Friday, May 31, 2019

A modest memo to Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould

Modest memo to Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould:

As both of you have honestly and sincerely sought “comment” from “the people” as opposed to the political parties, this memo comes from an ordinary Canadian septuagenarian whose interest and participation in the public life of our country continue unabated, while many personal faculties begin to atrophy.

You are both at the zenith of your political influence, given the honourable and even sacrificial approach you have delivered on the matter of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement for SNC-Lavelin. Your protracted period of reflection on your continued participation in the public debates on the future of our country, however, seem to have brought forth a decision that puts the “perfect” as an impediment to the “good”.

You both want to “do politics differently” and that is a legitimate and widely shared political aspiration. You both want to see more collaboration, co-operation and balanced decision-making in the public interest, as compared with the highly fractious, ad hominum attacks, the iron-clad party discipline and ‘whipping’ of members’ votes, and you both bring professional academic qualifications, one in law another in medicine, to the public stage. Having started out your political lives “at the top of the political influence ladder” as federal cabinet ministers, however, you may have less than a complete grasp of the status, role and influence of “private, independent members of parliament”.

Set aside the issues around raising funds for campaign expenses, although hardly incidental to your potential electoral victories. Your envisioned future “outside” the structure of political parties, eliminates your access to the several, and also significant supports that attend and accompany the political party structure in our parliamentary system. For example, if and when the Green Party should attain official “party status,” public funds start to flow for staff, for research and also for others with whom you can share the responsibility for advocation of specific policy proposals. At the core of Green Party modus operandi, as I understand it, is the specific “concensus” approach to decision-making of which Ms Wilson-Raybould speaks so fervently, as rooted in indigenous foundations.

Political “lives,” unlike “the cat with nine lives” have a predictable and historic “term limit” not so much based on law as on voter support. Given a substantial and potential decade of political contribution (depending both on voter support and on a candidate’s life choices), your likely “term” in parliament could extend to the far end of the decade beginning in 2020. And in that time, the Canadian political “glacier” is unlikely to melt as quickly as the Arctic ice cap seems to be melting. For starters, sustainable, and significant political decisions to mediate what CBC and the Liberals are now agreed to calling the “climate crisis/emergency” (leaving off the “impact on women” codicil that Minister McKenna seeks to include) could well be the best Canadians can expect to be able to look back on in 2030. Your contribution to that existential-threatening file could (and would, it says here) be significantly enhanced through your membership in the Green Party.
Collaboration, compromise, concensus, and a feminist perspective are already embedded in the Green Party culture to which you were evidently invited to join. And while the Kinder-Morgan pipeline, a cornerstone of Liberal policy and commitment, a project you must have had to accept, if not wholly endorse, would have had to be reconciled with Green Party membership, and while joining the Green’s at this time would also have made it more troublesome to return to the Liberal fold, if and when the Prime Minister is no longer leader, your “voice” in both its substance and its reach, would have been more likely to penetrate the public consciousness given the propensity of the media to engage “party” spokespersons ahead of and in place of “private members”. Your capacity to shift that paradigm, in addition to the labour of shifting the national political paradigm, from hierarchical, party-driven-and-founded to the complexity (and the richness) of multiple voices, as you both seem to envision, will be limited at best, and at worse, perhaps even negligible.

The most prominent North American “independent” political actor, Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist by choice and by definition for the full length of his political life, including his term as Mayor of Burlington Vermont, has macheted his way through the political everglades of the American media, and Congress, to emerge in 2019 facing a phalanx of echoes, especially Elizabeth Warren, in his most recent campaign to win the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency. Of course, the American political system and ethos is different from the Canadian system and ethos. The “star” meme (or archetype, or icon) “enjoys” a much higher “profile” in the public consciousness in the U.S. than it does in Canada. Sander’s political ideology has driven his every political utterance, vote and policy choice. By comparison, at this time, together your (Ms Philpott and Wilson-Raybould) political agenda reads as “process” over “policy” and process is a much more abstract and more difficult to “inculcate” in the public mind and consciousness (except for the penetration of gross ethic malfeasance) than the policy decisions which can be delineated, debated, compared and tweeked as the public becomes more and more familiar and either supportive or opposed to their import. Personal, private identity, too, is not nearly so relevant to the public discourse as are the political “positions” or policy preferences of the “players” unless or until a private indiscretion rises like escaping crude to the top of the “swamp” of the political theatre.

Furthermore, there is and will always be the tension between the abstraction of a “process” debate” on governance and a debate on policy. For example, the interest and discipline to investigate and to assess public policy is far less intense than the public interest in personalities and process, witness the numbers in the votes on proportional representation already completed, even though the measure has received considerable public debate, and considerable research, not to mention successful introduction and operation in other jurisdictions.

Each of you share and articulate your wish and goal to “listen” to the wishes, opinions, attitudes and preferences of your “constituents”. And while that is highly honourable, and even noble of purpose, those voices, depending on their “access” to your “ears” will emit louder and more penetrating sounds and influence, even if they will not command the power and influence of the mega-donors to national political campaigns.

And, having critically observed and evaluated urban politics at a northern Ontario city hall for a dozen years, I am more than conscious, and thereby highly sceptical, of the power and influence of private money on political decisions, even on issues like retail mall development in the local community. The manner and discipline by which you establish and maintain systems/processes/personnel to discern the “value” and “impact” of each voice seeking to intervene in your political decisions, should you become an independent member of parliament will more than determine your success in modelling this new paradigm in our national culture.

It is not that the “ideal” is unworthy of authentic aspiration. It is, however, begging for highly disciplined and rigorous boundaries, and supports in order to avoid or at least minimize the mere repetition of “local” politics on the national stage. Each of you must be conscious of how political actors are “manipulated” by forces that may or may not have a political party affiliation. Developers, for example, are not reputed to have undue political influence because they are innocent of the charge. Contract bids, in response to RFP’s, whether from city hall or Parliament Hill, magnetize actors and actions that seek their own self interest. And while as an independent, private member, the assumption “going in” is that because your’s is a lonely and sole vote, it is hardly worth spending motivational money to secure its being cast in the “right way” to appease larger, corporate interests.

