Thursday, June 17, 2021

We need more and better from world leaders than Biden and Putin gave us!

There seems to be a disconnect between the attitude and language deployed by Biden in yesterday’s “Summit” and that of Garry Kasparov, world champion chess player, former Russian citizen and long-time critic of Vladimir Putin.

Kasparov, for his part, argued yesterday that the talks should not have taken place, that the only thing Putin ‘understands’ is action, not words.


From Kasparov’s twitter page:

EU keeps caving in to Putin without American leadership. Biden was supposed to stop that, even campaigned on it. He called Putin a killer—correctly. But looking tough in Geneva or using strong words doesn’t matter. Action matters, and so far Biden is failing that test….When someone robs your house, you don’t ask him for a meeting in Geneva. You want him arrested, you want your stuff back. And if he does it again? And again?....What is good for the country is below what looks good for the president to his domestic supporters….Biden admin talking about some areas they could work with Putin and some no. First, Putin doesn’t care, he nee4ds chaos. And if he helps out in Afghanistan that means he can continue attacking Ukraine? Absurd.


The protracted media talk-fest about whether the summit should have been held, and whether or not it “produced” measureables, the newly minted word about objective evidence of success, hinges on a couple of variables: the meaning and significance of measureables, and the importance of time in the public and participants’ perspective.

Obama’s presidency, and his continuing presence in the public eye and ear, both polishes and demeans linguistic artistry. In one sense, his capacity to articulate his thoughts and feelings, is far removed from the ‘street’ (gutter) talk of his successor. In another sense, that (married to his race) gives his opponents, and those attempting to re-establish America’s ‘standing’ in the world a gap in both understanding and credibility among those who voted for his successor. Effete, arrogant, snob, ‘out of touch’ and downright dangerous are some of the epithets his successor implanted in the American culture, seemingly without restraint or sanction in a cultural garden ready and open to the hate. Both world and domestic issues come with obvious and agreed conflicts and tensions, many exposed through linguistic framing of political opponents.

It was (and still is?) a longstanding perception that Canada was/is ungovernable, because the tension between the French and the English was not resolved, and potentially could and would not be resolved. In America, and beyond, much of the world seems ungovernable, given the continuing and seemingly unresolvable tensions between autocracy and democracy, business/profit and public needs, truth and outright lies, legality and criminality, environmental protections and jobs/profit/dividends/immediate needs, and the everlasting tension (growing in the last twenty years) between immediate gratification and long-term planning and vision.

Each public figure brings a perspective s/he hangs on what advisors consider a “sellable slogan”….e.g. Build Back Better. Each framing of the political culture attempts to bridge opposing views, in the hope of both presenting and then profiting from a vestige of reconciliation. And, given the length and depth of unresolved tensions (indigenous in Canada, blacks in the U.S., the Northern Ireland border after Brexit, dictatorship versus some form of public participation in state decisions, capitalism and some form of state ownership, various initiatives in military/cyber/reconnaissance/hard power and efforts to de-escalate, to some of us, it appears we are riding a cyclical, spiral, spinning wheel of historic repeats, revisions, as if each idea has a new generation of revivalist impressarios…all bent on leaving a lasting legacy for their chosen ‘cause’ and name.

The engine of these public debates, discourse, summits, doctoral theses, curriculum designs, and the rising and falling tides of careers, reputations and the flow of public orientation and attitudes can be adjudged to be a form of theatre. There is a long-standing and highly reputed narrative of theatre and the arts, from countries like Greece, Great Britain, Italy, Africa, China, Japan, (indeed whether we are conscious or them or not) from every country, village and hamlet that integrates, if not gives articulate voice to the public (and private sentiments) at any given time and place.

Even in pursuit of sacred and religious themes and identities, there is a tension between writings considered to be poetry, subjective, emotive, aspirational and those deemed to be empirical, historic and literal. Somewhere in that vortex, various forms and faces of a deity appear, depending on the stage of development of the culture. Public figures, irrespective of their role and responsibility, have to take account of the language, the tone, the choice of images they both represent/incarnate and choose to portray, underline, emphasize and ‘sell’. Naturally, there is, then, no escape from the “personal” or the archetypal image as a central component in any public messaging.

As in all exercises in communicating, the envisioned specific audience is an important variable in the design and delivery of every message. This is especially true in the public arena, where “message merchants” (public relations firms, including political candidate preparation schools abound. The public, nevertheless, is fed a menu of all messages and their spokespersons, regardless of the “position” or purpose of the speaker/writer.

President Biden illustrated this divergence of message when he paused to speak with a group of Washington/White House reporters just before flying back to Washington from Geneva. He was specifically addressing Caitlin Collins of CNN, about his need to provide optimistic messages, regardless of the file or the audience, in order to help facilitate “movement” on those files. The old adage, no one wants to get on a train locked at the station….only a moving train will get their attention and hopefully eventual participation…applies.

Is Biden a prisoner of the media constrictions? Is Kasparov freer to say what he considers the ugly truth? Is Putin merely polishing his autocrat’s image at home, supported by a sycophantic and state-controlled media? Did Biden and Putin attend the same summit, given the wide and unbridgeable gulf in their respective reporting? How is a North American audience expected to integrate, collate and interpret the various media messages, from pundits and politicians, that predictably pour out of any summit.

It is both noteworthy and somewhat disingenuous of the Biden administration, (perhaps operating on the professional advice of their “message merchants”) to show the same kind of “cards” after the Vice-president’s visit to Central America as Biden has following yesterday’s summit.

Working groups, to investigate, assess, and then recommend “next steps” in Central America to stem the tide of undocumented immigrants, and after Geneva, to stabilize national security on both sides of the ideological divide. The headlines, as expected, will favour their respective “leader” in a somewhat sycophantic manner, (allegedly more in Russia and in America…really?) and people like Kasparov will be brushed aside as another cranky, pessimistic, ideologue who obviously still despises Putin. Putin, himself, can be legitimately criticized for his false equivalency of Navalny, currently suffering tuberculosis in a Russian prison, and those who stormed the Capitol in Washington on January 6.

So, another summit has come and gone and whether or not our calendars and the reporting on world events in the coming months will show a move to separate the potentially growing alliance between Russia and China, once again, will depend on the source of the reporting, the audience to whom it is directed, the relative authority and credibility of the source, and the nature of the message.

Truth telling, by its very nature, is far less sensational than heroic headlines that are a blatant and unapologetic pitch to win support of some group(s). Often, too, the truth is far more complex, nuanced, weedy, marshy, and even swampy that those crisp, unequivocal, literal black and white headlines portraying victory or defeat, again depending on the source, the interpretation and the relative gravitas of the source.

As we are all drowning in advertising sloganeering, headline grabbing, pundit pontificating, and even historian reductionisms, there can be little if any surprise that our public discourse has sunken to highly radioactive words, phrases, weaponized to support a “side” and to eliminate the other “side” in what has become in too many cases a zero sum rhetorical “game”.

Trouble is, the future of the planet’s ecosystem is in peril. The future of the cybersphere is up for grabs, as is jurisdiction in the Arctic, in Space, as is cryptocurrency, as is the regulation of the internet itself, as is the pathway for universal vaccination and the lingering impacts of COVID-19, especially as the Delta variant continues to slither and slide among those not vaccinated, refusing to be vaccinated, and those outside the reach of available vaccines.

