Friday, December 30, 2016

The post-truth world threatens both democracy and a healthy citizenry

I used to wonder about the relative importance of the literary theme, “appearance versus reality,” as it applied to the various novels, plays, poetry and even the short stories that found their way into the curricula of high school English classes. At the time, character and plot and setting did seem to be more obviously significant, and would, by inference, trump “appearance versus reality”.

Today, on the last weekend of 2016, I no longer wonder about the relative importance of the appearance versus reality theme.

Holocaust deniers, for starters, have always made my head shake, and my mind go numb. How is it possible to deny the deaths of six million Jews, and the maiming and wounding of scores more by people clearly identified as members of the Third Reich, including the Fuhrer himself? So indisputable are the facts that even Germany’s reputation has been forever tarnished by the legacy. Nevertheless, even today, more than a half century later, there are still court cases being waged by “holocaust deniers” whose apparent contempt for Jews subverts or buries their conscious perception and their receptivity to facts of history.

And, of course, there are among us, in every country and especially in the new Trump administration, “climate change deniers” whose intransigent clinging to economic arguments to generate and to protect “jobs” (translate: profits for their corporate friends and funders) once again subverts or buries their recognition of the massive mountain of evidence that human-generated carbon dioxide is destroying the ozone layer and directly impacting the world’s temperatures and threatening the survival of the eco-system as we know it.

In each and every dispute, there is always the “he-said-she-said” combat between different “realities” through which only a third party, dispassionate, detached and somewhat objective, can navigate and facilitate the process of a settlement. This is especially “true” when the levels of anger, betrayal and contempt are near the “ten” on a scale of 1-10.

In other places in this space, the case has been made focused on the generation of a massive new industry, the information/public relations/message doctoring/marketing/propaganda machine, statements from which have to be read, heard and dissected with increasing scepticism and even cynicism. So dominant and apparently conventional and integrated into the social consciousness and culture is this “machine” that much of what passes for “news” today is lifted, often without even the benefit of thoughtful and balanced editing, and then broadcast over formal news outlets, as well as a galaxy of websites. Governments, for example, have at least two versions of their formal acts: the legal/legislative/budgetary version and the political/public/vernacular/headline-focused. And the difference between the two “poles” is often so disparate that an interested and concerned citizen can be excused for mis-apprehending the import of the “facts”. So “clouded” or “encrusted” with what we call spin, depending on the source and its bias are many of the ‘stories that pass for water-cooler talk about public issues that one wonders if the public is not so taken for granted that public officials depend on both short memories and distorted perceptions of their “audience” to create and to maintain their public reputations and their public ‘stature’ such as it is.

And then there is the recent presidential campaign in which facts were so irrelevant and replaced by blatant ad hominum attacks to generate “emotion” (both positive in supporters and negative in enemies) that the public literally became lost in the cloud of dissembling.

However, there is still a world order to maintain. And that world order depends for its stability upon a mutual sharing of a precise and indisputable compendium of information, which “vault” will be increasingly under threat from the various contenders for world power and influence. Currently, the U.S. intelligence, supported and reported by sources like the New York Times, tells us that Putin and the Russian intelligence apparatus cyber attacked the information systems of the United States for the purpose of interfering and influencing the presidential election. Obama, after considerable pressure, has deported 35 Russian operatives living in the U.S. and closed two “estates” in which they lived and worked. He has also imposed sanctions on close contacts with Putin, while Russia has persisted (supported and reported by Trump and his ‘gang’) in pleading for “proof” of the validity of the U.S. charges.

On a different front, we see similar behaviour coming from the Obama administration and Netanyahu’s government in Israel over an abstention by the U.S. in a vote to condemn settlements in the West Bank. The administration maintains that their abstention is completely in line with the traditional position of American administrations back to Ronald Reagan, while Netanyahu maintains that the abstention is a stab in the back by its “ally” the United States. Allan Dershowitz, for one, the legal scholar and Israel advocate, who supported Obama’s two elections, expresses profound anger and betrayal by Obama for this latest decision. Just as in the Obama/Putin dispute, so too in the Obama/Netanyahu conflict there is the dynamic of statement-followed by denial. And, once again, the public ( in its various complex and disparate component parts) is left to ponder “truth versus spin”….just another way of “positioning” appearance versus reality.

And, not only are there disparate versions of reality on the surface, there are also the underlying and frequently unstated motives that prompt the public statements. Legal scholars have attempted for centuries to preclude any consideration of motive from the “evidence” considered by a judge and/or jury. However, a penetrating interpretation of the empirical evidence can and often does point to the “mental state” of the accused at the time of the occurrence. Speculation, or interpretation, or what some would call an “informed opinion,” is usually considered a reputable source for explaining to the public the various statements and acts of political actors. They too, however, all have personal opinions, often referred to as ideologies, depending on the situation, including and perhaps especially Supreme Court justices. So even in the reflections and the debates among jurists there are and are expected to be deep divergences of opinion, while, the justices, we believe, adhere to an agreed statement of fact.

It is this ‘statement of fact’ that is missing from more and more of the public concentration on public issues. And its absence, and the expectation that it will never be part of our collective consciousness, that does and will continue to cause deep angst. And our urgent pursuit of the “facts” amid the tidal waves of distortion, dissembling, lying, and statements from Orwell’s Ministry of Truth (1984), (the public ‘organ’ dedicated to telling the people what to believe, and possessing the ability and the responsibility to change their story at the behest of their “bosses”)….

With the election of Trump, America, and consequently the world, has taken a giant step toward a state in which propaganda replaces facts, in which facts themselves no longer are even an important component of the decision-making process of political leaders..(perhaps they never were and we were being seduced all along, although we certainly fought that potential with all our might for centuries). And this demise of a shared body of facts comes at a time when the news “reporters” are being shovelled out of major news rooms to reduce operating costs around the world as their corporate bosses watch the out-going tide of revenue from advertising.