The recent town hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, held by Republican Congressman Justin Amash, on the issue of his advocacy for impeachment of the American president, found him uttering these words, when confronted with the challenge from an audience member to express the wishes of his voters: “ I am not elected merely to express the wishes of my voters, but I am expected to uphold the Constitution.” And while the last chapter of your respective political lives closed on the question of a matter of principal and law, those occasions are irregular, intermittent and unpredictable, especially when compared with the public exposure of specific public files and issues each of which beg for reflection by the political class.

Nevertheless, you will have to reconcile highly conflicted opinions of your neighbours, your local politicians, your local business operators, and your circle of influence, just as you have had to do up to now. Only, up to now, the party’s policy position provided guide-posts for your “talking points” and as independent members you will need to acquire and absorb much more research data on which to base your public statements on public policy, in your town halls. Your role as “listeners” will need to be balanced with your role as “leaders” and “innovators” and “trend-setters” with respect to policy and vision. And your focus on “process” will satisfy a segment of your voters; that segment, however, might well not include either the local media, nor the local coffee-shop conversations.

The public consciousness of the political process hardly holds politicians in high regard. One of the principle reasons for this shared gestalt of indictment of the political class is that the “herd” mentality of the party system has such a strong hold on the participants. On this cornerstone, you both have grounded your decision to run for a seat in parliament in October, 2019. The concomitant hollowness of the debate, from all sides, begs the interjection of much more nuanced, complex and visionary views, research and policy options than the elementary school-yard shouting match permits. However, supporting this “shouting match” is a public so disillusioned, and also so divided, and also so reductionistic and even simplistic in its political cognition, understanding and  tolerance of highly sophisticated, even if relevant and applicable, solutions to  public issues.

There can be no doubt about the capacity of each of you to evolve highly sophisticated, nuanced, practical and relevant policy options, irrespective of their potential colouration of a political party’s identity. And your ambition and vision to bridge the chasm between the political parties and their respective identities, however obscured and diffuse and even over-lapping they are, warrants considerable reflection by the local and national media, as well as by the leadership of the national political parties, and to be sure, the local electorate whose engagement, digestion and endorsement of various policy options will become somewhat more evident on the morning after the October vote.

It is the capacity of the political “establishment” including the national media, the political parties, the political leadership, and the national donors to open their eyes, their ears and most importantly their minds and attitudes to  what might become a duet of refreshing, if somewhat “LaMancha-esque” voices. Your injection of the archetype of the “artist” into what seems to be a highly corporate, self-interested, profit-driven (both cash and votes) and ultimately parched political landscape bodes ill should your voices be lost from that landscape.

And, to be sure, your decision to have joined the Green’s would not and could not have assured you or the nation of your continued participation and contribution to the serious needs of our people and our country. What is not debatable is that your passion, and your principled advocacy, your ethics and your willingness to undergo the rigours and the personal debasement of offering your name for re-election are commendable, honourable and worthy of emulation.

Too bad all of those platinum qualities that you bring to the table could not be an integral part of all political parties.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

A global wake-up call: titanium dioxide, Trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11), and plutonium 239

Three news stories yesterday caught my eyes, and, when the dots are connected, offer a piercing siren sound warning on the state of our world. Each story focused on a specific chemical compound, the new anti-human arsenal of stealth foes (non-improvised explosive devices) against which our culture, and certainly our governments are unprepared to protect us.

The three compounds are respectively: titanium dioxide, Trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11), plutonium 239.

The first, titanium oxide, is a food additive in many of our processed foods (including the tooth paste I used this morning), the second a chemical used in the production of foam, and the third, the radioactive element in nuclear waste with a half-life of 24,000-plus years.

Bobby Hristova, reporting in National Post (22 05 19) writes:

Titanium oxide is behind the sheen on sweets and the bleach0-white colour of toothpaste and chewing gums, but new research shows it may also be behind colorectal cancer, colitis and other stomach problems….

A 2015 study in the U.S. showed some of the products with the most titanium dioxide include Mentos Freshmint Gum, Kool Aid Blue Raspberry, M&M’s Chocolate Candy and Betty Crocker Whipped Cream Frosting….

Research from Queen’s University showed when pregnant mice consumed a conservative amount of titanium dioxide nanoparticles,, their babies were born with deformities, while fruit flies exposed to the whitener had fertility issues….

France is banning titanium dioxide in 2020 after being unable to guarantee it is safe, with other studies linking it to obesity and diabetes….

Dr. Emma Allen-Vercoe, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at the University of Guelph, says the stomach’s microbiota has 100 times more genes than human genomes, and researchers have missed these microbiota for years. Not looking at the genes means not getting a full understanding of how the additives impact the body….

I don’t see that in my lifetime we would ever be able to do all the experiments using the plethora of nanoparticles and all different chemical str4uctures, Virginia Walker, a professor of molecular genetics at Queen’s University says.

Also in the National Post, (22-05-19) Jacob Dube writes:

…scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association found that global emissions of Trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11) have actually been increasing since 2013. The increase implied that someone was secretly violating the Montreal Protocol (signed by 197 countries around the world, including Canada, the U.S. and China. As the ozone layer in our upper atmosphere slowly depleted—letting in an increasing amount of the sun’s ultraviolet rays—the protocol contributed to a significant reduction in harmful CFCs, which then allowed for a slow healing of the ozone layer.)…
Now in a new study published in Nature on May 22, scientists from the University of Bristol, Kyungpook National University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that between 40 and 60 per cent of total global CFC-11 emissions originate from eastern China…

Manufacturers (in China) told the EIA (Environmental Investigation Agency) they continued to use the banned product because of its better quality and cheaper price. The New York Times reported that some factories were producing the gas in secret, while other manufacturers said the local governments turned a blind eye….

