Canada Slim and the Greatest Villain

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 May 2017

I read the news and I feel sometimes that all the media seems to report is bad news – news that angers or saddens me.

To be fair, it’s not the media’s fault completely…

Bad things happen in the world.

It is a terrible thing to admit, but nothing encourages us to remember Life more than a sudden threat to it or its sudden ending.

Recently Chris Cornell, former lead singer of the rock groups Audioslave and Soundgarden, died.

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Suddenly I am reminded of two of his songs: Black Hole Sun and You Know My Name (the theme song of the Bond film Casino Royale), which play again and again like a skipping vinyl record in the jukebox of my mind.

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On 22 May, a suicide bombing was carried out at Manchester Arena after a concert by American singer Ariana Grande.

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The attacker was identified by police as Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old of Libyan ancestry, who detonated a homemade explosive device as concertgoers were leaving the Arena.

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23 people, including Abedi himself, were killed and approximately 120 were injured.

My ignorance of things Mancunian, Libyan and the music of Ariana Grande is made manifest and I find myself suddenly searching literature both hard copy and electronic to know more about these things in an attempt to understand an event that is incomprehensible.

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Increased hits on search engines like Google show that I am not alone in this regard.

I am saddened by the loss of those so young whose only desire was to celebrate life’s rhythms.

I am saddened by the insanity that would drive a young man to commit such an atrocity.

I am angered that the Right will use this incident as a justification for their Islamophobia, making a cowed and frightened populace accept the usurpation of their freedom in the name of “guaranteed” security and create further hate and violence against others whose only “crime” is being of a different faith.

I am angered by those who would use religion as a justification for violence.

I am saddened that the tendency to label entire groups of people by the actions of a few still remains a constant impulse.

I am saddened that only those who think and act upon their consciences seek justice and compassion, while too many of us crave bloody revenge for this carnage committed against innocents.

I am saddened that those who have been chosen to lead us failed to protect us and may have been partially responsible for the violence visited upon us.

The lines between black and white, villain and hero, remain blurred.

Only the victims seem untainted of blame.

I, like many others, ask what could possibly be gained by anyone committing such an act.

A fearful populace brought to its knees who will seek to appease their attackers?

A spotlight thrown upon our vulnerability?

A desperate attack made to show the consequences of the actions made against others by those who lead us?

Events like Manchester also bring out the conspiracy theorists, whom are much harder to dismiss after a tragedy such as this.

The identification of the villains that inspired such violence is not so clear.

The child within me wishes for an obvious hero to combat such villainy, to save us as we cannot save ourselves.

A hero obvious who tells us: You know my name.

A hero like Bond.

James Bond.

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A person with a license to kill, to mete out revenge disguised as justice.

But is Ian Fleming’s fictional creation, immortalised in literature and film, truly a hero?

“James Bond lives in a nightmarish world where laws are written at the point of a gun, where coercion and rape are considered valour and murder is a funny trick.

Bond’s job is to guard the interests of the property class, and he is no better than the youths Hitler boasted he would bring up like wild beasts to be able to kill without thinking.”

(Yuri Zhukov, Pravda, 30 September 1965)

Harsh criticism, but was this journalist completely inaccurate?

“It was part of his profession to kill people.

He had never liked doing it and when he had to kill he did it as well as he knew how and forgot about it.

As a secret agent who held the rare double-O prefix – the license to kill in the Secret Service – it was his duty to be as cool about death as a surgeon.

If it happened, it happened.

Regret was unprofessional – worse, it was a death-watch beetle in the soul.”

(Ian Fleming, Goldfinger)

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But, by this analysis, where do we draw the line between soldier and criminal?

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Is every act justifiable if it is done for Queen and country, or in the name of religion?

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Since 1953, Bond has been in the public consciousness from Fleming’s literature and since 1962 from a never-ending series of films.

We are reminded of Bond these days, not only for the death of Chris Connell, but for the death, the day after Manchester, of one of the seven actors who have played Bond in the 26 films starring this character (including the Woody Allen spoof of Casino Royale and the independent film Never Say Never Again), Roger Moore, who played the secret agent in seven feature films between 1973 and 1985.

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Above: Sir Roger Moore (1927 – 2017)

Roger Moore died on 23 May 2017, age 89, in his home in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

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It is easy to think of Bond as a hero, for his villains are easy to identify.

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And perhaps it is this dispatching of these villains that has somehow given the character its own immortality, regardless of the mortality of those who portray him on the silver screen.

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Those who portray Bond have a terrible time afterwards of being identified only for the role as Bond.

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Roger Moore, who played Bond more than any other actor, had this typecasting problem.

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But unlike the villains Bond dispatched or the victims of real-life villains that strike down civilians, Moore did not end his days violently.

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In his acting roles, Moore encountered his share of villains who would have delighted in his demise, yet, with the exception of one film, Moore’s character of the moment would survive any and all opposition.

(In the 1956 film Diane, Moore, in the role of French King Henri II, is killed in a jousting tournament.)

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Moore’s characters were survivors, whether he was a highwayman against the armed might of a Duke (The Lion’s Thief, 1955) or a soldier in the Battle of Salamanca (The Miracle, 1959).

Moore played more roles than he is remembered for.

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Moore played Sir William of Ivanhoe (1958 – 59), Silky Harris (The Alaskans, 1959 – 60), 14 Carat John (The Roaring Twenties, 1960 – 62), Beau Maverick (1960 – 61), Simon Templar (The Saint, 1962 – 69), Gary Fenn (Crossplot, 1969), Harold Pelham (The Man Who Haunted Himself, 1970), Lord Brett Sinclair (The Persuaders, 1971), Rod Slater (Gold, 1974), Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes in New York, 1976), Sebastian Oldsmith (Shout at the Devil, 1976), Shawn Fynn (The Wild Geese, 1978), Rufus Excalibar ffolkes (North Sea Hijack, 1979), Major Otto Hecht (Escape to Athena, 1979), Captain Gavin Stewart (The Sea Wolves, 1980),Seymour Goldfarb Jr. (Cannonball Run, 1981), Inspector Clouseau (The Curse of the Pink Panther, 1983), “Adam” (Bed and Breakfast, 1992), Lord Edgar Dobbs (The Quest, 1996), “The Chief” (Spice World, 1997) and Lloyd Faversham (Boat Trip, 2002).

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These TV/movie roles, which can still be seen on websites like YouTube, are just some of the roles Moore played in a long and successful acting career.

Most of these roles had him play the hero.

Most of these roles had moments when the hero’s life was in grave danger.

As Ivanhoe, Moore suffered broken ribs and a battleaxe blow to his helmet.

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In The Man Who Haunted Himself, Moore’s character briefly suffered clinical death after a car accident, but the movie’s director Basil Dearden would die for real in a car accident shortly thereafter.

In For Your Eyes Only, Moore, as Bond, would mourn the death of his wife, though in real life Moore would himself marry four times and was the father of three children.

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Moore acted the hero in more than his screen appearances:

He was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador (1991) and the voice of Father Christmas in a UNICEF cartoon (2004) and narrated a video for PETA protesting against the production and wholesale of foie gras (2008).

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Moore’s greatest villain was poor health.

He nearly died from double pneumonia when he was five.

He was a long-term sufferer of kidney stones and needed to be hospitalised during the making of the Bond film Live and Let Die (1973) and again during the production of Bond film Moonraker (1979).

In 1993, Moore was diagnosed with prostrate cancer and underwent successful surgery for the disease.

He collapsed on stage while appearing on Broadway in 2003 and was fitted with a pacemaker to treat a potentially deadly slow heartbeat.

In 2012, Moore revealed he had been treated for skin cancer several times.

In 2013, he was diagnosed with diabetes.

His greatest villain, cancer, finally beat him on 23 May 2017.

Terrorism is a villainous act I shall never understand, because despite the headlines it garnishes it is only common to my own life indirectly in headlines.

Diseases, like cancer, on the other hand, are something I, like the common man, can relate to.

In my own life I have lost classmates, my mother and my two foster parents to this disease.

The obituary pages are filled with names of people whose lives were snuffed out by disease.

Still we tend to find death’s arrival after a long battle against a disease easier to cope with, for there is a sense of preparedness / readiness for the fatal end, as unwanted as it may be.

Deaths from accident or from incidents such as Manchester are much harder to accept, for we weren’t ready for our loved ones suddenly departing from our lives.

We are saddened by the deaths of entertainment legends, for we feel that their entertainment touched our lives, but their deaths remind us that, like us, they were mortal too.

But when we compare the death of Moore to the deaths of Manchester, we are left with a sense of unfairness.

Moore was 89 and had lived a full life.

The youngest victim of the Manchester bombing was 8.

Chris Cornell and Salman Abedi could be compared in that they both committed suicide because they were both psychologically unhealthy, but Cornell brought value to the world while Abedi took it away.

So, in these times living in the shadow of death, who or what is the greatest villain?

I believe the greatest villain is: apathy.

When someone dies, whether we knew them or not, it should matter to us.

And it shouldn’t take the death of someone for us to finally realise their value to us.

Don’t take your loved ones for granted.

Don’t take life and health for granted.

Manchester bothers me.

It was senseless and sad.

I refuse to hate.

Abedi was one man, but not all are cast in the same mold.

I refuse to be afraid.

I will live my life to the fullest, knowing that there is no way to predict when my final moment will arrive.

I hope I never forget to be grateful for the life I have and the people within it.

To those reading these words, please know that you are loved and have value.

And it is my hope, whether my life ends in tragic suddenness in some senseless attack or unexpected accident, or if I cling to life against the onslaught of age or disease, that I will be considered to have lived a life of value because I cared.

The greatest villain is apathy.

The best solution is love.

Sources:

James Bond: The Secret World of 007 (Dorling Kindersley)

The James Bond Encyclopedia (Dorling Kindersley)

Ian Fleming, Goldfinger

New York Times, 24 May 2017

Wikipedia

Fear Itself

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 28 March 2017

And the madness continues….

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London, England, 22 March 2017 (1440 hours)

Just another day, business as usual.

Tourists take selfies outside the Houses of Parliament while inside the politicians buzz about on the business of Brexit and schoolchildren view the spectacle of Prime Minister’s Questions.

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On Wednesday, exactly one year after the Brussels bombings, a London terrorist attack has left 5 people dead – including the attacker and a police officer – and 40 people injured.

Dozens of tourists and workers were struck down by a car on Westminster Bridge before the driver fatally stabbed an unarmed police officer outside the British Houses of Parliament.

The assailant, a man in his 40s wielding two large knives, was shot dead by other police.

The attack lasted five minutes, as the dark grey Hyundai Tucson hurtled across Westminster Bridge and jumped the curb.

Pedestrians on the Bridge thought that the driver must have collapsed and that the car would come to a halt.

Then the car changed direction.

The next sound was the revving of the engine.

This was a deliberate act.

The car barrelled along the pavement, hitting more than a dozen people, including a group of French schoolchildren, forces a woman to jump into the Thames to avoid being struck, before smashing into the railings by the Palace of Westminster near Westminster Tube Station.

“It was carnage.

There were bodies flying everywhere.

He (the driver) must have been going 70 mph.

There must have been dozens of people flying up into the air.

It was chaos.

There was mass hysteria.

Blood everywhere.

Bodies everywhere.”

(James Sheriff, witness)

Three shots were heard as the driver leapt out and rushed around the corner to Parliament’s Carriage Gates, stabbing a plainclothes policeman.

Constable Keith Palmer was standing near the entrance to Westminster Hall when the intruder, dressed in black, stabbed him in the back of the head and the back of the neck with an 8-inch long knife.

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood (centre) stands amongst the emergency services at the scene outside the Palace of Westminster, London, after policeman has been stabbed and his apparent attacker shot by officers in a major security incident at the Houses of Parliament

In the midst of the chaos of the attack, MP Tobias Ellwood, Foreign Office Minister rushed to the Constable’s side and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while trying to stem the flow of blood pouring from his body and splattering Ellwood’s face and clothes.

By Ellwood’s side was Tony Davis, a Team Great Britain boxing coach who hopped over the fence to assist.

Despite their efforts Constable Palmer was pronounced dead later that afternoon.

Two armed plainclothes police officers then shot the attacker three times.

It saddens me that no one seems shocked, because terrorist-type violence has become so prevalent as to almost have become passé, with the notable exception of violence`s impact on its victims and their loved ones.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said that Westminster had been targeted by those who rejected its values of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law.

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The PM praised the bravery of police and said Parliament would continue to meet as normal.

