Tuesday, September 26, 2017

History is more than 'silly putty' to be shaped by egomaniacs in their own image

The “power” of elected or appointed office, and the “status” of income, personal address, wardrobe, executive title are too often misused by those who are convinced they possess such power and status. In small towns, elevated “position” and elevated “income” are often ascribed/worn/claimed/flaunted by the same people.

And it is not only through their attitudes, actions and words today that they abuse their power; their influence has written most of the history books read and studied by young people in schools. It has also generated the myths of “status and culture” that are passed down from generation to generation. Their legacy in entombed in the names and the bills and the buildings and the athletic stadiums, the performing arts halls, and the graduate schools, especially the business schools bearing their names. The appropriate and conventional public attitude to such benefaction is extreme gratitude. And to some degree, these facilities might not exist, except for their donors, even if the donations are undoubtedly tax deductions.

One of the more noxious examples of the unwarranted abuse of power came in a memo from then Ontario premier, Mike Harris, to the scholar at Queen’s charged with writing the next edition of the grade 9 history text for Ontario schools. According to the memo, no accomplishments of women, labour or indigenous people were to be included in the text. I recall feeling shocked and incredulous when I first learned about the memo. My naivete and innocence precluded my previous embrace of such a directive.

With the rising public tensions over public statutes, like the one over the statute to Cornwallis in Halifax, and the several Confederate monuments in the U.S. South, the issue of how “privilege” dominates not only on the stock market, and in the corporate board rooms, in the university boards and institutional trusts, and also how that influence infuses the tone, the words, the images and thereby the myths on which we are raised.

This weekend, trump, having no other more pressing issues lying in piles on his Oval Office desk, urged NFL owners to fire those players who knelt during the playing of the national anthem, since he considers such defiance an act of disloyalty to the realm. Of course, players, coaches and even owners responded variously by kneeling, linking arms, absenting their whole teams from the field until the anthem ended and generally thumbing their nose at the president’s attempt to divide the league. (Let’s not forget that the first NFL player to protest how blacks are treated especially by law enforcement in the U.S., Colin Kaepernink, has been black-balled by the league and no team has found it in their moral or ethical compass to offer him a contract, even when they needed a quarterback.) And then, after witnessing the defiance of his intrusion into league deportment, for trump to declare that the issue “has nothing to do with race” is such a complete perversion of the facts to suit his need to control history that it casts an additional layer of contempt on the president.

In their attempt to minimize the complexities of conflict in their departments, some executives declare (blindly and boldly) “We are starting from today, and everything that has happened in the past is to be wiped off the desk as if it never happened.” As if to reduce human beings and their evolving issues (including personnel issues) to a single slice of a cell on a microscope plate, in order to analyse the component parts, in sterility and from the perspective of complete control, these men and women are committing a very serious mistake, both in their assessment of reality and in their potential to “fix” the problem.

History refuses to comply with such reductionisms. And for that we can be thankful. Just as trump’s “cause” has been reduced to “respect for the flag” (after he has shown such exaggerated contempt for the American judicial system, the State Department, the Health and Human Services Department, the Housing and Urban Development Department, The Director of the F.B.I., and the dignity of the Oval Office) the issue of racism refuses to be silenced.

History, of the kind that journalism begins, and scholars dig deeply into the archives, the documents and more recently the video and digital archives to find, has attracted many of the best minds in all generations. Revisionist history comes from public “information” departments in government, or from the public relations arms of political parties and corporations. Some scholars have seen history as coming from a variety of academic perspectives: economic, geographic, single human agency (the strong man/woman, either shaping events or being shaped by events into the leader s/he became), religious, ethnic, political, scientific, or perhaps cultural. In a recent column in truthdig.com, Chris Hedges references Nietsche’s reflection on three varieties of history: monumental, antiquarian, and critical.