Matthew Rigby, (Reader in Atmospheric Chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol), said scientists and watchdogs didn’t know just how much manufacturers in China were emitting---about 7000 tonnes of CFC-11 since 2013…more than double the emissions we were expected from China at that time…
Rigby also mentioned that CFC-11 is a greenhouse gas, about 5000 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the climate…
Also in the National Post, (21-05-19), we find this headline:

The U.S. stuffed  waste from nuclear bomb tests under a dome on a Pacific island. Now, the dome is cracking open

The report continues:

At 6:45 a.m. on March 1, 1054, the blue sky stretching over the south Pacific Ocean was split open by an enormous red flash. Within seconds, a mushroom cloud towered seven kilometers high over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The explosion, the U.S. government’s first weaponized hydrogen bomb, was 1000 times more powerful than the “Little Boy” atomic bomb blast that flattened Hiroshima—and a complete miscalculation…Radioactive ash dropped more than 7,000 square miles from the bomb site, caking the nearby inhabited islands. “Within hours, the atoll was covered with a fine, white powder-like substance,” the Marshall Islands health minister would later testify, according to the Atomic Heritage Foundation. “No one knew it was radioactive fallout, The children played in the ‘snow.’ They ate it.”…

Beginning in 1977, the (U.S.) Defense Agency began a sustained cleanup of the nuclear debris left over on Enewetak Atoll, a slender archipelago in the Marshall Islands’s northwest corner. The material was then transported to Runit Island, where a 328-foot crater remained from a May 1958 test explosion. For three years the American military dumped the material into the crater. Six men reported died during the  work. Locals took to calling it, “The Tomb,” the Guardian reported….

In 1980, a massive concrete dome—18 inches think and shaped  like a flying saucer—was placed over the fallout debris, sealing off the material on Runit. But the $218 million project was only supposed to be temporary until a more permanent site was developed, according to the Guardian, However, no further plans were ever hatched….

According to a 2017 report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, among the fallout material was plutonium-239, an isotope that is one of the world’s most toxic substances, and one with a radioactive half-life of 24,100 years. The staying power of that material is the problem.. It’s still there, only 18 inches of concrete from waters that are rising.
“That dome is the connection between the nuclear age and the climate change age,” climate change activist Alson Kelen told the Australian broadcaster….

Cracks reportedly have started to appear in the dome. Part of the threat is that the crater was never properly lined, meaning rising seawater could breach the structural integrity. “The Bottom of the dome is just what was left behind by the nuclear weapons explosion,” Michael Gerrard, the chair of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, told the ABC. “It’s permeable soil. There was no effort to line it, And therefore, the seawater is inside the dome….

The Marshallese government…does not have the money to shore up the structure, leaving it vulnerable to both rising tides and typhoons. “It’s clear as day that the local government will neither have the expertise or funds to fix the problem it is needs a particular fix,” a Marshallese official told the Guardian.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Rage viewed from a world without soul

Television dramas seem replete with rage….angry victims perpetrating unlawful acts of rage linked inextricably to law enforcement agents pouring intense physical and emotional rage in their pursuit and capture. Pitting both extremes against each other, as a moral epic, however, too often misses the interstacies of the backgrounds of both victims and power brokers.

Why do people erupt in rage?

This is a question, in many different faces, I have pondered for decades. It was rage that seemed to trigger violence in the form of demeaning verbiage and bruising thrusts of a heavy right arm both erupting from a seemingly unleashed mother, whenever a trigger of imperfection ignited the roiling furnace of her rage. As a youngster, I lived in both fear and anticipation of the “next episode” and learned, without conscious awareness, to scout, to reconnoiter, to smell, and to intuit the danger signals whenever I entered our house. Whistling, the bottom false-teeth plate stuck out of the mouth, seated at the end of the kitchen counter smoking a duMaurier cigarette, frenetic cleaning, huge heaves of fatigued breathing while hanging the washing on the line from the back porch, and the basic withdrawal into the bedroom for days and weeks while the rest of the family ate the evening meal…these were the barlines in a raucous, untempered, unpredictable  score of rage the origins of which condition remain a mystery decades after her actual death.

Was it boredom, servility, perfectionism, the pursuit of the holy, revenge against her father, self-loathing at having married “beneath” her entitled state, competition of the Hollywood mother, volcanic eruptions of a deep-seated devaluing from an  early life of isolation, alienation and depravity??????....who knows. Some might  even diagnose it as a legacy of desperate and pervasive inadequacy and the fear of being “disclosed” especially in comparison with her highly talented, valued, appreciated and even honoured mother.

George Santayana: Depression is rage spread thin.

Paul Tillich: Boredom is rage spread thin.

Tina Brown: Servility always curdles into rage in the end.

What is the difference between the passion of soul and the soul of passion? How can we appreciate the relationship between rage and the conditions of the world in which rage seems to erupt? Is there a relation, given our highly conventional cultural fixation on the depravity of the individual, to the blindness of the social anatomy in which the individual exists? The nature vs. nurture discussion has often taken the form of a painting the different aspects of individual genetics on a canvas of the social laboratory as depicted by sociologists and historians and anthropologists. Are there more nuanced, perhaps refined, perspectives through which to examine rage?

Does the human imagination, for instance, include a conscious or unconscious vision of how things might be in any circumstance in which a human finds him or herself? Does this vision impel both emotions and actions toward fulfilment of that vision? Does this vision also potentially impel/compel thoughts, strategies, plans and even actions that “rebel” against the “what is” when compared with the “what might be or have been”? Is rage one of the potential outcomes of the perceived “deficit” in one’s feeling/experience of emptiness, given the perception of the ethos in which s/he exists?
Let’s look at some of the potential landscapes/streetscapes/kitchenscapes/bedroomscapes/officescapes/boardroomscapes that might potentially evoke, provoke, trigger, motivate rage!

Suffering, in its many forms and faces, pain, illness, scarcity, loneliness, abandonment, impotence, anger …..these are normally associated with an incident, another person, a workplace, and often generate feelings of retribution, revenge, jealousy. Often associated with Mars, masculinity, is painted with the brush of anger. And in a culture in which “talking it out” with and through the professional services of a therapist, a social worker, a coach, counsellor or even a psychiatrist is the preferred approach to healing. Included in this approach, too, is the potential of pharma-therapies. Currently, for example, in the western world, relationships, sex, alcoholism, and excessive emotional outbursts like rage, are considered
illnesses, disease, each requiring “treatment”. We will often hear or read about those who commit violent acts as “mentally disturbed” psychotic, perhaps even as sociopaths or psychopaths. And we are not either apologizing for nor excusing acts of rage that destroy the lives of other people. This argument is trying to shift the lens away from the pathologizing of the illness to the lens of the “world” or the culture as the subject of our perspective. Could it be that the world, itself, incarnates many forms of “disease” that impact the individual personal lives of millions of our colleagues?