And the resulting convergence of the dropping number of “fact” reporters and the dismissal of facts from our public discussions is a panorama of his dreams for people like Trump and Putin, never wanting to be constrained by the truth.

Truth-tellling, after all, is so restricting of a demogague’s dream of supremacy, of “making America/Russia/Phillippines/North Korea/Iran… (pick you country and your demogague) GREAT AGAIN!

And the critical observations, punditry and even water-cooler conversations based on a reasonable grasp and representation of the facts is one of the most important, if not the most important, weapons to preserve a public order that puts the elected officials dependent upon the will of the people.

Our will, informed by the facts, and our assessment of the motives of our ‘officials’ constitute the cornerstone of our national and international world order. And as we watch the flying charges and counter-charges of something proposing to be “fact” in a tornado of propaganda, we are losing our bearings.

It is as if our ship of state is and will continue to founder in a sea of storms, with each wind coming from a different source and all of them competing for our “trust”….and the ship’s radar, along with its connection to “mainland” have gone AWOL. The sky too is also charcoal black, leaving no cosmic reference points out of our conundrum. If we do not know where we are, and we do not know which direction we are facing, and we have no stars or moon helping us to reconnoitre in a universe whose control levers have been placed (somewhat by our own actions and failures to act) into the hands of the Putin’s, Trump’s Duherte’s, Kim Jung Il’s, Assad’s and whatever the Supreme leader in Iran, just to mention a few of the obvious “state” demogogues, without even making reference to the avowed terrororists, little wonder there is a global angst.
And, to think that the flow of “information” (verifiable and verified facts) in each of these realms has either completely dried up or is quickly drying up, we can only imagine the glee in the minds of each of these dictators, now beyond the reach of penetrating investigative reporters, with respectable podia from which to broadcast their nefarious plots. We may like social media, and we may be entertained by fake news, but make not mistake, when Trump says ‘computers have made it so that no one really knows what is going on’ (in reference to the reports of Russian hacking to influence the U.S. presidential election) he is consciously and deliberately adding to the ubiquitous campaign (both overt and covert) to sabotage the flow of legitimate information.

Without the constraints of an informed public, and an incisive and relentless army of truth-diggers in every country, and from many countries so that nations do not have to depend on the “controlled” and manipulated media of their own country, at least in the short run, the field will have been vacated, leaving the imposters (insofar as their commitment to anything but their own agenda and not to the public good) free to roam like the dinosaurs they are.

Never in my lifetime have news organizations like National Public Radio and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, both funded by private donations and government policy respectively,  been more important to the survival of access to reputable and trusted information.

And with the announcement that Barack Obama will dedicate his time after leaving the White House to the issue of re-districting, commonly known as gerrymandering, that process that Republicans have used in too many states to restrict voting among minorities and poor voters. This issue is just another threatening the full scope and depth of a thriving democracy. And for Obama’s commitment, in conjunction with his former Attorney General Eric Holder, the outgoing president will continue to make a positive impact on his nation, long after his formal departure.

Perhaps, with some of his ‘friends’ the two-term president might persuade the presidents of the various media conglomerates in his country, and those in similar offices around the world. Of the imminent danger to good governance, and to democracy from the atrophy of valid and verifiable information.

It is not only cyber security that threatens our democracy. We are also facing a scarcity of information, linked to a tidal wave of mis-information, that renders the concept of “engaged and informed citizen” eunuched, if not a relic of history. If we are going to be serious about never accepting the validity of the Trump presidency, and for many of that, that is really the only starting premise, we have to wage an all-out campaign for a vigorous and relentless access to independent public information.

The lies, exaggerated and bloated promises, mis-information campaigns and the masking of the truth, by calling voter restriction an initiative to counter voter fraud (when there is no voter fraud!!) to cover the bigotry that is its source, have been the primary, or perhaps exclusive offering on the menu of too many people magnetizing the news channels and the newsrooms.

Power corrupts not only the individuals “with power” but also the sycophants who consider personal tweets as significant as policy statements, and the confusion (conflation) is not either incidental nor insignificant.

In another life, I recall a Liberal “truth squad” sitting at the front of every campaign speech uttered by their Progressive Conservative opponent, John Diefenbaker, because the prairie courtroom lawyer was exaggerating his promises, and the bases for his policy positions. Both Liberals and Conservatives of that time would be rolling over in their graves at the prospect of fake news and leaders impunity in deploying their epic distortions. Not yet rendered grave-bound, we too would do well to take a page from their song-book, and roll not only our eyes, but our minds to confront what is a shared and malignant enemy of our mutual truth.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Reflections on Hannukah and Christmas Eve, 2016

“In the word question, there is a beautiful word - quest. I love that word. We are all partners in a quest. The essential questions have no answers. You are my question, and I am yours - and then there is dialogue. The moment we have answers, there is no dialogue. Questions unite people.” (Elie Wiesel)

Walking beside the river of thought, experience, insight and wisdom that comprises the lives and writings of Elie Wiesel and Martin Buber, I am always surprised and exhilarated in the joy, the freedom and the ecstacy of the encounter.

Wiesel, a holocaust survivor, recently deceased, did one of the most heroic and under-reported acts in twentieth century history. He returned to the podium in the Bundestag to speak from the same lectern used previously by the Fuhrer in an act of defiance, hope, promise and courage. Wiesel, through the instrument of his survival and the remaining years of his life, is and will always be a role model for succeeding generations not only of Jewish children but of children of all races and ethnicities. Clearly, his little body had compacted within its frame, its mind and heart a depth and range of emotion reserved for only those vessels capable of both appreciating the blessing and of sharing it with the world.

