Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Reflections on AI on the human landscape

There are so many historic iterations of the opening of Pandora’s Box, pouring the many frightening “evils” into the world, (albeit along with hope). The latest might be the surge of Artificial Intelligence onto the technological landscape.

“Sold” as a significant “benefit” to the human race, AI nevertheless has the potential to overrun the human capacity to keep it “under human control”. The word is out that the U.S. military has commissioned a fleet of autonomous transport vehicles, raising the spectre of those vehicles eventually carrying a missile into “enemy” territory. A “perfect strike” has already been achieved, in research, by an autonomous virtual aircraft, repeatedly driving itself into a “target,”   while repeatedly killing everyone on board. Artificial Intelligence, by its nature, “learns” its programmed “goal” and then proceeds to accomplish that goal, without regard to any of the “human” implications.

All warnings about the need to slow down the research and development Artificial Intelligence, even from futurist thinkers like Elon Musk, have gone unheeded by those charged with such social, political, economic and cultural responsibility. We are not only awash in technology; we are not merely enmeshed in its gleam; we are apparently addicted to its opioid-like power to seduce us and render our better judgements etherized on the floors of our cutting-edge laboratories.

Already having unleashed social media devices “to bring us together” although they really generate significantly enhanced loneliness and depression, medical devices that were purportedly going to enhance the lives of people in their need, drones and cruise missiles that so sanitize the killing of all targets in their sights, manipulated as they are from thousands of miles distant from their firings, we are clearly prepared to take our hands off the “steering wheel” of this revolution. And leading the way into the new “world,” of course, is the military establishment with its massive impact on the United States’ national budget. “National Security” and “family protection” of course, eclipse “warfare” in the public relations spin of all activities military. And there seems to be no bounds on the level of permission the American people are prepared to defer to “defence” against foreign enemies, even surpassing the public goods of health care, education, environmental protection and poverty reduction.

Sycophancy at the altar of technology, as opposed to genuflections at the altar of the Almighty, illustrates and proves a degree of deep and long-seeded fear and loathing about our readiness to hand control to “another” ANY other, including a machine. Therapists spend hours learning about locus of control issues, whereby humans willingly, if unconsciously, hand over the control of our lives to another, whether that “other” is a parent, teacher, boss, or organization and recently a piece of technology. 

Power released to an agency other than ourselves can and will always redound against those engaged in the release. Unworthiness, in our genuflections to “experts,” and in our genuflections to authorities, only generates more feelings of unworthiness. It also unleashes a level of co-dependence, while releasing us from responsibility for our own decisions, thereby “permitting” the kind of projection of which we are all too familiar.

It is not that technology, including the spectre of Artificial Intelligence, does not hold a myriad of rainbow pot‘o’gold benefits. Cleaning floors, welding bolts, recording and transmitting information, research, medical diagnoses and even treatments, guarding front and back doors of homes, surveiling public spaces for unwanted and illicit events, linking all corners of the planet to a real-time reporting of events, both dangerous and inventive are just some of them. And, the community of engineers, visionaries, soft-ware developers and their supportive corporate and educational sponsors are certainly justified in their pride of accomplishment, not to mention the financial dividends of their investment of time and dollars.

Especially felicitous in meeting personal conveniences, as well as top-down organizational/governmental/corporate systems, the gestalt of technological devices, nevertheless, needs, even demands, a creative, mature and detailed set of responses that could/would/must hedge against its domination, and potential destructive advances. It is the interface of the human species with this galloping frontier, unlike the frontier on the ground that motivated and generated the westward advance of the population, land development and eventual cities that became the U.S.A., that troubles most observers.

The human capacity, discipline and restraint to withhold excesses of ambition, greed, impatience, and all opportunities to seize power (in whatever might be the latest iteration), however, as disclosed by centuries of human history, are so tragically MIA, that more than this scribe are uttering laments, even dirges, of anxiety. As with most of our human encounters, there is the great likelihood that we do now, and will continue long into the future both to adore the technology, and to fear its dangerous potential.

Add to our individual and collective responses to the technology directly, the prospect that those in control of its development, sale and distribution are also “infected” with those same human demons that originally poured from Pandora’s Box: greed, insouciance, deception, pride and indifference, among many others.

It is in our capacity to “hope”…the beginning of planning, and the promise of a brighter future, and the candle of faith that our species has to place its trust. Etheral, ephemeral, subjective and immeasureable, hope nevertheless casts both a lamp and a mirror into the darkness of any night of anxiety.
Leonard Cohen’s Anthem reminds us,

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack  in everything
 that’s how the light gets in.

And in his explication of the poem, Cohen says, “there is a crack in everything that you can put together: physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.” (from the Quartz website, previously published on a fan site.)

Could we ever actually consider less, slower, more modest and more regulated as the light of hope, another hopeful paradox, given the current penchant for more, faster, more extreme and no regulation?

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Reflecting on a proposed cultural tectonic shift from "rescuing" to "prevention" on homelessness

Ø Invention,

Ø Creating new cultural elements,

Ø Diffusion, the spread of cultural traits from one society to another

These three models are proposed as methods of changing a culture. And there is a mountain of evidence, not to mention public resistance, historic allegiances including the pursuit of something commonly called stability, (another word for security?) and that old reliable, increased cost, that paints a picture of Canada as highly resistance, in the macro sense, to cultural change.

