Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Reflecting on 'normalcy bias'

In an opinion piece in today’s The Star, in a piece entitled, ‘’Everything’s fine’: we tend to avoid thoughts of danger. Is this why we disagree so much on the pandemic?, we read:

As a doctor who is interested both in mindfulness and metacognition—how we think—I spend time helping other clinicians develop a deeper awareness about their own thought processes. This isn’t usually a hard sell, when you consider that most doctors live in fear of making mistakes that will harm of kill patients, and many errors in medicine trace to thought process problems. But one of our greatest cognitive vulnerabilities is the fact that our minds don’t necessarily like to think about problems that suggest our safety-or someone else’s is in serious peril. In the face of these types of threats, as with the pandemic, we’re all mostly hard-wired with a tendency for our minds to whisper seductively to us, Everything’s fine…. This is one aspect of what is known as the normalcy bias. The normalcy bias can mean we don[t even want to talk about the fact that we have a normalcy bias, which can quickly become a problem in the early stages of an emergency—the stage where our choices will make the most dramatic difference. The normalcy bias is so powerful is has to be programmed out of us through a learned skill called situational awareness if we want to respond effectively to an emergency…In medicine, there are two questions that are protective against cognitive error: ‘What else could this be?’ and ‘How do I know that?’ The key is applying these questions to counter the normalcy bias, not to give it a boost.

Her public tutorial, coming as it does from the keypad of a qualified, certified and reputable medical doctor, incorporates much for us to learn from. Normalcy bias, is considered a psychological condition,

“also known as normality bias, incredulity response, analysis paralysis, and most interesting of all, the ostrich effect. (Formally defined) Normalcy bias is a psychological state of denial people enter in the event of a disaster, as a result of which they underestimate the possibility of the disaster actually happening, and its effects on their life and property. Their denial is based on the assumption that if the disaster has not occurred until now, it will never occur.” (from

Dr. Horton’s piece was prompted by her son’s question, “Could something like the war in Ukraine ever happen here?” to which the good doctor responded, “Yes…Someday it might, because people often misread the degree of a threat. And as with the pandemic, not one country in the world should be arrogant enough to think it could never happen to them.”

Do you fear for your marriage? asked the counsellor to a client who interpreted the question as indisputable evidence of the therapist’s incompetence. “I would not have been there if I had not been worried,” was the summation, sadly. An example of normalcy bias.

“People cannot stand too much reality,” were the words from the Bishop’s mouth, to the seminary student, warning that telling too much truth, especially uncomfortable truth, would be a threat to his professional conduct as a clergy. An example of the application of normalcy bias, as a warning not to dig too deeply into the personal private lives of parishioners.

“After three minutes, he could see right through me!” said the warden to the bishop, after being asked, “How would you like to see your spiritual life develop in  the near future?” An example of how normalcy bias signalled a red flag of incursion into the private life of the fifty-something white male, armoured to the gills, protecting his privacy, as a religious rite.

“The doctor was brutal, insensitive and unhelpful when he told me I was going to die from this pancreatic cancer, which I fully intend to defeat!” were the words of a professional colleague, on the waterfront, barely six weeks before his death. An example of normalcy bias, apparently defied by the medical professional, yet just as earnestly insisted upon by the patient. It is noteworthy, that the medical profession itself has vacillated on whether or not to tell patients the most likely outcome of their especially cancerous condition. Evidence once showed that the full truth often led to a more immediate death, or at least a giving up and worsening of the condition.

This is a pivotal point in so many communications at all levels of our social, political, professional and pastoral engagements. Depending on the assessment of the ‘strength’ of the other to actually integrate whatever hard news might be about to be uttered, a professional sensitive person will attempt to couch the news in words that take on a sheen, or perhaps an aura or odor of holding back, euphemistically known as protecting the victim. It could also be protecting the announcer from having to own the implications and repercussion of harsh news.

In parenting, I have heard kids say that the penalty they got in a hockey game was ‘his’ or ‘her’ fault (the other guy!), given that either the coach or the parent had made a calculated discernment that minimizing the responsibility of the young person was preferable to laying the whole ‘shame’ and ‘guilt’ on the penalizedplayer. Is that another example of normalcy bias, or rather of self-=protecting the parent’s vision of both a healthy child from a healthy parenting home? Somehow, most kids I know are able and willing to integrate their own ‘share’ of the referee’s call, unless the situation is so heavily loaded against the official. Again, though, even that perception of a “bad call” on the part of the official, is inevitably intertwined with my normalcy bias, given that authority figures, from my experience, including multiple observations and experiences, make extremely flawed decisions.

Indeed, the question of normalcy bias, so deeply and indelibly and also subtly infused into our conditioning, effectively rules much of our pursuit of fitting into any culture and situation. And we see it repeating itself, like a tribal drum-beat at the beginning of such tragedies as the pandemic, when the American president dismissed it as similar to the common cold or flu. We still see the bias playing out in the defiant rejection of vaccinations, masks, social distancing and the rise and fall of cases of the variants and subvariants of the COVID virus. We watched normalcy bias playing out in the attempts to minimize the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, believing both that such an event was outside the range of even the most assertive empire-builder’s or restorer’s potential. We see normalcy bias, still, among those who contend that Putin will not set foot or plane or missile or even chemical of nuclear ‘dust’ over the border of Ukraine into Poland or other NATO state. Normalcy bias is perhaps another way to characterize the Putin control of the media, control of protesters, control of social media and even access into and out of Russia itself, all aimed at preserving “normalcy” of an historic and murderous slaughter of Ukrainians and their towns and cities. For months, prior to the invasion, too, Ukrainian president Zelensky was singing a song of normalcy, contending that Russia was not going to invade.

We see normalcy bias coming from economists in their trendlines on inflation, holding back their worst-case scenarios, in the hope that such restraint will assist in impeding an impending rise in interest rates, prices and income gaps. So even with all the mounting evidence of normalcy bias, it is continually matched by the other side of the coin, catastrophizing. Indeed, when former Liberal leader, now Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, complained about bi-polarity in political dialogue, he may well have been referencing a vacillation between normalcy bias and catastrophizing, as extreme rhetoric on both sides of a political issue, in an era of steroidal language, thought, and physical exertion as well as wealth-accumulation. Dystopias, like The Handmaid’s Tale, and Orwell’s 1984, tell a tale that exaggerates the heinous, the potentially deplorable, as a perhaps ironic warning about some of the major dynamics in the human story. Men  controlling the reproductive capacity of women, and men exercising little more than mind-bending perversities in both language and geopolitics and war, both heinous in their conception and in their implications, are imaginative paths of both angst and care about the path forward, from two different eras, nations and pens.

In the English church, (Anglican, Episcopal), normalcy bias includes a level of emotional repression that birthed such titles as “God’s Chosen Frozen” as if to say that emotions did not belong inside the sanctuary. And this bias has become one of the primary hallmarks of that faith community, so much so that protests arose over even such elementary ritual changes as a designated moment in the liturgy when parishioners would greet each other, in what is termed, ‘sharing the peace’. Some parishioners, for a very long time after its introduction, absolutely refused even to move an inch toward another worshipper, sitting only a few feet away in the pew. And the problem with that normalcy bias, however, is that it posits a different kind of “deep anxiety” that another might get too close and too personal, given that faith is and must remain an exclusively private matter between the individual and God.

In addition to the specifics of “The Peace” in the ritual, there is a normalcy bias in the very tendency to sacralize and to venerate and virtually to worship the past inside and outside the sanctuary doors. Reading history as “the good old days” as a rhetorical and epistemological path to elevating its memory, including its highly warranted scholarship and study, can easily slide into a public ideology and policy that uses normalcy bias as the defence against change. This is extremely ironic, given that we all know nature itself, as well as all of her living plants and animals, including humans, are constantly changing, evolving, and even decaying.

Families threatened with job loss, potential bankruptcy, will continue to walk and talk as if there were really no impending eviction, or disruption or even destruction of the family unit, in the hope and ‘belief’ that somehow, ‘things will work themselves out’ (often with the help of God as part of the self-talk within the family unit).