“The location of this attack was no accident.

The terrorist chose to strike at the heart of our capital city, where people of all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech.

These streets of Westminster, home to the world’s oldest Parliament, are ingrained with a spirit of freedom that echoes in some of the furthest corners of the globe.

And the values our Parliament represents _ democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law – command the admiration and respect of free people everywhere.

That is why it is a target for those who reject those values.

But let me make it clear…

Any attempt to defeat those values through violence and terror is doomed to failure.

Tomorrow, Parliament will meet as normal.

We will come together as normal.

And Londoners and others from around the world who have come to visit this great city will go about their day as normal.

They will board their trains, they will leave their hotels, they will walk these streets, they will live their lives.

We will all move forward together, never giving in to terror and never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.”

World leaders condemned the attack on Westminster as they reacted with horror and sympathy.

French President Francois Hollande issued a call to action:

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“We are all concerned with terrorism.

France, which has been struck so hard lately, knows what the British people are suffering today.

It is clear that it is at the European level, and even beyond that, that we must organise ourselves.”

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council:

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“My thoughts are with the victims of the Westminster attack.

Europe stands firm with the UK against the terror and ready to help.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that her thoughts were “with our British friends and all the people of London.”

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“Although the background to these acts is not yet clear, I reaffirm that Germany and its citizens stand firmly and resolutely alongside Britons in the struggle against all forms of terrorism.”

In an Evening Standard article, from September 2016, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that capital cities “have got to be prepared” for terrorist attacks.

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The article described how the Mayor ordered a complete review of the capital’s terrorist attack response.

Donald Trump Jr., the US President’s eldest son, tweeted (like father, like son):

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“You have to be kidding me?!

Terror attacks are part of living in a big city, says London Mayor Sadiq Khan.”

“Mini-Donald” has been accused of judging the Mayor and failing to read the full article.

Though one thing remains certain…

Somewhere, sometime, it is not a matter of if there is going to be another terrorist attack, but when that attack will come.

It is impossible to watch everyone and stop everything.

Terrorists cling to the knowledge that they only have to be lucky once.

“Since 2001, they have been lucky more than once….

The murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013, using a car and kitchen knives as weapons of terror, paved the way for the kind of crude atrocities we have since seen in Nice, Berlin and yesterday….

(H)owever…jihadists try more often than they succeed.

Since the Woolwich murder, 13 terrorist plots have been twarted while at any one time about 500 security investigations are taking place.

London….will defy the terrorists by returning to normal today, although it has had a sharp reminder to shrug off complacency.”

(Sean O’Neill, The Times, 23 March 2017)

Ellwood has felt the shock of terrorism before, having lost his brother Jonathan, a 39-year-old teacher, in the 2002 Bali bombings.

Above: List of the victims of the 2002 Bali bombings

Was the attacker inspired through the Internet?

In September 2014, ISIS chief spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani – killed last year in a Russian airstrike in Syria – issued a fatwa that spread rapidly around the world on jihadist forums.

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“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way, however it may be.

Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”

Since then, there has been a series of attacks in the West that appear to have been inspired by Adnani, including the vehicle attacks on the Nice waterfront and the Berlin Christmas market, when lorries were used as weapons, and the assault on the Canadian Parliament by a lone gunman.

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Above: The Promenade des Anglais, site of the 2016 Nice attack

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Above: Aftermath of Berlin Christmas market attack

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Above: Ottawa’s Parliament Hill

London has seen it all before.

In the grim list of incidents in London that have been labelled as “terrorism”, as far back as 15 February 1894, when Greenwich Observatory was attacked with a bomb which killed only the French anarchist who mishandled it, London has been a target of groups and individuals who have intended to punish governments by attacking citizens.

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Above: Royal Observatory, Greenwich, England

London has survived Roman and Norman invasions, plague and fire, German bombardment and riots in the streets.

In the 21st century alone, a series of four coordinated suicide attacks in central London in which three bombs exploded on the Underground and aboard a double-decker bus killed 52 people and injured 700 people on 7 July 2005; in 2013, a British Army soldier was attacked and killed near his barracks in southeast London; in 2015, a man with a knife stabbed a number of people at the Leytonshire tube station, shouting “This is for Syria!”.

Worldwide there have been thousands of terrorist attacks since the mid-19th century, starting with the Ku Klux Klan’s activities in the US.

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In the year 2000, in just the first six months of the year, the world witnessed 91 separate acts of terrorism enacted on civilian populations.

And this was not an unusual year.

But many of these types of attacks go unnoticed the further away they occur from white Christian lands.

For example, every single day in January 2006 saw a terrorist incident somewhere in the world, but as these mostly occurred in the Middle East and Africa the media paid scant attention to them.

Does anyone remember on New Year’s Day last year ISIS executed 300 West African immigrants in Tripoli, Libya?

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Above: The flag of Libya

If you don’t, then you are not alone.

But we remember Paris, we remember Nice, we remember Brussels…

There was a terrorist incident every single day in January 2017.

We all remember Alexandre Bissonette killing six Muslims in a mosque in Quebec City.

Above: Memorial outside the ruins of the Eglise Sainte Foy next to the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec which was targeted

Yet this same month also saw…

(I am only mentioning the double-digit casualities here.)

…17 killed in Cameroon, 30 killed in Pakistan, 77 killed in Mali, 94 killed in Somalia, 15 killed in Nigeria…

Don’t remember these?

First time reading about these?

Why am I not surprised?

President Trump has spoken with British Prime Minister Theresa May, pledging the “full cooperation and support of the United States government in responding to the attack and bringing those responsible to justice.”

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Last month, 39 people were killed in terrorist incidents in Somalia, 45 people in Afghanistan, 93 people in Syria, 106 people in Pakistan and 185 people in Iraq.

We remember Olathe, Kansas, and one dead Indian computer programmer.

(For details about this shooting, please see Bleeding Beauty of this blog.)

This month alone, there have been 122 people in Afghanistan, 125 people in Syria, 53 people in Iraq, 13 people in Somalia, 12 people in India, 11 people in Mali…all killed in terrorist incidents.

Where is the world`s full cooperation and support?

Are Afghanis, Indians, Iraqis, Malians, Syrians and Somalians less noteworthy, less newsworthy, than others?

As we consider the events of the assault on Westminster on Wednesday, eight Nigerians were killed by a series of Boko Haram bombs detonated along a public highway on the same day.

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Above: The flag of Nigeria

You might read about Nigeria sometime, buried in the back pages of a newspaper, if it is mentioned at all.

The War on Terror?

How exactly is that working out for everybody?

Claiming down on civil liberties in the name of security is not the answer.

Opposing democracy and independent development in other countries because otherwise their products or their labour in our factories there will become more expensive is not the answer.

Supporting regimes and dictators regardless of their atrocities because this gives us access to resources at a lower cost is not the answer.

If we are attacked by terrorists, religion is not the reason, it is the excuse.

If the West wants to prevent further attacks in the future, it must realise that neither unleashing our militaries nor tightening domestic security  nor limiting discussion on supposedly patriotic grounds is the answer.

We see ourselves as decent, hardworking people who wish the rest of the world well and do more than our share to help.

We are proud of our freedom and prosperous way of life, but we need to have honest discussion about our conduct abroad.

Where is our conduct wise?

Where is our conduct not wise?

Does our conduct correspond to the values we say we believe in?

Outside of our homelands are our troops, our companies, our embassies practising the values we preach or only pretending to do so?

If we want a healthy relationship with the six billion people we share the planet with, we need to understand who these people are, how they live, what they think and why.

We need to care about the world beyond our borders, beyond our experience.

We need to think beyond our bank accounts and realise we are a planet of people interdependent upon one another for our mutual survival as a species.

We need to question ourselves and those who represent us and those who inform us and those who serve us.

This is not charity, this is for both our self-interest and self-preservation.

No nation is invulnerable.

We can no longer afford to ignore what the rest of the world thinks.

We are our brother`s keeper.

But when we bomb cities, allow dictators to crush their citizenry’s free spirit, finance and train revolutionary movements against democratically elected governments, disregard starvation, disease and starvation around the world while living such privileged wasteful lives, we should not be surprised when others might be upset with us.

As individuals we need to ask questions about what our governments are doing in our name and demand they practice the values they say they represent..

As individuals we need to demand a media that tells us the truth about ourselves and the world regardless of whether the truth is complimentary to ourselves or not.

The media should serve all its citizenry not just the business interests that fund it.

Remove the reasons for terrorism and remove the fear.

The only way to fight terrorism is to fight the causes of terrorism.

When people suffer injustice and oppression, when their lands are occupied, when they are endlessly humiliated, when they are beaten, imprisoned, raped or killed for expressing dissident political opinions, violence can seem their only alternative.

The best defence of democracy is the practice of democracy, both within and shown outside our lands.

London, Ottawa, Brussels, New York, Nice, Madrid have fallen victim to terrorist attacks.

So have Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria, Iran and Iraq.

Their lives are no less important, no less significant than our own.

When someone commits a crime and says he does it in the name of a religion, this is not a religious believer this is simply a criminal and should be treated as such, an individual who has committed a crime.

Those who truly follow a religion do not practice violence.

Practicing a religion does not mean regular attendance at a building designated as religious.

Practicing a religion does not mean discrimination against others who do not do as you do, believe as you believe, dress as you dress, think as you think.

Practicing a religion means acting as if the words of love and obedience to love actually matter.

Practicing a religion is to show that religion as something that truly makes you happy and shines through you to make that religion attractive to others through your exhibiting love for others.

If we act responsibly then we can, with clear conscience, expect others to respond accordingly.

If we have done so, and those that represent us and inform us have done so, then those who do commit violence against us will have shown themselves to be the criminals they truly are and should be dealt with as we would with any criminal.

Be vigilant, be ready to respond to emergencies, but be loving towards others.

Fear usually is the result of our being worried for receiving punishment for the things we did but shouldn´t have or for the things we didn’t do but should have.

If my government is causing harm to others and I have done nothing or said nothing to prevent them from causing harm, then I should not be surprised if those who have been harmed seek vengence against me.

We are responsible for others and this responsibility doesn’t only stop outside our homes, our borders or our beliefs.

Did the individuals struck down in Westminster deserve what happened to them?

As individuals, no.

But as representatives of powers and principalities that allow harm to happen to others, it should not be a surprise if those that strike us down feel we are deserving of such a terrible fate.

We need one another and until we learn that lesson we will continue to destroy one another.

Sources: Wikipedia / The Times, 23 March 2017 / The New York Times, 25 March 2017 / Noam Chomsky, Power and Terror: Post-9/11 Talks and Interviews / Mark Hertsgaard, The Eagle’s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slave to the Machine / One Flew Over the Internet

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 12 March 2017

I like Facebook.

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There I said it.

I like the variety of news items that appear, the exchange of ideas, the casual contact with friends and family close or far away, and I find Facebook gives me a forum to share my thoughts.

But a few days ago I began to notice a problem and I wrote about it in Facebook:

“Oh, Father Facebook, forgive me for I have sinned.

It has only been mere moments since I was online posting things that caught my eye and looking up from my phone screen I was embarrassed to realise that a morning went by without my noticing it.

I have become like those I once mocked and ridiculed for their electronic addiction.

I find myself spending too much time reading about life, instead of living life.

A to-do list goes undone.

Walking weather goes unused, literature unread, music unappreciated.

On Monday evening, Switzerland experienced a 4.5 on the Richter scale earthquake and I cannot honestly say whether it was felt here by the Lake of Constance and I was distracted by electronics, or whether there were no tremors this far north of its epicentre.

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And this is just….sad.

So, Father Facebook, we need to re-evaluate our relationship.

I value what I have read and am always intrigued by the new items that keep appearing.

But you are creating bad habits in me by capturing my curiosity.

You show me life while I am neglecting my own.

So, Father Facebook, we need to spend less time with one another.

So, one hour a day, six days a week is my new belated New Year’s resolution.

There is life out beyond the flat screen.

I will report in on what I find.

In the name of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and the Ghost in the Machine.

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Above: Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011)

Amen

Problematic Internet use, also called compulsive Internet use (CIU), Internet overuse, problematic computer use, pathological computer use, problematic Internet use (PIU) or Internet addiction disorder (IAD), all refer to excessive Internet use that interferes with daily life.

Above: The Internet Messenger, Buky Schwartz, Holon, Israel

IAD began as a joke.