To be sure, we have opened our national ‘doors’ to immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, (whether there has been adequate and sustaining assimilation and integration of those new arrivals is another question entirely). And we have, as have most developed nations, transformed much of our economy to accommodate the digital revolution. Our health care system, something we call national, with full (?) and equal (?) access, affordable and still in need of more evolution, is a monumental societal change, one of the more bountiful legacies of the last half of the twentieth century.
Similarly, flowing from the last half of the twentieth century are “employment” insurance, injured worker compensation, pensions and old age security. More recently, child care benefits and parental leave upon the birth or adoption of a new child have been added to the social safety net. The Charter of Rights, (1981) has given legal foundation to the human rights of all citizens, and several cases testing its provisions have secured Supreme Court affirmation. Another recent cultural change whose implications will cataract through the next several decades in the legalization of marijuana, not merely for medicinal purposes, but for recreational use.

On the other side of the ledger, however, the integration of minority language rights  (French specifically) into provinces with substantial French-speaking populations, for example, Ontario have suffered a serious set-back as recently as this week, when the premier of Ontario terminated the French Language Commissioner’s Office, and withdrew support for a French language university in the provincial capital, without incurring much by way of push-back from the province’s editorial writers. Similarly, the Ontario government has also eliminated the office of the Commissioner responsible for oversight of Environmental Protection. Framed as “budget cut-backs” these regressive governmental steps, nevertheless, demonstrate that social and cultural change seems highly dependent on the mood, ideology, personnel and commitments of the government of the day. Adding to this equation of the tendencies of specific governments are the temperature, the ‘humidity’ and the velocity of what are perceived as the cultural/political/societal/attitudinal/geopolitical/economic winds that blow from continent to continent, across oceans and mountains.

Following the second world war, optimism in North America was running quite high, portending to support for and even political impetus for such massive projects in the U.S. as the Inter-state highway system for which President Eisenhower’s name is most closely associated. The St. Lawrence Seaway was also shovelled, and re-routed, along with the moving of entire communities when mega-projects and the political thinking and will needed were at a peak.

These big projects were on the engineering stage, and needing only the money, the expertise and skill, and the public political support for their construction. They opened up transportation, travel, trade and new relationships between and among American states, and between Canada and the U.S.

On the level of the governmental bureaucracies, in both Canada and the United States, however, thousands of new jobs, perhaps even millions, have been created in large public bureaucracies to provide the social safety nets that have been designed and delivered to provide a “hand-up” to those in need. Pension boards, childrens’ protective services, community policing (another highly influential and positive shift in the way police relate to their respective communities), greater integration of social services with schools, along with increased exposure to the labour market for secondary and post-secondary students have made a significant difference in the opportunities available in contemporary education.

However, just as became tragically and desperately evident immediately following the 9/11 massacre in Manhattan, siloed bureaucracies are inordinately isolated, separated, alienated and too often in competition with other bureaucratic silo’s. There has been a long and deep history, on both sides of the 49th parallel, of “protecting our turf” so that we keep those jobs, and those secure boundaries around our specialties, around our people, and most certainly around our executive leadership. Schools have retained off-duty police officers to monitor school dances for years. Occasionally, a social worker will interact with a guidance department, to discuss and implement a ‘treatment plan’ for a student in or from a troubled and troubling family. Workplaces entertain students for “employment-peeking” opportunities; colleges and universities regularly host “orientation” (recruiting) days on high school campuses. On a case-by-case basis, there is a trace of a pathway cleared from the underbrush of political and bureaucratic tradition.

As in many other spheres, towns and regions, partly resulting from the tidal wave of technology that opens books, offices, research, and ‘best practices’ around the world, for whoever might be interested. We all have access to what Vancouver, and more recently Toronto, might be doing to combat their serious and tragic opioid/fentanyl crisis. Police departments have immediate access to both technology and successful experiments in their use in visionary departments in other jurisdictions. Similarly, the medical profession’s integration of DNA’s hub value in the treatment of diseases like cancer, through new medical school research, medical journals, and pharmaceutical advances on the cutting edge of unique, personal and demonstrably effective “cocktail” of medicine.

So, there is considerable evidence that supports the breaking down of political “walls” that keep many best candles/practices securely “vaulted” under organizational/corporate, municipal, provincial, and national “bushels”.

Nevertheless, when the homeless hub designed and released, by webinar, to the public a road map for the prevention of homelessness, including a heavy emphasis on prevention, some of the participants’s eyes and ears recoiled in memory of how our Canadian culture has adapted/adopted prevention as a cultural paradigm when faced with similar and very troubling social issues. Teen-pregnancy, for example, as an issue begging for prevention, and has been recipient of religious “abstinence” programs, “promise-keeper” covenants, political campaigns that protest the distribution of birth control, and the chestnut, the campaign to eliminate therapeutic abortions. On the other hand, even practicing Roman Catholics have spurned the dictates of their hierarchy, and welcomed contraception with open arms.

An old adage seems relevant: children are falling in at a water-fall, with large numbers of “people” pulling them out at the bottom of the cataract, while a few go to the top of the falls to determine why they are becoming victims to nature’s force. There is an immediate gratification for those rescuing drowning children at the base of the falls. There is a ‘rush’ that accompanies that gratification. The process of the rescue is quite simple, easily accomplished, and eminently bonding between rescuer and rescued, often for life. Each rescue receives public and merited attention and commendation, whether through the stories within the community, or perhaps even from the wider coverage of the large media. Politicians, especially, like to find photo-ops with “local heroes” wherever they can.

Almost ignored, in most social traumas, are those at the top of the falls, struggling without many resources, without the limelight of social/political/cultural affirmation, to remove those conditions that are generating the crisis before it develops. Compared with the “rescuers” at the bottom of the falls, these “prevention activists” work behind the scene of the tragedy, without the promise or expectation of public adulation and awards, without the resources that a public considers needed, and without the immediate gratification, or even the assurance, that they will overcome the force(s) that suck those children into the vortex of the cataract. University science labs are filled with researchers “at the top of the falls”; social policy designers depend on the findings of those researchers. However, there is a significant ‘time-gap’ between the discoveries of the researchers, and the design and promulgation of social policy, and another between the policy and the implementation.