Currently, the world itself, and all of the people, are facing another incredibly important normalcy bias, most of the language and the rhetoric, including millions of lobbying dollars in support, contending that the earth’s atmosphere is not going to hell in hand-basket at the hands of human carbon and other toxic gas emissions. Even while chunks of ice the size of the city of New York fall from icebergs in the Antarctic, and temperature in both the Arctic and the Antarctic are estimated to be some 30-40 degrees above normal, and while floods and forest fires, tsunamis and droughts grow both in size and in frequency, those in the “head-in-the-sand-ostrich-club” continue to utter, and to lobby for and to obstruct legislation and public policy that would begin to address this impending “firestorm”.

Cigarette smoking, once considered an intimate component of the high social life, especially as depicted in Hollywood movies in the early part of the twentieth, and their social and economic value were preserved by arguments withing the rubric of normalcy bias, when the evidence glared life-threatening lung cancers, from both primary and secondary smoke.

It is the dynamic of the inevitability of crisis, pandemic, fire, disease, mortality, economic crises, and recently environmental disaster that is intricately interwoven into our’s and our ancestors’ dependency and reliance on and even need for normalcy bias that, perhaps, as a footnote, keeps us from drinking ourselves into oblivion. Catastrophic news, like the storm surges of the Atlantic tsunamis, continue, as alcohol and drug consumption grows, and many find hobbies, new social media ‘friends’ alternative medicines to ameliorate the potential and real pain of our fears and our losses and even our own finality. Complex and driven to survive, as we humans have proven ourselves to be, we do rely on those interior, perhaps even unconscious attributes to keep from falling overboard. And we can only hope that writers like Dr. Jillian Horton continue to advise us and other doctors on how we cope with the crises that continue to roll across both our digital screens and our interior minds. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Seeking prophetic voices of courage in Brussels

 Will there be a prophetic voice at the EU and NATO meetings to discuss the slaughter in Ukraine?

It is almost impossible to use the word “prophetic” without referring to the prophets in the Old Testament, many of whom uttered deep and profound criticisms of their people and the manner in which they were living, ascribing their criticism to a breaking of the covenant with God. It was that covenant that offered the beacon of how to live, not only from an individual perspective but also from a collective perspective. Out of that well of Jewish tradition, Christian writers and thinkers were to come to ascribe those ‘visions’ both of criticism and of a new way of being to the holy spirit, since, to both author their words and then to have to bear the scorn and contempt of their communities was unbearable. Something else, something outside the empirical, the literal and the sensate had to be operating in order for them to utter their harsh words.

Today, however, rather than the holy spirit, at least in many quarters, we talk about something called “intuition” as a possible link to things that are not easily or even possibly ever amenable to empirical measurement. Let’s not get trapped into a kind of thinking or ‘visioning’ or ‘intuiting’ that completely detaches what we know about the facts on the ground from a perception of how those facts might hold a key to their requisite resolution, in this case, the Ukraine-Russia war.

This moment is not merely an inflection point about the relative power of democracy or autocracy, or between east and west, or between free markets and socialism. This is a moment in history in which how we proceed, in the vortex of several colliding crises, will set patterns and paths forward as to our continual co-habitation on the planet. While the world scurries about in flotillas of rescue operations, both humanitarian and military, as well as diplomatic and information (propaganda) the crisis in Ukraine offers many urgencies that refuse to be ignored.

All sides agree that a human tragedy is unfolding right before our eyes. All sides agree that the images of this conflict are searing deeply into both the consciences and the ‘guts’ of everyone alive. And the scars, the wounds, the helplessness and the urgency to ‘engage’ somehow in acts to attempt to bring about a silencing of the bombs and the missiles and the assault rifles and the carnage are ubiquitous. In real time, with digital images flying from satellites to screens in every corner of the globe, we are all part of this horror. And, consequently, we are also not able to ‘free’ ourselves from its exigency.

Without being ‘experts’ in military strategy and tactics and history and tradition, and without being experts in the deployment of economic sanctions, and without being schooled in the nuances of foreign policy and geopolitical negotiations, none of us ordinary people warrant a seat at those tables where serious and dangerous decisions have to be taken. We are not charged with the responsibility that weighs on the shoulders of those men and women who hold offices and mandates that carry both the responsibility and the authority to bring about policy and acts that will extend, curtail, terminate or resolve this human tragedy.

Those who consider war a necessary evil, as has the church for centuries, (and as the Russian Orthodox has even endorsed this specific conflict) will, of course, refer to and rely on history, replete as it is with blood, carnage, weapons and conquest. War colleges, military academies, and platoons of military personnel comprise a kind of global network charged with the responsibility for their respective nations to protect and defend, using all of the instruments of war at their disposal. Arguments for the generation and maintenance of those instruments rely primarily on words like “defense” and “security” and “protection” and “safety” and “liberal values,” and “freedom” and “privacy” and “human rights” and “equality” at least in the more recent past. And while there are various other agencies, and authorities charged with many of those same “words” and “concepts,” only the military is burdened with the responsibility for the deployment/or not of such lethal weapons as nuclear bombs, chemical and biological weapons, and cyber security.

In most democratic countries, there is a civilian authority and responsibility for the oversight of the military arm of a nation. It is that civilian layer who will be charged with making decisions in Brussels later this week. Conversely, in Russia, it would appear that putin himself, without the real constrictions of either advisors or elected representatives, can and has and will continue to make decisions for his nation regarding all military and foreign policy issues.

 Most of the debates around these crucial issues, as the world faces in Ukraine, take the form of hourly intelligence gathering and briefings, offered to both military and civilian authorities for analysis, interpretation and then decision-making. So far, so good!

However, U.S. President Biden and his administration have taken the position that no American “boots” will enter Ukraine in combat against Russian forces, and no military “boots” will operate fighter jets over Ukrainian skies, in order to effectuate a “no-fly zone”. Calling such a move “World War III,” Biden strikes fear in anyone who might be listening. However, the world has watched with increasing apprehension the Russian over slaughter of men and women, mere protesters, on the streets of Ukrainian cities; we have watched the demolition by bombs and missiles of maternity hospitals, schools, mothers and children and the elderly, many of whom are heard crying, “Why?” “What is the purpose of this madness?”

And the world is tongue-out longing for an answer to their prophetic cry.

Prophetic cries do not have to have an immediately perceivable apocalyptic and epic dimension. They are often embedded in the most intimate, often even the most barely audible, or visible expressions. That paradox, however, is often overlooked in our skimming over the surfaces of many of the issues that make their way into the public debate. Like wisdom, it is often unable to be constrained by hyperbolic theories, or epic discoveries, or historic victories.

Who might represent what we might call a prophetic voice, at a time when prophetic voices may not seek or be elected to public office. Volodymyr Zelensky(y)’s path to the presidency of his nation, from mediocre student, to theatre troupe to a television series depicting a fictional president of his homeland, in which he played the lead, to a vision of actually holding that office, has proven both ironic and prophetic. Who would have thought that such a path, even including a law degree, would give birth to a reiteration of the Churchillian rhetoric in the middle of military conflict in Europe, for the first time in over half a century?

If Zelensky is prophetic, both in his capacity to inspire and to motivate and to advocate for the urgent needs and aspirations of Ukrainians, even to the point where we all know that his life is in constant danger, and his surrender to the Russians is improbable, if not out of  the question,  then who else can we hear or read who might also have the clarity and the depth and the insight and the prophetic vision to bring the Ukrainian survival and regeneration about?

From our perspective there are three voices being heard in the western media who might offer insight, clarity and a prophetic vision to those leaders of NATO when the meet in Brussels.

The first is Ian Brezinski, of the Atlantic Councel, son of former  National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brezinski. Appearing several times recently on Morning Joe, on MSNBC, the younger Brezinski advocates for a more assertive posture, not merely defensive posture from both NATO and Ukraine, as the only kind of language Putin understands. His argument, if I heard him fully and correctly, is that Putin is inured to words, that we have done that to him by our shared acquiescence in previous instances where he has used military power to subdue with impunity. Brezinski believes, after years of both study and experience, that Putin is less likely to deploy both nuclear and chemical weapons if and when the west openly, and assertively pushes back against this invasion. He served as “deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO policy from 2001 to 2005 under George W. Bush. He is a member of the Strategic Advisors Group at the Atlantic Council.  In 2010, he was named Senior Fellow in the Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. We can only hope that his council, even vicariously, will be listened to in Brussels.