Based on early science that discovered “germs” at the root of disease, the term theory “holds that disease in an invasion of the body from the outside by bacteria, each disease being characterized by a distinct malignant biological entity.” (Robert Sardello,
Facing the World with Soul, p.66)

On the other hand, if we were to take a more prescient, insightful, penetrating lens to the “world” and the contemporary culture, we would pay more attention to the conditions of the world that might be negatively impacting human health and well-being:

The present age is characterized by a physical deteriorating of the structure of culture and by a loss of soul. Anonymity abounds with a pervasive incapacity to experience individuality…Emotional life becomes shallow, the will absent, the interior life lost. These disappearing qualities belonged first to the world; the world’s suffering and the neglect of that suffering are secondarily manifested through the microcosmic world of the individual body. (Sardello, p. 71, in his analysis of the roots of AIDS)

When confronting the ubiquitous malaise of cancer, Sardello writes:

Cancer is the most substantial, most concrete, instance of the suffering of the things of the world, a suffering belonging to the body of the world before it belongs to the body of the individual. While actual cancer is pervasive, cancerphobia is now universal, producing morbid fear of everything in the world. Which is to say that everything in the world is in fear….The belief that medicine will conquer this disease brings about forgetfulness of the world conditions that express cancer while it simultaneously enlarges individual fears to neurotic proportions…(ibid, p.72)

After listing carcinogens, made from synthetic inorganic chemicals, Sardello writes:

(T)hey do not belong to nature and they make possible the proliferation of mass-produced objects on a scale unheard of before. These synthetic substances possess a peculiar kind of immortality, because they are incapable of entering into the organic cycle of life and death, and when discarded they do not return to dust because from dust they did not come; they came from chemical factories. As such, they lack the true individuality of things and bear no mark of handiwork. Without exception, the world of cancer is the world of mass objects that individual things. Cancer appear in the body as the uprising of masses of undifferentiated cells destroying the individual structure of the body. Cancer goes together with mass society. (Ibid, p. 72-3)

Through Sardello’s lens, if disease can be interpreted as the impact of a soul-less culture and world, would it also be feasible to posit a credible apology for rage, based on the lack of soul, the absence of beauty and the failure to acknowledge the “dearth” both so requisite to the healthy imagination of the well-being of each human being.
Paying inordinate attention to the performance of the “garden stage,” the “church-stage” of mandatory attendance and literal readings of scripture, the jack-booted rigour of three-hour-piano-practice appointments every Saturday morning for nearly twelve years, the kitchen-based performance of competitive meals larger, more endowed with calories, and officiously served to humbled and overwhelmed guests….perhaps these were some of the conditions that were causative of a mother’s and a wife’s rage. Was she attempting to do more than was either needed or appropriate? Was she compensating for her hidden (and even unconscious) inadequacy in light of her mother’s generosity and equanimity? Did these “world” conditions approximate a soul-less and ‘ill” culture, which could and would generate different psychic ripples and waves in future generations?

Similarly, a rural, isolated and isolating village, in which child abuse was never reported because “everyone ‘covered’ in silence for everyone else” (the authentic Children’s Aid Society’s assessment), in which more literal, evangelical fundamentalist ideology, essentially a weaponizing of that theology against a moderate, liberal, poetic scriptural reading and interpretation, prevailed, where guns and violence substituted for reason and discussion, especially when fears of inadequacy and illiteracy reared their heads, where alcohol was the medication of preference for the repressed anger and rage and where socializing focused on commerce, materialism, and land prices…does this comprise another example of a soul-less world?

Another example comes to mind from an upper-income, elevated social class hub in a parish church proud of its half-million trust fund while street people went starving only a few blocks away, proud of its list of professional memberships, and its so-carved homilies fashioned specifically for various “types” following the Myers-Briggs test administration, hollowed out by an uber-ambitious female priest’s military, power-driven management threatened by an internal assessment that the part-time surrogate was a “real leader and you are not”….urban focus on maintaining the façade of superiority, of superficiality, and a fixation on function and performance….is this just another iteration of a soul-less world, ironically and paradoxically constructed and purposed to “birth, nurture, elevate, develop and sustain the “soul” of the parishoners?

One more! please be patient, dear reader!

This time, the introduction came through the windshield of a mid-nineties burgundy Subaru, loaded with things that would be required for a stay of years potentially. Rolling, dry, sand-covered hills, dotted with the occasional herd of cattle, and a few lines of skimpy pines and cedars, interrupted by the overwhelming beauty of high-wire curve bordering a mountain cliff over-looking a meandering stream reflecting the afternoon sun….comprised the greeting of nature.

Immediately, upon entering the main street, with the tumble-weed blowing up and down the deserted street, the sun-baked store-fronts evoking images of western movie-sets, merely facades almost unconsciously forcing a shift of the head, to the right to catch a glimpse of the sand-rock outcrop that bordered the north edge of the town. An adventure into the American outlier-wilderness, only admissible to the innocent Canadian romantic as a “new challenge” in a foreign place demanding a dramatic shift in what had been an established “picture of the U.S. big-brother” borne of summers of carrying out groceries from the local Dominion store for wealthy American tourists, and earlier Thursday afternoon penny-scrambles on the town dock for the local “poor kids” patronizing performed by the blue-rinse set from Duluth.

And then, the faces and the perspectives of the small tribe of six people still pleading for survival as a mission church in a town with twenty-two other places of worship started to flow in the first few days. Money, that barometer of soul-less-ness, was and remained the core issue in negotiations with this “Canadian alien.” They wanted what apparently amounted to a mere “sacramentalist” for Sunday mornings, funerals, weddings and, most importantly, no threat to their constricted budget and the even more constricted parameters of their individual and shared expectations.