Shifting the public consciousness from the rewards of rescuing to the drudgery of prevention is analogous to the task of shifting the direction of an ocean liner from north to south. It takes a lot of patience, diligent hard work, a committed team/crew and some decision-makers who have the open-mindedness to even consider the benefits of the shift, the conditions necessary to turn the wheel, and the patience to wait for the long-term results that will show up in reports that the number of kids falling into the waterfall has dropped significantly. Only then will it be feasible for many of the adjacent observers to “see the light” of the larger social benefits, and the relative folly of those years/decades/centuries of pulling kids out, without preventing their falling in. It is often the “time gap” in the perception of relative “urgency” between public figures (the politicians/tax payers) and the researchers/policy designers that impedes the reception and implementation of a significant shift like the one from “action/rescue” to “prevention/delayed gratification. Individuals are most often disposed and enmeshed with the opportunities for instant gratification; social policy think tanks, on the other hand, find their gratification in their design and teaching of new approaches, based as it usually is, on the compilation, collation and curation of multiple pieces of research from various scholars/practitioners.

While classical conditioning (the timing and relevance of behavioural rewards to generate desired behaviour) is not the only variable to shifting a culture from “rescue to prevent,” it does have application to the process.

“Invention” is one ingredient that we can all count on to emerge from the social and scientific “laboratory” research, and “prevention” of homelessness clearly qualifies as a highly inventive (if not actually revolutionary) approach to this growing social blight.

“New cultural elements” like:
·        pointing a social, political, media, educational, religious ‘cleg’ light onto the “top of the falls”,  
·        innovative funding based on the hiring and releasing of outside-the-box ingenuous bureaucrats by politicians and social agency decision-makers, including volunteer board members,
·        training for all constituent agencies in the benefits of the new “approach” that includes a difference between the “ticker” approach of the stock market with its urgent immediacy, to a longer social and cultural perspective of the benefits of long-range planning and implementation of such a “shift”
·        building bridges to all sectors to enhance awareness of and participation in the frontal initiative to address the roots of homelessness from a preventive perspective, as a pathway both to fewer victims and reduced social costs. This includes debunking the “complexity” and up-front “costs” of such a far-reaching and “macro” approach, in order to reach individuals before they “fall”
·        providing leadership in continuing research, public conscious-raising, private fund-raising, political pressure and social change

Linked to this “new cultural elements” is the digging out and “transporting” best practices from all successful practitioners in the field, from other communities in the region, from other national neighbours, and from countries facing similar homelessness across the globe. These little screens have wireless access to the little screens in all of the laboratories, lecture halls, media newsrooms, governmental offices and legislatures, courts, and international agencies charged with economic and social and political “wellness” of our varied and complex cultures. And from those little screens, with diligence, discipline, collaboration and a renewed sense of altruism among all participants, in that “we are all in this together,” each community can acquire relevant information, social and political models and a new sense of hope and optimism that our most treasured jewels, our youth, need not fall through the cracks of indifference, apathy, anger, frustration, the abuse of power, and/or the incidents of poverty, disease, displacements. These cracks develop inside loving families, inside caring schools, within the sanctuaries of religious organizations, inside athletic teams, the military, and within all social/political organizations and corporations.

We can all become more sensitive about those conditions on the top of the “falls” within our purview, and the potential for young people to “fall” and to open our eyes, ears, minds and hearts to the notion that we might each have to shift our own “comfort zone” from detachment, refusing to intervene in another’s plight, keeping our time and treasure secure and safe, and believing that we are not “good” enough to become a part of the cultural shift that could lead to fewer “falling” into the whirlpool of homelessness, including the impacts of the well-intentioned social agencies currently operating on the front lines.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Endorsing Canada Post workers' legitimate demands for respect, decency, and dignity...NOW!

A while back, I wrote a piece that called on Canada Post to transform dramatically, creatively and immediately the culture of its workplace, from the demeaning, insulting, archaic, and counter-intuitive “scientific management” of the early twentieth century, in which workers were distrusted, insulted, considered a “drain” (cost) only, and certainly not the back bone of the organization.

Formulae that measure kilometers, points of call, numbers of flyers, numbers of “deliver to door” with or without signatures, numbers of lock changes (on Community Mail Boxes), numbers of vacation and personal days (both of which are abused by the head office of HR), whether or not “exit” signs have been posted in small rural offices….these demonstrate a culture of anality, obsessive-compulsive and neurotic, if not psychotic orientation and culture. And, when and if anything threatens the status quo, like falling numbers of hard-copy letters, documents, bills and the like, the corporation cries loud and wide, crying the apocalypse is no longer “coming;” it is already here!

Positive, present, listening, and attentive leadership to the core resource of this highly labour-intensive operation, the workers, has to replace the kind of pre-twentieth-century attitudes and beliefs and practices. The research is unequivocal that workers who are respected, trusted and valued and supported with policies, practices and supervisory relationships that live up to such benchmarks go beyond the minimum, provide more accurate and detailed attention to their tasks, and actually cost less in the long run. Such employees are authentic good-will ambassadors for their employer, and generate positive attitudes among their clients, a factor that is needed and considered so subjective as to be excluded from calculations by both labour and management.