The quote above that points to the energy and the life-giving quality of the question fits beautifully with Buber’s notion that whenever and wherever the sacred “I” and the sacred “Thou” meet God is there. If you and I are simultaneously and synchronously sharing the exploration of the same essential question, if we are on a similar, shared “quest,” then we are united in a way unique to that pursuit. It is when either we diverge on the nature of the question, or come to the dialogue with a pre-conceived, static and rigid answer to the question that our “sacred” moment dissolves or experiences its own demise before the dialogue even begins.

·      What is the relationship between the purpose of life and the experience of love?
·      What is the purpose of a meaningful life?
·      What is the relationship between God and humans?
·      What is the optimum relationship between the genders?
·      What is the path to the reconciliation and collaboration between and among the various world faiths?
·      What is the role and purpose of the military arsenal already compounded by the world’s nuclear powers?
·      What part can history play in bringing the world to comprehending the true nature of shared demons, and their ‘de-fanging’?
·      What do sacred texts share as a common heritage and what methods of inculcating those beliefs and values among the young are worthy of critical examination beyond the reach of each faith community?
·      In a world divided against itself (as a house divided against itself) where are the existing bridges that need to be crossed, and what bridges still await their construction?
·      What have our parents and grandparents bequeathed to us that gives us strength and hope and courage in ourselves and in our shared future?
·      How have the poets, shamans and artists helped to birth the new explorations in science, medicine, law and faith in each of our cultures?
·      How can the world community expand and enhance the cultural, educational and fiscal underpinnings of the creative imagination?
·      What is the purpose and role of truth-telling in a contemporary world of dissembling?
·      Who are the characters from history, literature, the arts, the sciences and the law who have inspired their generation and succeeding generations?
·      Is there a God?
·      Is there an afterlife?
·      Is there a specific person designated to love each person?
·      What is the significance of human will and decision-making in our life?
·      How is evil conceived, experienced, thwarted or moderated?
·       How can we have peace, if turmoil is the common experience of each human soul?

The list of “quest” type questions is inexhaustible, circumscribed only by the range, depth and resilience of our courage to explore.
Birthing the questions, of course, requires a culture in which such midwifing is not only expected but also valued as normal. And clearly, most of the current secondary and post-secondary education at least in North America has been dedicated to the acquisition of skills, processes, procedures and the theoretical bases of those learnings, all with an overall purpose of securing a living wage, or better yet a considerably higher than average income. Questions that really permit and require continual exploration, dialogue, without necessarily coming to a final answer, in such a culture, are necessarily given little formal classroom time, with the possible exception of the philosophy or literature classes.

As the humanities fade from the curricular menus of many colleges and universities, with the silence compliance, or overt lobbying for their replacement with the skills required in a digital universe, the pool of students and scholars pursuing these questions grows exponentially smaller by the day. Many parents, too, are fully occupied with the multiple tasks of earning a living, guiding their children and pursuing a minimal social, cultural, religious experience. And many of them also will find the explorations of such questions in dialogue, without the expectation of “final answers,” to be a waste of time.

One of the cornerstones of a culture in which such dialogue is possible and celebrated, as well as pursued, is a profound acceptance of ‘not knowing’ and of being quite comfortable with ‘not knowing’. Even within  the range of many academic and scientific arenas, the ultimate practitioners continue to learn just how much they ‘do not know’ while continuing to practice their skills, talents, insights, curiosities and speculations. And whether their “questions” and “dialogue” is motivated by political or purely scientific reasons, those discussions, dialogues, are geared to pursue all feasible options, within the range of the experience and the imagination and the courage/vulnerability of the participants.

It takes great courage to accept vulnerability, the not knowing, on which such dialogue can only take place. And it is this bottom-deep vulnerability, at the core of human experience of having been drained of all pretense, of having been emptied of all sense of importance, and of coming to a total comfort and acceptance of that state of unknowing, that is the “sine qua non” of humility, and the potential for real sharing with the other. So there are two requisites in the “dialogue”: the perception that the questions have no final answers and that the participants are open to and comfortable with their own unknowing.

In so many circumstances, whether they are domestic, pedagogic, academic, spiritual, or economic/transactional, the exchanges are too often lopsided, with one person being the ‘one who knows’ and the other, ‘the one who does not know’. Information and direction are the primary contents of the communication. And most often, a solution to a problem, rendering the communication primarily one of function, not of the kind of unity envisioned by Wiesel in his “quest”.

It is the tilting of our culture toward the transactional, the functional that demonstrates to young people the benefits of “knowing” and the scarcity of not knowing. And, in so doing, perhaps through innocence or indifference, we participate in a kind of hierarchy that cannot and will not unite. It may provide short-term remediation, recommendation, or even a sharing of responsibility. However, it will not bring people together in unity of heart, mind, spirit and the ensuing community.

The questions that do not have answers, by their very existence, also preserve the mystery of life, the wonder and the awe that accompanies every new morning, and every new birdsong, every new smile, and every new encounter. When we remove our “assumptions” that we know how things are going to “be” or to develop, we open ourselves to the fullness of the moment, thereby allowing us to be fully present both to that moment and to the other with whom we share it.

At the root of theological reflection is the premise not only that there is no absolute answer and that none of us knows the ‘mind of God’.

On this first day of Hannukah, it seems appropriate to reflect on the wisdom, the insight and the spiritual counsel of Elie Wiesel, Martin Buber and the birth of new “light” in all of our lives.