The first, monumental, focuses on the monuments that have been erected to laud and honour certain individuals or their ‘historic’ contributions. Apparently, a revision of their respective ‘contributions’ is taking place across North America, as specifics of some of their negative and nefarious traits are surfaced from a new and more critical perspective. Antiquarian history, the kind that is removed from context, supports the “ancestry” movement, and the filling in of empty lines on family trees. There is no attempt to discern the conditions under which those names made choices, moved from place to place, attended which schools, or entered which occupations, nor suffered from which diseases, nor belonged to which groups or political parties. Both ‘monumental’ and ‘antiquarian’ categories of history pale in their complexity to Nietsche’s third: critical.

And in a time when power is so ubiquitous, money and status so redolent, and reductionisms to favour personal bias so permitted and present, critical history suffers a kind of daily pumelling, if not by direct hits, then certainly by glancing blows, most of which are unnoticed except by those professional practitioners whose focus is the preservation and the elevation of the best standards of the “historic” pursuit.

Ironically, it is only through the lens of the “critical” historian that we can better grasp the full reality of where we are, when we are, how we got here, and how we might extricate ourselves from our worst and most dangerous entanglements. Calling the disclosure of “critical” assessments of current or past public events “fake news” will never obliterate their truth, nor eviscerate the inherent motive for truth that underpins human existence. The diligence of courageous reporters, and the unqualified support of editors who can and will continue to discern facts from bullshit (propaganda, political opportunism, distractions, and the many other techniques to paint mascara over their errors deployed by the powerful), along with publishers who are unaffected by the taunts and the threats to withdraw advertising dollars because of unfavourable coverage are pillars of democracy that we must never take for granted.

Critical history, also, cannot and must not be replaced by monumental history, nor by antiquarian history. Comedian Stephen Colbert’s retort to trump’s ‘taking the knee has nothing to do with racism’ in these words, “that’s like saying Gandhi’s hunger strikes were a protest against snacking”….qualifies in the current context as “critical history”….and there is an insatiable need and appetite for critical history.

We have already suffered enough through the lies, cover-ups, distortions and denials of ‘significant’ people including:
·      both Holocaust and Global warming deniers, political decisions to “improve health care for all” under the guise of a tax cut for the rich, and also a
·       promise to “fix” everything by a man whose history is to have torched everything he ever touched
·      a promise to restore coal jobs to miners who have lost them, when everyone knows that is another cotton candy ‘delivery’

Sadly, the list is growing weak under the weight of its own lies….and there is no sign of a let-up in the pattern before 2020, when we can only hope that an authentic person with at least a modicum of integrity will find and receive the support of the American people.

Written in the 1958, a novel entitled “The Ugly American” by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer depicts an American ambassador to Southeast Asia whose powers of discernment allow him to see the conflict he is there to help resolve as one between communism and democracy. By the time he is able to see a more nuanced and complicated “reality” it is too late. The Peace Corps was established, in part, as a Kennedy response to the novel, aimed at portraying and displaying a much more effective and responsible voice and face of America in foreign lands. Ambassador MacWhite, from the novel, would likely have a more reasonable and nuanced perspective on the issues facing the Oval Office today than the current occupant.

So, from the perspective of north of the 49th parallel, one has to ask, “Have the Americans really elected the archetype of ‘the ugly American” as an expression of the collective ugliness of their country? Co-incidentally, daily I am one of several cars that line up for a ferry from an island in the St. Lawrence River, to return to the mainland. The island lies between the U.S. and the Canadian border, and just a few minutes ago, while turning the corner to board the ferry, I found an American tourist cutting into the line in his motorhome.

I was so strongly tempted to get out and tell him I was confident he had voted for trump…although my instinct for getting home unscathed prevailed. As a young boy, I lived and worked in a town overrun by American tourists, and in those many years, I encountered none of the brash rudeness of today’s encounter, nor the simpleton reductionism of MacWhite from the novel.

A critical ‘take’ on history is necessary not only historians, journalists, editors, ambassadors, legal scholars and especially the occupant of the Oval Office. Anything less than a substantive grasp of the truth of the past, the complexity of human beings and their legendary issues, the capacity to continue to learn and debate issues from a variety of perspectives, ideologies and intellectual files as well as the insight to accurately and honestly reflect on the calculus of each potential option in every situation….these comprise a minimum list of requirements for the most important office in the world. And the current occupant fails on each account.