Pandering to specific audiences, with micro-managed messages that are designed to assuage whatever the communicator considers the most pressing fear, anxiety, desperation, hopelessness or even ultimate survival, depending on the situation, will simply not “cut the mustard” as the vernacular adage puts it.

We have watched and permitted our public servants to become puppets of those message merchants, and in the process we have sacrificed our legitimate and requisite need for the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And those who manipulate information for their own narcissistic purposes and goals have succeeded in attaining power in too many capitals, allegedly threating the capacity of messy democracy to justify its superiority to autocratic regimes.

Glib and superficial reading of important public events like the Geneva summit, yesterday, that ignore the glaring omission of any discussion, let alone specific committed steps to ameliorate the scourge of global warming and climate change, are inexcusable. And yet, very few observers have paid much attention to this omission. The fact that a conference on global warming is upcoming in October in Glasgow, notwithstanding, there is no reason to let both Biden and Putin off the hook from facing their respective nations’ need to significantly reduce emissions in the short and medium term. Vaccination development and distribution is another ‘sin’ of omission, given the large segment of the world’s population without access to vaccination, and the potential threat that such exposure poses for us all.

Some will argue that time did not permit such ancillary topics from the agenda agreed to by the two leaders. That argument, too, is both specious and insulting. Who is to determine the range of files, and the time dedicated to each, in a world suffering from both a biological virus, and a credibility and trust deficit.

Biden can say that ‘trust is not the issue, only waiting to see if Russia will produce those things it committed to work on…and yet the public trust in the leaders of the G7 and NATO, and the WHO and even the UN Security Council is at a level even lower than the low level of the relationship between the U.S. and Russia, and between the EU and the U.S.

Global leaders, in this case men of 68 and 78 respectively, while both are relatively healthy and cognizant of their respective responsibilities, are nevertheless caught in a culture and time-warp that puts them talking about, and also in terms of long-abandoned, and even more abandonable perceptions, attitudes, and certainly language.

Our younger generations can only turn away in sad and disaffected disappointment when they see contemporary leaders bury themselves in agenda items, diplomatic approaches and language, and personal stories of their mothers, when the world is already ‘burning to the point of frying’ in the western half of North America, suffering water shortages also in the south-west of the U.S. and the vaccine’s complicated and unresolved treatment approaches remain incomplete, at best and incompetent and dangerous at worst.

Truth telling should not, and in the current period of history, must not defer to the message merchants. They, themselves, including their professional principles and practices, could well help to spell the demise of and the hope for global solutions for real global problems that would not be “nice” to address, but require immediate, universal and total commitment from the world’s leaders.

And we are clearly not seeing that kind of language, or commitment this week! And if this week is considered a “success” by those who participated, then the prospect for truth-telling in upcoming conferences is very low. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Rasicm: an inherent human trait....needing ownership by each of us defines racism this way:

*    a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

*    also: the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another

*    also: a political or social system founded on racism and designed to execute its principles defines Babel, (also called Tower of Babel) this way:

Ø a tower presumptuously intended to reach from earth to heave, the building of which was frustrated when Jehovah confused the language of the builders (Genesis 11:1-9) probably in the City of Babylon

Some say the tower is a metaphor for the idea that humans thought/believed/conceived they could reach heaven without God’s help. In the novel Fahrenheit 451, the tower represents confusion. That society does not want people to think, and therefore does not want confusion, which would cause people to have to think and to make decisions. ( Books which obviously have different authors and therefore different views would not be welcomed in a society which desires, or insists on unity of thought.

Academic researchers and theorists who have studied that roots of racism have a commonly known list of causes. Among them are the following:

Self-interest; scientific racism; maintaining the status quo; discriminatory policies; ‘good’ people who do not challenge racism; media representation; living in an echo chamber; failing to recognize racism in oneself; quick judgements; casting blame. (from…

Writing in, on April 5, 2020, Tom Oliver says this:

Humans are the most cooperative species on the planet—all part of a huge interconnected ecosystem. We have built vast cities, connected by a global nervous system of roads, shipping lances and optical fibres. We have sent thousands of satellites spinning around the planet. Even seemingly simple objects like a graphite pencil are the work of  thousands of hands from around the world, as then wonderful essay I-Pencil quote below, describes:

          I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe—if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolise, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. IO have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane ort a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple. Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this Earth knowns how to make me.

(The) combination of nature and nurture shaping our attitudes and behaviour is apparent in many human characteristics, and unpicking some of these examples can help us see opportunities to steer the process…..Instead of acknowledging and protecting us from the innate drive to binge on unhealthy food, however, our modern cultures (in many countries at least) actually exacerbate that particular problem. The result is two billion people-over a quarter of the world’s population—who are overweight or obese, while another two billion suffer some kind of micronutrient deficiency….The cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand has shown jhow environmental shocks can cause societies to become ‘tighter’—meaning the tendence to be loyal to the ‘in-group’ gets stronger. Such societies are more likely to elect authoritarian leaders and to show prejudice towards outsiders…The same goes for the coronavirus pandemic. While many hope such outbreaks can lead to a better world, they could do exactly the opposite. This enhanced loyalty tio our local tribe is a defence mechanism that helped human groups pull together and overcome hardship. But it is not beneficial in a globalised world, where ecological issues and our economies transcend national boundaries. In response to global issues, becoming bigoted, xenophobic and reducing cooperation with other countries will only make the impacts of our own nations worse…..

In our current climate, summarized partially, by a few data points:

·        271 mass shootings in the United States so far this year

·        19 million AR-15 rifles in U.S. homes

·        The Canadian government currently committed to holding two special and separate days of debate to deal respectively with Antisemitism and Islamophobia

·        The discovery of 231 bodies of children buried in a mass grave associated with a residential school in Kamloops British Columbia, with supportive testaments of the same number of childrens’ shoes on city halls, and other public locations across the country

·        The unveiling of a deliberately sunken ship on the bottom of a river in Mississippi with 161 slaves in the hold some 400 year ago

·        The deliberate truck assassination of a family of four Muslims out for a Sunday evening walk in London, Ontario, leaving a young boy victim orphaned. At this moment, terror charges have been laid against the perpetrator of this crime by Canada’s Attorney General.

·        Multiple murders of most black men by law enforcement officers in the U.S. over the last several months, beginning with another public outcry following the “kneeing” death of George Floyd last summer.

·        Synagogues, mosques, and the people attending or near such buildings have been attacked by what have been determined to be racially motivated hate crimes.

Obviously, the whole history of residential schools in Canada, the conflicts between protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, the current conflicts in Yemen, Lybia, Syria, Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo….the history of racism in every country on the planet….seems not to have even a moderating tendency, let alone an end point.

If we are more likely to revert to tribalism under the spectre of existential threats, and the number of such threats seems to be continuing to grow, and our shared capacity and political will to confront and to wrestle those threats to the ground, if not to their demise, then, it would seem that we are in for a protracted period of even more events that demonstrate hatred of humans by other humans.

However, these tensions and open hostilities, whether they are institutional, governmental, gang-spawned, religious, ethnic, territorial, political, economic, and whether or not they take the form of military/armed conflict, cyber crimes, biological warfare, individual or militia-spawned insurrections, or even trade and financial competitions, they are all similar in a number of ways:

First, they cross all national boundaries, even if the participants have different ethnic or skin or religious or political identities.

Identity politics, as a lame attempt to regain some form and face of recognition, is a feature of the life of every human being, whether or not it has a group identity which claims injustices are being perpetrated on it.