“We can afford to pay for someone to meet only basic needs,” came from the shrivelled and controlling treasurer. “We have been struggling with supply priests for the last while and we have certainly not been growing.”

To which I responded, “If you want only a sacramentalist, I did not drive 3000 miles to fill that role! Either we will engage in a full-time relationship, or I will return to Canada!”

Protests in frowns, shifting bottoms, darting eyes and silence greeted my retort.

For nearly forty months, after securing a minimal commitment, we struggled, screamed, performed and rehearsed a form of ministry that could only be considered a mere placebo, if the growth and development of individual spiritual lives is the measure. Throughout, I not infrequently drove my fist through the giprock walls in the bathroom, bedroom and hallway of the vicarage in a rage that I am convinced has to have its roots both in the repressed rage of my youth and in the impact of the emotional, psychological, spiritual and social desert of this lost and forgotten town on the west side of the continental divide. I recall sitting on a loaned pink sofa many mornings bemoaning the truth that if I were to venture out into the parish community, by visiting or even by phoning just to “visit,” I knew that I would be considered “invasive” and “gushing” because I would be invading the privacy of their frozen and private and isolated and controlling lives.

There is a phrase in jewish lore, “tsim tsum”…translated as presence through absence, a phrase that was brought to my attention in conversations with classmates in theology, as a positive “take” on the tragedy of my factured family and marriage, brought on by my own decisions. While it never soothed my broken heart and spirit, I only hoped my absence in the lives of three daughters would afford them enhanced opportunity and space for their rich imaginations to flourish in their own lives. In that desert western town, however, I could and did only despair that the impact of my ‘withdrawal’ would be to deepen the isolation and the entrapment of the uroborus snake’s head-in-the-tail repetition of their circular, private, isolated and alienated and anonymous lives.

Perhaps, it is long past time for each of us to re-examine the circumstances, conditions and the attitudes and habits and perceptions of the “world” in which we live and breathe and find our meaning and purpose…asking ourselves to what extent we are conscious of our seeding, watering and weeding the world’s soul…and asking how we can cultivate, each in our own way, an acceptance and adoption of that perspective among our peers.

Rage, at least the rage that I punched into those many holes in that vicarage, is a social and a political embarrassment and, also, importantly a scream coming from  a sick soul of the world….and my failure to plant seeds of world soul in that little community is one of the most glaring failures of a long life.

Monday, May 13, 2019

An modest introduction to Robert Sardello's, Facing the World with Soul

There are so many reasons why humans consider the planet, the family, the culture, disease, and all of the images of both success and failure as out there, needing our control and manipulation to demonstrate both our “values” and our purpose. In order to keep up the illusion that ‘we are in control’ of our circumstances, we build in rewards and sanctions to perpetuate this picture of reality.

Some would consider this approach to be “Alice-in-wonderland,” topsey-turvey. For some, the “world” has its own soul, meaning, purpose and message, and in order to us to approximate a more realistic and sustainable stance we need to develop the capacity, the willingness, the sensibility and the metaphoric “ear” and perspective that is open to, receptive to, willing to comprehend and vulnerable to integrate what the world is telling us. We are, after all, part of, and not separate from, the things in the world that are trying to get their messages into our psyches. The writer who introduced this scribe to the notion of the world’s soul, and our need to begin to stay quiet and listen to what messages might emit from that ‘world’s soul,’ is Robert Sardello, co-founder of the School of Spiritual Psychology in North Carolina, formerly head of the psychology department and the Institute of Philosophic Studies at the University of Dallas.
Sardello’s book, Facing the World with Soul, (Lindisfarne Press, 1992) includes this passage:

We are accustomed to taking concentration, meditation, picture-making (or imaging) and contemplation as belonging to individual consciousness when they are, it seems to me, a giving over of individual consciousness to the consciousness that is the soul of the world. Concentration is the art of forgetting our own subjectivity in order to be fully available, to what presents itself. When the activities of personal thinking and personal feeling are stilled, the subjectivity of the outer world expresses itself. Meditation is a new kind of thinking, not going off to an ashram or a private room to ah and om, but leaving behind the physical brain, which can only reflect the material world in its outer aspect, in order to enter into the intelligence of things. Thus, meditation is the intensification of intelligence, the warmth and light within things. Picture-making or imaging unfold from the action of meditation. Images are reflections of the warmth of meditation, they are a reflective intelligence. But this intelligence must maintain intimate connection with concentration and meditation; alone, imaging focuses only on the product and picturing becomes looking at pictures. And then contemplation-the call to contemplative life no longer implies removal from the world, but the exact opposite, constant mobile relation with the movement of the soul of the world. (p.25-6)

A continuous “flow” between the human being and the “world” is based on the notion that, at a very profound level, we are intimately connected to the world, and not separate from, detached from, isolated from or even abandoned by the world.
The implications of this reversed perspective are monumental. Let’s look at a few of them, starting with disease and medicine.

Sardello writes:

I want to speak of disease, letting disease tell the condition of soul in the world. In order for disease to speak in this way, the modern medical attitude must be suspended. There are many aspects to this modern outlook: the viewing of the body as a conglomeration of parts, of disease as the invasion of the body be destructive entities, of the physician as heroic warrior; the assumption that death is evil; the optimism that the marriage between science and technology will produce cures of all diseases, disease itself being seen as evil. This outlook now extends far beyond the bounds of medicine and constitutes a way of looking upon everything in the world that we now find uncomfortable or do not like. Everything from drinking to sex to relationships that are difficult now counts as disease and thus as being in need of medical treatment. I want to approach disease from an entirely different standpoint, to give it a hearing as a presentation of the soul of the world. (p. 65)

Without exception, the world of cancer is the world of mass objects rather than individual things. Cancer appears in the body as the uprising of masses of undifferentiated cells destroying the individual structure of the body, Cancer goes together with mass society.
Sardello here references Victor Bott, who posits two invariable pre-indicators of cancer. The first is the onset of fatigue that will not go away, a particular kind of fatigue unlike exhaustion from work and also unlike depression. The fatigue can be described as more like a lack of animation, an inability to feel engaged in the world. The second symptom is insomnia. Bott says, ‘One could even say that any insomnia beginning without evident cause must make one suspect latent cancer.’ Only to the materialist eye do these symptoms appear assigns of the body under attack by a deadly enemy; by some unknown virus. The fatigue of the natural body, the stressed-out body, that no longer find the wold a home, calls for a different kind of engagement with the world—an engagement alert to all that is unnatural in the world, alert to the dying body of the world, committed to enlivening the world, the reclothing it with acts of imagination. The inability to sleep, to enter into the dream world, suggests the necessity of seeing the world through the spontaneous act of image making characteristic of dreaming. (Op Cit., p.73- 74)

Sardello offers a similar perspective on heart attack.