It took Obama to begin to restore America’s good name and reputation following the debacle that was George w. and his war in Iraq. It took John F. Kennedy and Sergeant Shriver (Kennedy’s appointee to generate the Peace Corps) to begin to rebuild America’s good name and reputation following the Burdick/Lederer novel. Following WWII, the Americans mounted the Marshall Plan, to help rebuild devastated towns, cities and factories in Europe.

What will it take to heal the cancerous tumor that is infesting the American ship of state in 2017, and likely for at least the next three years?

Tweeting about flags, monuments, crooked Hillary or any of several other opponents (the appetite for targets is so demonstrably insatiable that it suggests a wild man in a shooting gallery with never enough targets to take out) is so reprehensible and so ugly and so despicable as to paint the American “face” with gothic and threatening paint, every day, without the playfulness of Hall’o’ween….

The world’s foundational grounding in a common, shared and credible, if often tragic, history is being eroded minute by minute and the process is deliberate, willful, co-ordinated and cumulative…and all of it destined to burnish the apple of the reputation of a single dangerous man…..Is there anyone else who is both shocked and now growing more frightened by this spectacle that seems unstoppable?

Friday, September 22, 2017

A first step to levelling the playing field from centuries of colonialism...Justin Trudeau at the U.N

Prime Minister Trudeau hit a home run in the General Assembly earlier this week with his historic speech of atonement for the century-plus abuses of colonialism against the indigenous people of Canada. Of course, words alone will not bring a full measure of justice for the innumerable wrongs First Nations people have, are and will continue to endure. However, to take the podium in New York and to acknowledge the black hole that is Canada’s history on this file, and to risk the derision, scorn, jealousy and even contempt of world leaders and the home media suggests that the man is growing into the potential of his elected office.

As he correctly and appropriately pointed out in his address, this is not merely about righting those deplorable wrongs in Canada; it is also about focusing the world’s attention on the serious power abuses that are intrinsic to colonialism, a pattern and a history that is endemic to empires, dominions, satellite clusters of countries and the proposition that dictators can dictate the lives of people in their sphere of influence.

Whether colonialism is at the root of political empire building, or corporate aggrandizement, or religious dogma and domination, or financial buy-outs and mergers in which the most powerful take control of the playing field regardless of whether they offer the most effective, the best-designed and built, the most efficient or the most ethical products or services, top-down hierarchies that are indigenous to colonialism, like behemoths, proliferate the planet.

In the Canadian context, for a government, after 150 years of insouciant racism and avoidance of responsibility for the lives of the original people (who claim to have been here  for 15,000 years), to take the first step in a long-overdue journey is not only a monumental shift in national priorities; it is also so complex and encumbered a prospect that it will not be completed in the life of the current federal government, nor in the life of succeeding governments for the next century.

Clean drinking and bathing water inside safe and hygenic housing, safe and competent schools, access to effective health care and most importantly work with dignity…these are achieveable and measureable targets, dependent only on the vision, the will and the commitment of national leaders, in collaboration with indigenous bands and their respective leaders. A system of indigenous justice, designed and implemented by indigenous elders, along with the national observance of land treaties, and the implementation of those clauses that require shared planning, shared design and shared compensation from natural resource extraction, refining and distribution projects.

 Individual human rights and dignity, along with a profound respect for the environment (land, air, water) as honoured by indigenous people are all potential gifts from that community to the broader national community. And the sooner the national consciousness embraces this reality, the more healthy will be the lives of all Canadians.

And then, on the world stage, there is no country on the planet that has not, and does not still have to face a colonial history, with the so-called major players in North America and Europe being the originators and the sustainers of colonialism while many of the countries in the developing world are still struggling to get out from under the binding ropes and chains of their colonial masters. And the implications of this power imbalance continue to plague the world community, from processes that would acknowledge the monstrous effluent being emitted by developed countries and their corporation and the legitimate demand that those countries offset the costs of pollution control in the developing world, to the deplorable imbalance in arms production, sales, proliferation and the political implications of that implicit and “imposed” injustice.