Isolating national forms and faces of racism does not and cannot rub out the shared responsibility we each shoulder for our own serious, critical, and concentrated look into our own mirrors, in search of how we deeply know, and possibly even deeply regret our own inadequacies around prejudice, racism, superiority, inferiority, special status, even or especially if those feelings are inherited, and baked into the cake of our native culture.

Each of us has personal experience and evidence of incidents, examples and tragic stories of the implications of racism in our own home towns. In my case, the racism that prevailed focused on the relationship between the indigenous communities and the local white population, as well as between the protestant and the Roman Catholic communities. The latter found expression in the July 12th Orange Parade, the meaning and implications of which were never explained to young people growing up in the 1950’s. The protestant victory of William of Orange over the Roman Catholics on that date would have served as evidence enough to ban the parade, or should have. The serious tensions in the local high school between indigenous and ‘white’ students at one time, prompted one reservation to withdraw their adolescents from the public institution and transport them to a nearby private school. Programs and curriculum and activities inside the public school have since developed and far different approach and set of attitudes among both indigenous and non-indigenous. And that development is a testament to the long and enduring work of sensitive, creative and courageous faculty.

Talking about, holding public debates even in parliament, public declarations by political leaders that there is no room for racism in our country, while noble, are essentially superficial, hollow, meaningless, and even patronizing to those whose ‘rights’ and respect those leaders are attempting to support. So too is the specific passing of laws that make racism and hate crimes illegal, although they are necessary if we are to begin to make any progress in owning and de-weaponizing our racist attitudes.

There is no single institution whose public duty and responsibility is to eradicate or ameliorate hate from our streets, our law enforcement agencies, our schools, our churches, our universities and colleges, or our business enterprises. And thus, there is also no single agency charged with the job of both monitoring and educating our communities on the dangerous threats, not only personally, but culturally as well, to our increased dependence on hard power in our personal relationships.

If we are ‘hard-wired’ to hard power, in our communities, and we take more than a passing glance at the hard-power commitments of nation states, and we indulge ourselves in the exercise of hard power in much of our shared entertainment, and we permit our political leaders to indulge themselves (and their supporters) in language replete with images of violence, conflict, racial superiority/inferiority, then how can we expect even a modest reduction in the incidents, the open conflicts, and the shooting of international flights from the open skies, the crippling of needed energy supplies, the bankrupting of institutions, and the continual race-baiting that, like another infectious virus, seems to have been already implanted in each of our psyches.

Catastrophizing, whether about environmental disaster, or pandemic perpetuity, or cyber-crime and the impact of bitcoin, or of the inherent racism that plagues so many of our differences, is neither a solution nor a crime. However, our shared tendency, in public discourse, at the elected level, supported significantly at the academic level, to objectify, to identify with nominal indicators as evidence, and then to debate theoretically, while useful and occasionally operationally effective, tends to suck the blood and the guts and the human toll from the debate. Legislating, too, has itself an air of detachment, public avoidance and insouciance, and thereby a protective bubble around the politicians to dance, to equivocate, to pontificate, and to do very little, if anything, about how we are tormenting ourselves and each other with racism bigotry, superiority, inferiority, and our little banal attempt to hold onto to whatever little morsel of status and importance we cling to.

It seems that in our defensive, obsessive clinging to our own scarcity, in whatever ways and forms and faces we picture that scarcity, victimhood, insecurity, fear, inadequacy, and depression….we are much more likely to sustain, and potentially even enhance the chances that we will grow and not weed out the seeds of racism among us. And that defensiveness is not exclusive to ordinary people; it is rampant among those ‘important’ individuals who occupy centre stage in our lives.

Their own humility, authenticity, straight-forwardness, and matter-of-factness, in their assessment of their own potential, and their capacity to separate their (and our) wishful thinking from real achievable change, can and will go a long way to addressing our shared predicament(s).

Our humility, authenticity, honest and critical self-assessment, too, can and will contribute to a culture in which integrity shoves the many lies we are being fed, and also willingly consuming, to the side of our public debates.

It was the late Eleanor Roosevelt, herself the First Lady of the United States, who told her, and her nation’s truth: the overarching sin of the people of the United States in their wishful thinking.

C.S. Lewis would have concurred:

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort of truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.

I deeply wish the Anglican bishop who instructed me that the “people cannot stand too much reality” would have read and reflected on the words of both Mrs. Roosevelt and Professor Lewis.

Friday, June 11, 2021

The world cries, "I am, I said!"..Is anyone really listening?

In our last post, we noted Vice-president Harris’ comment on the need to confront corruption in Central America, if any order and stability were to be achieved in the struggle to manage, limit and control undocumented immigration into the U.S. The very fact that she had to confront the President of Guatemala on his alleged complicity in whatever forms of corruption, in a public press conference, is not only shocking in itself; it is also an index on the complexity and the range of how corruption is eroding much public confidence, in many quarters.

Cyber hacking of Colonial Pipeline, while interrupted and effectively curtailed, nevertheless demonstrates a clear link between private agents and public states, in that case, likely Russia. However, the incidence of cyber crime has grown so rapidly and seemingly, without much in the way of impediments, cautions, sanctions or push-back.

According to Marija Lazic writing on the website,, “Cyber crime statistics 2019 show that the majority (72%) of cybersecurity breaches in 2019 were financially motivated and were instigated by cyber criminals looking for financial gains. However, 26% of cybercrimes were motivated by intentions traced to espionage and other such reasons…..Hackers attack people worldwide roughly everyhalf a minute, This translates to a cybercrime being committed on an average of 2,244 times per day, according to internet security statistics. Smaller organizations (1-250 employees) have the highest targets malicious email rate at 1 in 323…In the last 5 years, over 500 million online gamers have had their data comprised….Cryptomining is the main target area for 90% of remote code execution attacks. Remote code execution attacks have been very prevalent recently, especially with cryptomining becoming so popular. Remote code execution is a system by which an attacker exploits vulnerabilities in web applications, allowing them to run their own code on the applications and giving them controls over their server and system that possesses the weakness….At present, the US has the highest rate of cyber crime, over 23.6% more than any other country, cyber crime statistics suggest.

Andra Saharia, writing in, June 11, 2021, writes this:

With global cybercrime damages predicted to cost up to $10.5 trillion annually by 2025, not getting caught in the landslide is a matter of taking in the right information and acting on it quickly….With the threat ulandscape always changing, it’s important to understand how cyber attacks are evolving and which  security controls and types of training work. There were 137.7 million new malware samples in 2020  (AV-Test),  a slight reduction from the 1244.91 samples in 2019. As of June 2021, there have been 92.45 million new samples, so we may will see a new high before the end of the year. In 2019, 93.6% of malware observed was polymorphic, meaning it has the ability to constantly change its code to evade detection (2020 Webroot Threat Report). Almost 50% of business PCs and 53% of consumer Pcs that got infected once were re-infected within the same year (2021 Webroot Threat Report). A 2007 study found that malicious hackers were previously attacking computers and networks at a rate of one attack every 39 seconds. The Internet Complaint Center’s 2020 report found that there were 465,177 reported incidents that year, which works out at one successful attack every 1.12 seconds. Notable this doesn’t account for attempted attacks or those that went unreported. (University of Maryland)…86.2% of surveyed organizations were affected by a successful cyberattack. (CyberEdge Group 2021 Cyberthreat Defense Report)…Columbia were the hardest-hit country by cyberattacks in 2019, with 93.9% of all surveyed companies being compromised at least once last year (CyberEdge 2021 Cyberthreart Defense Report). Their list of countries by percent of surveyed companies:






Saudi Arabia………………….89.4%




Brazil……………………….  85.3%

South Africa…………………83.7%






Anyone who thinks this is not a worldwide pandemic of a different character, is likely asleep under a rock. And, anyone who thinks this is not having an impact, not only on those specific targets, but on the state/ondition of the global body politic as well, is also comatose.