Current obstructions by the corporation seem to include the following items, if reports reaching the employees and the public generally are complete and valid:

·        Restricting pensions by removing a guaranteed delivery amount and replacing it with a higher employee contribution,
·        blocking pay equity between letter carriers and rural carriers,
·        refusing to acknowledge that 1 in 5 letter carriers are injured every year on the job, the highest worker injury rate of all sectors in Canada
·        refusing to enhance profit opportunities by blocking rural banking facilities (is this a genuflection to the government’s cozy relationship with the five “established” banks?)
·        scrimping on the impact of the dramatic increase in parcels, by refusing to hire additional workers, and by demanding twelve-hour days without overtime

Are these, taken together, a hidden campaign to twist the government’s hand to make a decision on significant new numbers of Community Mail Boxes in urban areas, (an initiative begun under the Harper government)? Such a move, linked to a highly sensitive and creative set of adjustments to accommodate special needs of seniors, physically and mentally challenged clients, would reduce the time required to deliver directly to urban residences, and especially to wide-spread rural mail boxes. However, additional CMB’s would also significantly reduce the “community surveillance” currently embedded in the daily life of RSMC’s* in those townships and counties currently operating with restricted or no police protection, except under special circumstances.

Is Canada Post positioning itself, through the latest conflict with workers, for a government decision to sell the entity to a private investor, thereby flushing a cataract of cash into government coffers, at the expense of workers, most of whom, if not all, would automatically be eliminated and de-certified, under private ownership. The example of the Royal Mail, recently offered on public auction, with a few share “crumbs” offered to current workers to soften the blow, could be a model upon which these fractiousness labour negotiations is being built. (It is not incidental to note that the former CEO of Canada Post, Moira Green, was appointed head of Royal Mail, a few years ago, oversaw this transition to public shares, and has more recently retired.

There are cogent and compelling arguments for pay equity changes, health and safety enhancements, stabilized pension arrangements, parcel delivery support through increased hiring. Canada Post cannot wallow along with its corporate eyes glued to the rear-view mirror of their corporate culture, nor to the historic norms of the last century. Amazon, UPS, FedEx, DHL and other parcel-sales and distribution agencies are gobbling bigger chunks of the delivery sector of the economy, Technologies, too, are changing both the methods and the budgets of message and parcel transportation. We are all aware of the significant decline in raw numbers of union members, especially driven by the fall in manufacturing jobs. Male union membership has been falling, while female memberships in sectors like health care and education, have been rising slightly.

On the shop floor level, however, union “leverage” has significantly declined in recent years, inside and outside Canada Post. Complaints, dubbed “grievances” far too often go unaddressed, even unheard, and certainly not accommodated by the corporation. It is these insidious omissions of responsibility, including the off-loading Employment Assistance Programs to private corporations, leave the company with merely a statistical account of the numbers and the relative severity of the challenges faced by postal workers. Evidence suggests, from office co-workers who have sought support from the Morneau-Shepell-Great-West-Life two-headed corporate ally administering worker assistance, that “counsellors” rotate shifts, leaving postal workers to repeat the details of their “story” to a new counsellor each time they call for assistance. Clearly, this default position does not and cannot engender confidence among workers whose experience tells them that their personal issues are so insignificant to those tasked with professional support that they are passed from one to another in a cavalier and inconsistent and thereby unsubstantial and fragile, if not defective system.
These details do not make it into the public consciousness.  Other details also never reach the public consciousness, including, but not restricted to:

·        being stuck in snow-drifts for up to five hours after calling CAA whose tow truck could not navigate through the drifts leaving only a township front-end loader the only answer to escape, or of
·        being bitten by stray dogs, or of
·        falling down un-shovelled, icy steps,  
·        trapesing through snow drifts to get a signature only to find no one home, or
·        twisting one’s back in an attempt to wrestle a full bed frame out of the delivery vehicle, and up the stairs into a customer’s apartment

While, to some, this list may sound like whining, it comprises an intimate and personal account of some of the “normal” working conditions, not to mention weather vagaries, customer anti-labour attitudes, or supervisory insouciance.

From this desk, conditions have now morphed to a state where a middle-ground of support for both corporation and worker is no longer tenable. Compromise, moderation, a gentle and somewhat clinical and sanitized, if dispassionate, attitude to labour negotiations, in the west, no longer serve the spine, the heart and the body of the economy, the worker.

Political and economic power is stacked in favour of the corporate board rooms, and their occupants. Public attitudes are no longer modest or moderate when it comes to unions getting a fair shake. Public attitudes are contemptuous, or perhaps even worse, disinterested and detached, unless and until their “pocket-book” or their special holiday presents might be delayed, or heaven forbid, not delivered until after the big day, December 25.

I owe by former co-workers at Canada Post a deep and sincere apology for having been so milquetoast, and so dilettantish and debonair, so dispassionate and detached in the earlier blog post on this issue. This labour dispute is at the core of the future of labour rights and corporate obligations for the next decades, generations and perhaps even the rest of the century. Canadian Union of Postal Workers members are fighting for legitimate, warranted and long-overdue, yet reasonable consideration, expressed through their pay slips, their work assignments, their health and safety supports, their pension benefits and their pursuit of their emotional, physical and mental workplace health.

And the rest of us, whether or not Canada Post’s decisions did, do or will have a direct impact on our lives, owe it to our children, grandchildren and their children to take this labour dispute very seriously, far more seriously this this scribe has done heretofore.