It is not only individual human rights that the world community has to protect; it is also the national and tribal rights of indigenous peoples everywhere that have to be factored into the collective decision-making, process-design and collaborative execution on the large and threatening issues we face: the environment, the drug crisis, the military arms race, the economic divide within developed countries and between the developed world and the developing world.

Trudeau is positing a very different way of perceiving and hence of dealing with minorities, especially those minorities who have suffered, endured and suffered some more at the “hands” of the rich and the powerful. Imagine if the Trudeau theme had been emitted from the mouth of the American president, about indigenous peoples in Dakota and in New Mexico, and about African-Americans and Latinos. Imagine the degree of integrity and humility, the historic level, that would have been trumpeted by the U.S. media, if such an address had come from trump rather than the name-calling, bullying drivel that we all heard.

Although the Canadian leader has perched himself and his government on a very high and slender branch of a very brittle tree, a branch that reporters and pundits will be gleefully trying to break from the trunk of the tree. There is nothing more seductive to a journalist that the prospect of bringing a high-wire rock-star politician down from his precarious perch. And already, the National Post, in headlining all those topics not covered by the speech, and the CBC’s At Issue Panel, in pejoratively dubbing the speech “lobbying for that seat on the Security Council (Andrew Coyne) and castigating it for failing to address all the ‘hot-button’ issues of the day like North Korea, Putin, Syria, refugees and cyber-security (Althea Raj of Huffington Post).

If there ever were a time when the length and breadth of vision of both political leaders and reporters/editorialists needed to be raised off the floor of the mud-wrestling ring in which both Kim and trump are wallowing, it is now. And for Trudeau to deliver a speech that positions Canada, and the Canadian people, squarely in the world’s headlight, as a counterpoint to the racist, sexist, homophobic climate denier now occupying the Oval Office (just a side-bar of accomplishment for the Trudeau address), demonstrates that he may actually be starting to fill his father’s shoes, and the inflated shirt he has worn since romping out onto the political stage as a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party.

Individual minority rights, while laudable and worthy of legal protection (in individual cases) will struggle for their rightful and respected place on the public agenda so long as minorities everywhere shoulder the mantle of “inferiority” (no matter how that badge is perceived).

So many different iterations of colonialism pervade the global culture:

·      Workers without labour rights and the organizations to advocate for their pay with dignity, their safety and security, their pensions and their access to health care are living a form of colonialism.

·      Even labour unions themselves are guilty of practicing a kind of reverse “colonialism” given their relentless, and now toothless, pursuit of new members, and their demeaning of employers who block union certification votes.

·      Small town politics and the players on that state continue to defer to the “founding families” or the most affluent, or the most “connected” in their granting of zoning amendments, building permits, disharges from minor offenses, street repairs, the restoration of services following a disaster like a hurricane, a large fire or an ice storm.

·       School boards, both public and private, as well as colleges and universities, whenever they can, defer to their own graduates when making staffing appointments, as if there were some “privilege” attached to “local” graduates, when we all know that new ideas, new perspectives and new ways of doing things will more likely assure the growth and evolution of the organizations. This is especially true when making appointments at the senior administrative level, thereby ensuring a narrowing and parochial approach, as compared with the promise of innovation.

·      Towns and cities, when prompted to ask neighbouring centres for some practical advice on files both are facing, will too often categorically refuse, preferring “local” approaches simply because they are local, and not because they are more effective. *

·      Ask anyone who has spent their school years moving from school to school, as part of their following their parents for whatever reason. So lonely and so isolated are most, and they have been for decades, that recently in Florida, one “outsider” student has implemented a welcoming program for new students. He has gathered some who see the wisdom and the compassion in his idea, and they now eat lunch, approach and welcome newcomers to their school as an act of student “citizenship”.