Surely, Christians too would welcome the birth of new light and new life as the essence of the manger in Bethlehem, on this Christmas Eve 2016 when the darkness all around us is crying out for each of us to light the lights not only of the Menorah but the lights in our hearts and minds to the wonders of the universe and the wonders of each “other” in our path.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Abominable "fauxman" an insult to moderate evolved masculinity

There is a clear divide, not only among voters in North America and in Europe, but also between competing models of masculinity. Whether these divides overlap, or provide any valid explanation of the recent voting patterns is a matter for some debate. However, given the cultural fixation with gender, sexuality and individual rights, it is timely to reflect on the differences in perception, appreciation and validation of different masculinities.

Sociology and its sister, demographic politics, groups people, for the purpose of attempting to determine public attitudes, and the scope of relative acceptance/rejection of policy and process proposals. For our purpose, there are some archetypes that might be helpful here. The warrior archetype, for example, has served as the traditional, conventional and possibly even dominant role model for young men in North America for centuries. Although there have been several worthy initiatives to break out of this “mould’ (not a mis-spell), for many, both men and women, the archetype has provided “guidance” and direction, for men about how to “be a man” and for women, about how to “perceive masculinity”. And while there is and as always been a place of honour for some exercise of the warrior, (both for men and for women), as the only cookie-cutter to shape young boys and young men, this warrior model is highly reductionistic and restrictive.

 Old adages like a parent telling a young son, when he complains about being bullied at school or on the way home from school, “Go back and punch him out!” have been the norm, and they have been supported by both mothers and fathers. The idea behind the instruction is that, once the bully sees and feels the wrath returned upon his body, the bullying will stop. Don Cherry, former hockey coach, has made a rather profitable career espousing, cheerleading and trumpeting this retaliatory injunction, especially in regards to the “protection” it offers to the star players, from their ‘protectors’. Being a simple game, stars are expected to score goals, and pugilists to protect those who sell  tickets and fill arenas.

Physical muscle, as a symbol of all things masculine, is a sine qua non for some seeking to achieve respectability as “real men”. However, physical muscle, and the urge to deploy it, are a minimal expression, perhaps one on which to build a repertoire of additional ‘instruments’ including a vocabulary, a range of facial expressions, a series of body gestures and a reservoir of communication devices that carry a different but nevertheless also effective (sometimes even more effective) instrument of self-advocacy as the physical muscle. And here is where the rubber meets the road, in an evolving concept like masculinity.

And evolving is what is happening to masculinity, although not without its serious and perhaps even dangerous blow-back!

With the rise of feminism several decades back, and its own continuing evolution from radical to moderate and oscillating on that continuum, and its early “blaming” men for all things wrong with the lives of women, especially in North America, men quite literally vacated the playing field, in so far as gender politics is concerned. Both by default of men and by the aggressive assertion of women into public leadership roles, several institutions have evolved into a situation now almost dominated by women. Schools, for the most part, now proudly display female principals, and a large majority of teachers who are female. Graduate schools now proudly proclaim the majority of their students are female, in most North American universities. Female students have demonstrated their capacity to learn complex details, their capacity to withstand rigorous demands to continue and complete their education, and then to withstand the rigors of the professions. The world is  better place for this part of the evolution. Michelle Obama’s “live out loud” and “I am not coy, if I wanted (to run for political office) I would say it” approach in her recent interview with Oprah Winfrey demonstrates the value of much of this evolution.

And there is the president-elect. (It seems almost a denigration of the office to write that phrase!)

As a symbol of everything that is wrong with the masculinity he expresses, Trump incarnates lying and deception as one of the weapons in his arsenal of attack (and he attacks everything that moves, especially if it disagrees with him). He gropes women, and then hubristically boasts about his “conquests” (because I am a star and they will let you do anything), he projects himself and his “warrior” archetype into each and every global incident, without having the maturity and the patience and the trust to wait for the official investigations to determine the source of the terror incidents, in Berlin and in Ankara, just this week. As the epitome of masculine domination, tyranny and absolute power, he again hubristically rejects the daily intelligence brief, so essential in a complex and every-changing dynamic world, disparages the intelligence of American allies, and surrounds himself with men who, also “macho” examples of masculinity (Gen. Mike Flynn, Ambassador John Bolton, are just two examples,) prefer their own “conspiracy theories” to the truth of a situation.

After all, if one’s identity depends on absolute power, one cannot, must not, tolerate any truth that contradicts the theory of the personally-concocted conspiracy. Sitting alone on an island of self-generated “reality” renders one, ironically and paradoxically, disempowered, and not empowered, and these people want to believe.

So their (Flynn’s and Trump’s) self-generated “reality” and their absolute dependence on this thalidomide of real power is now about to be sitting in the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Oval Office respectively.

And the world complains merely about how the truth is subverted, aborted and denied by this gang of dictators. It is their assumption of a kind of masculinity that drugs them, and if they have their way, the rest of the world. However, we must not be deluded into thinking that their “brand” or definition of power is authentic.

The deepest and most dangerous irony is that this incarnation of masculinity is fundamentally based on deep and profound neurosis, perhaps even psychosis. Make no mistake, the great ruse of this past presidential election is that faux masculinity has triumphed, pandering to all the angry white men who, themselves, were so frightened and so weak and so neurotic, perhaps even psychotic, that they showed up in droves to vote for Trump. First, they were voting AGAINST Hillary.  How could they permit any woman and especially THAT woman to serve as their president. Trump maligned her character, through painting her as “crooked” and “weak” and “not up to the office” and “secretive”…these are the code words for the immature male expression of all things “girly”. And every man has either heard them or uttered them repeatedly. (I once purchased a Toyota  Rav 4 and American males dubbed the car, “the girly car.”)

And young impressionable men, and also many young women, will be deeply imprinted with this “model” of masculinity as one that is both normal and exemplary. And they will be misguided, just is the one living in this phony blue suit with the mandatory red tie.