This report goes on:

Ransomware infection rates saw a huge increase in 2020, largely due to the increased, importance of online learning and teleworking platforms. US ramsomeware attacks cost an estimated $915 million in 2020 (Emisoft). Almost 200 million ransomeware attacks occurred in the first nine months of 2020 representing a large increase over the previous year. (SonicWall). A ransomeware attack in early 2020 on the New Orleans city government cost the city upwards of $7 million (SC Magazine). In Frbryary 2020, a ransomeware attack cost Denmark-based company ISS upwards of $50 million (GlobalNewswire). Since 2016, a total of 172 ransomeware attacks have cost the US healthcare organizations $21 billion. (Comparitech)….Ransomeware attacks can be extremely costly. For example, an attack involving the NotPetya ransomeware cost shipping firm Maersk more than $200 million. In 2021, the average global cost to remediate a ransomeware attack rose to $1.5 million, more than double the previous year’s average ($761,106) (Sophos The State of Ransomeware 2021). Organizations in India, Austria, and the US are most likely8 to be hit by ransomeware attacks, In India, the prevalence is expecially high with 68% of organizations dealing with ransomeware. Austria has the next highest rate at 57%. (Sophos The State of Ransomeware 2021)…Iran, Algeria and Bangladesh top the list of countries attacked by mobile ransomeware in terms of share of users (Kaspersky Labs). …What makes the ransomeware problem worse is that nation-states are involved. Investigations proved that the WannaCry and NotPetya ransomeware attack campaigns were orchestrated by nation-state actors. They may have started in 2017, but their effect continued into 2020. The objective was to destroy information or cause distractions rather than to derive financial benefits. Datto’s Global State of the Channel Ransomeware Report 2020 shows that ransomeware is still a huge cause for concern for any type of organization, particularly SMBs.

There are concepts, agencies, actors and complications in these reports that previously were never even included in a reasonably comprehensive awareness of the ‘state of the world’ only a few months ago. The capacity of technology both to change and to find its way into the hands of the most nefarious actors, both state and private, and some various hybrids of those two, and then to be deployed for a variety of purposes, both financial profit and political “profit” (disinformation, democratic deconstruction, propaganda victories, electoral transformation, and the perception of election fraud, thereby destabilizing public confidence in those election systems) leaves the world gasping for breath, not to mention co-ordinated and collaborative ways and means to address these new issues.

By comparison, global warming and climate change seem relatively simple both to comprehend and hopefully therefore to fix, naturally with multiple state and private actors compliance. “Technocrime”, however, is a horse of a far different colour. And the complicity of both public/state and private/profit driven actors, all of them seemingly hidden behind veils and vaults and complicity of their political operatives, seemingly immune to legitimate world legal action to contain, and to bring to heel, renders world leaders with another potentially existential threat. Pointing to polluters, like coal-fired generators, or like oil refineries, or like manufacturing plants that require coal for energy….this is relatively  easy when compared with the virtually archeological-criminal investigative processes that are needed to root out cybercrime.

Needless to say, also, the life paths of those most dispossessed, in all countries, will latch onto whatever opportunities present themselves, whether legitimate and in the public interest or not, in order to address immediate personal needs. Whether that means sending your children into the unknown darkness of a trek to the Mexican/American border, or whether that means linking with a state actor in a deliberate social and political engineering project dedicated to undermine successful business operations or governments that support those operations, does not really matter. While the second window requires some basic techno-skills, as opposed to the former, the access to those skills is now so ubiquitous and low-cost, that many have already been drawn into that potentially career sector.

Destabilizing, deconstruction, undermining, subterfuge, deception, denial, lies….these are all the methods of what Chinese writer, Sun Tzu, called in his famous book The Art of War:

“All warfare is based on deception,.Hence when able to attack we must seem unable. When using our forces we must seem inactive. When we are near, we make the enemy believe we are far away. When we are far away we must make the enemy believe we are near.”

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”

“If he is superior in strength, evade him.”

“Attack him where he is unprepared. Appear where you are not expected.”

“The general who loses a battle makes few calculations beforehand.”

“There is no instance of a country having benefitted from prolonged warfare.”

“A wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy’s provisions is equivalent to twenty of one’s own”

“Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”

It would seem so obvious, not to mention dangerous, that many of the world’s current actors are not only steeped in the Sun Tzu doctrine of war, but are also committed to the fullest engagement in deploying those strategies. When legendary basketball coach, Bobby Knight held coaching clinics (one specifically at the University of Toronto, in 1967), he was not engaged in a propaganda campaign to tutor warriors for either his homeland or the potential warriors of his neighbour, Canada. He was engaged in a process of helping design, display and then teach some physical and mental manoeuvres that would help then coaches to develop more skilled players. Fakes, eye movements, deceptive physical clues…these were the tactics he was illustrating.

Today, however, the game of geopolitics has changed, away from hard iron metal tanks, carriers, fighter-jets and even radar screens. Now we see joy-sticks controlling those giants, leaving human direct engagement in the trash-bin of history, at least in Afghanistan. We are also witnessing an immediate tsunami of technological developments that governments, and therefore courts and universities and colleges are rushing to catch up to even understanding their potential impact.

In the hands of people willing to do anything, literally anything, in order to meet immediate and perceived serious needs, instruments of the new war can and will easily slide into a deep dark web. There is considerable evidence that this has already happened, and will continue unabated into the foreseeable future.

Not only are we, collectively, at least in the west, unprepared for the next few years of cybercrime; we are also unprepared for the next pandemic. We are also unprepared for the next colonization of space, as well as the attempted colonization of the Arctic, both of which will rely on both human and cyber technology. And we seem to be looking through what film-makers call a gauze lens when attempting to do reconnaissance on the horizon of our shared future.

Does anyone think we can take those gauze lenses off our eyes? Does anyone believe that current leaders are being fully transparent with what they know about current and future threats? Does anyone think or believe that current ways of operating, at the state level, will be adequate to face the threats of tomorrow….not a decade away but this year and next?

Turbulence, like desperation, breeds more of its own. In the midst of forces that bode well for the illicit, the criminal, the human and drug traffickers, the propagandists and the dictators and their sycophantic slime, it is not surprising that many are seeking mental health support, social community, and even spiritual comfort of a non-institutional nature and source.

I am I said, was a cry coming from the voice of Neil Diamond back in the 1970’s as an existential plea for recognition of the individual. Today, the whole world, collectively and individually, is uttering that cry.

Is anyone really listening? 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Humanitarian crises are incubators of criminal predators

 There is a glaring and a growing disparity between the projected agenda of the G7, the G20, and the Putin-Biden talks that fails to pay direct attention to the growing list of failed states, and the issue of how those failed states, and the people trying to exist within them can, and likely will, impact the world’s crises. It is not that the issues facing those ‘developed world leaders’ are not important: cybercrime, election interference, climate change, tax evasion, the future of liberal democracies…these are all significant and require urgent, immediate and constructive “deliverables” if the disparities on income/wealth, education, vaccines, pandemic response, are to be at least reduced, if not eliminated.