·      Watch the lethargic and almost relentlessly blocked integration of immigrants, refugees, and newcomers to most towns and cities, (or the reverse, a smothering of uber-“care” that leaves them no room to breathe) and the impediments to a successful orientation program for sponsors that takes place in many “welcoming” communities.

From a variety of perspectives, we are all living, simultaneously, on both sides of the colonial moat. We are, at one and the same time, dominant in parts of our lives and recessive and submissive in other parts. And the “divide” keeps us vacillating between feeling confident and feeling quite insecure. Whether the divide is generated by a physical symptom, a racial difference, an income divide, a linguistic divide (even one so mundane as a grammar divide), even a voice volume and enthusiasm divide will find some being rejected in select “fraternities” or “sororities.” In many North American towns and cities, there is a religious colonialism, pitting protestants against Catholics, Muslims against Jews, white supremacists against blacks, Jews and immigrants of all varieties.

The first and requisite act of levelling the playing field, after decades, or centuries of forcing it to favour the “dominant” agent is to acknowledge the pattern, the participation in the pattern and history of dominance, and to begin to “listen” (really listen) to the legitimate needs of the “colony” with a view to searching not merely for short-term accommodation but for long term and permanent reconciliation. And that process, regardless of where it begins, will inevitably take decades, if not longer.

Trudeau’s first, bold and courageous step this week offers a model for other agents who dominated and controlled the colonial world to begin to thaw their hardened and potentially arrogant arteries, let the gagged voices free, and begin a process, not of lip-service, but of real and authentic accommodation and collaboration. A process of reconciliation whose vibrations, like the rock tossed into the pool, can stretch out to the very edges of the world’s communal pool, and transform a world in which antagonisms, hatreds, feuds, and conflicts dominate to one in which processes that offer alternative dispute mechanisms can and will be learned, practiced, applied and continuing revised and researched.

The October 2017 edition of Reader’s Digest contains a quote from the first Jewish woman to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada (appointed in 2004), Justice Rosalie Abella, with which Trudeau would clearly concur, and with which the world’s highest ideals and aspirations comport:

These words are taken from a speech Madame Justice Abella delivered at Brandeis University:
“It is time to remind ourselves why we developed such a passionate and, we thought, unshakable commitment to democracy and human rights, to remember the three lessons we were supposed to have learned from the concentration camps of Europe:  indifference is injustice’s incubator; it’s not just what you stand for, it’s what you stand up for; and we can never forget how the world looks to those who are vulnerable.”

 *This scribe made a presentation of an original design of a “career retrofit” for unemployed tech workers in Ottawa early in this century. The program was designed in North Bay, some four hours to the north west of Canada’s capital. The first and most prominent question we faced in our presentation, so indelibly is it engraved on my memory was, “So why should a program from North Bay be implemented here and not one designed in Ottawa?” There were no reflections, questions or even criticism of the details of our design, just a rejection out of hand, because it did not originate in Ottawa.

Talk about colonialism!

Thursday, September 21, 2017


What is the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)?

When a nuclear bomb is detonated 400 km in the air over a populated area, gamma rays collide with electrons and ‘other stuff’ creating an energy surge that can with no warning and no direct harm to living creatures seriously damage or destroy so much of continental North America’s electrical infrastructure that life as we know it would come to a complete stop for months.

In The National Post, Barbara Kay, (on September 20 2017) writes:

And EMP attack could put the majority of transformers across  the country out of commission, which means rerouting from working transformers as we normally do in not possible….replacement time might be up to 33 months, according to an expert, Anthony Furey in his book, Pulse Attack, The real story behind the secret weapon that can destroy North America.

And yet, while politicians of all stripes in both the United States and Canada refuse to talk about EMP, Furey, through Ms Kay, estimates that a few hundred million dollars in metal Farrady cages (like tinfoil hats) over our utilities systems could preclude most potential destruction from EMP. Yet nothing is being done either to discuss the issue or to take steps to ameliorate any potential damage.