Fearing immigrants, refugees, a woman president, the black vote (witness the campaign of state laws to making voting virtually impossible for the poor and black voters), and fearing government support through Obamacare, providing health care coverage to another 20+ million, even those with pre-existing conditions, because government can only screw up….and of course, fearing ISIS (but clearly not Putin, another incarnation of the “abominable fauxman” drowning in his own lies, while pumping his and his country’s pride with bombs, missiles and military misadventures (as a foreshadowing of what the world can expect from his mentee, Trump?), this fossilized form of masculinity, loud brash hollow promises, deceptions, shifting positions on anything and everything with the concentration span of a gnat, and the arrogance of a Pharoah, (not only by Trump himself but also among his ‘choir’ of acolytes)….this new masculinity can also be compared to the extremely vulnerable Goliath, heavily armed, and so caught up in his own “version” of the coming battle with a mere child, David, who held back, and terminated his life with a single shot.

Which David and which single shot will end this flirtation of the frivolous as they, drowning in their own fears, enhance the potential of ISIS attacks and enriched recruitment, following every vacuous tweet on every miniscule issue. How can one like Trump who is drunk on his own hubris, possibly distinguish between what matters and what doesn’t matter, when the only thing he can and will ever see is his own narcisstic reflection in his many mirrors?

Sadly, there are millions of men (and some women) who remain blind to the vacuity behind the golden locks, the hollowness of the “I alone can make America great again” cadence, repeated so often (as instructed by all previous propagandists and tyrant-pretenders) that most simply have to change the channel, or leave the room.
And the sycophants like Kellyann Conway, Rance Priebus, Newt Gingrich ( he could pardon anyone who needs it, to serve as part of his ‘court) are so enamoured with the mask of power, they echo the “master’s” chant.

Compared to what has to be the most evolved, mature, balanced and tempered president perhaps in U.S. history, Barack Obama, Trump is so unfit as to be unworthy of serving as president of the local chamber of commerce in any town or city in the nation.

However, cheered on by a mass of frightened and dangerous mostly male voters, this example of retrograde and repulsive masculinity in about to move into the oval office.
Setting manhood back at least a century, Trump will continue to frighten American allies, American enemies, and all those in between who are profoundly confused.

As for the men and women who are trying to explain healthy role models of masculinity and femininity to their students, all we can do is send our best wishes and hope they can provide enough distraction to keep their charges from imitating the new “leader”.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Is stopping Trump beyond our political will?

I am confident there are others out there who, in their own manner and in their own orbit, are calling for the world to remove Trump before he gets started. While there are apparently no laws prohibiting a president-elect from holding massive commercial interests, and blatantly and tyrannically refusing to put those businesses into a blind trust, and while there is no evidence that the number of votes cast in November elect anyone other than Mr. Trump, there is nevertheless, a small matter of the president elect’s insult, even brutal assault on the common decency of the relationship between the people and the White House to be considered.

Maybe his hubris keeps him from seeing such subtle realities, or from hearing the cries for his “deportment” to change, and his laser-like strangle-hold on the machinery of government. Surely it is that same hubris that calls serious intelligence reports about Putin’s direct interference in the election through Russian hacking, allegedly for the purpose of cutting Hillary Clinton’s campaign at the knees, “ridiculous” while Putin himself calls for “proof”. Yet in a alternate universe in which there are no “facts” only lies, denials and obfuscation, the obvious, if hidden, link between the Russians and Trump (witness the Trump choice for Secretary of State, a close friend of Putin and Friendship Award winner from the Russian government), and a dramatic rise in anxiety among European countries, not to mention the American people some of whom must be awakening to the truth that they have elected a political, social and ethical monster.
The underlying trouble with generating a state in which the letter of the law dominates most political thought and thereby imposes severe restrictions on the public conception of wrong.

While working in the U.S., I encountered a situation in which a middle-aged man died of what was believed go be cirrosis of the liver. His partner was also almost literally pickelled with alcohol. The two had been imbibing voraciously for decades, according to those who knew them. When I approached a social services worker about getting help for the surviving spouse, I was informed in rather abrupt terms and manner, there is nothing anyone can do, unless or until she hurts or kills someone. It seems the analogy fits the national conundrum of how to stop the trump coup!

So the question of her health, even as an act of grief support, was ruled out by the “law”. And so, the limits of the law are both real and often defying common sense.
Another life was going to have to be wounded, maimed, or even killed, before any public action was permissible under the law.

What are the extremes to which Trump will have to go, in order to invoke the wrath of the Senate and the House of Representatives, who, together, could bring articles of Impeachment against him? Are there legal minds far brighter and far more steeped in the constitutional history and the legal compendium of the last two-hundred-plus years than this scribe, who are already plodding through the case law, and the political history, with a view to finding that one or two slivers of light that could bring him down? Is there a fund, somewhere, taking shape, with an open trust account into which donations are already flowing, to imburse those lawyers?

A quick cursory look at the internet discloses buses in London and soon Berlin that are displaying “Stop trump” banners, Emily’s list a PAC that tried to stop him prior to the election has a website entitled “Bustle” whose purpose is to ‘help women stop Trump from entering the White House. News York daily papers are aiming some of their ink straight into the eye of the man, and his potential for devastation.

Nevertheless, his supporters are so emblazoned that they would only conduct an all-out attack on any group strong enough mount an effective “STOP” campaign.
And there is mounting evidence of the dangers of a Trump presidency.