Dr. Ivan Goldberg found the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to be overly complex and rigid, so as a combination hoax and parody he invented IAD, describing its symptoms: “important social or occupational activities that are given up or reduced because of Internet use”, “fantasies or dreams about the Internet” and “voluntary or involuntary typing movements of the fingers”.

Goldberg felt that to receive medical attention or support for every single human behaviour by giving each one a psychiatric name was ridiculous.

He felt that if every overdose behaviour can be labelled an addiction then this could lead us to have support groups for individuals that consistently cough or are addicted to books.

Goldberg took pathological gambling, as diagnosed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as his model for the description of IAD.

To Goldberg’s surprise, IAD receives coverage in the press.

The possible future classification of IAD as a psychological disorder continues to be debated and researched in the psychiatric community.

Online habits, such as reading, playing computer games, or watching very large numbers of Internet videos, are troubling only to the extent that these activities interfere with normal life.

IAD is often divided into subtypes by activity, such as gaming, online social networking, blogging, emailing, Internet pornography, or Internet shopping.

Internet addiction is a subset of the broader category of technology addiction.

Mankind’s widespread obsession with technology goes back to radio in the 1930s and television in the 1960s, but this obsession has exploded in importance during the digital age.

Above: Bakelite radio, Bakelite Museum, Orchard Hill, England

A study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking has suggested that the prevalence of Internet addiction varies considerably among countries and is inversely related to quality of life.

(Cecilia Chang and Li Angel Yee-Lam, “Internet Addiction Prevalence and Quality of Real Life: A Meta-Analysis of 31 Nations Across Seven World Regions”, Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, Issue 17, December 2014)

A conceptual model of IAD has been developed based on primary data collected from addiction researchers, psychologists and health care providers as well as older adolescents themselves.

(Moreno/Jelenchik/Christakis, “Problematic internet use among older adolescents: A conceptual framework”, Computers and Human Behaviour, Issue 29, 2013)

(Kim/Byrne, “Conceptualizing personal web usage in work contexts: A preliminary framework”, Computers and Human Behaviour, Issue 27, June 2011)

These studies have identified seven concepts that make up IAD: psychological risk factors, physical impairment, emotional impairment, social and functional impairment, risky Internet use, impulsive Internet use, and Internet use dependence.

It is not just the amount of time spent on the Internet that puts people at risk, but how the time is spent is also important.

There is a problem if you are unable to maintain a balance or control over your Internet use in relation to everyday life.

It is difficult to detect and diagnose someone with IAD as the Internet is a highly promoted tool.

Addiction to cyber sex, cyber relationships, Internet compulsions, information and research and computer gaming are often considered to be related to IAD, but this variety of rewarding and reinforcing stimuli online might not be addictions to the Internet itself but rather the Internet is the fuel to other addictions.

A 1999 study discovered that over half the people considered to be Internet dependent were new users of the Internet and are therefore more inclined to use the Internet regularly.

Non-dependent users had been using the Internet for more than a year, suggesting that overuse of the Internet could wear off over time.

(Yellowlees/Marks, “Problematic Internet use or Internet addiction?”, Computers in Human Behaviour, Issue 23, March 2005)

What creates in some these compulsive behaviours?

Accessibility: Because of the convenience of the Internet, users now have easy and intermediate access to gambling, gaming and shopping at any time of the day, without the hassles of everyday life, like travelling or queues.

Control: Internet users are in control of their own online activity.  With the use of the latest technology, such as tablet computers and smartphones, users can go to the bathroom or another private place to engage with the Internet, without others knowing about it.

Excitement: Internet users often get an excited feeling of a rush or a buzz when they win an online auction, a video game or online gambling.  This positive feedback can result in addictive behaviour.  Some users use the Internet as a way of gaining this emotion.

The Centre for Online Addiction claims that IAD is a broad term that covers a wide variety of behaviours and impulse control problems, and categorises IAD into five specific subtypes:

Center for Online Addiction

  1. Cybersexual addiction: The compulsive use of adult websites for cybersex and cyberporn.  Internet pornography use is increasingly common in Western cultures and the mental health community has witnessed a dramatic rise in problematic Internet pornography use.  At present there is no widely accepted means of defining or assessing problematic Internet pornography use and the notion of Internet pornography addiction is still highly controversial.
  2. Cyber-relationship addiction: Overinvolvement in online relationships. A cyber-relationship addiction has been described as the addiction to social networking in all forms.  Social networking, such as Facebook, and online dating services, along with many other communication platforms create a place to communicate with new people.  Virtual online friends start to gain more communication and importance over time to the person becoming more important than real life family and friends.  Some people are attracted to the silent, less visually stimulating, non-tactile quality of text relationships, especially those who are struggling to contain the overstimulation of past trauma.  Text communication is a paradoxical blend of people being honest and close while simultaneously keeping their distance.  People suffering with social anxiety or who have issues of shame and guilt may be drawn to text relationships because people cannot be seen.  Text enables them to avoid the issue of physical appearance which they find distracting or irrelevant to the relationship.  Without the distraction of in-person cues, they feel they can connect more directly to the mind and soul of the other person. Cyber-relationships can often be more intense than real life relationships, causing addiction to the relationship.  With the ability to create whole new personas, people can often deceive the person they are communicating with.  Everyone is looking for the perfect companion, but the perfect companion online is not always the perfect companion in real life.  Although two people can commit to a cyber-relationship, while offline one of them could possibly not be the person they are claiming to be online.  There are people who deliberately create fake personal profiles online with the intention of tricking an unsuspecting person into falling in love with them.  These people are known as “catfish”. (The term “catfish” is derived from the title of a documentary film released in 2010, in which New York photographer Nev Schulman discovers the woman he had been continuing a cyber-relationship with had not been honest whilst describing herself.)Catfish film.jpg
  3. Net compulsions: Obsessive online gambling, shopping or day-trading. According to David Hodgins, Professor of Psychology at the University of Calgary, online gambling is considered to be as serious as pathological gambling.  The online gambler prefers to separate himself from interruptions and distractions. Online, the problem gambler can indulge in gambling without social influences swaying his decisions.  Online stock trading, like online gambling, gives the participant an addictive rush.  Traders have ownership towards when and how they trade stocks and distribute their money.  There are no second parties, no bosses, no schedules, so the trader feels a sense of empowerment in his own little world outside reality.LogoAbove: Logo of the University of Calgary
  4. Information overload: Compulsive web surfing or database searches
  5. Computer addiction: Obsessive computer game playing.  Video game addiction is a problem around the world.

IAD is usually linked with existing health issues, most commonly depression, and effects the addict socially, psychologically and occupationally.

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Above: Belgian singer Jonathan Vandenbroeck aka Milow, known for his hit single cover, Ayo Technology

Pathological use of the Internet can result in negative life consequences, such as job loss, marriage breakdown, financial debt and academic failure.

70% of Internet users in South Korea are reported to play online games, 18% of these are diagnosed as game addicts.

Centered taegeuk on a white rectangle inclusive of four black trigrams

Above: The flag of South Korea

The majority of those afflicted with IAD suffer from interpersonal difficulties and stress, while those addicted to online games specifically hope to avoid reality.

A major reason why the Internet is so appealing is the lack of limits and the absence of accountability.

“There were lots of reasons why we pulled the plug on our electronic media…My children don’t use media. They inhabit media…as fish inhabit a pond.  Gracefully and without consciousness or curiosity as to how they got there.  They don’t remember a time before email, instant messaging or Google.

The letters of "Google" are each purely colored (from left to right) with blue, red, yellow, blue, green, and red.

They download movies and TV shows and when I remind them piracy is a crime, they look at one another and laugh.  These are children who shrug indifferently when they lose their iPods, with all 5,000 tunes plus video clips, feature films and TV shows….

(Who watches TV on a television anymore?)

…”There’s plenty more where that came from.”, their attitude says.

And the most infuriating thing of all?

They’re right.

The digital content that powers their world can never truly be destroyed.

…I had always been an enthusiastic user of information technology, but I was also beginning to have doubts about the power of media to improve our lives – let alone make them “easier”.

I had noticed that the more we seemed to communicate as individuals, the less we seemed to function together as a family.

And on a broader scale, the more facts we have at our fingerprints, the less we seem to know.

The “convenience” of messaging media (email, SMS, IM) consumes ever larger amounts of our time.

As a culture we are practically swimming in entertainment, yet remain more depressed than any people who have ever lived.

We began “The Experiment”, a six-month period during which we stopped using much of our electronic media, such as computers, televisions, game consoles and mobile phones.

Our family’s self-imposed exile from the Information Age changed our lives infinitely for the better.

I watched as my children became more focused, logical thinkers.  I watched as their attention spans increased, allowing them to read for hours at a time.  I watched as they began to hold longer and more complex conversations with adults and among themselves.  I watched as they began to improve their capacity to think beyond the present moment.

They took the opportunity to go out more, to notice food more, to sleep more.”

(Susan Maushart, The Winter of Our Disconnect)

“And so it came to pass that in the winter of 2016 the world hit a tipping point…the moment when we realised that a critical mass of our lives and work had shifted away from the terrestrial world to a realm known as “cyberspace”… a critical mass of our interactions had moved to a realm “where we are all connected but no one is in charge.”

After all, there are no stoplights in cyberspace, no police officers walking the beat, no courts, no judges, no God who smites evil and rewards good…

If someone slimes you on Twitter or Facebook, well, unless it is a death threat, good luck getting it removed, especially if it is done anonymously, which in cyberspace is quite common.

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Above: Company logo for Twitter

Yet this realm is where we now spend increasing hours of our day.

Cyberspace is now where we do more of our shopping, more of our dating, more of our friendship making and sustaining, more of our learning, more of our commerce, more of our teaching, more of our communicating, more of our news broadcasting and news seeking and more of our selling of goods, services and ideas.

It’s where both the US President and the leader of ISIS can communicate with equal ease with tens of millions of their respective followers through Twitter – without editors, fact checkers, libel lawyers or other filters.

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Black Standard[1]

Even President Barack Obama was taken aback by the speed at which this tipping point tipped:

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling

“I think that I underestimated the degree to which, in this new information age, it is possible for misinformation, for cyberhacking and so forth, to have an impact on our open societies.”, Obama told ABC News This Week.

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Alan Cohen, chief commercial officer of the cybersecurity firm Illumio, noted in an interview on siliconAngle.com that the reason this tipping point tipped now was because so many companies, governments, universities, political parties and individuals have concentrated a critical mass of their data in computers.

Illumio - Security That Works Anywhere

Work has to start with every school teaching children digital civics, that the Internet is an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information, where they need to bring skepticism and critical thinking to everything they read and basic civic decency to everything they write.

A Stanford Graduate School of Education study published in November 2016 found…

…”a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the Internet

Students had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles or identifying where information came from.”

Stanford University seal 2003.svg

Professor Sam Wineburg, the lead author of the Stanford report, said:

“Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there.

Our work shows the opposite to be true.”

In an era when more and more of our lives have moved to this digital realm, that is downright scary.”

(Thomas Friedman, “Our lives are digital. Be careful.”, New York Times, 12 January 2017)

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“Many men, women and children spend their days glued to their smartphones and their social media accounts.

No doubt you have seen the following scenarios many times:

  • Young couples out to dinner pull out their smartphones to check messages, emails and social networks before scanning the menu and check their phones repeatedly during the meal.
  • Shoppers and commuters standing in line, people crossing busy streets, even cyclists and drivers, have their eyes on their phones instead of their surroundings.
  • Toddlers in strollers playing with a digital device instead of observing and learning from the world around them.
  • People walking down the street with eyes on their phones, bumping into others, tripping over or crashing into obstacles.

Observations like these have prompted a New York psychotherapist to ask: “What really matters?” in life.

In her enlightening new book, The Power of Off, Nancy Colier observes that:

“We are spending far too much of our time doing things that don’t really matter to us.”

“We have become disconnected from what really matters, from what makes us feel nourished and grounded as human beings.”

The near universal access to digital technology, starting at ever younger ages, is transforming modern society in ways that can have negative effects on physical and mental health, neurological development and personal relationships, not to mention safety on our roads and sidewalks.

As with so much in life, moderation in our digital world should be the hallmark of a healthy relationship with technology.

Too many of us have become slaves to the devices that were supposed to free us and give us more time to experience life and the people we love.

Ms. Colier, a licensed clinical social worker, said:

“The only difference between digital addiction and other addictions is that this is a socially condoned behaviour.”