Naturally when first reading Ms Kay’s report, like anyone living under a rock for the last three quarters of a century, I was shocked, appalled and unnerved. I then passed the piece along to others who shared my shock. We have been given glimpses of the deep dark internet, that segment of the internet designed an implemented by the Pentagon’s sci-fi exhibitionists, who then admitted they had lost control of their own monster. We know of the preliminary glimpses of how the scientists envision the impact of rising global temperatures and cities around the world (2/3 of which are les than one meter above sea level) are discussing precautionary steps they might take to ward off the most serious impact. Weaponry now reduces military combat to an imitation of computer games controlled by operators thousands of miles from the combat theatre. We know that facial recognition on our “smart” phones is already here along with talking/responding/answering voice machines that have replaced most of what previously passed as research. Artificial intelligence and artificial environments are threatening to imitate the human imagination.

We also know that the speed of technological/digital innovation has so far outstripped legislation that would assure some measure of privacy and personal security that, like the income inequality gap, it is unlikely to be closed. Rogue states are adamantly pursuing nuclear weapon capability, as no doubt are all the Islamic terrorist networks. And digital platforms just yesterday were openly tasked with a two-hour deadline to remove all incendiary material from their websites by British Prime Minister Theresa May speaking at the General Assembly of the United Nations.

And now this, EMP, as a new alphabet icon, has blurted onto our radar screens to be mixed into the contemporary cultural, military, political, ideological and survival stew.

Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-four, Star Wars, and now comes the next iteration of danger…
·      in a world barely able to speak civilly to one another,
·      in a world in which thousands, if not millions of decent people have withdrawn from offering their names for public office and left the field to ‘fringe’ leaders whose empty ego craves attention in a narcissistic binge so far out of control that the gap between technology and limiting legislation looks like a sliver by comparison and
·      in a world addicted to measuring all success by dollars and the things only dollars can buy.

Although this rant evokes George Constanza’s pitiful rants, in Seinfeld, about how humanity is growing insensitive to his pleading need for a public telephone, there is a kind of desperation in the perception of a confluence of “storm surges” of the political/techno/military/fiscal/ego/pharma (think opiod and new drugs without clinical trials) variety that renders one a little agast. Meanwhile, markets actually quick-march into the stratosphere, housing prices soar in large urban areas, mammoths like Amazon  generate a frenzied competition for a second city location in North America (while their workers cry foul at their treatment by the company and the house prices in Seattle (Amazon #1) rise significantly and unemployment falls….and all the while, our political leaders bury their heads in the sands of flooded beaches, resort main streets and storm-torn islands and earthquake ripped sites like Mexico.

Galloping forces in divergent directions, without the appearance of strong, collaborative, mature and trust-worthy ship-of-state captains evoke wrecks like the Costa Concordia, whose captain was talking to his lover while his ship ran aground on sea shoals back in 2012 off Tuscany. Of course, it is an overly simplistic comparison, but an analogous and riveting one.

Ask yourself what is happening to the previously trusted, responsible and visionary compendium of historic decisions made by leaders whose competence and whose stability were the ballast when geopolitical seas rolled with war, and the threats of war and the ensuing need and demand for peace.

Institutions like NATO, the U,N., and the E.U. and the International Court at the Hague….these institutions were birthed from the ashes of the mid-twentieth century conflagration. Do we have to endure another (only this time sterile) EMP before we, collectively and individually) awaken to take responsibility for the dangers and the threats that now confront a world population fully exposed to both the opportunities of new connections and collaborations and the threats to which we turn a blind eye and a deaf ear.

The marketplace of ideas can no longer exclude topics like the EMP that the politicians consider too frightening for their voters to embrace. Little do they know that their careers will increasingly depend, not on their management of the information flow, but on the courage and integrity of their willingness to deal honestly and openly with such lethal threats.

It is the gap between what the politician considers “acceptable” as “politically correct” and the public’s intelligent and conscious awareness of their denials and avoidances of responsibilities (through a myriad of distractions) that could impale us on our own petard.