It is the future of the labour movement that is under fire from the plethora of right-wing efforts to demonize all signs of anything that smacks of a collective, collaborative and balanced approach to workers rights. Corporations will ignore, deny, or supress their legitimate responsibilities, as long as they can get away with such contemptuous disregard of their workers. Airline pilots are expected to fly far too many hours, without rest; truck drivers are expected, even required, to drive far longer hours than their bodies can withstand; delivery couriers (UBEReats, etc) are being struck and injured and falling off their bicycles, without the benefit of legal worker protection. (Some are even classed as “phone answering services” to avoid the company payments to the Worker Compensation Boards.) Workplace injuries, especially in non-unionized shops, receive only a bare minimum of support. More work is piled on workers by management, in both unionized and non-unionized shops, without a collective push-back from workers who fear for their loss of their jobs even if they took leave under their doctor’s supervision and requirement.

We do not have to take a “hands-off” position to this labour dispute, as too many corporate leaders and government leaders are doing with global warming and climate change. We are not powerless, in that or in this dispute.

We can write to our Member of Parliament, asking for a fair settlement of this current dispute. We can express our support to our Canada Post delivery person, the one we take for granted who trudges through the elements, hot and cold, the heave and light mail days, the friendly and not-so-much customer encounters, and the supervisory indignities and insouciance.

And our support can only energize additional political activism, on behalf of the millions of silent, voiceless and non-represented workers whom we can no longer take for granted.

All workers need the support of all Canadians, especially those current and future workers at Canada Post.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Opposition to trump cannot stop with voting.. pressure on elected officials needed now

How does one respond to the mid-term vote held on Tuesday, Nov. 6 in the United States, a mere 5 days prior to the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of 1918? And while there have been multiple homages paid to the many years of relative peace following the Second World War, the notion of military danger, enhanced significantly by the $74 billion expansion to the budget of the Pentagon, the U.S. withdrawal from the Medium nuclear weapons treaty, the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iran Accord, the huge arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and the threats posed to NATO by that same administration, remains unabated. There are many pieces of evidence that enhance the prospect for military violence, including:

·        the $61 billion expansion, totalling $700 billion, to the budget of the Pentagon,
·        the U.S. withdrawal from the Medium nuclear weapons treaty,
·        the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iran Accord,
·        the huge arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and
·        the threats posed to NATO by that same administration,

Add to this list, the underlying and dramatic shift in the culture of the American society favouring and emboldening of “white supremacy”, the explosion of incidents of mass murder 12 killed just last night in a bar in Thousand Oaks, Ventura County, California) and threats to the lives of political enemies of trump, the inflated presidential rhetoric of violence, intimidation, and even threats to the newly elected Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, (“if they investigate me, I will investigate them: two can play this game and we are much better at it than they are”), the confirmation of trump-lackey Kavanaugh, and yesterday the firing of Attorney General Sessions and the appointment of another lackey in Matthew Whittaker as his replacement, the world knows that a constitutional crisis has already broken through the horizon of the American political landscape. None of these developments bodes well either for global or domestic peace and civility, given that each is dependent on the other.

Clearly, with 30% of the population (primarily rural) of the United States represented by 70% of the Senators, while 70% of the population (primarily urban and suburban) is represented by only 30% of the Senators, there is a serious imbalance of political power reducing the influence of urban and suburban voters while inordinately inflating that of rural voters, portraying and foreshadowing continuing deadlock between the House and Senate. Built into the constitution is the stipulation that each state must have the same number of senators (2), and with. trump’s stampeding rallies in those states calculated to sustain a Republican majority in the Senate (another three-dimensional chess move to protect trump from the potential damage of the Mueller report), he has effectively “bought” himself an insurance policy against ultimate impeachment. After all, the only kind of transaction known to and practiced by this president is “buy-sell” because, for him, the only things that matter is his personal/familial growth in power, wealth, influence, and indeed dominance.

“Embracing” those candidates willing to accept his “embrace”, in his mind, leads to their electoral victory, and his self-inflated chest-thumping as the primary reason for their election. Those who “gave me no love” on the other hand, are publicly disdained even scorned, as “public enemies” of the president. The only possible ‘take’ from this performance in yesterday’s press briefing is that the president divides the world into those who have drunk his koolaid, and from whom he now expects and demands unsullied loyalty, and those who have chosen to reject him and his coat-tails. In the end, everyone, whether Republican, Democratic, of Independent, is useful so long as s/he is a public sycophant to the president, and dispensable if and when that dependence is cracked or worse, shattered.

Similarly, in geopolitics, this president has neither authentic allies nor friends, in other chief executive offices, only items on a chess-board, for his personal (certainly not national or international) ambitions, needs, whims and headlines. If the ‘other’ leader buys/accepts American arms, steel, aluminum, coal with tonnes of carbon emissions and trade deals, and complies with the threats and the imposition of tariffs issuing from the Oval Office, he walks under the radar of the president’s wrath. If not, then s/he instantly becomes a public target. And within the nation, those who bear the burden of being black, Latino, are in even more danger. Dubbed as “unable” and “unfit” and “uneducated” (see the references to both Stacey Abrams, and Andrew Gillum, candidates for Governor in Georgia and Florida respectively), they are thrown under the bus for their person, race and identity.

And so, while the public debate so conventionally focuses on the “bread and butter” issues of health, education and social safety net, justifiably, and trump wants the world to measure his success in stock prices, unemployment figures and conservative judges to the Supreme Court, there are, under trump, two other deep, destabilizing and converging political cruise missiles ripping through the United States political culture:white racist supremacy and shredding the legal framework of the constitution!
Charlottesville is the historic metaphor for the rise and triumph of White Supremacy, and even yesterday, another white supremacist was welcomed to the White House.

