and water for sanitation, and would require that access inequalities be addressed immediately. Unfortunately, water is not officially recognized as a human right by the federal government. On the other hand, the rights of corporations, whose activities drain, contaminate and destroy watersheds, are protected in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other international trade and investment agreements. Internationally, the Canadian government has also actively prevented the recognition of water as a human right at key United Nations (UN) meetings. In 2002, Canada was the only country to vote against the right to drinking water and sanitation at hearings of the UN Commission on Human Rights (now known as the Human Rights Council). The Canadian government has said that water is an important issue and that countries are responsible for ensuring their populations have access to water. But Canada has clearly stated it does not believe that international law should recognize the existence of a right to water.
Paris joins Blue Communities
From the Council of Canadians website, here is a progress report on the Blue Communities project
Blue Planet Project founder Maude Barlow was in Paris, France today to present a blue community certificate to deputy mayor Celia Blauel.
Barlow stated, “We applaud Paris for taking the bold new step to protect water as a commons by becoming a Blue Community today. The global water crisis is getting more serious by the day and it is being made worse by the corporate theft and abuse of water. Becoming a Blue Community like Paris has today is a critical step toward the stewardship of water locally and globally that we need now and for future generations."
A 'blue community' is a municipality (or university, church, First Nation or association) that adopts a framework that:
·       recognizes water as a human right
·       prevents the sale of bottled water in public facilities and at municipal events
·       promotes publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services.
On March 22, 2011, Burnaby, British Columbia became the first blue community in Canada. On September 18, 2013, Bern, Switzerland became the first international blue community. And on January 12, 2015, Tsal'alh, St’át’imc Territory became the first Indigenous blue community. The University of Bern and the Evangelisch-reformierte Kirchgemeinde Bern-Johannes Church have also become blue communities.
The largest blue communities in this country are Burnaby (population 223,220), St. Catharines (131,990), Ajax, (109,600), Thunder Bay (108,359), and North Vancouver (84,412). All together, there are now 1,034,515 people in Canada who live in communities recognized as blue communities. Internationally, there is now Paris (population 2.244 million), Bern (130,015) and Cambuquira (13,299) for a total of 2,387,314 people.
When Barlow presented the first European blue community certificate in Switzerland, she said, "It is my fervent hope that your undertaking today will be the beginning of a European-wide movement that will one day reach across the whole world."
Canada has, for decades, held the cultural “myth” that we are an inexhaustible source of fresh water. Not only is that not based in empirical evidence, what clean fresh water that does currently exist in Canada is under serious threat.
·      the legal entanglement of federal-provincial shared power,
·      the current cultural “for-profit” thrust in the ideology of free trade agreements, granting inordinate powers to for-profit corporations,
·      the rising tide of both pollution and the resulting global warming and climate change
taken together make for a political ethos in which the push to provide clean water to all people is fraught with many perils.
The Council of Canadians’ rejection of corporate funds is just another indication of the depth of their commitment to the concept of “public” ownership of this most valuable, precious and threatened source of life.
Attempting to make allies, and to generate Blue Communities around the world, demonstrating the narrow but significant “municipal” autonomy on this important, if vexing, issue in the current highly competitive and complex environment is not only a worthy and noble objective, it may well be the signal issue project of our time.
And it needs the kind of financial support that a campaign like the one Bernie Sanders generated in his campaign for the presidency of the United States, based on contributions averaging  $27….The millions of contributors gave him the largest ‘war chest’ of the candidates, at the time when he was still in the race.

Can such a campaign be generated to save the world’s clean fresh water and the human right to its access?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Reflections on Jon Meacham's "head vs. gut" portrayal of the presidential election

Binary choices, in so many situations, defy reality. And yet we are confronted with them on every turn, including the two-person presidential race.

This morning, Jon Meacham, no slouch as a presidential scholar and biographer, appearing on Morning Joe on MSNBC, dubbed the current race one between “the head and the gut”.

And while that makes for good “water cooler television” (something most political analysis has been reduced to) it does not effectively integrate the many nuanced differences between the two candidates.

Hillary, while intellectually superior, and while unable to concentrate on any serious and complex issue for less than all the time required, compares quite favourably to her opponent who has the attention span of a gnat. But does she also have the “gut” stuff on which the machismo rabble are more likely to base their decision?