Nevertheless, as is both traditional and therefore predictable, issues faced by the top leaders of developed governments seem tailored to the ‘status’ and the relative importance of those leaders to the general population and the media organs that feed those populations. Issues like the fact the some 16+ thousand unprotected (and illegal) immigrants are now in custody in the United States, and the Vice-president is currently meeting with the leaders of the Central American countries from which many migrants flee, in order to alleviate those conditions prompting such migration, rarely reach the level of G7, G20 or Geneva-based presidential talks. It is the continuing, glaring and obvious disconnect between the abstractions of the agendas for important leaders and the nuts and bolts issues that are left for at least a second tier of both issues and those charged with their address.

And yet, The New Humanitarian, in its latest edition contains these words of warning, signalling potential thunder clouds.

“After a pandemic year, the concept of (state’s) ‘fragility’ seems more relevant than ever. As the rankings in this year’s annual Fragile States Index (FSI) suggest, global emergencies such as COVID-19 can expose the fault lines that feed assumptions about what fragility is, which states are fragile, and what resilience looks like in the face of crises…..The FSI, produced by the Fund for Peace, a Washington-based think tana, scores 178 countries based on 12 political, social, and economic indicators looking at inequality, displacement, security, public services, and external intervention. As defined by the OECD, fragility is ‘the combination of exposure to risk and insufficient coping capacity of the state, system, and /or communities to manage, absorb, or mitigate…risks.’ That can all ‘lead to negative outcomes including violence, the breakdown of institutions, displacement, humanitarian crises or other emergencies.

The Five Most Fragile

1.      Yemen…the UN calls this the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’. Large-scale hunger continues even though famine has not been officials declared. Tens of thousand of people are already starving to death, with another five million just a step behind them, UN relief chief Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council in April. …Despite efforts to broker a ceasefire, fighting continues, notably in the provinces of Taiz and Marib. Thousands of people have been driven from their homes by bombs and bullets as a Houthi rebel offensive closes in on Marib, raising concerns about the knock-on effects of the offensive on the rest of the country.

2.      Somalia…Somalia has struggled with three decades of armed conflict, recurring climate shocks, and ---as a result—ever deepening levels of poverty and vulnerability….The violent jihadist group al-Shabab, which controls much of the countryside, initially ridiculed the COVLID-19 threat, but has since done a U-turn and accepted the danger. It has, however, refused access to health teams to territory it controls, and has urged people to reject the AstraZeneca vaccine as dangerous. The risks of such a policy extend beyond Somalia. A large untreated reservoir of COVID-19, where variants could potentially mutate, would not only be a regional threat, but possibly a global one as well.

3.      Syria…Syria’s last decade has been defined by a long and brutal war…at least 13 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes by fear and violence: imprisonment and forced conscription, bombs and ground fighting chemical attacks and sieges….The World Food Program says that a record 12.4 million people in the country—60 percent of the population-are now food insecure….Millions of Syrians don’t have identification of other key documents, making it extremely difficult for them to access healthcare, return and restart their lives after living as refugees, or rebuild destroyed homes.

4.      South Sudan….Every time there is a crisis, the government ignores its citizens, relies on international aid, (and) doesn’t help its own people….After five years of fighting in which 400,000 were killed, violence between the government and opposition rebels has subsided, but long-running conflicts between community militias intensified in the administrative area of Pibor and the neighbouring state of  Jonglei. What that means for its people is that 1.6 million remain displaced due to violence or disasters since 2013. Many say they are too fearful of returning home, as they don‘t trust the government and the security services.

5.      The Democratic Republic of Congo…(Here) the pandemic piled on to an existing health crisis, as it hit while the east of the country was still reeling form the second deadliest outbreak of Ebola yet recorded. COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closures hindered efforts to bring in staff and equipment even as another Ebola outbreak erupted, this time in western Equateur province. As least 2,280 people died in the outbreak and the response was marred by so-called ‘Ebola business’ a scramble to profit from unscrupulous practices, not to mention widespread allegations of sexual abuse against Ebola workers.

These reports from The New humanitarian merely remind the world that festering under the radar of G7, G20, Glasgow’s Environmental Conference later this year, there are numerous social, political, economic, health, educational, immigration and security “boils” or perhaps tumors, like cancer, that taken together could threaten not only global health, but also the capacity of the world’s not-yet-failing states to deal with the tsunami.

In her reporting on her two days of visits to Central America, charged as she has been to resolve the crisis of undocumented immigrants pouring over the U.S.-Mexican border (over 17,000 undocumented children are currently reported to be in the custody of American officials), Vice-president Kamala Harris pointed to the violence, corruption, sexual abuse, fear and desperation of those attempting to flee their homelands.

The nexus of her work, and the multiple reports of failed or failing states, is a list of common, deeply-rooted, seemingly endemic social and political “shadow” forces: violence, corruption, fear, desperation, poverty and the capacity and ready willingness of people to exploit those situations where the weakest and the most vulnerable live. Human trafficking, smuggling, drug dealing, among those people who have no public advocate and no hope of a future they can either imagine or tolerate, adds to the law enforcement and authoritarian argument for more and more repressive controls. Although Harris is putting a ‘root causes’ focus on her work, concentrating on mending the multiple tears in the social fabric in Guatemala and Mexico, and eventually El Salvador and Honduras, through the aegis of American largesse, forty million to this program and forty-eight million to another program, and requiring the commitment of leaders like the president of Guatemala to confront corruption in his country head-on, one has to wonder if such legitimate approaches can and will be adequate.

Harris also noted that the U.S Ambassador to the United Nations, as well as the Cabinet Secretaries of the Biden Administration would be recruited in her broad-ranging, and hopefully long-term initiative first to stem the tide of undocumented immigrants, and then to help to rebuild those communities, really social and political and economic fire-pots that continue to exist with agents and agencies committed to the destruction of the social order, for their own benefit.

Those forces, whether they be dictators like Assad in Syria, or drug gangs on the streets of Mexico (where some 900 candidates for political office in the current elections there have been assassinated), or destabilizing voices like the former president of the U.S. itself, there is also a rampant, underground fire of racism that knows no national borders, no international official or unofficial opposition, and no limits to the strategies and the tactics to which those seeking to profit from chaos will use. Superiority/inferiority biases haunt the human species, given that the pursuit of power, and especially the absence or perceived absence of power, like that fog haunting the store-fronts on dark city streets in Eliot’s poetry, has no national identity, no religious affiliation, no therapeutic, no vaccine, and no formal or informal agency of counterpoint.

Not only is the underground criminal activity not facing a robust, co-ordinated, collaborative investigative and indictment agency, but the illicit and previously unavailable digital hacking currently being inflicted on innocent corporations, social and political organizations and even hostile governments by other “government-sponsored-and abetted” agents, thereby complicating both the strength and the ubiquity of those nefarious forces, but also covering them with a veneer/mascara of officialdom.

Not only has technology outstripped government, including all manner of regulation and enforcement, but the forces that seek to destabilize local communities, take private citizens hostage, assassinate political candidates can look around and see similar actions being deployed by dictators. It is not only their deployment that is so deplorable; it is the relative impunity with which they conduct these activities.

The convergence of not merely illegal, but also destabilizing and ultimately destructive motives and actions by leaders of governments that themselves apparently either turn a blind eye, or worse, perhaps are part of the chicanery, the “oligarchy” of miscreants (how’s that for putting lipstick on a pig?) with the rising tide of vulnerable, literally powerless hopeless and depraved millions poses a threat the proportions of which we have yet to assess fully.

