Tuesday, 31 January 2017

This Might Be a Shock Event

Original article by Heather Richardson, Professor of History at Boston College.

"I don't like to talk about politics on Facebook -- political history is my job, after all, and you are my friends -- but there is an important non-partisan point to make today.

What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last night's ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries -- is creating what is known as a "shock event."

Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order.

When opponents speak out, the authors of the shock event call them enemies. As society reels and tempers run high, those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event. There is no longer concerted opposition to the real goal; opposition divides along the partisan lines established by the shock event.

Last night's Executive Order has all the hallmarks of a shock event. It was not reviewed by any governmental agencies or lawyers before it was released, and counterterrorism experts insist they did not ask for it. People charged with enforcing it got no instructions about how to do so. Courts immediately have declared parts of it unconstitutional, but border police in some airports are refusing to stop enforcing it.

Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.

My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one's interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won't like.

I don't know what Bannon is up to -- although I have some guesses -- but because I know Bannon's ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisle -- and my friends range pretty widely -- who will benefit from whatever it is.

If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.

But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event.

A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union.

If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincoln's strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power.

Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Confederate leaders and Lincoln both knew about the political potential of a shock event. As we are in the midst of one, it seems worth noting that Lincoln seemed to have the better idea about how to use it."

Monday, 30 January 2017

Nobody is Immune

Last night someone shot up a mosque in Quebec City. Quebec. Canada.

Contrary to popular belief, it CAN happen here.

The following is credited to my friend and fellow writer J.D. Hobbes.


The outpouring of sadness and solidarity for the Muslim community in Quebec is heartening, but too many people are quick to blame Trump, as if Canada was somehow immune to the racism that he is institutionalizing in his own country.

Have we already forgotten the despicable Charte that Pauline Marois championed to save Quebec from anything that didn't look Christian enough? It was just 4 years ago when that proposed piece of legislation emboldened too many to speak their racism aloud, to harass and attack anyone they felt looked too foreign. Even now, chapters of the despicable Sons of Odin walk the streets of Quebec city looking to oppress anyone who looks too foreign (yes, I am mentioning them very specifically).

This year marks the 150th anniversary of a country that founded itself by using the religion of a foreign land to oppress and to attempt to eradicate the First Nations people. The last Indian residential school operated by the Canadian government was closed in 1996, only 20 years ago.

It's easy to blame Trump, an outsider, for bringing this tragedy to our homes, but he is just one of many who rile and legitimize an undercurrent of racism that has been constantly humming in our country for over 150 years.

As an open and educated society, it does us no good to pretend like this came out of nowhere and wail "How can this happen in Quebec/Canada?" We need to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that this kind of racism is not only a part of our history, but is also a pulsing fragment on our living, present culture. We can choose to stand against it, to support all of our brothers and sisters, and to move forward to embrace a positive, inclusive, multi-cultural society, but we can only do this by acknowledging that we all play a part in the inherent racism and bigotry that exists in our living culture.

I choose to stand against it, but my eyes are not shut to the inconvenient truths. #jesuisQuebec

Sunday, 29 January 2017


You know that Chinese curse?  Well, we are living in interesting times indeed:

Climate change has been declared a hoax.

Oil companies are being subsidized to the tune of billions of dollars.

Some countries are fishing illegally...

...prompting other countries to go the extreme of sinking any illegal fishing boats they see.

The sunniest places around can't have solar panels...

...while people are punished for collecting rainwater.

All this and more is why it's extremely important to pay attention and be more proactive about safeguarding the environment for future generations.

I remember my late aunt as being highly conscious of her surroundings and of the environment.  She spent her youth during the Great Depression years and learned what it meant to be frugal and to go without.  After raising five children and caring for her husband who eventually died from cancer, she moved from the city of Toronto out to a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere on 250 acres of land.

After taking pains to repair the cedar rail fences around the house to keep animals out, she grew her own vegetables and stored them in a cold room.  She allowed her neighbour's beef cattle to graze across her property in exchange for packages of fresh meat whenever an animal was slaughtered.  Food scraps
were composted or taken to a field a fair distance from the house and buried.  Paper and cardboard were cut into strips and used as kindling for the wood stove during the winter.  In her house, very little was wasted.

Nowadays I can walk down the street on garbage day and come across all sorts of items that could be repaired, reused, or donated to someone in need.  Instead they are tossed aside.  There are people who actually pick through neighbourhood garbage for items of value to repair or resell.

There have been a few occasions where even I have picked up kids' toys left in the trash and repaired them before taking them to a donation center.

I will never understand how our precious oil resources continue to be used to make plastic toys for children, which become useless and not recyclable when they break.  And don't get me started on how often I see empty drink bottles or juice boxes just tossed into the street.

We have a long way to go.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Moral Accomplices

Original post written by author David Gerrold. I take no credit.


I was able to block over a dozen people instead of giving in to the temptation to ask them why if they are not racists, homophobes, or sexual predators they voted to put one in the White House.
You cannot claim you are not any of those things if you voted for one -- because if you voted for one, you are a moral accomplice to the tragedy that follows.
I remember (yes, I am this old) the year of Nixon's resignation. (And see, this is why you should listen to people with experience, you could learn something.) By July of '74, I was actually feeling sorry for the republicans who had voted to put Nixon in the White House. Because they were the ones he had truly betrayed. They had trusted him, they had believed in him, they had endorsed him with their voices, their dollars, their votes, their time, and their spirits. And when he was revealed as a vile and venal little putz, unfit for the office, they were the ones whose faith was shattered.
But when Trump's administration unravels -- and it will, because whatever Donald Trump might be, he is not a competent leader -- I will not feel sorry for the people who voted for him. We had a year-long campaign, the primaries and the general, in which Trump revealed himself as a liar, a con man, a swindler, a cheat, a bigot, a bully, and a sexual predator. If you voted for him, you cannot pretend you did not know what he was.
Referring back to Nixon again ... The political vacuum created by Nixon's resignation was an opportunity for the neo-fascist wing of the republican party to start building its strength -- a 40 year process that has resulted in what historians will eventually call "the American coup".
I do not believe we will have to wait long for the inevitable disintegration of this administration. The resistance movement is still an amorphous mass of fear, grief, despair, and a few sparks of anger that will eventually ignite a political firestorm.  It's a law of physics that when energy flows through a system, it tends to organize that system.  The energy that was pumped into the teapublicans gave us Trump.  But it looks like even more energy is going to be pumped into the resistance, and the resistance will likely organize itself into some very powerful movements and if the past is any guide to the future, it could happen very quickly.
What seems likely to me is that the resistance is going to create a new generation of leaders -- people who can speak to the realities of American politics in a way that a majority of voters can respond to. It's not impossible -- we saw FDR energize the nation in 1932. It is possible that our next progressive president is already organizing for 2020 -- but first, he or she will have to be a major force for 2018's midterm elections. And to accomplish that, he or she will have to establish serious credibility among a very angry and impatient electorate -- on both sides of the aisle.
It is possible -- notice how careful I'm being with these speculations, they're possibilities more than predictions -- it is possible that Trump will unite the country the same way Nixon did, by creating a massive backlash against himself.
If and when that happens, it will be a Shakespearean event. But where Nixon's fall from grace was a Shakespearean tragedy, Trump's will be a Shakespearean comedy, with the Karma fairy laughing her ass off at the inevitable unraveling of this Emperor's tattered pretense of clothing.
But along the way, the real tragedy will be all the lives that are hurt, damaged, or even ended, by the rampaging rabid rhinoceri, crashing their way through the china shop of government.