Another prophetic voice, Fiona Hill, has stated publicly, that we are already in World War III. In an AP Interview, February 17, 2022, with Tracy Brown, we read this:

“Just in the thinking of the Kremlin and Putin in particular, Ukraine belongs to Russia,’ Hill said. ‘So, by any kind of means—Russia intends to make sure that Ukraine is completely and utterly surrounded and constricted in every possible way. (This was before the invasion which began on February 24, 2022)). She said Bien was right to repeat his warnings about potential Russian aggression….If he doesn’t repeat them they will all think that everything is fine because everyone is looking for a way out. We’re all looking for a solution. There’s not going to be one. Putin has declared war on us.”

A third voice who warrants careful attention, in this dangerous time, not only for Ukraine and Ukrainians, but for the way we are attempting to operate governance, including human rights, and the opportunities for all citizens to achieve their full potential in a safe and secure society and culture. That voice is from former Chess Master Garry Kasparov. In today’s The Scotsman, under the titles: Ukraine-Russia War: Garry Kasparov’s take on Vladimir Putin is worth listening to –Scotsman Comment:

Now, Kasparov, who is  chairman of the Human Rights Foundation and once attempted to stand against Putin in Russia’s presidential elections, has warned that the West’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is only making Putin  stronger and more dangerous. ‘I was called a warmonger in 2014 when I said Putin would not stop with Crimea and East Ukraine. Now everyone admits that I was right, but wants to repeat the same mistake now. Letting Putin destroy Ukraine increases the threat of a greater conflict, including nuclear,’ he said. ‘The West loves to lose slowly, to pass the hard choices to the next administration, shift the consequences to buffer states.’ (The piece continues)..Kasparov’s prescience about Putin’s intentions does not mean he is necessarily right about this, but it does mean he is worth listening to. If the West refuses to get involved more directly in the defence of Ukraine—for fear of sparking a nuclear war- then its alternative must be up to the task of ensuring that Putin’s regime does not emerge stronger but instead is fatally undermined.

These three observers are not engaged in this debate for their own personal sake, for their career’s aggrandizement, nor for some political party’s electoral success. They have the best interests of the world at heart. They also have the courage of their difficult decision to come to their conclusion and to have the courage also to put those conclusions our on the world’s menu of options for a full discussion.

We owe them a debt of gratitude, not merely in honouring their insights, but in putting those insights into practice. President Zelensky, it would seem, would also echo their perspective.

Do we have their courage?

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Putin: hoisted on his own petard


I think the international community should unite to fight such inhuman phenomena as terror attacks and the murder of totally innocent people. (Vladimir Putin)

 Mr. Putin: Today, you are the terrorist who murders totally innocent people. Today, it is you who must take your own medicine. Today, it is your deployment of the totality of your military machine in a vain and hubristic, narcissistic and brutal display of the worst instincts of humanity, to dominate, to overpower, and to destroy innocent people for your own glorification. (Doubtlessly, you would argue also for the glory of Russia itself, as you have come to believe you incarnate the nation and reign as Supreme Potentate.) As the children in Ukraine tell us, “You are just like Hitler!” Perhaps you might recall another of your own statements:

“All the attempts to appease the Nazis between 1934 and 1939 through various agreements and pacts were morally unacceptable and politically senseless, harmful and dangerous.” ….

And another of your pithy epithets:

“It is wrong to make anyone into an enemy; it is wrong to scare the people of one’s own country with that enemy and try to rally some allies on that basis”…

And then there is this:

“Russia is a part of European culture. Therefore, it is with difficulty that I imagine NATO as an enemy.”

And how could you possibly ever have uttered these words?

“There are both things in international law: the principle of territorial integrity and right to self-determination.”

And for the rest of the world to attempt to reconcile these words (your words), we need your exegesis:

“History proves that all dictatorships, all authoritarian forms of government are transient. Only democratic systems are not transient. Whatever the shortcomings, mankind has not devised anything superior.”

Inevitably, on the media in the west, the Russian dictator is and will continue to be denounced as a liar, and not to be trusted, especially in the middle of a bloody  massacre of Ukrainians and their towns and cities. And, to be sure, none of us is totally free of hypocrisy. We are all bearers of, sustainers of and even generators of complexities, absurdities and incongruities.

However, what cannot be described as mere absurdities, or incongruities, are the bodies lying in the streets in Mariupol, riddled with Russian bullets. Nor can we dismiss or ignore the burned-out shells of apartment buildings across Ukraine, deliberately, wantonly and coldly transformed into their own architectural ghosts.

The fire and the smoke belching from their broken windows, framed in black carbon soot, is a monument to your unyielding and over-weening lust for power and the listless, and betrayed acts of Russian fighters compelled to follow your commands. “A special military operation” is one of the most cowardly euphemisms ever designed and imposed on a war, by an ultimately provable desperately weak tyrant. Ironically, your naivety in either believing that your people would fall for your chicanery, or that the world and the Ukrainians themselves, (admittedly your brothers and sisters) would fail to see the depth of your venom exposes your Achilles Heel: a blind arrogance and isolation that separates you not only from the people of Russia, and from the very military that serves you, but also from the rest of the world community.

Your Ambassador to the United Nations, too, is so utterly compromised in having to deliver on the world stage, such monumental “Alice in Wonderland” concepts as “neo-Nazis controlling the Ukrainian government”. Also in your demands for peace talks to include a “denazification” program in Ukraine, following the silencing of your bombs and missiles you beg the question of which country, Russia or Ukraine is behaving in an identical manner to that of the Third Reich. If, like Alice herself, you find death lurking underneath all of the puzzles and riddles that escape resolution in your life, as they did in her’s, and long ago have lost any last vestige of innocence, as your chosen archetype of world leader, and thereby consider it a requirement of your legacy to rid the world of all ‘hope and innocence’, you are not only engaged in a campaign to kill women and children, but also to eradicate the concept of innocence and awe from the landscape. The president of Estonia, appearing on State of the Union, with Jake Tapper, articulated an insight that exposed an even more insidious motive and tactic that is being reported and analysed in the North American media: that as a deliberate strategy, having decried the flow of refugees into Europe over the last twenty years, emboldening the far right in several European countries, you have now generated a massive refugee migration single-handedly, thereby again underscoring the arguments of the far right in those same European countries against an open-door receptivity to desperate, war-fleeing innocents. How insidious, and how contemptible.

Such antithetical, underworld motives and methods echo other literary figures like Hades, god of the Underworld, and Lucifer from Milton’s Paradise Lost.

In a CBC piece, on March 13, 2020, entitled, “Sympathy for the devil: Milton’s Satan as political rebel,” we read: ‘Charismatic and sympathetic. Milton’s Satan leads a rebellion against God and rails against what he perceives as the tyranny of heaven—little wonder, then, that he has often been interpreted as a revolutionary figure’….

You, Sir, are railing against what you perceive is the tyranny of neo-Nazis, in Kyiv, a supreme and utterly ‘trashable’ lie known to you and the whole world. Attempting, as you seem to be convinced you are doing in these mass killings of innocent civilians, to ‘rescue’ the people of Ukraine by murdering them is one of the most corrupt and contemptible wars in the history of Europe.

Ukrainian president Zelensky declares that your military’s inhumane blockade and slaughter and starvation scorched earth actions in Mariupol among to acts of terror, war crimes and will be remembered by history for a very long time. Undoubtedly, you consider his words hollow and meaningless war rhetoric. It is the shadow of your frozen heart and mind that casts a death knell over the cities and towns of Ukraine and effectively over the future of western Europe, if not the ‘free world’.

You are now the terrorist you once decried. You are now frightening your people with the hollow enemy of the Ukrainian people having been rendered into that role by your propaganda alone. You are violating the principles of international law, territorial integrity and the right to self-determination you once proclaimed to support. You now not only imagine NATO as a real and pressing enemy; you have emboldened and awakened the alliance to the very sense of alert you previously would never have considered imaginable. Indeed, it is now significant that President Zelensky again today on CNN’s Global Public Square, articulated a highly convincing argument that NATO make a decision, either to open the alliance’s door to Ukraine, or to formally close that door, rather than leave Ukraine in limbo, as he put it.