It may be that some international agencies like Interpol, or the FBI/MI5-6, or another similar agency in another country is trying to assess the threat, and yet, once again, we are only in the first chapters of preparing and passing legislation that attempts to define words like terrorism, let alone trying to monitor, assess and confront such acts. And, if each nation puts a few legislative and executive building blocks in place to ‘put a finger in the dyke’ so to speak, there still will not be an international agency charged with taking substantive action to protect both those most vulnerable, but also those threatened by the underground criminal cabal.

Vice-president Harris’ working groups to confront corruption, female entrepreneurship opportunities, social unrest and the millions of American dollars she is committing to these projects are worthy of note. They will not, however, generate any substantive changes in the living conditions in Central America for a considerable period of time, at best. In the meantime, relegating refugees, immigration, starvation, disease, the pandemic’s risk, to health care agencies, and UN humanitarian services, while also worthy, does not really make much sense. It is the size, the depth and the history of how humanitarian issues have been handled in the past that has to give way to far more money, far more muscle, far more addressing of “root causes” and far more open commitment that, for decades the world has let this issue slide into the careers of do-gooders, thankfully, who, now risk their own drowning given the size of the problem, and who require billions more dollars and injections of collaborative political muscle and will.

It is not only the potential of unvaccinated millions that poses a global threat to the rest of humanity. It is also the potential of millions of people who have no home, no food, no work, no hope and no voice in the world’s decision-making bodies. We can not remain blind or deaf to their plight. We also cannot think that a few millions will “fix” the problem.

Caring, as depicted in the season finale of The Good Doctor, on the part of visiting American doctors to Central America, comes in three sizes, as expressed by one local health care worker: ones who care too much, ones who care too little, and ones who care very deeply but are able to detach in order for their care and compassion to become effective. In a category of her own is Dr. Claire Brown, Antonia Thomas, now having left the television drama, ostensibly to serve in one of those Central American ghettos. She was judged to be caring so deeply yet able to get even stronger with engaging with her patients rather than distancing.

How many Clair Brown’s can the world uncover, to offer the kind of effective remediation, political will and humanitarian consciousness-raising, in order to bring these complex issues to the attention of world leaders, in a public forum?

Thursday, June 3, 2021

"Out of sorts"...searching for grace

Has anyone else encountered the predictable, almost inevitable, link between feeling ‘out of sorts’, not sick not necessarily in pain, not showing any other symptoms other than “out of sorts” and the accompanying “what does it all mean?” vibrations in the body, in the mind, in the heart and in the spirit?

The experience of being ‘out of sorts’ is not a medical condition, not a psychiatric condition, not an employment condition, not a legal condition, not a financial condition, not an intellectual or even a moral or ethical condition. It simply does not qualify for any of the many chosen categories of labeling, or even of investigation. Is being ‘out of sorts’ a spiritual, or a religious sensation? Is there an element of guilt, shame, unworthiness, incompleteness, impermanence, and even mortality echoing in the body’s groaning and moaning? Perhaps, given that much of what we do not understand is either shoved off into that category, or left to those with enough free time and space and opportunity to ‘think’ about such ‘silly’ things. Or are they really silly after all?

We all laugh whenever we learn about scientific research, laboratory-based and government funded that critically examines the methods, frequency and consequences of the sex life of a tsetse fly. We consider such research to be frivolous, unnecessary in a world seemingly gone mad in so many ways that need critical examination. So, in that light, reflecting on being ‘out of sorts’ would seem to qualify as another of those irrelevant, redundant, superfluous, superficial and extraneous things that no one should or would be crazy enough even to contemplate.

Being ‘out of sorts’ may be, or may not be, different at different times and in different circumstances in one’s life. However, from experience, I have similar memories, pictures, of being ‘out of sorts’ in various scenes throughout the past several decades. And they all seem to be wrapped in a restlessness, perhaps provoked by a decision to or not to, perhaps evoked by a vision of a decision that might be troublesome. Perhaps being ‘out of sorts’ follows a rather lengthy list of pictures of humanity’s inhumanity to humanity, resurrecting a feeling of hopelessness, especially given that we all know the ugly truth that war, famine, poverty, pestilence, racism, sexism, ageism, indifference and all of the various faces of human depravity are never going to cease, or even be ameliorated, certainly in our lifetime.

In the Satanic verses, Salman Rushdie writes: From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable.

Bertrand Russell has another ‘take’ on this question of the cruelty of humans:

Cruel men believe in a cruel god and use their belief to excuse their cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly god, and they would be kindly in any case.

Perhaps feeling ‘out of sorts’ has the real and inescapable potential to bring one face to face with one’s responsibility both for the cruelty one has inflicted and for whatever steps one can take as a way of remediating, relieving, or merely moderating this inevitable, hard-wired trait that lives in every town, village, school, church, business organization, social service agency, law enforcement detachment, military battalion, court house, seminar room, and all parks, forests, oceans, rivers, canyons and mountains. It lives right here in this study behind the fingers tapping these keys. Men for centuries have tried to parse the difference between the cruelty in nature and the cruelty inflicted by men on other men and women. Some argue that only men ‘eat’ or kill their own kind. And yet, men continue to exert pain, punishment, vengeance, reprisals, assaults, insurrections, violent and lethal arrests, unannounced break-ins by law enforcement, betrayals, deceptions, denials, avoidances and especially indifference to those whose paths cross our’s in ways that we find unacceptable.

Whether it might be a mere slight of a raised eye brow, a promise of a phone call never delivered, a perception of a pattern of something termed a ‘lack of respect’ by another, or a mean-spirited name calling, or an outright declaration of hatred for a whole race (Hamas’s open and avowed claim to wipe Israel off the map!)….we are all engaged in some web of both inflicting pain and receiving pain in a manner some would consider ‘the way it is and has to be’. Conflict, tension, competition, and the innate and inherent human drives to will, to power, to dominance, to freedom, to succeed, to be noticed especially by a select group of others, to fill an inner vacuum of unworthiness….all of these acts, while on one level, totally justified, tolerated, accepted and even lauded, invariably bring about pain to others. Deliberate and committed dedication to the pursuit of a specific “power” whether as a solo ‘flight’ or with others, will require bumping into others who might have a similar or precisely the same desire. It may require abandoning loved ones, and the ‘wake’ of that tsunami in their lives may never have been even contemplated. We often inflict pain through our failure to show up, just as we often inflict pain by showing up in a belligerent manner, individually, in gangs, in combat teams, and in flotillas.

Innocence, ignorance, selfishness, insecurity and even impatience are just some of the drivers that need our careful, sensitive and mature management in our personal, professional, public and international affairs. Paradoxically, self-conscious awareness, and truth-telling to oneself is no guarantee that one will not inflict significant cruelty, even death. Of course, paying attention almost exclusively to goal and the necessary means to achieve that goal, (think Putin trying to destabilize the democracies in western nations, especially the United States) could even create a self-imposed immunity from shame and guilt, if one is able to base both the design of the goal and the means needed to achieve it on what seems a reasonable, justified, and especially justifiable (at least to the perpetrator(s) themselves.

