Monday, 30 January 2017


Teilhard de Chardin: “The only true happiness is… the happiness of growth and movement… the happiness of growing greater.” From “Spirit of Fire” by Ursula King P185

Winston Churchill: “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”

: “It is perverse to insist that burning a man to death with petrol is a greater moral evil than using munitions like phosphorous bombs in military operations which we know will burn a great many innocent people to death, including children. It is the nature of every society however, to point out the cruelty of the enemy while obscuring the cruelty of one’s own actions.”
richardjacksonterrorismblog, 2015

“You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”: from the musical comedy “South Pacific”

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a different shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Quoted by Somali writer Ayeen Hirsi Ali in her book “Nomad” (2010)

A New Sensibility:

“We need to imagine new models for the relationship between ourselves and our earth. We can no longer see ourselves as namers and rulers over nature but must think of ourselves as gardeners, caretakers, mothers and fathers, stewards, trustees, lovers, priests, co-creators and friends of a world that, while giving us life and sustenance, also depends increasingly on us in order to continue both for itself and for us. “ From Models of God P. 13 by Sallie McFague (1988)

“The models of God as mother, lover, and friend offer possibilities for envisioning power in unified, interdependent ways, quite different from the view of power as either domination or benevolence… If one reflects on the characteristics of the love shown by parents, lovers, and friends, the words that come to mind include “fidelity”, “nurture”, “attraction”, “self-sacrifice”, “passion”, “responsibility”, “care”, ‘affection”, “respect” and “mutuality”. In fact, all the qualities of love so neatly demarcated in the ancient divisions of agape, eros, and philia come into play. These words suggest power, but a very different kind of power from that associated with the models of lord, king, and patriarch.” From Models of God P. 20 and 29 by Sallie McFague (1988)

Trump's first speech in office was unapologetic appeal to nationalism

Gary Younge                         Guardian/UK                     20 January 2017

Even the heavens wept. As Donald Trump stepped forward to become
America’s 45th president the cold shower that broke over Washington offered no end of metaphors. His address, however, was literal to a fault. There was no higher calling, no sense of a greater purpose, no florid imagery or impassioned idealism. This was as crude and unapologetic an appeal to nationalism as one might expect from a man incapable of rising to an occasion without first refracting it through his ego.

It is said that presidents campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Trump campaigned in graffiti – the profane scrawls of a mindless vandal – and, if his inaugural address was anything to go by, may yet govern in tweets – the impulsive, abbreviated interventions of a narcissist.

Were this a reality TV show, we would have switched off by now. All the better qualified, more sympathetic and empathic characters have been eliminated. The last man standing is a scheming, pathological misanthrope whose disrespect for the rules alone should have disqualified him. The producer would have been fired; the advertisers would have bolted. Nobody in their right mind would want anything to do with it.

But there is a difference between reality TV and something surreal that you can watch on TV. From the robed supreme court chief justice holding aloft Lincoln’s Bible for Trump to swear on to the gathering of former presidents, the entire purpose of an inauguration is to celebrate a mature democracy. As the White House is bequeathed to the popular choice, it’s intended to symbolise continuity and stability – a common destiny in a shared polity. Friday achieved the opposite. To watch Trump take the oath was to bear witness to democracy’s fragility. It marked not simply the transfer of power from one leader to another but the erosion of the very values that give that power legitimacy.

That frailty stems not from any question about whether
Trump won the election but how he won it and what that victory portends. There is more to democracy than elections and more to elections than simply voting. Democratic traditions are underpinned by norms that he not only disregarded (on that score he would not be the first) but brazenly and gleefully violated – advocating violence at his rallies, haranguing the media, fuelling racial animus, religious exclusion and misogyny.

As such, his
inauguration represents an indictment of an entire political culture. It leaves condemned a Democratic party that could not defeat him, a Republican party that would not disown him, a mainstream media that failed to scrutinise him and a social media that spread his lies far faster than any scrutiny could travel. All were found wanting. Now all will be tested.