By you own words, you indicate that it was “morally unacceptable and politically senseless, harmful and dangerous” for the allies in the Second World War to participate in pacts and to appease the Third Reich, signalling, presumably without contention from you now, that for NATO to continue to appease the Russian tyrant by similar pacts, negotiations and appeasements is and will be “morally unacceptable, politically senseless, harmful and dangerous.’ You know all too well, that to appease tyrants and dictators is an act of foolishness. So, we can hardly expect and anticipate that you would be surprised if NATO, through Ukraine, actually took off the gloves, in whatever manner it deemed appropriate and necessary. Nor would you and your forces, considerably depleted and demoralized as they appear to be, be ready, willing and able to address such a shift in policy and practice.

In the CBC piece quoted above, we also read these words from Gabby Samra, one of the contributors to the piece: Milton’s Satan is a very human vision of what evil is. Satan is this really charismatic, transfixing image of evil that differentiates from the previous medieval depictions of the devil as this slavering, demonic monster. She said the Miltonic devil figure is defined by cunning, eloquence and the ability to manipulate others into bringing about their own ruin.

You Sir, are cunning, too cunning for your own good, somewhat eloquent so long as you are the only microphone permitted on the podium as you were before the fawning thousand in the soccer stadium at your recent rally. And as for your capacity, unimpeded, unchallenged, and free of all impunity, to manipulate others into bringing about their own ruin, your own officers demonstrate the fullness of this manipulation better than any of us could script. Those officers who have walked away from Ukrainian grandmothers confronting them on their illegitimate and unwarranted invasion, with sunflower seeds, so that flowers will grow on their grave, after they die in this battle, and then watched as those men did indeed just walk away, demonstrate how poignant has been their manipulation, their seduction that they were merely going on a special military operation, and not a full-scale war.

Your manipulation of the people in Moscow and in St. Petersburg, and in the hundreds of towns and cities dotting your vast land, also knows no limit: 15 years in prison for uttering or endorsing the “fake news” which literally is defined as using words like war, invasion, and killing. Protesters in the street, by your other manipulated men in uniform, are carted off in vans to prison, or for interrogation, and punishment. The cell phones of your people are being scrubbed of any evidence of expressions of protest against this war, for fear that those devices, too, will be and are instruments in your scorched earth campaign of ‘tyrannizing the truth of your actions, and your motives.

Your most noxious chicanery, of course, is that you appear to be telling the world “your demands” as if you are totally transparent in your earnest efforts to seek a peaceful negotiated settlement of this conflict. However, you more than anyone on the planet, know, both in your heart and in your mind, that the people of Ukraine are unalterably opposed to those demands, as would any self-respecting people be. And, as for self-respecting people, the Ukrainians have demonstrated such a degree and level of self-respect that the world everywhere has learned the full meaning of that concept from their inescapable mountain of evidence, hour-by-hour and day-by-day, and week-by-week, for the last month.

You, Sir, are engaged in, indeed giving birth to, the most calamitous conflict in world history since 1945. Your place in history has been secured in blood. And your fellow countrymen and women will need decades, if not centuries, to remove the stain on both their consciences and on their archives.  You are the Alpha and the Omega of this blood-bath, and while you have no justification to any kind of deification, your legacy will be covered in shame, in layers of spider-like webs of neglect and forgetfulness, for the next hundred years, regardless of the initial outcome of this conflict.

Is it not long past time for you to come to your senses, as we say in the west; to abandon your fealty to your puppet trump, and your sycophancy to Xi Jinping, and your adulation of your own hollow and virulent ego? Russia will not erect a monument to your travesty in Ukraine. And your manipulation of the world’s fossil-fuel dependency is not only unsustainable from an environmental protection perspective. It is also unambiguously manipulative of those you consider needing your largesse, another piece of evidence of the brittleness of your regime: dominating on the one hand and hollow at the same time.

You, Sir, are far more to be pitied that scorned. And that, Sir, is the epitaph you warrant on an unmarked grave in an anonymous cemetery outside Leningrad.

Your merciful Canadian scribe.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Our birthright as citizens of the world is not for sale!

U.S President Biden says we are at a historic inflexion point, in which the clash of autocracies against democracies is in full flight. There is evidence that China and Russia, along with other autocracies, will link in some way(s) to either fail to impede, or to actually support this slaughter in Ukraine. As I write this, according to reports, Biden and Xi Jinping are engaged in a phone conversation that has the potential to be a fork in the road, not only for the immediate war, but for the longer term of the world’s way of operating.

The American networks are throwing around words like “carrots” and “sticks” with which Biden can possibly convince the Chinese leader to refuse to send military aid to putin in Ukraine, or also to refuse to bail putin out on the mountain of sanctions that have been imposed on him and his oligarchy. In the same broadcasts, Russian ‘demands’ are reported to include a commitment from Ukraine that it will never entertain or seek membership in NATO, and that the eastern provinces of Ukraine become, in effect, a formal part of Russia.

Apparently putin’s demands are detailed as the minimum benchmark the Ukrainians have to meet in order for the shelling and the bombing and the killing of innocents to stop. At the same time, Ukrainian President Zelensky has told the world, repeatedly, in masterful rhetoric delivered virtually to parliaments in Germany, Great Britain, Canada and the United States, that Ukraine will never give up, never surrender, and never submit to a Russian system of tyranny.

Even former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger prepared, executed and delivered a video message, based  on his Austrian heritage and his angry father who was wounded fighting for the Nazis in Leningrad, and who angrily told Arnold to remove a poster of his Russian weight-lifting hero, Vaslov, whom he met personally, following a World Weightlifting Championship in Vienna as a boy of 14.Having acted in the first foreign film produced in Red Square in Moscow, the former governor has apparently quite a following in Russia. He spoke directly to the people of Russia, 11 million of whom have Ukrainian family connections, and to putin himself, to stop the illegal war for which he is totally responsible. Whether such a message will have any impact or not, its authenticity and timeliness and cogency are indisputable.

We have to end this carnage. And we have to make that happen today if possible.

Political rhetoric now ramps up in places like Germany and Canada, for a sizeable increase in military spending, as a response to this latest war, about which Andrew Coyne, appearing on CBC’s At Issue, says that putin has crossed the Rubicon, and that we  will never go back to a world prior to February 24, the day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Again, like Biden, Coyne is uttering a most-likely and inevitable truth. However, it is underneath how we are operating that demands critical exposure, examination and amendment, if not transformation.

“Stick” and “carrots”… negotiating demands…transactionalism…zero sum games…classical conditioning…critical parenting….colonization….empire building…domination….military might…gross national product…Gross National Income…they all serve as  trinkets in a geopolitical board game of international self-sabotage. We move them around, as if we actually believed we are doing important things, accomplishing significant, ethical and moral and sustainable goals. We write volumes describing who they have been ‘deployed’ for centuries, in battles, dominions, empires and court rooms, as if to say, like the slogan on a boy-toy retail outlet in Colorado, “he with the most toys wins!” How can I get you to do my bidding, through the only process considered worthwhile…by bribing and manipulating and persuading and even seducing you to my way of thinking.

If this war is not enough to convince major countries like India and China, Iran and North Korea that the slaughter of innocent women and children and elderly by an unprovoked invader drunk on lies and hate, then all the rantings about sticks and carrots amount to an obituary for the human race. If the destruction of both individuals and the collective nation of Ukrainian people by a brutal, cold-blooded murderer armed with nuclear and chemical weapons and unbridled by any form of previously signed contract respecting any other nation, person, territory or even ethnicity is not enough of a call to the human race, to all people, in all offices in all nations and territories everywhere on all continents, regardless of ideology, history, ethnicity or religion, to join the opposition to the war, then what hope is there for the long-term survival of humanity.

Of course, there are already those whose eyes are gliding over this space who are repulsed by what they consider the hyperbole of that previous utterance. And yet, here me out!

If a family we to operate exclusively on the concept of classical conditioning, (at its core that is the Achilles heel of Christianity), and were to offer a ‘gold star’ for all the accomplishments we aspire to witness and experience, then only children and parents would emerge into adulthood. If bosses controlled their workers merely by carrots and sticks, demotions, suspensions and pay-benefit-and-title-hikes, then the very real glue that holds all organizations together and keeps them from flying apart, is a melange of shared values, including especially a truthful assessment of the most complex circumstances. We are much more then our “job titles” just as we are much more than our illnesses. We are much more than engines generating profits for those empowered to make illegitimate assessments of how and why we are performing in the manner we do. We are much more even than the criminals and misfits languishing in prison cells around the world, of course for heinous acts we do not know how to countenance, or to prevent or to punish, as our veiled and vain promise of deterrence.