We have all endured unjustified, mean-spiritedly inflicted and often highly embarrassing injury. That wound has left an indelible scar somewhere on our psyche. We know it will not ever go away. And we also know that, if we were to embrace a pattern of self-indulgent ‘hot-tub’ soothing of that pain, we would literally and metaphorically ‘shrivel up’ in the heat of our own self-pity. That is not to say, however, that a pity-party is the only negative, or possible approach to dealing with our psychic pain.

We lost something, a dream to which we had committed considerable time and effort. Or we were blind-sided by someone we fully believed we could trust. We were misled and betrayed by someone or some group in whom we previously had complete confidence. Like Leonard Cohen, we could have been robbed by a trusted accountant, and had to return to the stage to perform in order to merely get out of debt. The earlier and the more traumatic the event, or even a similar pattern, the deeper and the longer lasting are the reverberations of that trauma and the longer and harder we have to ‘fight’ to ‘get thee behind me’ not as an eradication from memory, but as a psychic broken leg that demands both a crutch and the limp for the rest of our lives.

What invariably is lost when one experiences severe trauma is trust, the trust that one had placed in a figure, (perhaps a parent, a teacher, a clergy, a coach, a mentor, an uncle or aunt, a cousin, or even a brother or a sister). That loss of trust, however, is not restricted to that single person, in the eyes and the attitude of the ‘victim’. It extends far beyond, especially if the original trauma occurred at a young age, or was repeated for an extended period of time. Once again, this stuff is not rocket science; it is well known and documented in the biographies of many men and women who in the middle to later years are attempting to ‘come to terms’ with those aspects of their lives still unpacked, and still haunting their daily lives.

Even if the vibrations of feeling ‘out of sorts’ has no other magnetic or electric energy that a single event, like radioactive iodine, that energy has a very long life, depending on how the trauma was initially dealt with. If it were covered, denied, pasted over with a dedicated commitment to public performance, accompanied by a vaulted secrecy about the events in a past life, then the explosion of its later eruption can be serious. Or, if repressed, that negative energy, however it might be framed in the mind of the victim, could continue to play out in what musical composers call “repeats”….actions of self-sabotage that continue to replay those earlier disasters, without anyone, including the original victim, being aware of the energy source, the ‘motive’ or the explanation behind the apparent self-sabotage.

However, our early lives impact our later lives, no matter how unique or how alone or how we did or did not seek help, there is no doubt there is a profound, inescapable and inevitable connection of the dots between youth and adulthood. So evident and agreed upon is this reality now accepted that cliches like “the hurt are those who inflict hurt” has risen to the surface of public vernacular.

As one raised in a culture worshipping a stern, perhaps even relentlessly demanding god, offering one of two bipolar choices, salvation or damnation, I found that ‘theology’ unacceptable, even intolerable. Protestants hating Catholics never seemed to ‘fit’ with any god worthy of the name or the worship. As one raised in a home where a similar bi-polarity reigned: total submission to the ‘rod’ or eviction from favour….another kind of sternness, gracelessness abounded.

Lots of people have endured far worse forces, multiplied many time over. My little story, however, is just that, my little story. And the grace that was missing in the early years is something profound that I first witnessed in a grade twelve French teacher. Of course there were other teachers who were kind, who were supportive, who were encouraging and motivating, even sometimes using reverse psychology. It was this middle-aged woman, reticent, droll, highly intelligent, extremely devout religiously in a disciplined, yet private manner and attitude, never boastful, never given either to exuberance or to depression, never detached without ever imposing. There was/is a saintly truth deeply infused in her faith and identity, and if she were alive to read these words, she would turn deep red in embarrassment and likely in disbelief.

How would I paint her portrait, if I were able? While her wardrobe consisted mainly of dark olive and tan tweeds, and her voice had a quiet authoritarian rumble, I would have to find colours, setting, sky, birds, clouds and grassy fields in which to embed her gracefully seated at the base of an oak reading one of her many books. And if I were given the opportunity to title this portrait, it would take only one word, “GRACE!”

That was not her name. Grace was her identity. Of all the men and women whose lives have crossed mine, (and there have been many whom I really treasured, this woman embodied what has come to me to be the crowning quality of human aspiration, human inspiration, human ideation and the human search for god and for meaning, in whatever ways those two strivings intersect.

She did not do heroic acts. She ran no home for the homeless. She did not discover insulin. She did not write any books (so far as I know). She simply and eloquently and effectively taught young minds about a second language in a town not favourably disposed to a different language and culture. Her faith, obviously in a kindly god, seemed to impel her in and out of class; and over the ensuing seven decades (in memory) as one to be admired, to be emulated and to be revered. However she had discovered and incarnated ‘grace’ is something I wish she had lived long enough to reveal.

Heather King has a reflection on grace that seems fitting:

All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.

My French teacher was clearly not afraid of or resistant to the grace that painfully changes.

Would that we could all mature in a manner emulating her!   

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

How do we raise the public appetite for "healthy" public information?

 Could there be a more cogent moment in history to recall a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. Although the quote generates and is predicated upon different kinds of minds, the topics pursued by each kind, in her view, are on open display every day and every hour these days? And the differences may help to explain some of the “social” divide that currently plagues many parts of the world.

A more than cursory glance into the depth of Mrs. Roosevelt’s insight might also offer a ray of light and insight, perhaps ever an AHA moment for those deeply steeped in the profits of both tabloids and conspiracy theories. An insight, hopefully, that might help to turn their gaze away from the torment their gaze and their convictions are leading.

So, what exactly did the former First Lady say, in words that would qualify as politically incorrect today:

Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

Gossip that fills the tabloids, and the right-wing extreme media, along with the entertainment outlets, both print and digital, has a ready and growing appetite among a large segment of the population. And, even for just putting my fingers on those keys, I can hear their loud cries of “snob” and “self-declared elite,” and “coastal liberal” and “gun activist” and “tree-hugger” and “baby murderer” and all of the many other epithets they prefer to lob like grenades into the corridors of academia, the boardrooms of giant corporations, the sanctuaries of cathedrals, mosques and synagogues, and into the hearts and minds of vulnerable people whose world view is founded on the basic principle that all of those who have succeeded through academic pursuit, or through corporate or ecclesial hierarchies, or through the vicissitudes of climbing from the4 ghettos of our towns and cities into some degree of prominence are somehow deeply embedded in a venal plot of child abduction, paedophilia and whatever other heinous attributes and activities can imagine, necessitating a messiah, a savour to rescue the world from their clutches.

While it is indisputable that many of the great works of literature develop their characters in highly complex and sophisticated details, through both inner and outer monologues, in and through complex conflicted circumstances, often with a core piece of morality, their characters also express complex, and also sophisticated ideas about significant questions on the meaning and purpose of human existence. And while it is also indisputable that movies and television shows, as well as “drug-store” novels are replete with superficial cut-outs of characters so reduced in dimension and complexity that they become caricatures of more interesting people, and all of those productions have garnered a large audience throughout history, let us not forget that Shakespeare’s plays were written for the crown in the pit, whose mere penny afforded them admission. It is not that the ‘crowd’ is either ignorant or unsophisticated, dumb or dumber, nor is the crowd incapable of comprehending even the most subtle of ideas.

However, the production of such popular pieces of entertainment and media depend on a different kind of discipline. Immediate interviews of others, newspaper headlines, police radio frequencies, ambulance radio reports, and of course the newest instrument of entertainment “stories” the internet, especially the deep dark internet where the very worst of humanity find both refuge and anonymity. Dew worm pickers are, late at night, busily scouring lawns for their prospective harvest of bait for the fishers whose cash they expect to pocket in the morning. Perhaps it is a fitting metaphor for much of what passes as tabloid, sensationalist and person-and- personality-centred menus that lure the public appetite. Short term work for immediate cash.