While Colier’s book contains a 30-day digital detox program, she offers three steps to help curb one’s digital dependence:

  1. Start by recognising how much digital use is really needed and what is merely a habit of responding, posting and self-distraction.
  2. Make little changes.  Refrain from using your device while eating or spending time with your friends.  Add one thing a day that is done without your phone.
  3. Become very conscious of what is important to you, what really nourishes you and devote more time and attention to it.The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World

Linyi, Shandong Province, China, 17 January 2017

Flag of the People's Republic of China

Above: The flag of the People’s Republic of China

Shandong Province is known for many things.

Map showing the location of Shandong Province

This stumpy peninsula jutting into the Yellow Sea, Shandong has a history that can be traced back to the origins of China itself.

Confucius, China’s great social philosopher, was born here and lived out his days here.

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Above: Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC)

His ideas were championed by the great Confucian philosopher Mencius who also hailed from here.

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Above: Mencius (372 BC – 289 BC)

Other local heroes include Wang Xizhi, China’s most famous calligrapher, and Zhuge Liang, a great military strategist.

Above: Wang Xizhi (265 – 420)

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Above: Zhuge Liang (181 – 234)

Film star Gong Li, who set new benchmarks for Chinese beauty, grew up in this province.

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Shandong has a firm foothold in China’s martial arts history: Wang Lang, the founder of Praying Mantis Fist –  one of the most distinctive of the Chinese boxing arts, emulating the movements of the stick-like insect famed for its ferocity and speed – called Shandong home.

Shandong is home to one of China’s four major schools of cooking.

It is here that the Yellow River, the massive waterway that began in the mud of Tibet and exists as part of the myths that form this mighty land, exits China.

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Above: Hukou Waterfall of the Yellow River (Huang He), 2nd longest in Asia, 6th longest in the world

Shandong is one of China’s wealthiest and most populous provinces, with much to attract the tourist.

Southern Chinese claim to have myriad mountains, rivers and geniuses, but Shandong citizens smugly boast they have one mountain (Tai Shan), one river (the Yellow River) and one saint (Confucius) – all that is needed.

Tai Shan is not only the most revered of China’s five holy Taoist peaks, it is the most climbed mountain on Earth.

泰山 南天门.jpg

It is said that if you climb Tai Shan you will live to be 100.

In ancient Chinese tradition, the sun began its westward journey from Tai Shan.

Tai’an is the gateway town to the sacred Tai Shan and the hometown of Jiang Qing, Mao’s 4th wife, ex-actress and the leader of the Gang of Four, on whom all of China’s ills are often blamed.

Above: Jiang Qing (1914 – 1991)

The Dai Temple is in the centre of town.

The Temple is a magnificent structure with yellow tiled roofs, red walls and ancient towering trees.

It is one of the largest and most celebrated temples in China.

100 km south is the dusty rural town of Qufu, the birthplace, residence and final resting place of Confucius – a teacher largely unappreciated in his lifetime.

Apricot Platform in the Confucius Temple

Above: The Apricot Platform, Confucius Temple, Qufu, Shandong Province, China

Qufu is a harmony of carved stone, timber and imperial architecture, of airy courtyards, cypress trees and green grass, of twisted pines and mighty steles, singing birds serenade the seated souls upon quiet benches, unpolluted streets with little traffic, dusty, musty, home to the Confucius Temple, Confucius Mansions, the Confucian Forest…

To the south of the peninsula, the picture perfect town of Qingdao (also called Tsingtao)(Green Island) is called China’s Switzerland, which is surprising as its appearance is more reminiscent of a kind of Bavaria by the sea: cool sea breezes, balmy summer evenings, excellent seafood from dried fish shops, a Lutheran church, a German palace, and beaches of coarse sand covered in seaweed and bordered by concrete huts and stone statues of dolphins.

Clockwise from top left: Qingdao skyline, St. Michael's Cathedral, Qingdao harbour by night, a temple at the base of Mount Lao, and May Fourth Square

Above: Pictures of Qingdao

Jinan, the provincial capital is for most travellers a transit point on the road to other destinations, a city more famous for the celebrities it produced than for any virtues the city itself may possess: the film star Gong Li; Bian Que, the founder of traditional Chinese medicine; Zou Yan, the founder of the Yin and Yang five element school; Zhou Yongnian, the founder of China’s public libraries; and a number of nationally and internationally recognised writers.

Clockwise from top: Jinan's Skyline, Quancheng Square, Daming Lake, Furong Street, and Five Dragon Pool

Above: Pictures of Jinan

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Above: Bian Que (or Qin Yueren)(died 310 BC)

Among these writers is the Song Poet.

Above: Statue of Li Qingzhao (1084 – 1155), Li Qingzhao Memorial, Jinan

Li Qingzhao is famed for her elegant language, strong imagery and her ability to remain unpretentious in her poetry:

Above: Li Qingzhao Memorial, Baotu Spring Garden, Jinan, Shandong Province, China

“Alone in the night, the warm rain and pure wind have just freed the willows from the ice.

As I watch the peach trees, spring rises from my heart and blooms on my cheeks.

My mind is unsteady, as if I were drunk.

I try to write a poem in which my tears will flow together with your tears.

My rouge is stale.

My hairpins are too heavy.

I throw myself across my gold cushions, wrapped in my lonely doubled quilt and crush the phoenixes in my headdress.

Alone, deep in bitter loneliness, without even a good dream, I lie, trimming the lamp in the passing night.”

As I type these words I wonder whether 16-year-old Chen Xin ever read these words of the Song Poet and felt herself identify with this poem, when she was growing up 1,000 km north of Shandong in the sub-Siberian wilderness of Heilongjiang Province, or when she was involuntary a resident of Linyi, or later when she returned to Heilongjiang traumatised from her Linyi experience.

Linyi (“close to the Yi River”) is a city in the south of Shandong Province and though it is not far from Yellow Sea ports and it sits astride the G2 Beijing-Shanghai Expressway, and though it has a history of over 2,400 years and possesses an attractive Confucian temple, Linyi’s claim to fame lies in it being a major centre of human rights abuses in China.

Linyi Confucius Temple

Above: Lin Yi Confucius Temple

Though Linyi has been home to many historical figures, notably Zhuge Liang (former Prime Minister and considered to be the most accomplished strategist of his era akin to Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War) and Wang Xizhi (considered to be the greatest master of Chinese calligraphy that ever lived), most modern Chinese might recall the names of Chen Guangcheng (the barefoot lawyer) and Yang Yongxin (the brain waker) and, as a result, feel some compassion for the sad tale of Chen Xin.

Chen Guangcheng is the youngest of five brothers of a peasant family from the village of Dongshigu, Yinan County, Shandong Province.

Chen Guangcheng at the US Embassy in Beijing on 1 May 2012

When Chen was about six months old, he lost his sight due to a fever that destroyed his optic nerves.

His village was poor, with many families living at a subsistence level.

Chen’s father worked as an instructor at a Communist Party school.

When Chen was a child, his father would read literary works aloud to him and helped impart to his son an appreciation of the values of democracy and freedom.

In 1989, at the age of 18, Chen began attending school at the Elementary School for the Blind in Linyi.

In 1991, Chen’s father gave him a copy of The Law Protecting the Disabled, which elaborated on the legal rights and protections in place for disabled people in China.

In 1994, he enrolled at the Qingdao High School for the Blind where he remained until 1998, where he began developing an interest in law and would often ask his brothers to read legal texts to him.

Chen first petitioned authorities in 1996, when he travelled to Beijing to complain about taxes that were incorrectly being levied on his family.

(People with disabilities, such as Chen, are supposed to be exempt from taxation and fees.)

The complaint was successful and Chen began petitioning for other individuals with disabilities.

Chen became an outspoken activist for disability rights within the China Law Society.

His reputation as a disability rights advocate was solidified when he agreed to defend an elderly blind couple whose grandchildren sufered from paralysis.  The family had been paying all of the regular taxes and fees, but Chen believed that, under the law, the family should have received government assistance and exemption from taxation.  When the case went to court, blind citizens from surrounding counties were in attendance as a show of solidarity.  The case was successful and the outcome became well-known.

Chen studied at the Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine from 1998 to 2001, specializing in acupuncture and massage – the only progrms available to the blind.  He also audited legal courses, gaining a sufficient understanding of the law to allow him to aid his fellow villagers when they sought his assistance.

While studying in Nanjing, Chen learned that a program the leaders of Chen’s home village – implementing a land use plan that gave the authorities control over 60% of the land, which they then rented out at high cost to the villages – was illegal, he petitioned central authorities in Beijing to end the system.

In 2000, Chen returned from his studies in Nanjing to his village of Dongshigu in an effort to confront environmental pollution.

A paper mill constructed in 1988 had been dumping toxic wastewater into the Meng River, destroying crops and harming wildlife, as well as causing skin and digestive problems among villagers living downstream from the mill.

Chen organised villagers in his hometown and 78 other villages to petition against the mill.  The effort was successful and resulted in the suspension of the paper mill.

In addition, Chen contacted the British Embassy in Beijing, informing them of the situation and requesting funding for a well to supply clean water to locals. The British government responded by providing funds towards a deep water well, irrigation systems and water pipelines.

After graduation from Nanjing, Chen returned to his home region and found a job as a masseur in Yinan County Hospital.

Chen met his wife, Yuan Weijing, in 2001, after listening to a radio show.  Yuan had called into the show to discuss her difficulties in landing a job after graduating from the foreign language department of Shandong Chemistry Institute.  Chen, who listened to the program, contacted Yuan and relayed his own story of hardship as a blind man.  Moved by the exchange, Yuan travelled to Chen’s village to meet him.

The couple eloped in 2003.  Yuan, who had been working as an English teacher, left her job in order to assist Chen in his legal work. Their son, Chen Kerui, was born later that year.

In March 2004, more than 300 residents from Chen’s village filed a petition to the village government demanding that they release the village accounts – which hadn’t been made public for 10 years – and address the issue of illegal land requisitions.  When Dongshigu authorities failed to respond and villagers escalated their appeals to the township, county and municipal governments without response, village authorities began to threaten the villagers.

In November 2004, Chen acted on behalf of the villagers.

In 2005, Chen spent several months surveying residents of Shandong Province, collecting accounts of forced, late term abortions and forced sterilization of women who stood in violation of China’s one-child policy.

(In 2005, Chen and Yuan had a second child, a daughter named Chen Kesi, in violation of this one-child policy.)

Though Chinese central authorities have sought to curb the coercive enforcement of the one-child policy since 1990 by replacing measures such as forced abortions and sterilisations with a system of financial incentives and fines, Chen found that coercive practices remained widespread, documenting numerous cases of abuse.

Chen’s survey, based in Linyi, found an estimated 130,000 residents in the city had been forced into “study sessions” for refusing abortions or violating the one-child policy, imprisoned for days or weeks and beaten.

The case garnered international media attention.

The local authorities in Linyi retailiated against Chen, placing him under house arrest and embarking on a campaign to undermine his reputation, portraying him as working for “foreign anti-China forces”.  The authorities threatened to levy criminal charges against Chen for providing state secrets or intelligence to foreign organisations.

Xinhua, the news agency of the Chinese government, stated that on 5 February 2006, Chen instigated others to damage and smash cars belonging to the Shuanghou Police Station and the Linyi government as well as attack local government officials.

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Time reported that witnesses disputed the government’s version of events and Chen’s lawyers argued that he couldn’t have committed the crimes as he was already on house arrest and under constant surveillance by the police.

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On the eve of Chen’s 18 August 2006 trial, all three of his lawyers were detained by Yinan police.

Neither Chen’s lawyers nor his wife were allowed in the courtroom for the trial.

Chen was sentenced to four years and three months for “damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic”.

Frank Ching, Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada) columnist criticised the verdict:

“Even assuming Chen did damage doors and windows, as well as cars, and interrupt traffic for three hours, it is difficult to argue that a four-year prison sentence is somehow proportionate to the offence.”

Amnesty International declared Chen to be a prisoner of conscience, “jailed solely for his peaceful activities in defence of human rights.”

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Above: The logo of Amnesty International

After his release in 2010, Chen was placed under house arrest against Chinese law and was closely monitored by security forces.  Legally, he was proclaimed by the government to be a free man, but in reality the local government offered no explanation for the hundreds of unidentified agents monitoring his house and preventing visitors or escape.