Like putin, Zelensky and his family have suffered at the hands of the Third Reich. Like Zelensky, putin is charged with the burden of carrying his personal and his nation’s ‘biographical’ history into each and every meeting and into each and every decision. Both are responsible for the deaths and woundings of innocent victims and soldiers and fighters.

Regardless of our faith exposure and inculcation, regardless of our cultural and linguistic heritage, regardless of what level of academic degree we have attained, or not, regardless of what level of income and social status we may have attained, or not, there is a fundamental, basic and inescapable shared reality: we all want to  be respected; we all want to be honoured and we all desperately want to be known. And to be known, is a lot more than to be known for the yacht, or the dacha, or the ‘mcmansion’, or the BMW, or the title, the club memberships, or the ‘friends’ we keep. And to be known, is to have a hearth and a home and a family and a circle…and while we all know these obvious and elementary facts, they have enhanced relevance in a world beset by pandemic and more to come, and by rising carbon emissions and more to come, and by intransigence of corporations like the Koch brothers who persist in both operating in and profiting from Russian business, in the middle of this war, and by intellectual arguments of “neutrality” or  worse, “support for the invasion”.

If mass slaughter by an unprovoked dictator armed with both nuclear and chemical weapons (and having already deployed them in Syria in support of another tyrant) is not a red, giagantic, and wind-resistant, as well as pollution-resistant flag of warning for all world leaders, then what will it take for the world to come to its knees, and to recognize, humbly, honestly, epistemologically comprehensively, and vulnerably that national boundaries have to give way to more life-giving and assuring aspirations, hopes and truths.

We have neither the time nor the resources, neither the spiritual aristocracy nor the criminal defamity, neither the intellectual competence nor the ethical capacity, neither the will nor the courage to withstand what existential threats loom on our shared horizon. We no longer can luxuriate in our private insulations, isolation islands, whether they are restricted to a street, a neighbourhood, a town or village, a province or a state, a nation or a continent. We are no longer just Canadians, or Americans or Ukrainians, or Russians, or Poles or Brits, or Ugandans, or Nigerians. And while each of us continues to be proud of that first ‘homeland’ identity we all have, given the land of our birth, we have to recognize and respect that we have a wider and a deeper and longer-term benefit and our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, step-brothers and step-sisters, foster-mothers and foster-fathers around the world who, too, share the same needs and aspirations.

This is not political rhetoric seeking endorsements from some corporate donor. Nor is it theological theory or praxis seeking a congregation of worshippers. Nor is it a political ideology seeking a political party, or an economic system or theory, seeking undergraduate curricula for representation. Nor is it a plea to the plethora of international service clubs seeking power and authority among your hierarchies.

This is a ‘cry in the wilderness’ from the northern hemisphere, where Spring is just beginning to show her face, and where the cold snows of this burdensome winter are melting, thankfully for the hundreds of thousands of those who spend it under bridges and overpasses to freeways, or huddled in the door-fronts of small businesses. Our membership in the human race, and our each having been blessed/perhaps some might think cursed, with a sentience and a perception and a consciousness and a will and a capacity to discern right from wrong…regardless of the complexity if fully disclosed…is our birthright.

And our birthright cannot and must not be sacrificed to some tinpot dictator, nor some sycophantic cheer-leaders of those tinpot tyrants, nor those corporate behemoths who have twisted the world economy to their perverse greed and narcissism. Nor can our birthright be sold or bought, regardless of the glitz and glitter of whatever bribe. And this is true and reliable regardless of which street we live on, in which country, or in which period of history.

That birthright is a badge of courage and solidarity, not only with our native Canadians (in my case) nor with North Americans, nor with Europeans, nor with western culture members. It is a badge of courage, competence and conviction that each of us is both needed and absolutely necessary to train, and to find, and then to use our voice, with others, especially when the crisis (crises) are so glaringly present and so lethal in their dimension.

We have a duty as human beings, not only to bring this war to an end, but afterward, to speak out eloquently and poetically and urgently and cogently for arms reductions, for military hard power to give way to geopolitical vulnerability, honestly and the abandonment of classical conditioning by all parties.

Even children and parents, clergy and parishioners, bosses and workers, in all countries would see more sunlight and more spring breezes in the lives of everyone around them, if we could catch a glimpse of such a future.

It may, at first, read like another innocent naïve, romantic and idealistic vision of a child-like simplicity, only relevant for the theatre stage and not for the world leaders. Children are already shining the light into the darkness around the tunnel-vision of adults on environmental protection.

Their vision can and must extend to all of our interactions, encounters, negotiations and treaties.

Without the deep and lasting trust among us all, no effective leadership is feasible.

“I want you, President Biden to be  leader of the world; to be leader of the world means to be leader of PEACE.”

Thank you Volodymr Zelensky! 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Today we are all Ukrainians...except those with guns to our heads

Anyone who thinks or believes that every person in a family plays a part in the generation/birth of the culture in which that family exists, is living and breathing under a rock. The culture, too, of the international geopolitical ‘family’ is a culmination and a composite of all of the players, the nations, which form the primary influences moving, nudging, shoving and dominating that culture.

As by far the largest manufacturer of military weapons in the world, with the largest military budget, by far, of any country in the world, the United States has attempted to ‘protect’ itself by inflating hard power, military might, and diplomatic muscle, backed by iron and steel and technologically advanced chips and algorithms, without necessarily issuing a declaration of policy, that has become manifest in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

To have given up their nuclear weapons, for the promise and commitment of economic and political support from Russia, another hollow piece of rhetoric, is now proving to have been a predictable and perhaps catastrophic, if honourable and ethical and modest and moderate piece of political business.

Writing in The Hindu, on February 22, 2022, in a piece entitled, “Explainedd/ When ad how did Ukraine give up its nuclear arsenal?” Priyali Prakash writes this:

Ukraine was the country with the third-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons when the Soviet Union collapsed. As Ukraine battles powerful Russian armed forces, leaders of the country have expressed regrets about giving up their nuclear weapons which they believe might have held off an invasion of their territory by Russian President Vladimir Putin….At the time of U.S.S.R. dissolution, Ukraine had an estimated 1,900strategic warheads, 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and 44 strategic bombers, according to the Arms Control Association of the U.S. …The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, (Start) was a bilateral treaty signed by former U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. It limited the number of ICBM’s and nuclear warheads that the countries could possess. The treaty obligated the successor states (of the Soviet Union: Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus) to join the Nuclear NPT at the earliest and the nuclear weapons were to remain under the control of a ‘single unified authority ‘ until then….After extensive political manoeuvring, Ukraine ratified Start in February 1994 when it signed the Trilateral Statement along with the U.S. and Russia. Ukraine committed to full disarmament in exchange for economic compensation and security assurances….Ukraine transferred it last nuclear warhead to Russia in 1996 and dismantled its last strategic nuclear delivery vehicle in 2001….The Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances is a political agreement between Ukraine, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. It was signed in 1994. According to the memorandum, signatories Russia, the U.S. and the U.K. agreed to respect the ‘independence and sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine’ after the country agreed to give up its nuclear stockpile. Ukraine was also promised that its territorial integrity and political independence will be maintained and that the signatories will not use economic coercion against Ukraine to their own advantage.

Of course, many argued at the time, 2014, that the Russian annexation of Crimea was a direct and blatant disavowal and denial and sabotage of the Budapest Memorandum. This latest invasion/war/onslaught by putin on Ukraine itself, is an even more heinous literal evisceration of the Budapest Memorandum.

But, signatures on a piece of paper, however well intentioned at the time of writing, by all political operatives, in all countries, tend to have a way of, like the ink in those signatures, of fading into the mist of forgetfulness, neglect, opportunism, or downright venal narcississtic ambition, whether personal or national. Explained away by some ruse, these historic national self-sabotaging moves have implications. And it is the diplomatic world’s laser focus on what can only be called ‘legal documents’ (without the legal frameworks to enforce them) that seduces both the leaders of nations and eventually the people of those nations into thinking and believing that ‘security’ has been achieved, at the time of such signings.