Occasionally, as in The West Wing, or many of the other reputable and challenging pieces of art and literature, we find a story about people who can simply never be reduced to a cardboard cut-out of themselves, either in person, or in the public mind.

Or course, the public appetite for “information” and community connectedness is not restricted to stories about the private lives of individuals, many of whom have sought notoriety in their own need for attention. Events, especially those events which arouse a public curiosity, include things like explosions, fires, shootings, robberies, rapes, drug-gangland killings, and the occasional incident and hero who escapes or who rescues another from the jaws of crime, comprise much of the “news” that, for some is not fit to print, (borrowing from the New York Times slogan) are also important in their jelling into a community culture. Occasionally, a public figure’s moral-fatality will also serve as a magnet for public consumption, and thereby sales of media and advertising that keep the media itself afloat. Scurrilous, scandalous, reprehensible and deplorable behaviour, stemming from attitudes and beliefs that, too, are reprehensible and deplorable, serves as a fast-food menu to a public appetite for instant and instantly processed mindfood. Trouble is, just like most other ‘fast food,’ there is little if any real nourishment, but lots of sugar, salt and cholesterol in the diet.

Personal conflicts among public figures are especially magnetic to many news reporters of even the most serious and responsible outlets. They know, as their editors can and will attest, that such stories serve as fresh honey to “starved” scavengers, whether those scavengers are dressed in double-breasted blue suits or coveralls, or delivery uniforms. There are millions of opportunities to feed what seems to be an insatiable appetite for stories about the “fall” of others especially from high places, demonstrating a human trait of “demonizing” that helps to fuel the appetite for such stories.

Passing from personalities and events to “ideas” in a corporate culture that has been fed sawdust from birth, however, presents a battle so complex and so unprofitable, from a business and political perspective, that, only the short epithet “KISS” seems to operate among even the top executives and political operatives and the public relations guru’s that puppet/support them. Specialized pages, magazines, television and internet streaming channels, albeit, have been designed and produced for the benefit of a small “niche’ audience, the profits from which ventures hardly gain even the notice of venture capitalists. Occasionally, and this is one of the best examples of a national “public” media, financed by the state, dedicates a regular, predictable and sustainable slot in its viewing listings….as does the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s The Nature of Things with David Suzuki as host, now running for well over forty years, depicting new scientific research into all manner of subjects, gathering research from around the world, and then feeding it to a Canadian audience comprised of several generations.

Occasionally, too, embedded in a nightly newscast, one finds a 90-second piece about some astrological, or anatomical, or archeological, or even medical discovery, included in the news line-up both to enhance the audience’s breadth of knowledge and also to demonstrate the breadth of ‘coverage’ that only a public broadcaster can and will do. (Perhaps to generate funding support among decision-makers in the national government.

Nevertheless, ideas, the charted course of lives of those seeking more challenging files with which to wrestle, and the preferred ‘consumer’ menu of those who find ‘gossip’ and ‘ambulances chasing car wrecks, or oligarchic coups, (or threatened coups, by michael flynn and trump attorney powell) distasteful, insulting, patronizing, condescending, or outright disgusting are too often relegated to the editorial pages, the academic journals, the specialized publications of various specialty investigations.

Fifteen years as a free-lance, untrained journalist, recovering from the repeated epithet of news directors, “the audience/reader has only a sixth grade education” (so make the story intelligible to that person), I really never ‘fit’ into that straight jacket. Neither did I accept the other straight jacket that “headlines” (even if they are misleading) are essential to attract busy readers/ ’listeners…Thereby inevitable and compulsively contributing to the ‘sensationalising” of the way news is reported, in addition to the subjects considered appropriate for a select audience.

Of course, social media has a very significant role to play in the dumbing down of public information, its consumption, and therefore its interpretation, by a 40% segment of the population (in the U.S.) that gets its news from social media.

Little wonder that there are conspiracy theories running amok, among those whose diet of public information is not only empty of real debatable and demonstrable information, but is also replete with the most vile opinions of all castes. What must the average “grade level” of intelligence/learning/training be now….grade 3?

It is not a dumbing down of public information that we need, in spite of the editorial and executive need and commitment to generate profits. It is, rather, an elevation of the kind of news, and the language of the public media, including those niche sites and information outlets, and a much more targeted and creative approach to advertising revenue. Subscriptions to The Atlantic, have, fortunately grown as have those to The New Yorker. Nevertheless, newsrooms of highly respected and honourable newspapers have been hollowed out, with the numbers of foreign reporters depleted by large numbers. Costs, and declining revenues, are alleged to be the cost. However, there are small ‘green’sprouts of investigative reports like CNN’s Global Public Square, and MSNBC’s Richard Engel’s deep dives into various issues including the recent Israeli-Palestine 11-day war that continue to offer those interestered and those advertisers still committed, packages well worth both the effort of the hosts and producers, and of the audiences.

The convergence of academic/deep thinkers and their valuable and relevant insights with a world facing multiple crises, with a series of media outlets, at a time when institutions, including academia, are so distrusted, seems both a threat and an opportunity.

First, those engaged in the preparation of public statements from ‘think tanks’ of all kinds need to step up their production of material, not only to the niche publications, but also to the mega-media outlets. And those same outlets need to rethink the public’s need for (if not their appetite for, unless and until it can be nurtured and fostered) the brightest and the best ideas that we have access to and reliability upon. (Churchill would be appalled with my ending that sentence with a preposition!)

Education, not restricted to t he formal classrooms of elementary and secondary schools, nor even to the hallowed halls of high education, is the birthright not only of all women on the planet, including girls of all ages in all countries. It is also the birthright of those living in the ghettoes of our cities. Perhaps it is time for those charged with leadership of the various media outlets to rethink the parameters of their business, to embrace the obligation of educating, not merely of attracting readers and consumers, as part of their public trust and commitment.

After all, the higher the level of national and community literacy, the greater the likelihood that conspiracy theories like Q-Anon, and those evangelical fantasies of salvation and an eternal life among streets paved with gold (a precurser to many of those people who have become vulnerable to such conspiracy theories, and hoax presidencies like that of the last American president) will have places to become embedded.

A national garden of questioning, informed, authentic and nurtured individuals whose minds and hearts and spirits have been fed a diet of science, principled theology, collaborative and participatory and effectively functioning democracy and a healthy scepticism (a core ingredient of a healthy and disciplined formal and informal education) is not a hothouse in which even the seeds of conspiracy and propaganda, and political and profiteering seduction can take root.

This is not rocket-science. It is common sense, an essential ingredient on which a healthy community relies as its metaphoric oxygen.

It is not enough, or even appropriate, for ordinary citizens to go running to the local, or provincial or national politicians with cries like, “What are YOU going to do about this mess?” Not only did that politician “create” the specific mess in question, but  the root causes of any given mess go back to several layers of causes, including people and systems that might have failed.

One of the prime reasons for such failure is the cynical, uninformed insouciance and “blaming” that seems to be the chosen rhetoric for public debate. Citizens are neither stupid nor are they deliberately, in most cases, blocked from accessing legitimate and needed information. It could well be that the former responsible and mature and publicly-focused media agencies have also lost their previously charted course.

Profit is not a worthy idol to worship, no matter the sycophant seeking its embrace.