And here is where she might run into some rough waters. “Gut” is different from “guts” the kind of thing that demonstrates military and intelligence might. “Gut” suggests a kind of emotive response to everything: a tweet of venom on the heels of every offense, or a “headline-grabbing” vomit that stuns the reporters who simply cannot believe what they have heard: “I’m open to Japan’s acquiring nuclear weapons!” or “The Israeli’s profile Muslims, but we’re too politically correct to do that!” or “Maybe those countries that are not paying their fair share might not be defended (abrogating Article Five of NATO)!” or “Hillary is against guns- I think the Secret Service guarding her should have their guns removed and let’s see what happens then!” Emotional turbulence for the purpose of garnering attention, in a media climate governed at its core by the pursuit of ratings and profits, is not “guts” in the normal, conventional, historical sense of “courage” and “stamina,” and depth of understanding, and principled and steadfast and trustworthy.

And therein lies one of the fundamental ironies, and potential tragedies of the race, and of the coverage by the media. Concentrating on Hillary Clinton’s emails, like the Republican fixation on Benghazi for the purpose of bringing her down, is a trap that seriously detracts, if not obliterates, the much larger issue of Trump’s life of scams. Bluster defined as “gut” is ipso facto a lie, a deception, a dissembling, a ruse and a misnomer. Bluster, bombast, sensationalism, telling them to “go f---themselves,” breaking the rules, colouring outside the lines, while entertaining must not be confused, by the media or more importantly by the electorate, as “gut. And the failure of the millions of voters who demand a superhero, or whatever comes closest to their cardboard cut-out of a “strong man,” to discern their cartoon character from real courage, real fortitude, real strength in the face of almost imponderable odds and a seemingly endless parade of insoluble equations, while being aided and abetted by a corps of media deeply enmeshed in their career and reputational aspirations with their corporate overlords is and could be monumentally tragic.

“Head vs gut,” is an over-simplistic rendering of the presidential election’s complexity, something to which Meacham would undoubtedly agree. And I am confident that, if given the opportunity to elaborate, he could and would do so. And yet, given the current ethos pervading the airwaves, in which nuanced expressions of the complex realities, both inside the campaign, and outside in the geopolitical environment, are almost without exception begging for air time, (one obvious exception being Bloomberg’s and PBS’s Charlie Rose).

And with the proliferation of violent video games, (now a billion-dollar industry, designed and built and sold as machismo of the highest grade of testosterone available), and digital bullying becoming the abnormal “norm”….we are living in a time when violence, including the violence of black-and-white charges and counter-charges, even among and between former family and friends and the concomitant reductionisms, abounds.

And with that dynamic, the meanings of words, the deployment of words, and the comprehension of the detailed and fine-print meaning of those words is so loose and so wide open that Trump and his tribe are given a pass of epic proportions.
And, for her part, Hillary Clinton, ever the studious legal-beagle, dots every “i” and crosses every “t” and loses most people in the fog of her policy options. It is not that those options do not offer a roadmap on how she would serve as president; it is just that such a road map is providing “light” to a different “road” from the road the large cadre of malcontents think the country needs to travel. And unless and until her selling job on how she will make the lives of Americans improve over the next four hears catches fire, the “gut” argument, with all of its chicanery, seems poised for victory.
Flagrant “brainiacs” (and everyone from the president on down, including her college classmates, testifies to her brilliant mind) are so scary to those without a college education that even Trump has previously questioned Obama’s Harvard transcript, while one his professors at the vaunted law school called Obama one of the best minds he had even encountered in his long career. Furthermore, to stereotype the “egg-head” as ephemeral, pious, out-of-touch with the working class  and thereby unfit to serve as president is certainly a critique too nasty by half. But then, everything Trump does and says is “too nasty by half” and that “pose” has helped to carry him through a farce of a primary season in which he simply name-called and bullied his way over the withdrawn or wounded political corpses of his opponents.

“Too nasty by half” also is not a definition or a depiction of “gut”. It is merely a picture of a bully who will say and do anything to get “attention” and then use that attention to control the “news story” for the minute, the hour, and the day…..and then reverse course the next day, or hour, to garner some more free airtime.

And that is another of the many “rubs” of this election cycle, the scheming, deceiving, seduction by Trump of the media and far too many potential voters. Some political pundits, especially of the Republican stripe, call his behaviour ‘brilliant,” another misnomer, given that “brilliant” cannot be legitimately ascribed to such nefarious and narcissistic purposes, when the national heath and reputation are on the line. Al Capone, in that light, might have been considered “smart” as would Putin in some quarters for having sliced Crimea off from Ukraine, without retaliation other than a few economic sanctions. Today, Putin and Assad are both denying the attack on the Syrian aid convoy yesterday near Aleppo, while the whole world, including the Secretary General of the United Nations is convinced they are both implicated, if not exclusively responsible. And that is the kind of chicanery with language, with promises, with racist, homophobic, xenophobic and outright deceptive aims and methods that characterizes Trump’s whole campaign.