This is no local problem. Those who take to the
streets across the globe to demonstrate Trump’s presidency over the next few days would do well to stay there and resist his counterparts in their own backyards. Where this particular threat to democracy is concerned, America is by no means exceptional.

In Washington, the moment was all the more disorienting because of what it replaced.
Barack Obama’s approval ratings are higher now than they have been for some time, reminding us of the stratospheric expectations of that freezing January day when he first took office eight years ago. It’s as though his presence could never compete with his promise or his passing.

To watch him accompany Trump through the process was to see the civility of pageantry triumph over the candour of politics. Several of those with front-row seats, from both parties, had concluded Trump was unfit for the office he now holds. “When making life or death or war or peace decisions,” Michelle Obama said six weeks before election day, “a president just can’t pop off or lash out irrationally … If a candidate traffics in fear and lies on the campaign trail … well that is the kind of president they will be.”

That is the president who was sworn in on Friday. No amount of pomp and finery can mask that. That is why what was billed as a ceremony felt more akin to a charade. It is also why many in the US, and beyond, are not simply concerned about what comes next; they are genuinely terrified. An impulsive braggart and bigot is now in control of the world’s most powerful military and economy. Fear and malevolence won. The hands that
once grabbed pussy now have access to the nuclear launch codes.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Faith and Reason

by Ian Harris                      Otago Daily Times                    Jan. 13, 2017

I have a problem with new year resolutions. It's easy enough to make them. They're always super well-intentioned. The problem is that by the middle of February I've forgotten what they were. Even jotting them down somewhere doesn't help, because the "somewhere" has a way of quickly losing itself amid a paper miscellany. So what's the point?

This year, however, I am surprised by a resolve to revive the custom. Just one resolution, mind, but growing as it does from a couple of cameos in the news late last year, it seems one worth sharing.

First was a comment on television in October by former trade union leader Helen Kelly, broadcast a fortnight before she died. The interviewer raised the question of leadership and, switching the focus to values, she drew on the Trump phenomenon in the United States election to make her point.

What she hated about Donald Trump, she said, "is that he's so unkind. I want him just to be kind."

It left me wondering what incidents in her life of championing those at the bottom of the pay scales lay behind such a remark. Disputes where safety was the issue? Or exploitation? Or fairness? Or respect? In a healthy workplace those issues place demands both ways, employer to employee and vice versa. They're to do with personal decency, where questions of what is humane, what is responsible, what is just, what is kind are not only relevant but central.

The second cameo comes from the very different circumstances of November's Kaikoura earthquake. Residents were well and truly shaken, visitors stranded, businesses disrupted. How to respond?

Jeff Reardon, who moved to Kaikoura after experiencing the Christchurch earthquakes and had stored crayfish to celebrate his wife’s birthday, thawed them, cooked them, and handed them out to tourists whom the quake had prevented from moving on. Asked why, he said simply: "It's not hard to be kind, eh!" The phrase flashed around the world, and was quickly given pride of place on local T-shirts.

Kindness again. How human relationships thrive on kindness, whether in families, schools, workplaces, wherever! Spreading wider, kindness to pets, bobby calves, hens (free-range, please), porkers does something unique and positive for both the owners and their charges.

Kindness to the environment does likewise – everyone who tends a garden knows that. The natural world has an intrinsic value both in itself and for human sustenance, enjoyment and restful calm.

In her Christmas broadcast, the Queen echoed the theme, highlighting the myriad acts of kindness that are neither dramatic nor showy, but part and parcel of everyday life. She praised the quiet dedication of ordinary people who do extraordinary things, adding: “The cumulative impact of thousands of small acts of goodness can be bigger than we imagine.”

So can neglecting to do them, since that opens the way to unleashing a range of more malignant impulses. Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth presents that murky alternative most graphically when she worries that Macbeth is “too full of the milk of human kindness”, lacking the steely resolve to sweep others aside in his desire to be king. And she saw to it that the milk of human kindness curdled in his being.

A pity neither had the chance to ponder the line from Tennyson that “kind hearts are more than coronets”. But they would have ignored it. They were already caught in the quicksands of ambition and the lust for status and power.