It would take several warehouses of digital storage to contain the abrogated ‘treaties’ of history, so we must not be shocked that another treaty has been breached. And, no doubt, there are other treaties that have been left to the dustbin of history by other signatories even to the Budapest Memorandum. Some treaties will fade simply because the conditions that gave rise to their signing have changed. And some will be trashed if and when an opportunity for ‘claiming a new prize’ appears like a new sprig of green in Spring, to those patiently waiting for such an opportunity.

Military might, spy and intelligence history and background, and economic prowess are three alleged ‘gems’ in the aspirational crown of national political power. And men, once having been informed about the nature of the game, will use every trick at their disposal to ‘win’ however they perceive that to be defined. Goal driven, even obsessed, strategy and tactics shaped into the larger goal… these are the footprints of history for centuries. History, too, is replete with libraries filled with stories, both as documents and narratives of history and those of renowned literary pieces, that chant like choirs of adulation for the victors, and like requiems for losers. And that compilation of stories, whether or not they comply with the full disclosure of the full range of evidence, depends on the diligence and scope of the researchers, and the availability of the evidence at the time of writing.

How many times have we heard about the Budapest Memorandum in the last month? At least on Canadian and American television, rarely. Boris Johnson mentioned it at least once in a news clip from the U.K. Perhaps, his country is experiencing some considerable angst about the abrogation of a treaty to which its national signature is attached. Does the U.S. have a similar kind of angst?

And, once again, why is there not some oversight agency beyond think tanks, and universities and the United Nations, to which international shared intentions, once committed in some urgency, can be continually assessed. It is not, and will not be adequate for any negotiations aimed at bringing this conflict to a close to merely put another band-aid on the crisis without addressing the ways in which the Budapest Memorandum has become void. War crimes, like all other crimes, are not able to be contained in the “act” of the commitment. They all have significant context, just as do personal acts that are considered crimes. They all stem from a personal biographical history that has shaped, indirectly perhaps but nevertheless impactfully, those acts in which law enforcement engages.

Time, for most of us in the west, has collapsed into concentration spans of seconds, rather than weeks or years, or decades. Only with the benefit of a long-vision, perhaps only accessible to those whose vintage has rendered us merely spectators, on a stage where the current actors are playing their roles, does the span of time seem more relevant. Just yesterday, for example, in a television furniture  commercial, Kelly Clarkson had five different costume changes in a thirty-second spot. Is that attention-seeking on steroids? Or is it rather based on the believe that only through such tactics will the message ‘score’?

We are so intensely and acutely conscious of the momentary shifts in assaults, numbers of apartment bombings, bridges blown out, tanks bombed, and missiles dropped, and babies and mothers killed, all of that highly relevant, that perhaps the world inadvertently complies with those who take advantage of others, in forgetting, or perhaps not deeply learning in the first place. While the action takes place on the battlefield, our adrenalin rushes, in some vicarious identity with the victims. We grieve just as Erin Burnett on CNN’s Out Front wept last night while interviewing the widower of a mother and two children, shot at point-blank range by Russian soldiers. What we are watching is so horrific and so unimaginable and so unforgiveable and so……..(fill in the blank with your most objectionable adjective) that it is hard to imagine how Ukrainian negotiators can even enter a --room with their Russian counterparts, let alone begin the process of a respectful dialogue.

And then there are the questions of whether or not those negotiators have been schooled and steeped in the history, the culture and the ethos of all of the significant themes, theories, treaties and relationships that have brought us to this moment. They too will be angling for a win, a message they can deliver to their superiors and their people that will convey the kind of confidence and trust that have been absent from the last eight years, since the annexation of Crimea.

And we in the west, have to reckon with the fact that we have been asleep, turning our gaze in other directions-- perhaps toward the stream of refugees from North Africa, -- perhaps into Syria where another brutal dictator is propped up by putin, or --perhaps to North Korea where another tin-pot dictator has fired missiles to magnetize attention from America, or --perhaps to Bejing and Hong Kong, where another potential autocracy is stirring for military take-over or –perhaps to Tehran and the Iranian nuclear deal and their ambition to develop nuclear weapons or…….

Attention both to the fine points in the ‘weeds’ as well as to the broad scope of both history and culture, seems like a curriculum that demands and expects some kind of vacillation….and we cannot leave either aspect to specialists and experts only. We need to pay attention to the announcements that blurp out of our governments, for example, on Ford’s silent but inexcusable and relentless crawl to privatize the public health care system in Ontario. We also need to pay attention to an election-campaign announcement from the Minister of Education that Ontario is going to start to teach programming to grade one students. We all know and agree that digital technology has taken over the economic life of our world, and new algorithms are going to be designed and developed, and our best and brightest students will need a proficiency in their methods and capabilities. However, as the kind of literacy that formerly addressed our capacity to “read” and to “write” in our language seems to have eroded over the past few decades, it would seem pertinent and relevant that our educational leaders will want to underwrite those skills and talents as well as the STEM skills.

Employment cannot and must not be reduced to slamming another widget (person) into an empty slot. It has to be a complex process based on a longer-term cultural consciousness that includes and welcomes a far more collective and collaborative perspective that includes us all. And that is one of the important features we could be losing, if we have not already lost, in seeking to place STEM skills above and ahead of ‘normal’ literacy.

We need to be able to read and to discern the difference between words and people we can and do trust and those in whom we cannot and must not place our shared trust. And that social and cultural and political and economic and ethical and philosophic requirement of our culture will only rise in significance as we distance ourselves from ourselves through the interjection of technology into our relationships.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to ALL! 

Monday, March 14, 2022

Failing criminal prosecution, will time run out on the Russian wannabe-czar?

 Living in Canada for the better part of some eight decades, I have been almost blind to the role and significance of something called Interpol. The International Police Commission, I would have considered one of the protections against what we formerly considered to be international crime. And, only this week, when the arrest of vladimir putin seemed like one of the few paths to terminating this massacre in Ukraine, did the issue of Interpol take shape in my mind. Could not Interpol begin the process of putting the Russian criminal on their most wanted list, and then begin the process of finding and arresting him, in order to prosecute him for the multiple war crimes, and the crimes against humanity he is obviously committing hourly in Ukraine?

I have been deeply aware for a considerable time that the notion of international collaboration, shared commitment and a strong and united phalanx of nations is and will continue to be essential to combat what are international crises including global warming and climate change, the pandemic, world poverty and starvation, and income inequality, human rights abuses and state terror.

However, the tokenism of many states and leaders to an international world order that sought a healthy environment and ethos for all of the globe’s inhabitants is blatantly obvious, if only we look at the historically tepid and disdainful relationship between the United States and the United Nations. Who can forget that not that long ago, media magnate Ted Turner, the founder of the CNN 24-7-365 news outlet headquartered in Atlanta, actually paid the membership dues of the United States to the United Nations, in order to keep his homeland in good standing at the august, if somewhat emasculated body?

So began a modest search for the nature and history of Interpol, from the scarcity of coverage in the public media. In Canada, the international police agency gets barely a mention in the national press. However, in 2018, in the Washington Post, and then reprinted in the National Post in Canada, Vladimir Kara-Murza, on November 20, 2018, wrote a piece entitled, “Analysis: Vladimir Putin is about to gain control of Interpol, the world’s main law enforcement organization”. Biographical footnotes on the piece read: Kara-Murza is a Russian historian, filmmaker, and democracy activist. He is Vice Chairman of the Open Russia movement and chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom. The piece was prompted by the proposal of a Russian nominee of putin’s to become the head of Interpol. Excerpts of the Kara-Murza piece follow:

Unlike other international organizations, Interpol does not list its former presidents on its official website. (This has now changed; they are now listed on the website.) There is good reason for this. Between 1940 and 1945, the organization—then known as the International Criminal Police Commission—was led, successively, by three Nazi war criminals: SS General Rienhard Heydrich, the chief architect of the Holocaust; SS General Arthur Nebe, who, as the head of Einsatzgruppe B was responsible for murdering tens of thousands of Jews in Poland and Belarus; and SS General Ernst Kaltenbrunner, founder of the Mauthausen concentration camp and one of the main instigators of the Holocaust, who was hanged at Nuremburg for crimes against humanity. It is a page in its history the International Criminal Police Organization would rather forget. Putin’s regime is no Third Reich—but his actions at home and abroad are a travesty to very concept of the rule of law….