Chen and Yuan attempted to communicate with the outside world via video tape and letters, describing beatings they were subjected to, seizure of documents and communication devices, cutting off of electric power to their residence, placing metal sheets over their windows, harassing Chen’s daughter by banning her from attending school and confiscating her toys, harassing Chen’s mother while she was working in the fields…

In 2011, the New York Times reported that a number of Chen’s supporters and admirers had attempted to penetrate the security monitoring Chen’s home, but were unsuccessful and subsequently pummeled, beaten and robbed by security forces.  US Congressman Chris Smith attempted to visit Chen but was denied permission.  Actor Christian Bale (Batman Begins) attempted to visit Chen along with a CNN crew, but was punched, shoved and denied access by Chinese security guards.  Video footage showed Bale and the CNN crew having stones thrown at them and being pursued in their minivan for more than 40 minutes.

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Above: Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey

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Above: Actor Christian Bale

On 22 April 2012, Chen escaped from house arrest.  Under cover of darkness and with the help of his wife, Chen climbed over the wall around his house, breaking his foot in the process.

When he came upon the Meng River, Chen found it to be guarded, but he crossed anyway and was not stopped.  He fell more than 200 times during his escape, but reached a pre-determined rendezvous point where He Peirong, an English teacher and activist, was waiting for him.  Human rights activists then escorted him to Beijing.

Chen was given refuge at the US Embassy in Beijing.  On 4 May, Chen made clear his desire to leave China for the United States.  On 19 May, Chen, Yuan and their two children, having been granted US visas, departed Beijing for Newark, New Jersey.

Following his arrival in the US, the Chen family settled in a housing complex of New York University, in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

On 16 October 2013, Chen made his first public appearance, delivering a lecture at Princeton University.

Chen reminded the audience that even small actions undertaken in defense of human rights can have a large impact, because…

“Every person has infinite strength. Every action has an important impact.  We must believe in the value of our own actions.”

Chen’s memoir, The Barefoot Lawyer, was published in 2015.

In February 2016, a young girl, Chen Xin, was forcibly taken away from her home in northern Heilongijang Province by two strange men in a car and driven to Linyi.

At the Internet Addiction Treatment Center, a boot camp at Linyi Mental Hospital, more than 6,000 Internet addicts – most of them teenagers – not only have their web access taken away, they are also treated with electro-shock therapy.

The boot camp is run by the “brain-waker” Yang Yongxin.

Yang, born in Linyi, graduated from Yishui Medical School, with a degree in Clinical Medicine in 1982.  After graduation, Yang was aasigned by the state to the Linyi Mental Hospital, where he specialises in treating schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Yang started to investigate Internet addiction in 1999, when his teenage son began to show “addictive behaviour”.  He began practicing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in 2006.

Initially the Chinese media viewed Yang’s work with great enthusiasm, publishing a book called Fighting the Internet Demon and producing a documentary film of the same name.

Yang was awarded as one of 2007’s Top Ten Outstanding Citizens of Shandong Province “for protecting the minors of Shandong”.

Yang caused widespread controversy in China when China’s most viewed TV channel, state-run CCTV, aired a special coverage of Yang’s treatment centre in July 2008.  The program, Fighting the Internet Demon Who Turned Our Geniuses into Beasts, reported positively on Yang’s ECT and sharply criticised the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment, Irvine, California), then popular in China, blaming the game for many teenagers’ Internet addiction.  The program caused an uproar in China’s World of Warcraft community, spreading to most of China’s Internet community.  Yang’s critics revealed Yang’s controversial practices…

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Yang claimed that patients with Internet addiction suffered from cognitive and personality disorders and he promoted electroconvulsive therapy as a means to remedy such disorders.

Yang’s patients ranged from 12 to 30 years old, most of whom were abducted by their parents or by “the Special Operation”, a branch of the treatment centre that would reward more senior patients to abduct new patients.  The parents (even those of adult patients) would then sign a contract with the treatment centre, in which the parents would place the patients into foster care by the treatment centre.

Qu Xinjiu, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing said that the belief that parents have supreme jurisdiction over their children, and that even police officers have no right to intervene in family affairs, is widespread in China.

“That’s why there are so many parents sending their kids for electroshock therapy, even when outsiders think it’s wrong to do so.”, Professor Qu said.

After they were admitted, Yang’s patients were placed into a prisonlike environment, where they were forced to give away all online accounts and passwords.  Yang managed his patients in a military style, where he encouraged the patients to act as informants and threatened resisting patients with ECT, as a means of torture.

In addition to electroconvulsive therapy, Yang used psychotropic drugs without the consent of the patients or their parents, claiming that the drugs were dietary supplements.  The centre also has mandatory sessions with psychiatric counselors, where patients were taught absolute obedience to Yang and forced to call him “Uncle Yang”. He also warned the patients against asking their parents to take them home, another offense punishable by electroconvulsive therapy.

(All of this reminds me of the movie, starring Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest poster.jpg

In 2009 China Youth Daily published the news of a patient who had escaped Yang’s treatment centre.  The escaped patient jumped out from a second floor window at the treatment centre.  Yang’s ECT / psychotropic medication treatment, which Yang dubbed xingnao (brain-waking), triggered cardiac arrhythmia (uneven heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats) in the escaped patient, questioning the safety of Yang`s treatment.

Also the same year, a 15-year-old boy from southern Guangxi Province died after being beaten by staff two days after arriving at a camp treating Internet addiction.

Yang claimed that 96% of the patients treated by his electric therapy had shown improvement.

In 2009, the Chinese Health Ministry issued guidelines against using electroshock therapy for Internet addicts, but despite the Health Ministry’s policy, “punitive practices continue to victimise China’s youth” in Internet detox camps”, said Dr. Bax, assistant professor of sociology at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea.

In 2014, researchers from universities in Chian, Taiwan and Germany wrote in the journal Asia-Pacific Psychiatry that the highest prevalence of “problematic Internet use” had been observed in Asia.

A series of scandals have erupted in previous years over the treatment of patients at similar camps in China.

In 2014, a 19-year-old woman died at a treatment centre in Henan Province after being given treatment that involved being lifted off the ground and then dropped, the South China Morning Post reported, while another suffered head and neck injuries.  Staff suspected the woman was feigning injury and continued to kick her on the ground, according to a China National Radio report.

Chen Xin’s parents had become concerned about her behaviour after she dropped out of school.  On the suggestion of an aunt, the Chen family decided to send Xin to the camp, which had claimed to have cured 7,000 children of Internet addiction in the past two decades. The camp had become a last resort as they had become exasperated by their child’s habit of playing online games for hours.

Xin escaped the Internet Addiction Centre four months later.

In an online journal Xin complained that the centre’s trainers had beaten patients for no reason and ordered those who did not behave to eat in front of the pit latrine (sewer).

Thepaper.cn said it had received calls from several patients at the camp since they ran Chen’s story.  They complained of being beaten, cursed at and insulted, of being watched even when using the toilet.

One former patient told Thepaper.cn:

“When the toilets clogged up, we were asked to empty the toilets with our hands.  You get beaten up in the toilet and get beaten up again if you dare say no.  You get beaten up if you are found to be in a relationship.”

In a journal post published 25 August 2016, Xin wrote:

“When you mentioned it to your relatives, they all said: ‘Isn’t it all in the past?  We love you.  You should forget all those things.’

I am angry.  People point at my nose and call me unfilial (unloving daughter) and worse than a beast. 

It was them who sent me there.  It was them who cursed me and beat me.  It was them who sabotaged my life and libelled my character, but it was also them who said they loved me.

My friends here, if it were you, what would you do?

I will use their money to practice boxing and martial arts and ambush them later.  I will make them disabled, if not die.”

On 16 September 2016, Xin stabbed her father with a knife after they argued.  He was hospitalised.

She tied her mother to a chair, shot photographs and a video of her mother, demanding money from her aunt to release her so Xin could go to a physics school in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province.

The money was sent the following week, but by then Xin discovered her starving mother was already dying.  She called an ambulance, but it arrived too late.

Xin’s mother died on 23 September 2016.

In January 2017, the Chinese government drafted a law that will crack down on the camps’ worst excesses.

Medical specialists welcomed the law.

“It’s a very important move for protecting young children.”, said Dr. Tao Ran, director of the Internet Addiction Clinic at Beijing Military General Hospital.

Dr. Tao has seen several Chinese teenagers return from Internet addiction boot camps showing signs of lasting psychological trauma:

“They didn’t talk, were afraid to meet people and refused to leave their homes.  They were panicked even to hear the word ‘hospital’ or ‘doctor’.”

The legislation also limits how much time each day that minors can play online games at home or in Internet cafés.  Providers of the games are obliged to take measures to monitor and restrict use.

Many users of Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, were even more critical, saying policing teenage behaviour online is impractical and ill-informed.

Sina Weibo.svg

Above: The logo for Sina Weibo

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 12 March 2017

As I read over what I have written I am struck by a memory of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953.

Cover shows a drawing of a man, who appears to be made of newspaper and is engulfed in flames, standing on top of some books. His right arm is down and holding what appears to be a paper fireman's hat while his left arm is wiping sweat from the brow of his bowed head. Beside the title and author's name in large text, there is a small caption in the upper left-hand corner that reads, "Wonderful stories by the author of The Golden Apples of the Sun".

The novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found.  Bradbury described the book as a commentary on how mass media reduces interest in reading literature.

In Part One of the book, my mind’s eye can still recall Guy Montag, the book’s protagonist, and the other firemen ransacking the book-filled house of an old woman.  She refuses to leave her house and her books, choosing instead to burn herself alive.  Like Montag I am discomfited by the woman’s suicide.

Montag’s boss, Captain Beatty, personally visits Montag to see how he is doing.  Sensing Montag’s concerns, Beatty recounts how books lost their value, how over the course of several decades people embraced new media and sports and a faster pace of life.  Books were ruthlessly abridged or degraded to accommodate a short attention span.  Books were burned in the name of public happiness.

In Part Two, I recall Montag telling his wife that maybe the books of the past have messages that can save society from its own destruction. But Mildred is only interested in their large screen television.  She invites her friends over to watch TV with her. Montag tries to engage them in meaningful conversation, but they are indifferent to all but the trivial.

And I wonder:

Is this the future?

Above: A visualisation of a portion of the routes on the Internet

Have we become a society that has become addicted to distraction?

A society oblivious to everything, everyone, unconnected, disconnected to flat screens or headphones?

It is easy to condemn the acts of the Chinese state for attempting to gain control over its citizens seduced by technology and mass media, or for using technology or mass media to control its populace, but perhaps, both in the Orient as well as the West, it is the people, us, who are as much culpable as the state.

Perhaps the enemy we seek lies in the reflection cast by our flat screens?

Sources:

Wikipedia / Thomas L. Friedman, “Our lives are digital. Be careful.”, 12 January 2017, New York Times / Mike Ives, “China seeks to curb Internet addiction camps”, 17 January 2017, New York Times / Rough Guides China / Lonely Planet China

 

 

Deserving democracy?

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 March 2017

As a Canadian who grew up exposed to American culture, and now as an expat with a fair number of American friends, the US remains for me what Allan Fotheringham called “the Excited States of America”.
Allan and Anne Fotheringham - 2012.jpg
Above: Allan Fotheringham and his wife Anne
For Americans always seem overly agitated by everything.
 Flag of the United States
What always surprises me is the deep-seated belief held by so many Americans that the US is approaching the eve of its destruction.
The surprise factor is that this deep-seated belief is not new.
In the 50s the most oft quoted book?
The Age of Anxiety.
 
Yet here is a land that leads the world economically, politically and militarily.
As a teacher of both teenagers and adults, I see parallels between the US and a teenager.
A teenager is a mix of overconfidence and insecurity.
The US is a land of both bravado and despair.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, the US has never not been at war, and it is always afraid of any other nation that might conceivable challenge the US, despite the fact it spends more money on its military than many other nations combined.
 File:Top ten military expenditures in $ in 2013.jpg
Yet countries that can barely support themselves, like Iran and North Korea, are just waiting to attack the US.
 Flag of Iran
Above: The flag of Iran
Flag of North KoreaAbove: The flag of North Korea
The US is a land driven by fear, of enemies both domestic and foreign.
Like a teenager, the US is clumsy, direct, at times brutal, and torn by deep internal conflict and absolutely certain that its values are best.
Two World Wars devastated Europe making it lose its world dominance.
Communism, despite Russian posturing, could never support itself.
Above: The flag of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1922 – 1991)
China, despite its huge population and its coastal cities, remains mostly a backward poverty stricken land.
Flag of the People's Republic of ChinaAbove: Flag of the People’s Republic of China
Here is a list of some sobering facts that I wish US politicians would address:
The US has the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world – over 1,100 teenagers, mostly age 18 or 19, give birth every day in the US.
 File:Preventing Teen Pregnancy in the US-CDC Vital Signs-April 2011.pdf
80% of the world’s executions take place in just three countries: the US is one of them.
 