The government of the Philippines, under dictator Duerte,has appointed a Trump business partner as their official government representative to the United States. He has already cut millions of dollars in cheques to the Trump family. Meanwhile  the president-elect has also expressed unbridled praise for the dictator’s killing of some 4000 drug addicts. (This information emerged from the MSNBC AMJoy program this morning, from Kurt Eichenwald, Newsweek, one of Joy Reid’s guests.) Already, there are signs that foreign governments are lining up to pad the bank account of the businesses bearing the trump banner. It is not a stretch of one’s imagination to consider that terrorists are also taking aim at the many foreign and American holdings of the trump empire. And this theme is only going to grow stronger with more evidence of foreign powers attempting to gain favour with the new administration, while lining the pockets of the trump vault.

And while both Senators Elizabeth Warren and Senator Barbara Feinstein are working on a bill to activate and enforce the emoluments legislation to confront Trump’s multiple conflicts of interest, there is so little likelihood that a majority in both houses dominated by Republicans will ever agree even to entertain such bills.

It will take a tidal wave of public protest, led by thousands, if not millions of activist citizens, to mount such a political wave of protest/opposition/militancy/editorial ink and public debate to which the Republicans cannot turn a deaf ear or a blind eye. And, along with the Democrats, even a few honourable, courageous and independent minded Republicans willing to put the cause of the country ahead of their personal political career, including membership in the Republican Party can form a majority calling for impeachment.

I never believed I would ever find myself supporting such an historic and turbulent movement as the impeachment of an American president. And yet, never have the honourable aspects of American history been so overturned, and continue to be threatened under the total demagogic domination of this person.

He refuses normal tradition and normal political expectations like releasing his tax returns, and the media, along with the public lets him move on, making more distracting headlines to cover for his omission. He did the same thing this week, December 15, his own announced date to declare in a Press Conference, the details of the divestiture of his business interests from his presidency, another honourable tradition and expectation of the country, based on its honourable history. Rather than hold the press conference, now postponed until January, his “highness” hosted a string of public figures, NFL retirees, Kanye, and made television appearances, at least with Kanye, telling the world ‘he is a good man,’ and ‘we talked about life’…all of which was reported, as if they belonged on the desk of national media editors in the scheme of events falling like a new form of hurricane of chicanery, deception, and survival techniques for which this man has a full repertoire, and the skills of a Barnum and Bailey huckster.

And of course, to any respectable editor, they do not matter, except that every editor knows that, without the ratings that cling to every tweet and every “on-camera” appearance of the “Great Man” s/he will not hold the editor job very long.

And so, with the public sucking up the kool-aid, and the media acting as sycophant bar tenders sloshing the inebriating menu across the national bar, (the alcohol content far surpassing the .08% intoxication rate) as the whole country imbibes in the largest and most tragic orgy of political manipulation, including the dissing of the Russian/Putin intervention to distort the result of the election, including the positioning of cabinet members who have been engaged in the hypothetical destruction of the very secretariats they now are slated to head.

This is the beginning of a monstrous political coup, by a master manipulator who has so easily and so blatantly seduced the country into insouciant compliant with the greatest political tragedy not only of the twenty-first century but of the history of the nation.

Critical thought has been drowned by the intoxicated votes of enough voters to threaten not only the democracy of the United States, but also the very lives of millions of citizens of the planet.

And the world watches, drinking in the headlines just as it watches unconscious to the devastation pouring blood, broken bones, and devastated dreams (except those of Assad and Putin) in Syria, seemingly impotent, and seemingly too drunk on the thrill of the spectacle.

Has entertainment/reality television completely replaced public order, good government and what once prided itself as the greatest democracy in the history of western civilization? It seems the answer is a clear and unequivocal YES!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Are we sustaining the "warmth" needed for the soul of the child?

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. (Carl Jung, brainy quote)

He paused in mid sentence, in the middle of a grade twelve class on MacBeth, “Oh look! That little sparrow is so beautiful, so delicate, so interesting and so amazing!” He walked closer to the classroom window, as all thirty of us turned our gaze out the window in shock, surprise, wonderment and innocence. How could we know then, back in 1958, that the moment would still be fresh in our memories, and deeply embedded in the vault of those experiences for which we are truly grateful, nearly sixty years later? Of course, we couldn’t and wouldn’t appreciate the spontaneity, the wonder, the glee, and the profound joy of that moment for that man, until long after his death, and long after our many graduations, commencements, trials, errors, triumphs and disasters. (For those who shared this moment, the man's name is Ken Fulford.)

That little sparrow would come to mind when we read Keats, ‘if the chickadee is plucking gravel on the window sill, I am plucking gravel with the chickadee.’ It would come to mind when we saw our first cardinal, our first oriole, and our first blue jay. And the smile on that teacher’s face, the glint in his eye, as he unpretentiously and unceremoniously guided his students beyond their little worlds, without their even being aware of what he was doing. That little sparrow would also come to mind whenever we were presented with another picture of the fragility of existence, a newborn baby, a struggling palliative patient, a wounded deer, or a recently divorced mother. Naturally, that little sparrow would jump into a tree on a landscape canvas in an art museum, as our bridge to the artist’s creative imagination. It would also leap off a branch with the blue jay that just startled us in our drive through the forest, as we delivered the mail.

And, intimately linked to that sparrow is the man, the teacher, whose bald head, broad smile, resonant baritone and rumpled brown leather brief case and wrinkled grey suit jacket would accompany every class in which I participated as instructor or as student for the rest of my life. His dilapidated green Mercury car would also careen around many curves on many mornings, reminding one of how he incarnated the absent-minded professor archetype, late as usual even for work.  Inspiration, you see, does not always come from  big shiny BMW cars, or Hardy Amies suits. In fact, there is more likelihood that a young person will recall, almost indefinitely, a warm, supportive and connecting moment, made by someone s/he knows and trusts, than some shiny object or symbol of wealth worthy mostly of merely a passing glance.