And to call that campaign “gut” (as compared with the “brain” of Hillary) only adds to the obfuscation of language and perception. Then on top of that obfuscation there is the obvious morphing into ‘conviction’ that Trump is “my candidate” by those who “swear” by his candidacy.

We do not need” gut(s)” of that kind running both the Kremlin and the White House; in fact such a prospect only serves to frighten the most seasoned veterans of geopolitical tensions and conflicts.

It is a change in the direction of Hillary’s brilliance from denouncing Trump to portraying herself, not merely inferentially (far too subtle!) but overtly as a captain of the ship of state in a direction that offers hope, without overpromising, and something akin to the contract announced today between General Motors and Unifor, their major union, that will see jobs and auto manufacturing brought back from Mexico to North America, even though the power to make such an announcement is outside the purview of the presidential candidates.

On the way to making a binary choice, the road is fraught with many twists, turns, potholes, fog, ice storms, blizzards and even optical illusions. And sorting out a safe, honourable and sustainable path to a decision one can not only live with but take pride in having made is not analogous to a World Wrestling Match or a UFC bet on a winner especially in the current blizzard of distortions, deceptions and lies. And, should the American public reduce their democratic right to vote to such a choice by voting for Trump, how could they then have any legitimacy in slamming Putin’s recent vote in which not a single opposition member was elected?

Control of the media, by threat, or by deception, duplicity and seduction and by manipulating the essential definitions of words aided and abetted by the Trump “tramps” (those talking heads who will say anything anywhere to get the attention on their candidate, to underline his “strong leadership (gut)” really another mask to “tyranny”.

Let’ call a spade a shovel, not a silver spoon. Let’s call Trump’s candidacy by its real name: a travesty and a tragedy. And let’s resist the temptation to buy into his “gut” knowing full well that another international and national dose of testosterone is the last thing the world’s many tumors and epidemics and slaughters need. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Reflections on the potential of reducing or eliminating violence

We are all tired of waking up to stories of violence and carnage:
·      in New Jersey just prior to a charity run yesterday,
·       in the Chelsea neighbourhood in New York city last night,
·      a knife stabbing in a small town mall in Minnesota
·      a mistaken attack on Syrian troops in Deir Az Zor in Syria by U.S. forces last night
·      a deadly attack on an Indian base in Kashmir by Pakistani forces yesterday
And who knows when and where the next headline will blow-up? The news is so focused on the minute by minute reporting of events, carried 24-7-365 around the world, that it is possible for many to perceive of the human condition as hopeless.
There is another side to the story of human violence. In a little book entitled, Peace Love and Liberty, edited by Tom G. Palmer,  Steven Pinker writes an essay whose title provides a lens on his data, “The Decline of War and Conceptions of Human Nature.” Pinker writes:
After a 600-year stretch in which Western European countries started two new wars a year, they have not started one since 1945. Nor have the 40 or so richest nations anywhere in the world engaged each other in armed conflict, In another pleasant surprise, since the end of the Cold War in 1989, wars of all kinds have declined throughout the world. Wars between states have become extremely rare, and civil wars, after increasing in number from the 1960’s through 1990’s have declined in number. The worldwide rate of death from interstate and civil war combined has juddered downward as well, from almost 300 per 100,000 world population during World War II, to almost 30 during the Korean War, to the low teens during the era of the Vietnam War, to single digits in the 1970’s and the 1980’s, to les than 1 in the twenty-first century. (p. 18-19)….
Human sacrifice was a regular practice in every early civilization and now has vanished. (p. 20)
Between the Middle Age and the twentieth century, rates of homicide in Europe fell at least 35-food. (p.20-21)
In a humanitarian Revolution centered in the second half o the eighteenth century, every major Western country abolished the use of torture as a form or criminal punishment. (p.21)
European countries used to have hundreds of capital rimes on the books, including trivial offenses such as sealing a cabbage and criticizing the royal garden. Beginning in the eighteenth century, capital punishment came to be reserved for treason and the most severe violent crimes and in the twentieth century, it was abolished by ever Western democracy except the United States. Even in the United States, 17 of the 50 states have abolished capital punishment, and in the remaining ones, the per capita rate of executions is a tiny fraction of what it was in colonial times. (p.21)
Chattel slavery was once legal everywhere on earth. But the eighteenth century launched a wave of abolitions that swept over the world, culminating in 1980 when slavery was abolished in Mauritania. (p.21)
Also abolished in the humanitarian revolution were witch hunt, religious persecutions, dueling, blood sports, and debtors’ prisons. (p. 21)
Lynchings of African Americans used to take place at a rate of 150 a year. During the first half of the twentieth century, the rate fell to zero. (p.21)
Corporal punishment of children, both institutionalized paddling and whipping in schools, and spanking and smacking in households, has been in sharp decline in most Western countries and has been made illegal in several Western European countries. (p.21)
Rates of homicide, rape, domestic violence, child abuse, and hate crimes have declined dramatically (in some case by as much as 80 percent) since the 1970’s. (p. 21)