Above: Red (still practising capital punishment), brown (not outlawed but not practiced), green (practiced under exceptional circumstances), blue (abolished).
1 out of 5 of the world’s people live on less than 1 US dollar a day.
 USDnotes.png
More than 7 million US women and 1 million US men suffer from an eating disorder.
There are 67,000 people employed in the lobbying industry in DC – 125 for each elected member of Congress.
 
Above: K Street NW at 19th Street in Washington DC, part of DC’s maze of high-powered lobbyists and lawyers
Black men born in the US today stand a 1 in 3 chance of going to jail.
 
Every week, an average of 88 children are expelled from US schools for bringing a gun to class.
 
The US spends more money on porn than on foreign aid.
The US spends on its military more than 33 times the combined military spending of the seven “rogue states”.
Perhaps rather than creating wars against countries that are far weaker than the US, perhaps its politicians could focus on some of the above-mentioned problems.

I am just a simple man trying to understand a complicated world.

Does my/your voice matter?
Does my/your opinion matter?
Within these two questions lies the heart of our existence as people, as citizens.
Now there are many things negative that can be said about President Donald J. Trump, but, for a moment, cast aside all these legitimate complaints (and there are many) and consider this question:
 Donald Trump official portrait.jpg
What has Donald Trump taught us?
Trevor Noah, on his 15 December 2016 broadcast of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, brilliantly illustrated the disparity between the image and the reality of American democracy, by simply showing Donald Trump speaking at his most candid in speeches he gave to the Republican Party after he won the nomination to represent the Party in the US election and after he won the Presidency by Electoral College vote:
 The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.png
Charleston, West Virginia, 5 May 2016
“You have been hearing me saying that it’s a rigged system, but now I don`t say it anymore because I won.
Now I don’t care.”
Des Moines, Iowa, 8 December 2016
(In reference to his campaign promise of taking away the power of lobbyists and Wall Street money and giving DC back to the people)
We’re going to drain the swamp of corruption.
Funny how that term caught on, isn’t it?
“Drain the swamp.”
I tell everyone I hated it.
Somebody said, “Drain the swamp.”
And I said, “That’s so hokey.
That’s so terrible.”
I said, “Alright. I’ll try it.”
So, like a month ago, I said, “Drain the swamp.” and the place went crazy.
I said, “Whoa! What’s this?”
So I said it again.
Then I started saying it like I meant it.
Then I started loving it.
It’s true.
Drain the swamp.”
Grand Rapids, Michigan, 9 December 2016
(In response to chants of “Lock her up.” – jail Hillary Clinton:)
 Hillary Clinton official Secretary of State portrait crop.jpg
“That plays great before the election but now we don’t care.”
West Allis, Wisconsin, 14 December 2016
“Speaker Paul Ryan is like a fine wine.
…If he ever goes against me, I won’t say that.”
 A portrait shot of Paul Ryan, looking straight ahead. He has short brown hair, and is wearing a dark navy blazer with a red and blue striped tie over a light blue collared shirt. In the background is the American flag.
Now there are a couple of things these excerpts show that express for me a kernel of both what is wrong with Donald Trump, but more importantly what is wrong with the state of American democracy.
Donald would say anything to get himself elected.
As a salesman, he said whatever he thought would sell.
Trump the art of the deal.jpg
He has shown that he will act however he wishes, whether this is according to the wishes of the people or not.
He believes that he should do as he chooses and as long as you do not contradict him then things will be fine.
But aside from Donald Trump acting like salesman, acting like a politician, we need to look at two things these speeches show:
– What his voters thought they were getting and why they get it
– Where these speeches were made
Understanding the US system of government and the system that turns citizens into the people’s representatives is not easily understood by those who were not raised American nor easily understood by all Americans themselves.
But because of the enormous military and economic power that the United States presently wields, I believe it is important that we all understand what America is and isn’t and what it could be.
What is democracy?
If one believed Abraham Lincoln, it is government of the people, for the people, by the people.
An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.
Above: Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865)(16th US President, 1861 – 1865)
(And who can’t trust Lincoln?)
So, by extension, do the world’s democracies get the leaders they deserve?
It depends on what is meant by “the people”.
If you believe that a democracy means “one person, one vote”…
If you believe that “every vote counts”…
Then nowhere can one find a true democracy.
Granted there are nations freer than others but a perfect democracy is hard to find.
So let us look at America…
Does America deserve Donald Trump?
Who elected him?
Americans?
Yes and No.
It would seem logical and comforting to assume that all those Americans who actually voted made votes that counted.
“America is essentially a dream.
The substance of the dream is expressed in these sublime words, words lifted to cosmic proportion that all are created equal.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)
Martin Luther King, Jr..jpg
Above: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)
But not all voters are equal nor are all votes equal.
As well, Americans may vote, but it is the Electoral College that decides who will sit in the President’s chair.
The United States Electoral College is the mechanism established by the US Constitution for the indirect election of the US President and the US Vice President.
Why is there an Electoral College?
The framers of the US Constitution felt that there were few options available for consideration at the time of drafting this important document to which the President is sworn to defend:
Constitution of the United States, page 1.jpg
Above: Page 1 of the United States Constitution
Election by popular vote was considered an unsatisfactory option, for it was believed that too many people were too ill-informed to make intelligent choices.
Direct election by Congress was rejected because it was felt that the President should be independent of Congress, so he was not beholden to them for his re-election.
So Americans choose Electors, who then choose independently who will fill the roles of President and Vice President.
Who are these Electors?
They are the 100 Senators and 435 Representatives of both Houses of Congress, plus the three Electors the District of Columbia is provided by the 23rd Amendment of the US Constitution.
Coat of arms or logo
So out of 350 million Americans only 538 “votes” count, only 270 “votes” needed to win the White House.
The US is comprised of 50 states, yet only 10 states actually matter, only ten states – Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin –  get visited by those who would be President.
Because it is determined by the number of Senators and Representatives in the states legislatures whether a state is a swing state or a safe/spectator state.
Blue represents the Democratic states, red represents the Republican states, the grey are the swing states where the election could swing either Democrat or Republican.
This status is decided by ZIP code: where you live determines your expected vote.
Certain neighbourhoods are expected to vote in certain ways.
Depending on the way the electoral map is drawn some states can guarantee that one party dominates the state in a process called gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries.
So if you reside in a spectator state then your vote doesn’t really matter, because the results in those states are pretty much sewn up and this assumption reduces voter turnout in those states ensuring the predetermined result.
Only 25% of Americans have a vote that matters.
So even if the popular vote is less proportional than the Electoral College vote, the College chooses.
Donald Trump is not an exception.
In the past half century at least 5 Presidents came into the Oval Office despite losing the popular vote.
Election Day in the US is the culmination of a long, grueling process that tests those who seek the highest office in the land.
Most Americans pay attention to the campaign for a matter of weeks, but the process is more than two years in the making.
Mere days after a newly elected/re-elected President takes office, the media turns its attention to the next campaign, pontificating about what the next campaign will look like.
Familiar names are mentioned and leading critics of the President will give speeches and interviews in which they try to assume the leadership of the opposition.
Two years into a President’s term, the presidential race comes into clearer focus.
Following the midterm elections – which occur every two years and in which members of both Houses of Congress as well as governors and state legislatures are elected – presidential hopefuls form what are called “exploratory committees”.
Exploratory committees allow candidates to test the political climate for a national campaign by hiring pollsters who gauge their popularity and meet with local elected officials and political activists around the country.
And how do the Democrats and the Republicans choose their presidential candidates?
Trump-Pence 2016.svg
 Clinton Kaine.png
Through primaries and caucuses.
The first are voting by delegates (folks chosen by the parties) and the latter are committee meetings. (party officials chosen by other party officials)
Depending on the archaic system each state uses, the parties can choose their candidates through a caucus or a primary.
In a couple of states both caucus and primary are used, with the primary results ignored should they differ from the concensus of the caucus.
There are two types of delegates:
Pledged delegates are elected or chosen during the primaries with the understanding that they will vote for a certain candidate at the national convention.
Superdelegates – members of the House of Representatives, senators, governors, former Presidents and other party leaders – are unpledged and are free to support whomever they wish.
The Democrats have superdelegates, while the Republicans have automatic delegates which serve a similar purpose.
The early part of the campaign is the primary season.
During the primaries, each state holds its own election and political activists assemble to openly lobby for candidates and garner support.
Early “straw pools” shape perceptions of the strength of the various candidates.
By campaigning during the primaries, candidates compete against each other to win delegates from each state.
Then the political parties hold their own conventions, in which the winners of the primaries are nominated for president.
The winners of their conventions compete against each other for the job of president.
Confused yet?
And how many Americans actually get to decide who will lead either the DNC or the GOP?
 
57, 874 out of a population of over 350 million Americans.
0.2% of the population decides which two Americans will compete for the job of President.
What convinces them to choose whom they choose?
Money.
Election campaigns are expensive.
Campaigns are privately funded.
A typical Congressman is said to spend 30 to 70% of his time in office raising money for his next re-election campaign.
How much does it cost to buy yourself a Congressman?
A donor is considered worthy of respect and relevance by a Congressman at a minimum of $5,200.
The top 100 funders of Trump’s campaign gave as much campaign funding as the rest of the 4.75 million other funders combined.
Only 400 families in America contribute over half the campaign donations for each party during each Presidential race.
So, Congressmen have developed a sixth sense and have learned how what they do affects their ability to raise money.
Democracy held hostage to the financial contributions of the elite and special interests groups.
The voters?
Their opinion has no significant impact upon public policy.
They make noise, but no one is listening.
And the problems that need to be addressed in America cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of Americans if Americans don’t have a voice.
In America all Americans are equal, but some Americans are more equal than others.
Voters are alienated and their elected officials couldn’t care less.
It is abundantly clear to every thinking American that the system is corrupt, broken, rigged.
“America would be better served with a presidential election process that treated citizens across the country equally.” (Newt Gingrich)
Newt Gingrich by Gage Skidmore 6.jpg
Could Americans be persuaded to approve and ratify a constitutional amendment, creating a single constituency (the US) in which the President would be elected by a national popular vote, with every citizen’s vote counting equally?
Those who can fix it, won’t.
Especially if they benefit from the system.
And the multitude of problems that affect Americans will not be resolved until Americans have a voice in the decisions that affect them.
At present, President Trump is finding himself increasingly uncomfortable.
The United States Intelligence Community has officially concluded that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 elections.
File:ODNI Statement on Declassified Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections.pdf
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, representing 17 intelligence agencies, and the Department of Homeland Security jointly stated that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and leaked its documents to WikiLeaks.
Graphic of hourglass, coloured in blue and grey; a circular map of the eastern hemisphere of the world drips from the top to bottom chamber of the hourglass.
In early January 2017, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before a Senate committee that Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election went beyond hacking and including disinformation and the dissemination of fake news often promoted on social media.
James R. Clapper official portrait.jpg
US intelligence agencies assessed that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election, with the intent to undermine public faith in the democratic process, denigrate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and harm her electabilitiy and potential presidency, with a clear preference for Donald Trump as President.
Putin with flag of Russia.jpg
Russian officials have repeatedly denied involvement in any DNC leaks or hacks.
Flag of Russia
Above: The present flag of Russia
But it is my opinion that even if the Russians were not responsible for interfering in the results of the US election, the result would probably have been the same.
For as much as the hacks of the DNC computers showed manipulation of the Democrat rejection of Bernie Sanders as Democratic Party presidential nominee (23 July 2016), the payment of significant amounts of money by Wall Street to Hillary Clinton for making speeches (7 October 2016), and new evidence presented to the FBI suggesting Secretary Clinton’s private emails posed a threat to national security (28 October 2016, later rejected 6 November 2016), certainly damaged Clinton’s reputation with the American public, I believe that the Electoral College still would have chosen for Donald Trump for the sole reason of discomfort of having a woman as President of the United States.
So for the rest of the world who condemns Americans for foisting the Donald onto the world.
Don’t.
Most of them had little choice in the matter.
“It’s coming to America first,
The cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
It’s here the family’s broken
And it’s here the lonely say
That the heart has got to open
In a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the USA.”
“Democracy”, The Future, Leonard Cohen
Sources: Wikipedia
Eleanor Clift and Matthew Spieler, Selecting A President
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, 15 December 2016
“Voting”, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, 14 February 2016
“Primaries and Caucuses”, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, 22 May 2016
“The Electoral College”, Jack Rakove, TED Talks, 20 June 2013
“Unrepresentative Democracy”, Larry Lessing, TED Talks, 20 October 2015
“One Person, One Vote”, Justin Curtis, TED Talks, 1 November 2016
Below: World Power Politics
(Blue: Presidential republics; Light green: Parliamentary presidential republics; Red: Parliamentary constitutional monarchies; Black: Absolute monarchies; Dark green: Countries with suspended constitutions; Yellow: Semi-presidential republics; Orange: Parliamentary republics; Pink: Constitutional monarchies with power residing with the monarchies; Brown: One party states; Grey: Countries not fitting the aforementioned categories)

Eye problems

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 January 2017

Today is my first day back to work as a teacher and this, of course, involves planning.