At the same time as Kara-Murza was writing in the Washington Post, November 19, 2018, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was reporting on the same issue of a potential Russian president for Interpol. The piece is entitled, Ukraine Threatens to Suspend Interpol Membership If Russian Elected President. It reads in part as follows:

‘Russia’s possible presidency at Interpol is absurd and contradicts the spirit and goals of that organization,’ a Ukrainian Interior Ministry statement cited Avakov (Ukraine’s Interior Minister) as saying on November 19. Avakov had earlier warned that having a Russian at the helm of Interpol would pose a ‘hybrid threat to the whole world.’

Josh Jacobs, writing in The Guardian, October 17, 2021, in a piece entitled “Has Interpol become the long arm of oppressive regimes?”:

First mooted in 1914, Interpol was established in 1923, in large part to stop people from committing crimes in one country and fleeing elsewhere with impunity. The organization has been misused by oppressive regimes before-in 1938, The Nazis ousted Interpol’s president and later relocated in the organization to Berlin. Most countries withdrew and it ceased to exist as an international organization until after the second world war. The 194 member states support searches for war criminals, drug kingpins and people who have evaded justice for decades. Its red notices are seen as a vital tool and the closet thing to an international arrest warrant, leading to the location of thousands of fugitives each year. Red-notice* subjects have included Osama bin Laden and Saadi Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s former dictator. As criminals move around an increasingly interconnected world and terrorist incidents increased, the use of Interpol’s system has mushroomed. In the past two decades, red notices increased tenfold, from about 1,200 in 2000 to almost 12,000 last year. Alongside the growth of the most-wanted list, international legal experts say there has also been an alarming phenomenon of countries using Interpol for political gain or revenge-targeting nationals abroad such as political rivals, critics, activists and refugees. It is not known how many of the roughly 66,000active red notices could be based on politically motivated charge; Interpol does not release data on how many red notices it rejects…Seeking to manipulate Interpol is a feature of transnational repression, in which countries extend their reach overseas to silence or target adversaries…

The Guardian, on January 18, 2022 reports in a piece by The Associated Press, entitled, “Torture complaint filed against new president of Interpol.” Maj Gen Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi ‘was elected for a four-year term as Interpol president in November. He has been accused by human rights groups of involvement in torture and arbitrary detentions in the UAE…

So we are unable to contemplate any glimmer of hope that Interpol has either the capacity or the will even to issue a red notice on Putin, who has used the device multiple times to build the political ‘moat’ around the Kremlin. On March 3, 2022, Rachel Gilmore of Global News, reports, “Canada is calling for Russia’s membership in the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) to be suspended, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday. (Trudeau said) ‘We’re supporting this because we believe that international law enforcement co-operation depends on a collective commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and mutual respect between INTERPOL members.’

From the website,, we learn: In a major difference between the ICJ (International Court of Justice) and the ICC (International Criminal Court), the ICC has around 105 members. Some countries, like the US have never joined the ICC. The IJC has as its members all the members of the United Nations, which means around 193 countries

The territorial jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court is restricted to its member states.

We also note, sadly, as reported by the website, China, like  America and Russia is not a member of the ICJ.  (Also) The International Court of Justice has no jurisdiction to try individuals accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity. As it is not a criminal court, it does not have a prosecutor able to initiate proceedings.

So, the patterns of history continue to repeat, apparently. Nuremburg trials may have addresses individuals who committed gross crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, one can only guess that there are many reasons why international bodies, like the United Nations, are tilted in both their structure and their purpose toward humanitarian issues. Reining in a state terrorist like putin falls through the cracks of international legal and law enforcement agencies. Is this another of the multiple bows to national sovereignty that ham-string the Security Council, with five states having a veto over all attempts to neutralize actions and motives that are slaughtering, displacing, wounding and decimating the land, and the people of Ukraine?

This war is not restricted, either in its definition by the aggressor, nor in its  application by, for, and to the rest of the world, to a Russia-Ukraine conflict. Yesterday’s bombing of the NATO-deployed training facility only kilometers from the Ukraine-Poland border, is a blatant thumbing of the nose of the Russian czar, almost daring Biden, the United States and NATO to ‘take off the gloves’ as it were, and cross their own ‘red line’. Power-addicted maniacs, like alcohol and drug-addicted individuals, need their ‘fix’ and they will take whatever measures are needed to achieve their “medication”…in this case, the military, political, cultural and historical domination of a proud, creative, courageous and crumbling people and nation.

There is apparently, a broad base to the notion that only those actions that some legal framework considers out-of-bounds, contrary to the law, criminal, and prosecutable, can and will be prosecuted. We champion the ‘rule of law’ and as opposed to the law of the jungle, it is preferable. However, creating a snare/trap/definition/crime/law that is both expansive and highly sophisticated in its targeting, along with the resources needed to make such a law’s enforcement feasible and accountable, needs a geo-political culture that sees the nation-state players willing to concede that they are willing to enter into such a collaborative arrangement. The surrender of a portion of national sovereignty is a legitimate and reasonable price to pay for the people of the globe. Unfortunately, many leaders and governments are unwilling to pay such a price. And nationalism, including white supremacy, grows like a malignant and devouring monster.

History, however, like the swiftly flowing river it is, has offered multiple examples in the last several decades, that would point to the need for and the relevance of muscular international co-operation. And perhaps, beyond the headlines and the carnage, there are vibrations of hope over the longer term. Perhaps.

Yuval Noah Harari argues that what’s at stake in Ukraine is the direction of human history, in The Economist, February 9, 2022. Harari writes: Contrary to popular misconceptions, the first clear evidence for organized warfare appears in the archeological record only 13,000 years ago. Even after that date, there have been many periods devoid of archeological evidence for war. Unlike gravity, war isn’t a fundamental force of nature. Its intensity and existence depend on underlying technological, economic and cultural factors. As these factors change, so does war. Evidence of such change is all around us. Over the past few generations, nuclear weapons have turned war between superpowers into a mad act of collective suicide, forcing the most powerful nations on Earth to find less violent ways to resolve conflict. Whereas great-power wars, such as the second Punic war or the second world war, have been a salient feature for much of history, in the past seven decades there has been no direct war between superpowers. During the same period, the global economy has been transformed from one based on materials to one based on knowledge. Where once the main sources of wealth were material assets such as gold mines, wheat fields and oil wells, today the main source of wealth in knowledge. And whereas you can seize oils fields by force, you cannot acquire knowledge that way. The profitability of conquest has declined as a result. Finally, a tectonic shift has taken place in global culture. Many elites in history-Hun chieftains, Viking jarls and Roman Patricians, for example –viewed war positively. Rulers from Sargon the Great to Benito Mussolini sought to immortalise themselves by conquest (and artists such as Homer and Shakespeare happily obliged such fancies). Other elites, such as the Christian church view war as evil but inevitable. In the past few generations, however, for the first time in history the world became dominated by elites who see war as both evil and avoidable.

The question facing the world, both its peoples and its leaders, today, is whether or not this optimistic historical pattern is being challenged by putin’s aggressive war of acquisition, disruption and insurrection. If our hope is anchored among the Russian people, many of whom are being arrested while many more are fleeing their totalitarian homeland, we seem to be in another waiting game. The game to see whether peace negotiations can put and end to this before the slaughter of the Ukrainian people forces them to surrender, and the waiting game on whether the Russian people can and will summon the courage, the fortitude and the iconoclastic will to bring putin down before the numbers of their war protesters falls to a mere rump…both keep ticking their time-bomb implications before our eyes.

While truth’s demise is blaring from every screen and microphone, and the refugee numbers mount before our ears and eyes, the clock keeps ticking. And perhaps its inexorable tick-tock carries with it the beating of the human heart of compassion, empathy and eventually the humane lava-floe of Harari’s history.


*Abusive red notices are intended to send a menacing message; you may leave your country but you can still be punished.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

We are all praying for silence and peace in Ukraine...

 Fiona Hill, former National Security Official in the U.S., tells any interviewer who will listen, ‘we are already in World War III.