Heart attack relates to the world in panic, the world that has lost rhythm, pace, tone, the world in anxiety. The Greek word for anxiety is mermeros, meaning division of an entity into smaller and smaller portions—dismemberment, that it. The Latin word for anxiety is angor, meaning strangling. I suspect that we have received our word “anger” from this source, as well as the world “angina,” the narrowing of the arteries, the anxiety of the heart no longer connected to the flow of time. Smoking, drinking, overeating, lack of exercise—these behaviours cannot be taken as reasons for heart failure, for they serve merely as means to cover deep anxiety, anxiety that belongs first to the dismembered, angry, narrow world in which there is no connection between one thing and another. Does not anxiety come when there are too many things to pay attention to, when there are too many disconnected demands, producing limitation in the field of attention, an underlying apathy, depression of spirit, a wish to keep the world with all its demands at bay through excessive control? Anxiety, then connects with the attempt to keep the anxious world away from the body. Ironically, a culture that keeps the wor5ld separate from the body produced the artificial heart, the heart that locates the world-as-object right at the centre of the body. Thus far, such a procedure ha snot been able to sustain life, while borrowing the hearts of others has prolonged it…
Before the onset of the metaphor of the heart as a pump, heart was felt throughout the body as the rhythmic activity of the body. The pump changes rhythm into mechanical circulation, as activity in the world as also viewed as mechanical circulation—of money, goods, ideas, traffic water. The idea of circulation goes together with the idea of progress; progress does not advance culture, but keeps the same old things circulating in more and more mechanical, automated ways while no substantial transformation over takes place. With progress what begins as heart becomes more and more brain; the activity fo the brain now determines life and death. (p. 75)

For each of us to begin to open to what appears as the inverse of everything we have been taught in a world dominated by the notion of the separation between the human being and the “world” as compared with the persistent, inevitable, and highly impactful flow of “soul-sounds” from the world would open up a much more enriched, “connected” and interdependent, if complex, relationship between our lives and the culture of the world. It would also serve to render much more modest the role of the physician, the machines, the medicines, and the objectification and disconnection between us and all things.

What a  poetic prospect!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Despotism itself qualifies as "high crimes and misdemeanours"

Memo to Nancy Pelosi and Chick Schumer:

Despotism qualifies as “high crimes and misdemeanours”

It does not take a Philadelphia lawyer to discern the malfeasance that corrodes the Oval Office, and all branches of the government touched by its occupant. (And this scribe is no lawyer!)

However, for Democrats to take the “tortoise (versus hare) approach to impeachment, even if the face of the iceberg facing their ‘titanic’ struggle in the form of the Republican-dominate Senate, and concentrate their “investigation of the facts” to the legal minutiae uncovered by Mueller, and then putting their trust in the capacity of their multiple investigations by House Committees of the trump administration, campaign, business dealings, bank relationships, inauguration committee, and potential for compromise by foreign powers is to wander blindly into the midnight forest looking through a microscope at the legal reasons (leaves) for impeachment.

This moment in history, however, demands more muscle, insight, imagination, team discipline and courage than required by a “legally defined” approach. If it were to be a legal approach, then this president would have/should have been impeached on day one of his presidency, just based on his flaunting of the emoluments clause. The world, not only the American people, need and demand the removal of this presidency, at the earliest possible moment. And, it is not the first time the world has faced the prospect of a despot operating in a so-called enlightened and developed nation.

Inspiration from history is a well from which the Democrats can drink the waters of hope, courage, and imagination. De Toqueville coined the term  “soft depotism” describing a country overrun by a network of small complicated rules” might degrade.

 Soft despotism gives people the illusion that they are in control, when in fact they have very little influence over their government. (Wikipedia) Historically, soft despotism has been considered to be most likely held by the aristocracy, in a democratic nation.

In the current state of the union in the United States, there is a wannabe Casesar, upheld by a cult of obsequious mandarins, comprising a new and different class of iconoclasts, bent on using the unitary executive (theory and practice) to thwart the will of the people, or at least a majority of the people. Fear of the remaining sycophants, that 35-38% of trump red-necks, cannot and must not be the determining factor in mitigating, circumscribing, or mediating, in any way, the approach of the Democrats in their discharge of their constitutional obligations. The fact that Republicans in both houses of Congress bear the same constitutional responsibility, while currently hidden, denied or avoided by those blinded by their desperate need for power, is an obvious and unburied political mine field, around which the nation, led by the Democrats, has to navigate. Democracy itself is founded on the notion that eventually the will of the people will subdue the nefarious, malevolent, malicious and destructive tendencies of those upholding cancerous power-brokers. It is for the push, the engine, the rocket fuel and the political will that everyone looks to the Democrats to launch this over-due removal from office.