So, in the short term, there continue to be eruptions of violence, especially resulting from the dramatic rise of the deranged terrorist insurgence. Yet, the panoramic historic landscape offers considerable hope.

Whether or not human nature has made the transformative changes that one would expect to accompany the shift away from various forms of institutionalized violence remains an open question for some. However, what comprises water cooler conversation, news reports, seems to reflect a shift at least in what the public will accept in the violence perpetrated by nefarious agents. The Biafra, Syria, Lybia and Bosnia stories, as well as the abduction of hundreds of young girls by Islamic terrorists known as Al Shabbab in Nigeria continue to haunt the world’s humanitarian and ethical promise.

Similarly, the regression in voting rights in many American states, as well as the spike in gun violence and drug deals, (including the death-by-overdose of hundreds if not thousands) in many urban ghettoes and the shootings of young black men by white law enforcement officers, and the continuing “dog whistle” race bating that punctuates too much of political rhetoric has draped the violence issue in somewhat “sophisticated” measures, without achieving the erasure of a kind of violence that still leaves many such as Barack Obama crying out, last night at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Dinner, “There is still much work to do to eliminate racism,” as well as to continue to reduce the incidence of violence.

In fact, with digital devices glued to millions of hands, there is now the capacity to unleash verbal assaults on anyone, anytime, for any reason, with impunity. So, with respect to the elimination of violence from the culture in the developed world, there is still a long way to go.

Yet, if the curve of history bends in the direction of reducing man’s inhumanity to man, then we can all take some comfort from that potential, if long overdue, journey to the top of the mountain of global peace.

However, it will take a seismic shift in the millions of individuals’ lives from the attitude and perception that “what I think or do or say really doesn’t matter” and the only way to achieve “peace, tolerance and acceptance of the other” is for our political leaders to take responsibility for their bombs and their missiles. 

However, if and when we all, each of us individually, come to the place where our language has been stripped of the contempt, and the revenge and the jealousy and the agency of violence that expresses those attitudes, and when our sense of what is possible excludes violence, including physical, emotional, sexual, religious and ethnic abuse, and those acts and attitudes are replaced by alternatives like compromise, negotiation, conciliation, arbitration, mediation and a firm commitment to “getting to yes” then, not only will the many  profound costs of violence be reduced.

If such a personal goal were to be adopted, taught, integrated and made operational in our schools, in our families, in our churches, and finally in our public and private institutions, then we might begin to glimpse the light of peace peeking like an early morning sunrise over the mountain of darkness and violence that has confounded centuries of humans.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

candy floss and hawkers vs. fresh fruit and veggies...Nov. 8 beckons

Spending an hour with Rachel Maddow last night turned the presidential race into nothing short of frightening.

That is not melodrama. 
The host played footage of the recent Alt Right convention in Washington D.C. in which various speakers proudly declared two things:
1     1)They are at root a racist organization seeking a pure white United States
2     2)They support and are supported by Donald Trump and his campaign for the presidency.

They have adopted a graphic of what they call a “smug frog” they call Pepe, as their logo and Ms Maddow’s team dug up a piece of video from a recent Hillary Clinton speech decrying the Alt Right in which, at a quiet pivotal moment, someone in the back of the room cries out “Pepe!” attempting to stick the finger of the Alt Right in Ms Clinton’s eye.

And these disclosures come on the same day that Trump attempts to wash his hands of the “birther” movement, his signal card in his rise to political prominence, by heading the racist sabotage that Obama was not born in the United States, and therefore was not a legitimate candidate for the presidency. Only rather than apologize for the racist defamation of Obama, he blamed Hillary Clinton and her 2008 campaign against Obama for starting the smear, just another of his many lies.