In his twitter account, former chess champion, Russian-born Gary Kasparov writes:

This is already World War III. Putin started it long ago & Ukraine in only the current front. He will escalate anyway, and it’s even more likely if he succeeds in destroying Ukraine because you have convinced him you won’t stop him even though you could.…There is no waiting this out, This isn’t chess; there is no draw, no stalemate. Either Putin destroys Ukraine and eventually hits NATO with an even greater catastrophe, or Putin falls in Russia. He cannot be stopped with weakness….the price of stopping a dictator always goes up…if they  care so much about the fine print and think Putin does too, ask Zelensky to issue Ukrainian passports to any volunteer to fly in combat. Sell jets to Ukraine for I (Euro) each and paint UKR flags on them.

The cries from the street carry words like,

“You are using Ukraine as a shield to protect NATO countries” and

“Are you going to sacrifice Ukraine so NATO won’t have to go to war?”

Yesterday a maternity hospital was destroyed by a Russian bomb/missile, leaving a monstrous crater immediately adjacent to the building and dozens of pregnant mothers in trauma, if not death.

Crimes against humanity, committee by Putin, have mounted to more than 1000, according to the Ukrainian Chief Prosecutor, while the International Court of Justice is formally investigating Putin on a charge of committing war crimes.

War crimes, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 19948: willful killing, torture or inhman treatment, including biological experiments, willful causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health, extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly…..intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population…against civilian objects which are not military objectives…attacking ro bombarding, by whatever means, towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended…etc…(from the UN website)

Also from the UN website:

The 1998 Rome Statue establishing the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), in Article 7, Crimes Against Humanity, reads:
Crime against humanity means any of the following as part of a widespread attack directed against any civilian population, with the knowledge of the attack: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment, torture, rape sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, enforced sterilization or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity, persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national ethnic, cultural, religions, gender …or other grounds, that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law…etc. (from UN website)

The significant difference between the ‘real time’ events of the carnage in Ukrainian towns and cities, and the gathering of evidence by Ukrainian and international prosecutors, however, leaves the people of Ukraine between a rock and a hard place…Here is another parallel process, whereby western and NATO leaders are pondering over the ‘fine print’ about avoiding an all-out military confrontation with Putin, while they generate a military ‘Marshall Plan’ to ‘support Ukraine in this fight…the politicians too caught between a rock and a hard place. And while volunteers from around the world are flying to Ukraine to fight on their behalf, and contributions of both medical and military materiel are flowing into Ukraine, the television screens are saturated with both blood and devastation.


In my worst nightmares, I never expected to be tapping the keys to print these words. I never anticipated the depths of depravity of a single human being, although crime and war stories, in history and in literary works, ought to have been adequate warning. Putting off, shoving out of mind and out of sight, and out of consideration, for the simple need to get on with whatever needed to be addressed in one’s own life… these are despair-saving or at least avoiding measures. And we all need and take them, consciously or not.

A Russian scholar, Amy Knight, appearing on npr, noted that putin’s greatest fear is that the openness, the freedoms, the opportunities and the culture of the western liberal democracies will come to Russia and leave no room for him and his regime.

The world knows that nothing will be the same after this war ends, no matter how it ends. Whether or not the kind of diplomatic parsing of Article 5 of the NATO charter, about whether or not a no-fly zone over Ukraine would trigger the Third World War, and whether or not such a strategy would even be effective against the

putin has to be stopped and the sooner he is stopped, the fewer lives will be lost, and fewer injuries will be inflicted, the fewer hospitals will be disabled, and the fewer towns and cities will have to resort to bomb shelters, underground caves and subway stations, as safe zones for those who have left. Also the sooner this carnage is brought to a halt, the sooner the refugee migration, now over 2 million, will cease, and the millions of lives that have already been tragically and permanently overturned will be able to begin to grieve, to mourn the inestimable losses and to even think about re-building their nation. We are all facing whatever prospects are to come.

Now, the travesty that confronts every person living on the planet cannot and will not be ignored or avoided, denied or devalued. And, if I were a betting man, I would sadly and despondently place my money on both Fiona Hill and Gary Kasparov, ahead of Biden, Johnston, Trudeau and Macron. Zelensky of Jewish origin, representing his country and the rest of the world, is unfortunately placed in a box in history: having to show leadership, inspiration, creativity and courage to his people, as well as to inspire the rest of the world to come to their aid, while being dubbed a neo-Fascist Nazi and also while having to remain safe and secure out of the range of Russian missiles and rockets and also while steering negotiations with a foe neither he not the rest of the world can or will trust.

 Betting on the Hill/Kasparov reality assessment that World War III has already begun, and that the fine print of Article 5 can be avoided by some kind of ‘end-run’ regardless of how putin responds, does not mean that NATO diplomats, The White House and the various government leaders from London, Paris, Berlin and Rome as well as Warsaw and Budapest, will do enough to provide the military victory that Zelensky and his countrymen and women seek.

In between, war and détente, in between Europe and North America, in between NATO and Russia, in between war crimes being committed and war crimes being prosecuted in the International Court of Justice, in between the facts on the ground (as disseminated by Zelensky and his countryfolk) and the Russia alternative reality (propagandized by putin and Lavrov)…in between the democracy of the west (regardless of its many and deep flaws) and the autocracy of Russia (with even more endemic and foundational inhumanities) in between yesterday and tomorrow…we are all on tenterhooks, including all of the participants. None of us has the insight, the power or the microphone to make a significant impact on the daily and hourly reports of bombs and missiles and roadblocks and tears. There are multiple ‘cooks in this broth’ so many that it is almost too complex for any single agency, government or army to keep up with the developments.

So, not only is truth on the slaughterhouse floor, so is the prospect for truth or any facsimile thereof to emerge after the slaughter ends. There can be little doubt that with 74 million Americans voting for a disgraced president who propagated lies from his first day in office to today, that this American tragedy has emboldened putin. If that many Americans can be seduced into stepping willfully and blindly into a cave of such profound and evident ‘alternative reality’ for whatever reason then why would putin not actually believe that his ‘alternative reality’ of Nazis running the government in Kyiv would ‘sell’ at home and around the world.

There is so much visceral energy extant tilting in the direction of supporting autocracies and China and India seem to be caught up in the swirling winds of that energy. They both abstain at the Security Council, rather than condemn Russia. And with Bejing leaning toward not neutrality but actual support for Russia, the world’s geopolitical stage, too, appears to be tilting in the direction of these two dictatorships. A Chinese reporter was embedded inside Russian soldiers, while telling the Russian ‘side’ of the story, to his Chinese audience yesterday. Erin Brunett’s Out Front, on CNN carried the story last evening.

It would seem that nuanced sophisticated calculations may be the snare that impales NATO and thereby Ukraine, while the millions of ordinary people around the western world are also ensnared in the same entanglement. And yet, without nuanced calculations, we might already have witnessed the first use of a nuclear weapon in wartime since World War II. It is hard not to put ourselves in the Oval Office at the time of President Truman, who faced the conundrum of having to decide whether or not to drop the first hydrogen bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ostensibly, although not exclusively, to finally bring that war to an end.

The spectre of bringing this war to an end, while still a pale replica of the Great Wars of Europe in the twentieth century, confronts all of us, and especially those charged with leadership and decision-making, on the fly, in the midst of the death toll, and in the face of impending threats and rantings from the Kremlin.

Grace in the face of incredible pressure, that place where Hemingway found that one is at one’s life-edge, taut, highly sensitive to all of the pulsations of the moment and ready for the challenge….is it a masculine model of some kind of hero….and yet, this man’s writer nevertheless took his own life in 1961…

I heard someone say this week, “Now when I pray, I ask that this whole thing be over!” as if to ask God to bring an end to the pain we are all, especially Ukrainians, are going through. The fact that the Ukrainian Orthodox church seeks to break away from the Russian Orthodox church can hardly be a surprise to many of us in the west, after the Russian church endorsed the war and thereby the slaughter of innocent Ukrainians.

I pray that the needle can and will be threaded, so that real détente, from authentic individuals telling each other the whole truth, can and will bring some silence to the cacophony and the carnage.

Must the Hitler archetype wreak even more devastation that the original?