Planning involves going through my wee little library here at home in search of interesting material to share with my students in the hopes that as they learn they might also be entertained, informed and inspired.

Above: The Long Room, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Not always easy, but never dull.

I ran across an editorial from The Hartford Courant by Denis Horgan, reprinted by the International Herald Tribune and incorporated in an English textbook, On the Record: Mastering Reading and Language Skills with the Newspaper, by Robert Hughes.

Hartford Courant March 24 2008.jpg

Horgan´s comments, with a wee bit of adaptation to today´s issues, still seem relevant.

“Maybe it´s my weary old peepers, but I never seem to see things.

They cut the gasoline tax and I don´t see the price go down.

Instead the price goes up.

No matter what happens the price goes up.

No matter what happens the price never goes down.

Cold weather?

It drives up the price.

Hot weather?

see caption

It drives up the price.

Cut taxes?

They raise the price to pay for the change.

When there is an international crisis, they run up the price of oil in anxiety.

When the crisis goes away, the price stays up.

When we are in an oil glut, the price goes up instead of down.

Everywhere, big companies lay off half the work force, wrecking the lives of thousands of employees, and I don´t see where anyone´s better off for it except for a few bosses.

Above: “The Strike”, Robert Koehler (1886)

Not the customers.

Not the public.

Surely not those laid off nor those left behind.

They say I should see that the stockholders are better off, but what I see is that they get a quarter or 50 cents more in dividends, a small increase in stock price.

Looking up at a computerized stocks-value board at the Philippine Stock Exchange

And for that people´s lives are destroyed, service is gutted, products and reputations are diminished.

So someone can make pennies and executives can make millions.

Fortunately, there is at least a Hereafter where that will be redressed.

The Cold War is over and I don´t see where the peace dividend is.

Above: Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, 27 October 1961

We pumped trillions into defense where there was someone to defend against, but I don´t see where there´s a need to pump trillions more into gigantic submarines and monster bombers with no known purpose anymore.

Nuclear War: Nuclear weapon test, 1954

We could have hoped that some of the savings might show up in helping neglected corners of the society, but I don´t see it.

They cut the taxes of the wealthy, telling us that´s good for us all, and I don´t see where that helps anyone but the wealthy.

They say that we will all benefit when the rich get around to trickling it down to us later, but I never see that happening.

We forever await the grace of the privileged without ever much getting it.

Meantime, we can see quite clearly that there is less for support efforts for those who need them.

Companies cut services while making bloated profits, and no one sees any of that coming back to the sap customer paying new fees and higher prices and getting poorer products and less support than ever before.

I don´t see that those efficiencies very often benefit the people paying the bill.

Employee rolls are skinnied up and replaced with part-timers and tempy and others on the cheap – but when was the last time the savings showed up on the price tag?

I don´t see it happening very often.

We are told we will save money by not helping those who need help, and people actually will be better off for being poorer, but I don´t see either happening.

Do you have more money in your pocket because they whittled the welfare funds?

I don´t.

Maybe when we finally get it we´ll spend it on cheaper gas.

Do you see all those jobs that don´t exist being filled by people who were straight-arming away jobs in favor of keeping the peanuts they get from the dole?

Neither do I.

What I think I see is a mood where people of no wealth become people of no value and, thereafter, are invisible.

Wells The Invisible Man.jpg

Unseen.

To thundering self-praise, they tell us they´ve balanced the national budget which will make things better while, at the same time, spreading such tax advantages and college aid and various bits of boodle as to turn this into the Promised Land.

Great.

But maybe the promises are so seldom kept that you will pardon the squint as I keep on the lookout for the thing to happen.

From the left and from the right costly pledges of change fly only to produce more of the same, helping mostly and only those already with advantage and authority.

They tell us we will see it get better.

Someday.

Maybe I need new glasses.” (Denis Horgan, “Something Wrong with My Eyes”, Hartford Courant)

I too look at the world of today and I too question whether or not there´s something wrong with my eyes.

There probably is.

Glasses black.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“…and then I built a school.”

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 October 2016

Watching the present American elections feels akin to watching a drunk publicly soil himself – you want to look away but the drunk is so loud and obvious and different from your common experience that you can´t keep yourself from staring.

There is so much that feels repugnant and offputting about the present struggle between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and real estate mogul Donald Trump, a battle between a bully no one loves (Trump) and a career politician one is not sure can be trusted (Clinton).

My intention today is not to rehash what countless numbers of journalists and pundits have said about the candidates.

Nor do I intend to persuade or dissuade anyone reading this post to vote for one candidate or the other should you be eligible to do so.

Rather I want to look at the candidates in regards to a theme that is close to my heart: education.

If the candidates have defineable points on this issue they seem to be the following:

Trump believes that the federal government shouldn´t make a profit from student loans; schools should compete for parents´ favour; and the reduction or elimination of Common Core (the federal government determines what students should know at the end of their school year) and the Department of Education (leaving parents to decide what is best learned by their children).

Trump at lectern before backdrop with elements of logo "TRUMP DonaldJTrump.com"

Secretary Clinton believes that the Bible should be taught as history and literature not as science or religion; schools should be more involved in the community; parents are a child´s first teachers; and consensus has still not been reached on educational reform.

Hillary Clinton official Secretary of State portrait crop.jpg

Bernie Sanders, though no longer a candidate for President, still registers noteworthy opinions: All public colleges and universities should be tuition free; Americans need high-quality, affordable early childhood education; colleges and universities should hire more faculty; students should not have to reapply for financial aid every year; kindergarten to Grade 12 education should be overhauled; colleges and universities should expand work-study programs to include all interested students.

Bernie Sanders.jpg

So, let´s look at these ideas…

The United States of America is a huge land, both in terms of geography and population, thus making economic decisions quite challenging for any administration, federal or otherwise.

Projection of North America with the United States in green

Banks are in the business of making a profit and loans are made in the interest from these loans.

Philippine-stock-market-board.jpg

So Sanders´ idea of tuition free public colleges and universities probably doesn´t sit well with America´s financial institutions who increase their profits through the issuing and eventual repayment, with interest, student loans.

To afford my own post-secondary studies in Canada, I attended college in the daytime and worked nights, with an average of about 4 hours of sleep per weekday.

Flag of Canada

And, least we forget in our rose-tinted idealism, educational institutes are businesses, for without money facilities cannot be offered nor teachers and administrators paid, so for many schools the priority is less the provision of quality education as it is the assurance of profit.

This skewed set of priorities is often abundantly clear with private institutions, who offer the gullible student a quality education which doesn´t seem to materialise after the non-refundable fees have been paid.

I have personally witnessed this phenomenon over the past two decades in my profession as an English-as-a-Second-Language teacher in Europe and Asia.

On three separate occasions I have been asked whether I would be interested in buying a school.

I declined, citing both a lack of investment capital and a lack of business savvy.

Just in the past six years I have been witness to the demise of three private Swiss schools, whose biggest failing was not in the quality of education offered, but rather in the insuffiency of their marketing of their schools.

But by the same token I have noticed that often the best advertised schools have offered inferior education, which has resulted in a resume that is spotted with short term teaching contracts that ended because the schools and I differed in the priority that education should take.

I find that when schools must agonise between the harsh reality of economic survival versus the ideal of providing a quality education, it is usually the ideal that dies.

Though there is a danger that government could influence society by using education to indoctrinate students into accepting the status quo (especially if the status quo favours the government), a school that needs not fret about paying its teachers is an institution that can focus on offering the best education it can provide.

If a government is responsible and concerned about the betterment of its citizenry, education should be a priority, not an afterthought.

And though a group of well-educated, intelligent free thinkers could challenge the status quo, this is still superior to having a citizenry making impulsive decisions motivated by fear and ignorance.

This, of course, leads us to ponder the question of what constitutes a good education.

Above: Plato´s Academe

Here in the West, (especially in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, where I reside) there is a tendency to view education only for its potential monetary benefits.

A society needs an educated populace for the proper working of our political institutions, for the efficiency of our industries and businesses, for the salvation of our economy, for the vitality of our culture and for the ultimate good of our citizens as individuals.

But if education is appreciated solely for those destined for toil, for those destined for economic and political leadership, while those education failed to motivate are denied a quality of life to which all should have access, thus our educational systems have failed us.

When the acquisition of organised knowledge by means of didactic instruction – lectures and responses and textbooks – only teach us what we need to accomplish tasks in a job…

And minimize the development of a person´s intellectual skills (the ability to learn independently, the ability to think rather than simply react, the ability to actively read, conscientiously write, confidently speak with informed authority, consciously listen to understand rather than simply waiting for the chance to respond, the ability to calculate, to solve problems, to observe intelligently, to measure, to  estimate, to exercise critical judgement)…

Or a person´s enlarged understanding of ideas and values (the ability to question one´s society and to actively and morally participate in the society´s betterment, to be involved in artistic activities for art´s sake rather than simply fame or fortune), then our educational systems have failed us.

Offering the public an education is neither a responsibility to be taken lightly nor a burden to be carried easily.

For me, the hallmark of a great political leader is his/her realization of the importance of educating the society and his/her ability to find a practical balance between making schools self-sustaining institutions and providing quality education that can nurture and develop a nation.

Frankly, when I examine the loudest three candidates in this 2016 US election I am hard-pressed to find an ideal candidate when it comes to the topic of education.

Secretary Clinton strikes me as a person who seems more interested in maintaining the status quo, despite its weaknesses, rather than an advocate for any substantial change.

Bernie Sanders, of the three, has the better ideas…theoretically, but educating a nation so populous as America requires a strong economic adjustment of ideas that America seems reluctant to try.

As for Donald Trump…

Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore 2.jpg

Trump went beyond real estate to put his name on a remarkable variety of products and services.

Michael Sexton created a business plan for a real estate training program and presented it to Donald Trump, looking to pay Trump a flat fee for the use of his name.

Trump instead decided he wanted to be the principal owner.

Trump University was incorporated in 2004 by Trump, Sexton and Jonathan Spitalny, as a New York State limited liability company.

Donald Trump owned 93% of the company.

On 23 May 2005, Trump University launched its education program.

At the opening presentation, Trump said:

“If I had a choice of making lots of money or imparting lots of knowledge, I think I´d be happy to impart knowledge as to make money.”

This is a sentiment shared by many a teacher.

Trump University promised that it would “deliver the experience, knowledge and wisdom of Donald Trump himself.”

The company´s original business plan focused on online education, where students paid for access to a website where they could see videos and read articles about salesmanship, real estate, asset management, wealth preservation, creative financing, entrepreneurship and wealth creation.

The focus of the instruction was real estate investing, with Trump claiming in advertisements:

“I can turn anyone into a successful real estate investor, including you.”

Typically, the instruction began with an introductory seminar in rented space, such as a hotel ballroom.

At the introductory seminar, students were urged to sign up for additional classes, ranging from $1,495 seminars to a $35,000 “Gold Elite” program.

In 2005, the New York State Department of Education sent Trump, Sexton and Trump University a letter saying that they were violating state law by using the word “university” when in fact Trump University was not actually chartered as one and did not have the required license to offer live instruction or training.

NYSED Building Night 2.JPG

Above: New York State Department of Education building, Albany, NY

Although Trump generally didn´t appear at classes in person, his face was on the cover of the book called Trump 101, that was handed out as a primary text for students.

Trump´s name was on every piece of paper and the classroom decorated with a life-size cardboard cutout of Trump dressed in one of his fine suits.

Trump University received little press coverage in its early days.