It is the shredding of the legal framework that underpins the governmental structure, creating what Neal Katyal, former Solicitor General under the Obama administration, and Geoffrey Conway (spouse of Kelly Anne Conway, and himself a constitutional scholar) writing in the New York Times, call a constitutional crisis that is no longer on the horizon, it has become a full-blown sun in the political sky of the United States. The “appointment” of Wittaker to the Attorney General’s post in the Department of Justice, according to Katyal and Conway, is unconstitutional, given the clear legal requirement that all who serve in such a position must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The “line of succession” from the Deputy Attorney General, to the Assistant Deputy Attorney General would be the “legal” path to a replacement for fired Attorney General Sessions.

It could well be, according to Katyal, appearing this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, that Whittaker has already turned over Mueller’s files to trump. It could also be that he has followed through on his public declaration on CNN, recorded and replayed for posterity, to vacuum all funding out of the Mueller investigation thereby foreclosing on the biggest thorn in the president’s side. These public declarations, linked to his denial of any Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, and now his appointment as interim Attorney General that, taken individually and/or collectively, provide empirical evidence for those seeking more proof of the “obstruction of justice” charge into which Mueller is delving.

·        Profiting from the spoils of presidential victory through the tidal wave of slush funds pouring into the trump hotel in Washington from geopolitical and national political sycophants seeking the pleasures of the trump administration (contravening the emoluments clause),
·        appointing his son-in-law to a full national security clearance,
·        padding the investment accounts of the most affluent men and women in the nation,
·        de-stabilizing the EPA,
·        gutting the department of Education,
·        firing James Comey,

·    firing of Sessions and plunking an obviously protective of presidential immunity to subpoena, prosecution and all other legal impinging constraints including impeachment…..**

And all of these items do not encompass the 307 (that is not a typo!) mass shootings in the last year in the United States, the voter suppression of minority voters by elected officials, the flaunting of all historic and traditional norms of governance.
How much more evidence do the people of the United States need to call, write, email, text or confront face-to-face their representatives in Washington, current and newly elected, to shout from the roof-tops, “We have had enough!”

Appearing in Toronto only last week, in a debate framed, safely under Canadian parameters, about the future prospects of populism throughout the world, Steve Bannon trumped his proud declaration that trump is an historic and transformative president who will be in our lives for decades. Already proven true, given the appointments of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh (and potentially a third, should Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s recent fall and breaking of three ribs), conservative strict constructionist opinion will dominate Supreme Court decisions for decades, Bannon fears no forceful contradiction. However, it is the demise of the American pursuit and achievement of many of the better cornerstone foundations of democracy, and the atrophy of the American reputation on the world stage, and the removal of the American potential to lead international efforts to spare the environment, all of them included in the costs already accumulated under this administration.

Tom Steyer, whether or not he is running for president in 2020, is not wasting his millions on advertisements calling for public support for the removal of this chief executive.

Will the public demand the termination of this political, social, cultural, legal and historic rampage? The world cannot wait for the Electoral College to be eliminated, nor for the Senate representation imbalance to be levelled, nor for the multiple state laws that repress and impede voting rights to be removed from the law books. The crisis, no matter how we frame it, demands reining in now!

**another heinous and illegal and deplorable culpability of the administration: the separation of families of refugees and asylum-seekers, and the incarceration of separated children from their families

Monday, November 5, 2018

Anger, the mask of fear (Chuck Lorre)

Appearing on CBS’s Sunday Morning, yesterday, Chuck Lorre, the creator of The Big Bang Theory, uttered words that merit echoing reverberating, vibrating and pulsating across the globe. Commenting on his reputation of being “quick to anger” Lorre said:

But fear for me exhibits as anger," Lorre said. "'Cause I'm not gonna show you fear. I'm gonna show you anger because that's just how I grew up. And that's what you present to the world. And that maybe becomes your reputation." 

Men, for decades have been stereotyped as “angry” in a judgemental interpretation of something we are not (also stereotypically) permitted to show, vulnerability of any kind, and that includes “fear”. Identifying with Lorre, along with millions of other males, I am confident that if we peel back the layers of emotion that erupt when we display anger, will we undoubtedly discover that at its root is our deepest fear.
A bill is overdue, and we raise our voice in “anger” because we fear that our credit rating will be eroded.
A situation is so inhumane, so degrading and so demeaning that we shout, “I cannot take this any more!” at three a.m. into a phone to the head office of our community development organization, because we fear for the loss of our sanity.
A relationship founders on pettiness, into which net we become enmeshed, and our anger erupts because we fear the loss of the relationship into which we have already invested years of commitment.

A penetrating insult crosses the table at an elegant restaurant, and we immediately go silent, this time in disappointment and ultimately fear, although we are unable  to grasp the significance of that emotional element at the moment. Instantly, we feel hurt, and only later, upon reflection are we able to discern our anger that someone we previously believed was trustworthy and “safe” has betrayed that previous trust. And then the fullness of the implications of the biting criticism unfolds into the “fear” that somehow both partners in that other relationship do not share a common acceptance and support of the relationship we have with one of them.

A family member forwards an email forbidding further contact on the pretext that the initial overture to build a bridge over the many degrees of separation was merely a manipulation on some other issue, to compel their joining a conspiracy completely and totally unimagined. And we become enraged because we fear that, not only will the bridge never be begin, but the reality being characterized as a conspirator undermines an identity, and additional relationships.

While tidying up an estate, a family member proffers an item, as an act of apparent kindness and generosity, only to discover that a similar item, of far greater significance and value has already been placed on the pile of her “inheritance” and anger erupts in the veins, not because the original offer was so desired or desireable, but because the blatant narcissism and hypocrisy of the “offer”  seriously erode previous placed trust in the family member. And the “fear” that is operative is that of shame that a family member is so blatantly crass and opportunistic.