Nor would wise words attributed to French-born American Quaker Stephen Grellet early in the 19th century have moved them. He wrote: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it; for I shall not pass this way again.”

As with the Macbeths, cynical moderns might sneer at such a sentiment. That would be as damaging as it is sad, because failure to nurture it, or worse, a determination to get ahead by foul means if fair won’t serve, corrodes character and corrupts relationships.

Which brings us back to new year resolutions. Last week, as revellers around the world counted in the new year, many joined in singing Robert Burns’ turn-of-year chorus:

We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Capital! All they need do now is project that intention into the everyday circumstances of the year ahead. It’s not hard to be kind, eh!

The single story is not the whole story

Barbara Chapman              Sydney Morning Herald              January 11 2017

In 2009, Nigerian-born author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivered a TED talk called "The danger of the single story". It has been viewed more than 11 million times. "Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become," Chimamanda said. Irrespective of its accuracy, the single story becomes the definitive account of a person, group, country or continent simply through repetition. Plausible falsehoods become accepted as truth if repeated often enough.

Stories are immensely powerful – look at the longevity and sway of religions founded entirely on narratives. Power itself also determines how a story is told and what the broader agenda is. Truth may have little to do with it. An old African proverb encapsulates this power: "The hunter is glorified because the lion doesn't have a storyteller." Thus the single-story genre will always do great harm to the relatively voiceless while barely touching the powerful.

The single story can also reveal a great deal about the teller(s), often more than it reveals about the intended subject. Consider Faysal Ishak Ahmed, who was detained at Manus Island and died just before Christmas. Faysal was/is routinely described as an asylum seeker, which is now a loaded term. But he was much more than that. He was a son, husband, father and friend. All of those roles defined him and fleshed out his life far more accurately than the term "asylum seeker".

The single story stereotypes and truncates because it artificially narrows the frame of vision. It is particularly dangerous because of its power to over-simplify complex entities, from an individual person to an entire continent. I taught a large migrant English class of some 30 adults, with many strong personalities. The class was about 60 per cent male, mainly well-educated and of widely differing ages, ethnicities and religious backgrounds. The students had to elect a leader to represent them at management forums. The unanimous choice was "Mariam".*

Forthright, sincere, witty, strong, unassuming and intelligent, she represented her classmates with alacrity. Mariam took on a notoriously rude official and resolved the problem painlessly, with no hard feelings. A born leader, her management skills were second to none and would have been an asset to any business. Yet, she had no highfalutin CV. Limiting people like Mariam to the usual single story of young wife and mother, or refugee, shears off a wealth of human capital.

At what point can a person stop being a refugee and become a born leader? The former is temporary circumstance; the latter is innate talent, much needed by the society. My grandmother travelled the world by ocean liner in an era when – we are now told – all married women were shackled to domesticity. "But that's an exception," counters the teller of the single story.

Although individual lives are complex and multifaceted, they are constantly being homogenised into an all-A powerful but erroneous single narrative, depending on the viewpoint of opinion leaders. For women, especially, this leads to exceptional personal ability and achievement being frequently eclipsed. The public domain is peppered with terms such as bleeding heart, disgruntled employee, victimhood, loser and the gamut of political pejoratives. They are vectors of the single story, deeming those people not worth listening to and unworthy of being shown humanity, fairness and respect.

In the aftermath of World War II, Hannah Arendt wrote that moral imagination requires the broadest possible frames for decision-making, including dissenting opinion, to preserve a society's ethical standards and safety. We need to hear the voices that demur and to hear from individuals who are commentated on but never able to directly respond and put their point of view across.

As US writer Andrew Solomon said: "It is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know." The single story, and the prejudicial impulses it taps, keeps alive forces of dehumanisation that have underwritten extraordinary cruelty throughout history. Yet, it occurs all around us, in the public domain, and social, work and other contexts. To counter such polarisation, we need stories that present the variety, depth and complexity of individual human beings throughout the public domain. This encourages empathy and understanding, even across deep philosophical divides. * Not her real name. [Abbrev.]