De Toqueville posited two “weapons” of freedom in a democratic state:
Ø Freedom of the press
Ø Freedom of association

He saw both of these forces as agents of decentralizing power, both the power of ideas and the power of individuals. And the prospect of “administrative despotism” (De Toqueville’s term) was his view of the most likely to take hold in America. “This ever-changing administration grows over time to become the ultramonarchical monster which initially prompted the American Revolution from the portrayed despot of England.” (Joshua D. Glawson, on

Glawson goes on to quote De Toqueville:

The doctrine of self-interest well understood seems to me of all the philosophic theories the most appropriate to the needs of men in our time, and that I see in it the most powerful guarantee against themselves that remains to them. (Democracy in America, 502-503)

We cannot rely on the Democrats alone to bring about the result the world needs and the American democracy demands. A free press, unencumbered by the mandate to drink the kool-aid of the aphrodisiac of ratings (and advertising sales and corporate profits), can and will release the coverage of mendacity, depravity and despotism so incarnated in this administration without regard to the kind of euphemistic, clinical, analytical and academic analysis that tends to “fog” the danger. Chamberlain succumbed to the “fog” of propaganda in Munich, and the American people have to be guided by the hand of the media, supplemented by the thought leaders like Bill Weld, Ralph Nader, Lawrence Tribe, David Cay Johnston,  each of them given more time and exposure, not only on MSNBC but also on Fox, PBS and CBS and ABC, as well as in national dailies like the New York Times and Washington Post. Noam Chomsky, too, that linguist so renowned for his continual, persistent, acerbic and prophetic unmasking of political verbiage of all political actors from all sides for decades deserves a far more prominent place of time and attention by the American public, if the corporate cabal that undergirds the Republican (and to a lesser degree the Democrat) “establishment” soldiers. The president is the current and malignant symptom of the American malaise; he is not, however, the root cause of the disease that is threatening the very life of the republic.

Freedom of association, while acknowledged among individuals as a potentially decentralizing energy in a healthy democracy, has become a form of interior, if unofficial collusion among corporate executives. Private, personal profit, stock options, golden parachutes, fixed prices, unregulated financial services industry, and the outflow of action plans to advance, enhance and assure their respective and collective “normalcy” underlie the American political and economic culture. And one clear symptom of this underlying malaise can be seen in the determined and blatant initiative to “sell arms” (including withdrawal from the UN arms control agreement) anywhere and any time to any buyer by the trump administration. This flagrant attempt to fan the flames of military conflict, as a ruse to generate American employment numbers, (not to mention enhanced revenue and dividends for American oligarchs), is just another of the many “high crimes and misdemeanours” that fall outside the purview of the American legal, judicial system, and certainly of the current Justice Department, headed by William Barr.

Unless and until the corporate layer of “leadership” finally takes off their addictive blinders and opens their eyes to the deliberate, public, insouciant, self-serving, debilitating actions, beliefs, attitudes and sleuths that rush like a cataract from the administration, all of the legitimate, limited and polite legal overtures of the Democrats to remove this administration will crater on the shoals of defiance from the Oval Office.

The self-serving approach of both Republicans and corporate executives (seeking the preservation of their own power and wealth) is an unnamed, legal, and socially approved kind of obstruction to this blocked “bowel” of the American democracy. And this moment in history in so many ways requires a tectonic cultural shift from the pursuit of personal, private wealth and power, to both an acknowledgement and acceptance and honouring of the public interest, the public good, and the public institutions that have sustained that public good/interest for centuries.

Another shift in the culture needed for this moment of history to become the kind and degree of catharsis that is desperately needed focuses on the addiction to the “heroic star” of the public entertainment appetite. The current president has ridden, manipulated and essentially owned the archetype of the “star” in American life for decades, all the while masquerading in that mask while defrauding the IRS, the New York tenants who happened to live in his buildings, likely also many American banks who will allegedly no longer loan him money. And taking him out will not reset the American political and cultural health prognosis.

Charging Barr with contempt of Congress, and even the potential of bringing him to heel in a now-out-of-mind-and-use jail cell in the basement of Congress will only demonstrate the hollow emptiness of the Democratic labours. Similarly, while needed as a micro-measure, the petition to the court for release of the Grand Jury testimony will not comprise adequate proof to convince Republic Senators of the need to impeach the president, nor will it move any of those hardened trump cult members so deeply intoxicated by his political, financial and theatrical snake oil.

Leadership, starting with the look-in-the-mirror honesty and courage to the self, an activity so divorced from the political arena, is the missing ingredient from the Republican-trump-cult cabal, epitomized and even honoured by the cult leader himself. He is clearly one of the most anaesthetized-from-reality (especially his own) persons to occupy a prominent position in American life, since Barnum and Bailey. Declaring himself the most intelligent, best educated and most capable person in America, “I alone can fix this!” trump paradoxically betrays his own vacuity, and projects that vacuity onto the environment, the battlefield, the diplomatic conference room, and especially the mass anaesthetics of television and twitter.

Drunk on his own hubris, trump overflows the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanours,” threatening not only the American democracy, but also the highly fragile, brittle and thin world order. As a megaphone for white supremacy, an incarnation of “mob” culture, a “transformative” president (in all of the most dangerous nefarious ways imaginable) so named by Steve Bannon, as an agent and emblem of dictators, racists, misogynists, and fraudsters, this president more than fulfils the dictates of the political (not merely legal) definition of “high crimes and misdemeanours”. No matter how high the Dow climbs, nor how low the unemployment numbers fall, this administration warrants impeachment supported by all political parties and a majority of American voters.

Can the Republican/cult dupes take off their blind, obsessive addiction for personal power and begin to act on behalf of the democracy and the oaths they swore to uphold the constitution of that democracy?

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Petitioning for a fulsome literacy in our public discourse

There is so much noise around these days about the moral and ethical transgressions of the American administration, including both “sins of commission” and “sins of omission.” The talking heads including both pundits and reporters, assuming/presuming the ‘high road’ of parental and moral rectitude, are, of course, enjoying considerable impunity from similar critical cross examination. What results is a shouting match between trump-cultists and their media echo chambers (Fox, Washington Examiner, National Inquirer) and the rest of the American media behemoths.

Watching and listening at the back of the ‘bar’ of contemporary political culture are millions of observers, students, critics and, naturally, committed supporters of the current excuse for legitimate governance that is Washington.

It appears that neither side is listening to or even hearing the other. “Guilty”-not guilty,” “indictable-not indictable,” “impeachable-not impeachable,” “trust-worthy-not trust worthy”….these canons/verbal missiles continue to echo across the battlefield, in a charade that is failing even to approximate a minimal, grade nine debate. No side wins and it seems, no side really loses, if the opinion polls are any indication: the numbers vacillate barely beyond a digit or two in any direction.