When confronted by a former colleague who has become aware of a rift in the relationship and who wants to seek revenge for the rift by offering, “put all your arguments on the table and I will combat each of them”….only to hear from my voice, “For God’s sake, this is not about winning an argument; it is about trust, and I no longer trust you!” Anger, then, is the fear that a long-standing professional relationship was all along really hollow, vapid and based exclusively on power, essentially exposing the emptiness of any previous perception of collegiality, and the innocence and naivety of my perspective.

All experiences of loss of innocence, it would seem, fall into a similar experience category, exposing anger both at the other and ultimately at the self, for having been so trusting, so naïve and so “uncanny”. And the anger (read fear) can at times be overwhelming.

Near death a very elderly woman declares to her daughter, “Your brother would never have care for me as you have!” in a deeply penetrating statement of anger and resentment. Obviously fearful that long ago, without perhaps fully grasping the import, she had already shredded the relationship with the brother, her son, and had been extremely jealous of the time spent by the brother/son during the father’s palliative stage prior to his death. Now, near the end of her own life, she feels free to utter her vindictive truth.

Projections, too, carry the weight of deep and profound anger, coming as they do from our unconscious, as we portray our individual Shadow, the storage vault for our deepest fears. And, it is not incidental to wonder how the contemporary culture would shift if what we hear as anger were to be recognized as fear. The angry “cover-up” is so much more destructive, not to mention demeaning, and so regularly dismissed as unprofessional, when, recognizing it as fear would connote a very different meaning, prompt a very different response and attitude.

Think of the workplaces that have literally sanitized “anger” from their premises, in all forms. Would they be so eager and determined to spend the same dollars, energy, policy-writing and enforcing efforts if they came to the position Lorre already has, that the anger they witness is much more likely a deep expression of fear? Would the corporate establishment that governs these large organizations, including governments and social agencies, be so quick to outlaw all expressions of anger if they came to the realization that most, if not all of the anger were really a cover-up for fear, both superficial and deep-seated?

Another question, “Is anger a trait more fundamental and basic to the DNA of the male species, as compared with the female? How far removed from the Lorre perspective is the women’s movement that anger is really an expression of repressed, vaulted and hidden, fear?

And as the public discourse becomes replete with anger, on all sides on all issues, are we ready to listen to Lorre’s personal story, that he is not “going to show you fear” but resorts to anger instead, and pays the price of an angry reputation?
Trump incarnates the same deep and profound fear(s) and covers it/them with his persistent anger, obviously riding a wave of similarly repressed fear, screamed out as anger over anything and everything from his frightened cult.

Entertaining this anger may be; it is certainly is not illuminating of anything resembling a serious public debate about the issues, their implications and their gasping voracious appetite for address. And if the most “powerful” nation on earth is drowning in the anger of its public “leaders” (while masking both personal and national fear) can the rest of us trust any crumb of hope for creative, responsible collaborative and pro-active resolutions to the serious problems of race, military conflict, environmental protection, immigration, and income disparity?

In a word, NO!

And that NO expresses both fear and anger, on the part of this scribe!  

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Scratching the surface of misandry and other insecurities

Paul Morel, the young man in D.H. Lawrence’s novel, Sons and Lovers, caught between his mother’s possessiveness and fear of losing him to Miriam and his own feelings of inadequacy, struggles mightily with his feelings and his decision about whether or not to marry Miriam.

Lawrence writes these words:

With the spring came again the old madness and battle. Now he knew he would have to go to Miriam. But what was his reluctance? He told himself it was only a sort of overstrong virginity in her and him which neither could break through. He might have married her; but his circumstances at home made it difficult, and moreover, he did not want to marry. Marriage was for life, and because they had become close companions, he and she, he did not see that it should inevitably follow they should be man and wife. He did not feel that he wanted marriage with Miriam. He wished he did. He would have given his head to have felt a joyous desire to marry her and to have her. Then why couldn’t he bring it off? There was some obstacle; and what was that obstacle? It lay in the physical bondage. He shrank from the physical contact. But why? With her he felt bound up inside himself. He could not go out to her. Something struggled in him but he could not get to her. Why? She loved him….Why , when she put her arm in his timidly, as they walked, did he feel he would burst forth in brutality and recoil? He owed himself to her; he wanted to belong to her. Perhaps the recoil and the shrinking from her was love in its first fierce modesty. He had no aversion for her. No, it was the opposite; it was a strong desire battling with a still stronger shyness and virginity. It seemed as if virginity were a positive force, which fought and won in both of them. And with her he felt it so hard to overcome; yet he was nearest to her, and with her alone could he deliberately break through. And he owed himself to her. Then, if they could get things right, they could marry; but he would not marry unless he could feel strong in the joy of it---never. He could not have faced his mother. It seemed to him that to sacrifice himself in a marriage he did not want would be degrading, and would undo all his life, make it a nullity. He would try what he could do.

And he had a great tenderness for Miriam. Always, she was sad dreaming her religion; and he was nearly a religion for her. He could not bear to fail her. It would come out alright if they tried.