Other moments, of equal warmth creep back into consciousness:
·      an invitation to Father’s night at the local Rotary Club, when I was a mere strappling of eight or nine, by a man who had (I learned later)  been a close friend of my paternal grandfather who was deceased before I was born
·      a dry comment from the grocery story boss at my first “real” job, as I panted an attempt to lift a case of Carnation milk from the basement to the landing half-way to the store level, “that must be Atkins with all that panting!”
·      an invitation to an all-star Squirt hockey tournament in Collingwood, in the early 1950’s where “artificial ice” was in place (Our town had only “natural ice”….rather undependable and unpredictable)
·      a handful of invitations to perform a piano solo at local Lions and Rotary Club Ladies Nights
·      a welcome to intern in a local law office midway through undergrad, opening a previously closed door to students to experience the law
·      an invitation to ‘co-host’ the annual campus formal at Western in 1962, featuring an unknown band from CBC, led by Chico Valle, and the campus newspaper ear that greeted the announcement “Who the hell is Chico Valle?”
·      a private moment with a favourite English professor, after an especially poor examination, in which he inquired, “This is the most confused piece of writing I have read of your’s…do you want me to give you the credit or not?
·      a recommendation from a college friend to do a qualifying year, and then law school….a suggestion I did not follow.

There is this thing about connection, about warmth, about appreciation that once seemed more prominent, frequent and without strings attached. What has happened that these exchanges seem so far apart, so infrequent, so missing from our daily lives? Is it the notion that we have slipped into a pattern in which we, and all those near us have morphed into functions, and ‘who one is’ has faded under the weight of ‘how one performs’…

We still encounter people in the shopping centre, in the mall, at the food court, at the doctor’s office, with rarely a word being exchanged. How we execute whatever it is we “do” in our lives, and how successful we are (based on a conventional curve of dollars, linkedin connections, facebook “likes” and twitter ‘friends’) is a matter of some import, although in previous lives, conversations were more about shared experiences of movies, or books or even the weather….

Today, not so much!

If we have conversations at work, they are usually encased in a veil of circumspection that reminds us to be ‘careful’ and to be ‘politically correct’ and to be calm without raising our voice, and to be non-confontational even if we are talking about a matter completely outside the work place. And the limit of those exchanges usually runs to about 30-45 seconds, permitting them to be and to remain detached, disconnected, and merely expecting  minimal amount of participation.
In addition, there are often many interruptions as people check their cell phone, receiving or sending a text to or from a ‘significant other’…It is not only a matter of distraction; it is also a matter of not having to engage with another for any extended period, as if to engage would be too invasive, too demanding and too intense for an off-hand experience.

Little wonder schools have had to put boundaries around the use of tech devices, in order to focus the attention of students on the subject at hand.
The other intrusion is the underlying and not-so-incidental issue of personal security. This is an issue our culture seems almost fixated upon, and the fixation is not merely a curb in our blind walking. It is an impediment to our need for socializing, for warmth, for connection and for community.

And, as Martin Buber reminds us, from his perspective, our greatest sin is our failure to acknowledge every person’s deep need for community. There is no research that I know of that examines the degree of dependence of personal creativity and human warmth. In fact, there is a cultural and conventional argument that some would make that warmth (translate: human emotion, human compassion, human empathy, human connection) are the very stuff that impedes productivity, and complicates the healthy (translate: objective, detached, professional, rational and calm) climate in most interactive exchanges.

That grade twelve English teacher would be a highly complicating intrusion into our disconnected world; he would continue to scan the horizon for the unexpected sparrow, and he would remain open to the bizarre and the unconventional in a world saturated with its own fixations at a stampede of minimal stimuli, as if those stimuli could be translated into relationships.

What are the musical, artistic, unexpected experiences that imbed themselves in our individual and our shared memory and through that sharing become part of our collective consciousness?

It is the obvious erosion of that collective consciousness that seems to emerge from our multitude of stimuli minus the connections and the melody on which that collective consciousness is energized.

I miss both the English teacher, and the sparrow. And I long for a time when our grandchildren will have similar opportunities, not only for the acquisition of skills and competencies, but also,  and more importantly, for the warmth that nurtures our creative imagination, our collective memory and our civilization.

We are participating in a kind of slide toward a destiny previously un-mapped and certainly not one for which we are prepared. It is not only the threat of an alternative reality, and the potential manipulation of that “ unreality” and the people in it by people like Trump and Putin that we face. Nor is it just the threat of a planet overheating and flooding coastal regions and threatening eco-systems and their flora and fauna; it is also the convergence of an accelerating change in technology and the cumulative stresses and erosions of all those dynamics on human beings and both their capacity for and their willingness and determination to seek out and to express, in an uninhibited manner, their deepest emotions and their reserve of warmth that, in the face of the other disconnectedness, could conceivably push us into a struggle for  survival that, even in a limited envisioning, will not be “pretty”.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

205 BILLION Tonnes of raw sewage dumped into Canada waterways in 2015!

So much of what we “do” in this space could justifiably be termed “tilting at windmills” given the minimal or non-existent empirical results of our labours.
And like any muscle that is “used” (to avoid atrophy) it becomes a thing we can do, in spite of its seeming innocuous impact. So here goes another “tilt” at a Canadian headline and its import.

The headline is that some 205,000,000,000 (that’s billions) tonnes of raw sewage was poured into our lakes, rivers and oceans in a single year, 2015. Beaches are contaminated, living water creatures are suffering and dying, and our reputation as an “enlightened” nation is being dealt a body blow. While first ministers squabble over a carbon tax, to limit CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, as Canadian poet Earle Birney reminded a high school audience of grade twelve students, back in the 1970’s, “We are going to drown in our own shit!”