In 2008 the Tampa Bay Times reported on Trump University instructor James Harris and his free presentation.

James Harrison.

The event was preceded by advertisements trumpeting “unheard real estate market factors have created a perfect storm of profit opportunity”.

In the ballroom of a Marriott hotel Harris offered personal testimony of how real estate transformed him from a teen who slept on the New York City subways into a successful man.

Despite the exciting prospect of a perfect storm, Harris advised his students to buy low and sell high and to content themselves with modest gains.

At the end of his talk Harris noted that he could only share so much information in a single session and then explained that Trump University was offering far more at an upcoming three-day seminar that cost $1,495.

Harris told the students:

“There are three groups of students: people who make things happen, people who wait for things to happen, and people who wonder what happened.

Which one are you?

There are gonna-bes and wanna-bes, and I want to talk to the gonna-bes when we´re done.”

In March 2010, the New York State Deputy Commissioner for Higher Education, Joseph Frey, wrote Trump:

“Use of the word university by your corporation is misleading and violates New York education law and the rules of the Board of Regents.”

Under pressure from the State of New York, Trump University changed its name to the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative.

The New York Daily News reported that complaints were being voiced by Trump University students around the country.

Tarla Makaeff, who paid nearly $60,000 to Trump University in 2008, brought a class action lawsuit against Trump University on 30 April 2010, in US District Court for Southern California.

The suit, Makaeff vs Trump University LLC, sought refunds for Makaeff and other former clients of Trump University, as well as punitive damages for breach of contract, fraud, negligent misrepresentation and bad faith.

Attorneys General in six states reported that they had received complaints about the company.

Students were pressured to use all the credit available on their bank cards to buy Trump University courses.

Internships never materialised.

Promised connections to powerful contacts were never made.

On 26 May 2010, Trump University filed a counterclaim against Makaeff claiming she had made defamatory statements about Trump University, including many completely spurious accusations of actual crimes, that had caused Trump University losses of more than $1,000,000.

On 30 June 2010, Makaeff countered that Trump University´s defamation claim was a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) suit as an attempt to intimidate her, and that because Trump University is a “public figure” the defamation claim required proof that Makaeff “acted with actual malice” when speaking and writing about Trump University.

On 17 April 2013, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled that Trump University is a “limited purpose public figure”.

On 16 June 2013, US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel ruled in Makaeff´s favour and dismissed the defamation counterclaim.

During Trump´s primary campaign speeches, he repeatedly called Curiel a “hater” and described him as “Spanish” and “Mexican”.

Trump said that Curiel should recuse himself.

Trump´s references to Curiel´s ethnicity, as well as his comments that “someone ought to look into” the judge, alarmed legal experts who expressed concern about the effects of the comments on judicial independence.

Curiel´s only comment was to write in a procedural ruling that Trump has “placed the integrity of these court proceedings at issue”.

On 24 August 2013, the State of New York filed a $40,000,000 civil suit against Trump University alleging illegal business practices and false claims made by the company.

Among the number of deceptive practices were claims that prospective students would be taught by successful real estate “experts” who were “handpicked” by Donald Trump.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman alleged that none of the instructors had been handpicked and some were actually bankrupt real estate entrepreneurs.

In a press release Schneiderman said:

“Mr. Trump uses his celebrity status and personally appeared in commercials making false promises to convince people to spend tens of thousands of dollars they couldn´t afford for lessons they never got.”

Included in the court papers was a Trump University document…

According to Atlantic Monthly, the Texas staff playbook instructed them to observe those in attendance for changes in body language that might indicate that they were becoming receptive and to arm themselves with “objection rebuttals” for those who resisted a sales pitch.

The playbook advised Trump University staff to avoid reporters because they “are rarely on your side and they are not sympathetic”.

In court, Donald Trump and Trump University denied the allegations and mounted a vigourous defense.

In his public comments, Trump stressed the high number of participants…

(Records indicate 7,611 customers.)

…who said they had a good experience.

Trump said 98% fell into this category.

But according to some former students, Trump University employees pressured students to offer favourable reviews, told them they had to fill out forms in order to obtain graduation certificates and did not undertake procedures to ensure that surveys were filled out objectively.

Trump told the Daily News:

“There are plenty of people who went to Harvard and did very poorly, and there are plenty of people who went to Trump University and did very well.”

Trump responded to Schneiderman´s lawsuit by developing a website, http://www.98percentapproval.com, where Trump´s defence was made in documents and videos that stressed the high ratings students gave in the surveys, and depicting Schneiderman as a “dirty” political “hitman” with allegedly corrupt ties.

Trump also went on Fox News to call Schneiderman a “lightweight respected by nobody”, “a political hack looking to get publicity”.

Trump then suggested that Schneiderman had acted at the behest of President Barack Obama:

“I´m not a very paranoid person.

When he meets with the President and then files a suit, like, 24 hours later, I think:

Yes, I think I´ve been targeted.

And I think it´s a big problem and I think people ought to look into it.”

Trump filed a complaint alleging that Schneiderman´s investigation was accompanied by a campaign donation shakedown.

The complaint was investigated by a New York State ethics board and dismissed in August 2015.

Schneiderman described Trump University as a bait-and-switch scheme.

He accused Trump of misleading more than 5,000 people to pay up to $35,000 to learn his real estate investment techniques.

Hardworking people are testifying that their experience with Trump University left them feeling duped.

During the Republican presidential primaries, opponents of Trump used Trump University to discredit him.

On 3 March 2016, Mitt Romney said:

Former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney

“Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud.  His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.”

Curiel has scheduled the Trump University trial for 28 November 2016, so the case could be decided after the presidential election but before a possible inauguration.

I will be watching.

People need education, because education not only leads to better financial prospects but ideally as well to an improvement of character.

I firmly believe that lifelong education, of one form or another, is truly beneficial to a person.

I object to this noteworthy desire for self improvement being used to rob folks of their hard-earned incomes and savings.

It is my hope that those Trump has fleeced will finally see justice done in their favour, for not only has he robbed folks of their money, he has taken from them their hopes and their trust.

And stealing hope and trust is the greatest crime of all.

Sources: Wikipedia; Michael D´Antonio, The Truth about Trump; Mortimer J. Adler, The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 September 2016

We live in an age where it is difficult to know who or what to believe.

We are bombarded by information, yet one can never feel certain whether that information is unbiased, objective or complete.

We know more information than we need to about things that have little to do with our actual lives, while simultaneously we wonder whether we are being properly informed about things that do affect us.

We are told to give importance to people and issues that might not merit this impression, while other people and issues are marginalised that deserve far greater respect and attention than they receive.

The true masters of the western world are not its politicians.

The true masters of the western world are media owners, who control what we think through the choice of information we receive and how it is interpreted.

And as most of us are unable or unwilling to be in the arenas where decisions about our lives are made without our consent, so we blindly believe whatever message seems to coincide conveniently with our values.

And this is where we find ourselves this week.

The first of the great debates between the two American presidential candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, took place Monday night at 2100 EST (0300 in Switzerland).

Clinton-Trump-1-AP_16271117675671.jpg

Though the US election does interest me very much, as America, for better or worse, does wield enormous influence in the world, I elected to remain in my bed, for a number of thoughts came to mind when considering this event…

My opinion, perhaps shared by others and viewed by a few, doesn´t seem to matter to those Americans who will actually go out and cast their votes.

For, from my perspective, many Americans don´t really care much about how they are perceived by the rest of the world, as long it is America that remains dominant.

As much as the debates are supposed to be the key factor is resolving who will become the next President of the United States, it feels like there are very few Americans who haven´t already made up their minds as to which individual is more appropriate to govern their country.

No matter how often Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton are caught in mistruths or mired in scandals, no matter what either candidate says or does, most Americans remain loyal to their preferred choice.

Of course, as an observer of all this hullabaloo, I have formed my own opinions of whom should lead America in the years to come, but it would be naive of me to forget that my opinions have been formed based on what information I have received from the media.

Following advice from a former political science teacher, I try to read and watch the news and opinions from both extremes of the political spectrum, but neither side seems able to offer fair, accurate, balanced, unbiased, objective reporting.

And I feel I must question exactly what reporting actually means in these modern times of ours.

I remember in my days of walking the length of Canada how my attempts were being reported.

I told and retold the same story again and again and again, yet each and every newspaper had its own spin on the story.

I had headlines like: “Hungry, broke, but still trekking”, “Cross Canada walker may find wife, write book”, “Young man is walking across Canada in search of love”, and my personal favourite – “A Canadian version of Indiana Jones”!

I was mostly publicity shy and tended to speak only with small town newspapers, for I found that the bigger the city the less interested they were in my story.

As I have never been an expert in self-promotion, it simply didn´t matter to me whether many people knew what I was doing.

It was a selfish act, funded mostly by working where I could, not raising money for any particular cause, neither seeking fame or fortune, but rather I wanted to see for myself my own country in the best sensory way I knew how – walking.

I never did reach the furthest extremes of Canada, but it didn´t matter if I did, for walking was therapy and discovery of both place and self.

Projection of North America with Canada in green

I did walk over 3,000 miles, but much remains undocumented and thus unprovable, but as I am not seeking any benefit in future based on this accomplishment I am contented with my own recollections of the experience.

I recount this experience today only to show how the media can shape the perception of a story and that perception is what forms our opinions and the factors in our decisions.

I recall another moment when I bravely approached the weekly newspaper, The Hill Times, which mostly reports on the events on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, hawking an article on the National Archives of Canada and the Library of Parliament and how insecure their security actually was in regards to securing their collections from theft.

Library and Archives Canada.JPG

What surprised me was how little investigative reporting there actually was and how dependent the paper was on press releases sent from the various government departments.

It seemed there were few reporters who would spontaneously follow their curiosity and chase a story, instead of simply expanding upon a press release.

And from everything I have seen since then, I wonder if anything has changed in this respect.

Today´s press seems either too afraid or simply too lazy to do much beyond spitting out pre-approved versions of information that has been spoonfed to them from other sources.

As important as the information we receive is, there is also significance to the information we are denied.

For not only does the media form our opinions by what and how they present the news to the public, but by not giving the public the complete story, or not allowing us the opposing viewpoint, or simply ignoring a story for various reasons, the media shapes our viewpoints in the same way a horse´s blinders obscures its total perspective.

Even Facebook censors.

Logo von Facebook

What follows is my opinion I wrote about Monday night´s debate.

Despite a number of attempts to publicly post this opinion, Facebook, for its own reasons, never allowed the public to read it:

27 September 2016
I hate myself for thinking it, but I wonder what difference, if any, last night´s debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump actually made in the opinions of most Americans.
From the sounds of all the clamour coming out of the States there seems to be few quiet Americans who are undecided about who they favour.
I didn´t lose sleep.
(It was 3 am here when the Great Debate took place.)
This morning I learned that most folks felt Hillary beat Donald, but here is what astounds me…
27% of those polled believe that Donald beat Hillary.
Honestly, I wonder if there is anything that Donald can´t say that will change his supporters´ “minds”.
But to the casual observer, it seems that Hurricane Donald is as substantial a candidate as the stormy wind he produces.
The fear that does cause me to lose sleep is that the same voters who thought George W. Bush was a great idea will be the same ones who cause Donald “Duck!” Trump to become the next President.
If this does happen all I can say is “God bless America”, for no one else will.

Now why does this opinion bother the censors of Facebook so much that they refused to post it?

Is this opinion feared for some reason?

Why is differing opinion feared at all?

Governments will arrest people who broadcast a difference of opinion to these governments and their policies.

But I confess I have great trouble understanding this.

If a government truly represents its people then it should welcome the opinions of the people regardless of whether these opinions are favourable or not.

If favourable then the government knows it has pleased the people it represents.

If unfavourable then the government knows it needs to consider how to regain the people´s trust and confidence once again.

But it seems that many governments believe they should be feared by the people, rather than fearing the people themselves, the people they claim to represent, the people whose lives they are supposed to improve.

I do see the need for government, for the regulation of people is necessary to ensure that the requirements of a nation are being served.

But a nation is poorly served when dissenting voices are silenced or its people are kept in total or partial ignorance.

I do comprehend there are moments when revealing too much can truly be a question of national security, but there is a world of difference between the suppression of opinion and the concealment of military strategy.

We make decisions, large and small, based on what we know.

But do we really know enough?

If we are what we think and if what we think is what we know, then who are we and what are we becoming?

I wonder.

Above: René Descartes (“I think, therefore I am.”)