He looked round. A good many of the nicest men he knew were like himself, bound in by their own virginity, which they could not break out of. They were so sensitive to their women that they would go without them for ever rather than do them a hurt, an injustice. Being the sons of mothers whose husbands had blundered rather brutally through their feminine sanctities, they were themselves too diffident and shy. They could easier deny themselves than incur any reproach from a woman; for a woman was like their mother, and they were full of the sense of their mother. They preferred themselves to suffer the misery of celibacy, rather than risk the other person. ( D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers, from three great novels, JG Press, 1933p. 703-4)

The ‘Oedipus Complex’ constitutes a psychological problem and this forms the nucleus of the novels, Sons and Lovers. The possessive character of Mrs. Morel was great stumbling block in the life of Paul, the hero of the piece. She was terribly dissatisfied with her married life and then subsequently. She exerted her influence on the life of Paul who could not liberate himself from the mother-fixation. Mother’s influence was so preponderant and so overweening assertive that Paul could not get a balanced emotional life. He failed to establish a becoming relationship both with Miriam and Clara. The mother-image was deterrent to the emotional life of Paul who himself was also a highly sensitive person and in his attachment with mother we notice the warmth and passion of a lover. This complex psychological problem has been treated or delineated by Lawrence with the consummate art of a poet and an unfailing observation and insight of a true psychologist.  (From A.D.’s Literature website)

It is not a physical attraction of Paul to his mother that is at issue in this novel, although that may have been one of the interpretations emerging from the novel. It is the overweening influence of the despondent, dependent and even desperate mother on the son that blocks his achievement of a balanced emotional life. And the resulting dependence on the mother’s tyrannical emotional imprint leaves the young son wallowing, if not actually drowning in the murky waters of his mother’s own imbalance and unfinished emotional work. Wrestling with what seems like a spider’s web of enmeshment with the mother, Paul vacillates between a healthy impulse of “wanting” and moving toward Miriam, and an unhealthy impulse of avoiding and withdrawing from Miriam, in his early twenties. His vacillation signals a kind of impotence, powerlessness, indecision and emotional limbo. Others, caught in a similar web might, and often do, fall into the trap of over-compensating violence and bullying. Excessive deference and/or excessive bullying, two inappropriate emotional and psychological impulses on the part of men, in their relationship with women, play an inordinate role in contemporary culture, to the detriment of both genders, and certainly to the demise of many relationships.

For twenty-first century readers, this whole story may seem as if it belongs in the ash-heap of ancient history. After all, there is no mother of sons today whose dependence on her son, given her desperation in her own unfulfilled, and unfulfilling marriage, distorts the son’s capacity to understand his own complex emotions, and to penetrate them into an enlightened and confident sense of his self! 



There is, today, a mountain of narrative evidence of women who complain, justifiably, about the abuse they experience at the hands of inappropriate men. And there is a concomitantly inordinate number of men whose imbalance in their emotional development, especially as it regards the complexities of choosing a female life partner, impedes their healthy emotional development.

Are these the men who are and have been perpetrating injustices on women? Is Paul a clairvoyant, if fictional, canary in the coal mine of gender issues? Is his mother, while never mentioned in the front-page stories that saturate the current debate over relationships between men and women, casting a dark shadow over these fractured and fractious, debilitating and demeaning encounters of powerlessness/overpowering among men and their women colleagues and former friends, especially of those men in the public telescope?

While the #MeToo and the #Time’sUp initiatives are diagnosing and exposing the experiences of demeaned women, much of it outside the bounds of a legal framework, men continue to refuse (not merely refrain!) to seek help in the conundrum of their emotional and professional and domestic vortex. Who, after all, would contest that emotional eunuchs, especially those who do not, or cannot, comprehend their emotional DNA, would be the most likely perpetrators of sexual abuse?

And while it seems paradoxical, and to the women complainants irrelevant, to attempt to parse the male’s emotional DNA, especially as it can deliver only inappropriate attitudes and behaviour (see pornography, strip clubs, locker room talk, and the current U.S. president) we can most likely also agree that powerlessness, and the feeling of impotence, no matter how it is incarnated or seeded, will very likely generate inappropriate behaviour, both for the agent and the victim. Mothers of young boys clearly have a responsibility for their own emotional health, including the management of their marriages, and the culture of the family in which they are attempting to raise, educate and launch a healthy son.

Any notion of beginning from the point of view that it is “pointless” for a wife/mother to begin a conversation with a male spouse who is not living up to the expectations of his wife, on any matter, be it fiscal, physical, sexual, intellectual, social, parental or even spiritual, is a non-starter, sabotaging itself from the get-go! “He won’t (doesn’t) get it!” is a phrase uttered at this moment in thousands of rooms across this continent. And the voices in that choir are exclusively female!

Misandry, a dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men or boys, unfortunately takes many shapes and forms. And while the contemporary culture is fixated on the empirical, the physical evidence in any matter, there are other signs and “substantial” pieces of evidence of misandry in the debate. Emotional withdrawal, that “passive aggressive” charge for which men are infamous, can and is also a potential attitude from disaffected women. Even an emotional “stance” that positions the woman as “knowing” and “discerning” and  having “superior, emotional intelligence” as compared with men is a mean-spirited face, voice, arms and heart of misandry. Even hugs engaged in such a mental state are meaningless, for both the man and the woman. And anything beyond hugs, under an umbrella of female “emotional superiority,” is merely another play-acting, with ultimately dire consequences.

And men, whether they come from emotionally domineering mothers, or cheer-leading mothers, or insecure mothers of any sort, and also whether they come from dominating fathers, emotionally frozen and/or absent fathers, or ‘driven’ fathers, or other forms of male insecurity, will in too many cases be unable (that is very different from unwilling!) to discern their complex emotions, and how they impact their female partners, especially when those relationships get “serious” and “intimate”.

Is it not past time for this century’s enlightened and sophisticated, educated and informed, sensitive and sensible men and women to remove the mask of fear and insecurity, in whatever form it manifests itself,  and to acknowledge our vulnerability as individual human beings, to open to the possibility that we are deeper, more worthy, more open to see new insights even if they might be at first threatening and frightening (to both genders)?

Perhaps a re-reading of Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers might help even those who hate reading, in a century in which (reading) literacy is another of those species threatened into extinction (along with emotional literacy), like the 60% of the animal world that has disappeared, according to the World Wildlife Fund.