And, upon the release of the headline, of course, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, says it is not ok to have this amount of raw sewage dumped into our waters, and the government has committed some $2 billion for infrastructure projects, to build sewage treatment systems. However, like so many other “significant” files on the national agenda, as the Federation of Mayors and Municipalities says, it will take some $18 billion to fix the problem. That is roughly a gap of some $16 billion or about the cost of 2 F-35 Fighter jets!!

And then there is the deficit in housing, schooling, affordable access to quality health care, clean water supply for First Nations communities, another deficit of some $6-10 billion, the cost of another F-35 fighter jet.

Is there something wrong with this national picture? In a word, “Yes!”

Arthur Lower, the former history professor/writer/thinker from Queen’s University, wrote that Canada “muddles” through, as a cornerstone of its political modus operandi. Muddling gives those in office the opportunity to begin from a premise that most people have short memories, that the press can mount only a short-term wave of protest, that the resources of the private sector to fight regulatory law suits far outweighs the patience of the government and the people for such fights (considered by many a waste of public monies) and that a legacy for a prime minister and his/her government that mediates many of the files is adequate for a renowned “place in Canadian history”. As Canadians, anything “outside the box” is to be avoided at all costs, including governing with a perspective of actually finding a way to close some of the big files, through successful, cost-effective policies, programs, monitoring and enforcement.

Let’s for simplicity call it papier-mache government, a kind of movie-set of statements, events, bills, debates, town-halls, and the occasional “Bill of Rights” first followed a few decades later with a “Charter of Rights” demonstrating that our commitment to human rights is both historic and permanent. And, for that file, we can take some pride. However, when anyone listens to stories about residential schools, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report, or the stories of individual aboriginal Canadians, even those bills paper over a deep reservoir of racism, contempt, second-class citizenship and a history of “muddling” without more than micro-incremental progress.

And the conventional, baked-into-the-cake Canadian position is that there are so many files needing attention that we simply cannot attend to them all at once. In fact, each file has its own “time” or “season” in the public consciousness, as outlined in Ecclesiastes, Shakespeare and in other more formal research into political science.
And yet, leadership on a file like pollution from raw sewage, for example, needs more than a gentle nudge from as many quarters as possible,  including the federal government. Millions are spent on the new “public opinion polls” telling the government “where the public is at” on any issue. And, although there are “radical” leaders outside of government, (Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians, for example) few such intense and committed leaders will walk into the stagnant waters of government bureaucracy, public relations, vote-getting, fundraising, and “followership” to the public mood.

Nestle’s money/water grab in southern Ontario, for example, ($2.17 for a million litres of fresh water) seems disconnected from the issue of 205 billion tonnes of raw sewage dumped into our waterways. And, so long as the media covers the issues separately, and the government continues to “manage” the files as if each were a silo, and only impact each other through the allocation of funds, then the impact on water tables of the dumping of raw sewage with remain either hidden or unknown from both the public and the government itself.

Headlines, just like tweets, do not a government mandate make. Neither do they comprise a clarion call to citizen-awakening, the kind of call that generates a public response of lasting import. We can all wring our hands over the water cooler, clench our fists in disgust at this or that government leader for his/her arrogance, stupidity, self-serving narcissism, ambition or even affluence. None of that will, however, bring a government to “heel”. And heeling is no longer only a matter of significance if and when the country “goes to war”.

The conditions under which such a model of government have changed so much that the war, rather than being primarily military, with hard weapons and intelligence, is now one of survival, planetary survival. And that agenda demands not only a different “management approach” to the files of government. It requires an all-out assault on all of the self-sabotaging evidence that pours across our screens and our mind’s eyes, not merely as a “significant priority” but as the primary priority.

We have to start thinking about sacrificing a few fighter jets, missiles, military vehicles and recruitment initiatives in favour of a load of monitored and supervised cash to public projects that clean up the mess we are leaving on the floor of the “kitchen and the living room and the family room” of our planet. If these stories about dumping of raw sewage, for example, were being written about the mess in our homes, we would have the public health department evicting the residents of such a home. And we would all applaud such evictions. Trouble is, so far, we cannot evict a government without a national election. And then, all of the “conventional” approaches, restrictions, inhibitions, repressions and the impress of the avoidance of anything that looks radical come into the play with the next government.

It is a radical cultural shift that is needed, not of the kind envisaged by Trump, which could easily lead to more poverty, desperation, the obliteration of human rights and even military conflict. We need a radical shift in how we perceive our relationship to our own government, from distant and occasional observers, the infrequent rant, the occasional letter to the editor, and even the occasional cheque to a political party. We need to read and to discuss and to join movements like the Council of Canadians, if we are to make a measureable and needed difference in protecting our environment, in the reduction of the power and influence of our corporations, in the advocacy of aboriginal rights (and opportunities!), in the protection of workers, and in our relations to weakening international bodies like the United Nations.

We need to see that although ISIS and AlQaeda with very few recruits, relatively, have inflicted so much death and destruction, they have demonstrated the capacity of individuals to exercise influence, just as the “fake news” terrorists have. Adapting the new social media technology in the service of worthy, shared and also threatened human and cultural values is a step so far needing more energy, imagination and resources.

Dumping 205,000,000,000 tonnes of raw sewage is not only sickening, even killing, it is also a human and national disgrace. And there no single Canadian who has not and will not continue to contribute to that “dump”. And, similarly, each Canadian has a role to play in stopping the “dump” sooner and more effectively that the government’s $2 billion envisages. Let’s see if that dollar figure could not become at least $10 billion, with new and creative monitoring and shepherding measures to ensure full value for money in the public projects.

Let’s at the same time, squeeze all the “pork” out of each and every government contract for all the infrastructure and all the sewage treatment projects, demonstrating that government can re-invent itself in both which programs it funds and in how it accomplishes those program goals.