Along comes Stedman Graham (partner of Oprah Winfrey) in a new book today, Identity Leadership, in which he argues that we must “lead ourselves” before we can lead others. Getting to know ourselves, our strengths, skills and passions, and the designing a pathway toward the life that emerges from those positive aspects of our identity, in a nine-step menu, is Graham’s prescription for social transformation. Naturally, the routine of the daily grind in millions of homes, kids, school, work, evening television, bed and then repeat is hardly a recipe for putting Maslow’s “self actualization” in front of, and not following, the need to meet basic needs. Graham’s offering is to bring that reversal about.

While the Graham approach is legitimate, it perpetuates a reduction of highly complex, nuanced, non-linear, accidental, incidental and partially developmental pathways to an authentically lived life. As Katty Kay, BBC Washington correspondent puts it in answer to the question about the likelihood of Americans becoming “socialist,” there is absolutely no chance, given the American driven-ness to individual achievement, accomplishment, and the profits thereby derived.

Socialism, or any minimal movement in that direction, intimately and necessarily involves a very different perspective: the significance of the public good as a starting and supportive foundation for private pursuits. However, any discussion of the relative merits of hot-button words like “socialism” especially in the U.S. where “capitalism” is the established religion, brings about more shouting. John Hickenlooper, Democratic candidate for president, former Governor of Colorado, when asked if he were a capitalist at the beginning of his campaign, shrugged off the question preferring to avoid all labels, only to reverse himself as the campaign unfolded, to a champion of the capitalist system. The very notion (also a basic truth of the American economy) of a mixed economy, with strong public and private sectors, seems anathema to the current public discourse.

Regardless of emotional attitude, or the geographic, ethnic, linguistic, ideological, religious territory of one’s life, one’s capacity to embrace multiple perspectives simultaneously is a far more complex and worthy goal for leadership, in all cultures, for all issues. At the core of this noble path to mature, sentient, balanced and modest/humble perspective lies the highly complex process of literacy. Far from the simplistic “readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic” of the past, UNESCO defines literacy in the following way:

Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written (and visual) materials associated with vary contexts. Beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation and communication in an increasingly digital text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world.

UNESCO continues (UNESCO website)

Globally, however, at least 750 millions youth and adults still cannot read and write and 250 millions children are failing to acquire basic literacy skills, This results in an exclusion of low-literate and low-skilled youth and adults from full participation in their communities and societies.
To advance literacy as an integral part of lifelong learning and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UNESCO takes the following approaches to promote literacy worldwide, with an emphasis on youth and adults:
·        Building strong foundations through early childhood care and education
·        Providing quality basic education for all children
·        Scaling-up functional literacy levels for youth and adults who lack basic literacy skills
·        Developing literate environments

While UNESCO’s commendable goals apply to the developing world, ironically, the need for their application, implementation and integration in North America stares all of us in the face every day. The spectacle of a persistent shouting match between political adversaries, over much more than the “fitness” of the president for office, echoed minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day on 24-7 news channels illustrates, demonstrates and unequivocally proves the failure to apply the skills of literacy, and/or the cognitive vacuum of never having learned them among the political voices, on all sides.
Of course, the argument from the political class will focus on the ability/willingness/ time/dedication/ and level of intelligence among the consumers of national media that determine their simplification of the public issues. As a former Cabinet Minister in the Pierre Trudeau government in Canada reminded his audience, “any national issue cannot be adequately explained in a 30-second news clip”. And, he would likely continue, “the attention span of the national audience is no longer than that 30-seconds.” Today, Information World reports: “the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds today (2018); the average page visit lasts less than a minute and users often leave web pages in just 10-20 seconds; 59% of senior executives would rather watch a video than read text, when both area available.” (This blog’s aspiration to enhance “reading and reflection” is under deep, serious and persistent threat of human reality!)

Code words, the life-blood of hostile political discourse, serve as weapons in a war of words, and ideological visions and aspirations. And relative moral purity attends this adolescent “paint-ball” diatribe that attempts to pass for political debate. Code words are also the vernacular of choice among marketing professionals, advertisers, and even entertainment writers. In fact, the most recent episodes of Madam Secretary, have depicted a more enhanced, nuanced, conflicted and “realistic” picture of some contemporary issues than we have been given by the “news” outlets. Branding, that most distasteful legacy of the corporate fascism to which we are being sacrificed, demands and expects each person (now become a thing) to identify his or her brand, and thereby offering specific “benefits” to anyone seeking to hire, or promote the candidate. Winning (personally, daily and predictably), in the war of words, as opposed to approaching the question of seeking the full extent of the evidence attendant on any file, has replaced the pursuit of reasoned, reasonable and relevant policies, legislation and enforcement among the political class.

There are armies of closed minds and ears on all sides of each issue, waiting to jump on the hot-button code words coming from the other side, as a legitimate participation in the public debate of the public interest. We have, collectively and collaboratively, complied with the most reductionistic level of the expression of the complex literacy skills of comprehension, interpretation, research, and then authentic communication (from our truly complex and nuanced and even poetic perceptions and convictions). In truth, we have abandoned the most elementary and basic application of our best apprehensions of the intimacies of language, the metaphoric as well as the literal, the imaginative as well as the scientific, and the comprehensive as opposed to the narrow ideological, theological, and superficially and simplistically weaponized.

And we are doing this, under an administration that fosters, encourages, enhances and epitomizes the absolute reduction of all political discourse to a zero-sum war. White supremacy grows, anti-semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant attitudes and acts are facing us around the world, as the forces that depend on this fundamental reductionism to succeed.

We all have a significant, personal/political role to play in our water-cooler conversations that call out the code words, the racial appropriations, the sexist slurs, and all attempts to “mat-slam” our “other” (or the other on us) in order to bring a modicum of authentic, moderate, modest and ultimately psychologically healthy (as opposed to neurotic, frightened and insecure) respect to our daily encounters. Falling into the cesspool of the trump cult’s bastardization of both language and power not only does not “become” us; it renders us complicit in his (and his clones’) framing of the current reality.

And we all know where that kind of thinking, communicating, interpreting and coding led us in 1939.