It is the same day on which the Black Caucus came out to the microphone to demand an apology from Trump to the president and to the American people for his racist “birther” movement. One by one they drew a deep line in the sand of American history, openly calling for the electorate, black, Latino, Asian, and white, not to walk but to run to the polls to defeat Trump. Cogently, these speakers, all of them elected members of Congress, pointed out that Trump would never have done to Romney, or McCain or any other ‘white’ candidate for president what he did to Obama. They called Trump sinister for having the gall to pin the birther movement’s origin on Hillary Clinton, in spite of the fact there is absolutely no evidence to support that claim.

As Ms Clinton put it, the Trump political rise started with his call for the president to produce his birth certificate, and even when it was produced, Trump was still not satisfied, demanding his transcripts from Harvard and pouring scepticism on the veracity of the birth certificate itself. Today, still, a majority of Republican voters believe that Obama was not born in the United States, illustrating how, if a lie is repeated often enough, there will be a large number of people who come to believe it.
And that fact, that people are gullible, especially to lies that tie in with their perspective on the world, lies that support and sustain their fears, and lies that complement their angst about whatever dramatic change has occurred, especially something as historic as the election of the first black president in the history of the union, is also at the core of the Trump campaign. It is not only outrageous statements, it is also complete fabrications and even threats that are the currency of the Trump campaign.

Yesterday too, Trump called for the disarming of the secret service detail attached to Ms Clinton “and then see what happens to her”…and afterward denying any threat was implied. (His statement was based on her proposal to restrict gun ownership.) For the last 120 days of a presidential campaign, candidates from the major parties are assigned secret service details, following the death of Robert Kennedy in the throes of his own presidential campaign in 1968.

Racism, lies, a tax scheme that demonstrably favours the rich, more lies, a wall to keep immigrants out, more lies, hollow promises, more lies, unveiling his new hotel amid the presidential campaign while committing never to use the presidency to grow his business, another blatant lie, cheerleading Vladimir Putin, while disavowing knowledge that he was appearing on a television show (with Larry King ) that would air in Moscow, another ruse, a shock of died hair to cover a bald head, another act of deception, encouraging the Russians to hack the emails of his opponent, denouncing the viability of NATO, denying the science of global warming and climate change….these are just a few of the many insults the Republican candidate for the most powerful office in the world has inflicted on the world, and especially on the electorate.

And, to add more insult to injury, he has done it all without a moment of shame, or remorse, or reflection, or retraction or even humility….of course no humility. It is at the core of his being that he demonstrates no humility, even breaking the accepted ground rules of no overt campaigning in the black church in Flint Michigan, and then having to be reined in by the female pastor.

And what is truly shocking is that the race is “tightening” with people around the country lauding his “take no prisoners” approach (right out of Pepe’s playbook), refusing to take in and to reflect upon the kind of presidency Trump would offer, and “straight talk” being considered “leadership” and not bullying…

Will yesterday be the watershed moment that wakens millennials, that turns suburban women away from Trump and back toward Clinton, that celebrates the entry of both Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders into the campaign as Clinton surrogates and that finally witnesses the sabotage of Trump by Trump in the eyes of a large majority of the electorate?

The debates, in ten days, will likely generate a “huuuge” audience, (with a nod to Bernie Sanders), giving the voters yet another opportunity to see through the façade of the most dishonest, the most deceptive and the most arrogant candidate, as well as the least prepared and least ready to commit to the kind of preparation needed to serve as president.

Can the Black Caucus, the First Lady, the President, the former president, the Vice-president, the military and national security establishment, the major newspapers and a large cadre of Republican leaders all united in their denunciation of Trump and in their support of Ms Clinton be enough to overcome the addiction of the American people to reality television, and the reality television candidate? Can this election demonstrate the strength of will of the American people to reject “fast food” for a “healthy diet” of political nourishment?

The girth that straddles television screens when the cameras pan many streets in urban centres across the land would only generate scepticism and fear and angst that the appetite for “sugar and salt” will continue to ‘trump’ the need for fresh vegetables and fruit.

That would be the “change” in this “change election” that would offer hope and health for the children and grandchildren of the electorate. It is, however, a very hard “sell” in a country awash in pink candy floss, effete blond hair, hollow promises and anti-hero fixation. And Ms Clinton will need all the help she can muster to overcome the cultural odds against her winning.