Wednesday, April 30, 2014

When did Society Become so Inconsiderate? Part II

A while back I wrote about Lynne Truss' marvellous little British book 'Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of Everyday Life (or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door)'.  


Recently I got hold of Charlotte Hays' 2013 American equivalent: 'When Did White Trash Become the New Normal? A Southern Lady Asks the Impertinent Question'.  While Hays' book is very droll, its wry humour is laced with pathos. With regret for a time now passing when manners counted for something, Hays examines what is increasingly becoming the norm in personal behaviour:- 

"Tattoos. Unwed pregnancy. Giving up on shaving…showering…and employment. These used to be signatures of a trashy individual. Now they’re the new norm. What happened to etiquette, hygiene, and self restraint?"

Ms Hays skewers the way the wealthy and the trendy have eagerly adopted the mores of the lowest rung in society. Life is now full of loud and abusive cellphone conversations that curdle one's innards, outrageous and impossible-to-ignore dress sense that makes a nudist lifestyle look appealing, and eating habits in public that Elvis Presley even in his obese late life would have thought gross.

She reminds me as a senior how much I hate kids in shops using my first name without permission, how illiterate TV and radio announcers are becoming, how 'reality TV' focuses on anything but that we can admire in a person, how infrequently we ever get offered a seat in a crowded waiting room or bus any more, and how little respect the wisdom of age gets.
She concludes: 'If we are ever to slay the beast of White Trash Normal, we must regain the sensibility that says being a gentleman, or a lady, is the most important thing we can achieve.'  Amen.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Immigration and Neighbourhoods

 "Longtime Canadians are being forced into becoming minorities in their own communities for no good reason", says Dan Murray of Immigration Watch Canada.


"This kind of message divides the community", says Bramalea-Gore-Malton MPP Jagmeet Singh, the first turbaned Sikh to be elected to the Ontario Legislature.

Public discourse on the impact on current residents of significant numbers of incomers over a short period of time, and the right of existing citizens to control who joins them in their communities, tends all to often to rapidly descend into bluster and hyperbole. The enduring legacy of 20th Century fascism and the ongoing reality of 'ethnic cleansing', even genocide, in certain parts of our globe, makes arguing for limits to multiculturalism and its alter ego, the formation of new mono-ethnic ghettos, a perilous undertaking.  What is being called 'White flight' is an ongoing reality, yet voicing the view that old-established communities have the same rights as newcomers to live surrounded by their own ethno-cultural group is somehow frowned upon. 

Humans are tribal and customs still vary widely across societies. That has always been true and is likely to remain so. Understanding and honouring the customs of other 'tribes' does not equate to a necessity to accept that they have an unchallenged right to become en masse your near neighbours and in doing so alter the social status quo. This particularly applies when the beliefs, mores and ethics of the incoming group differ widely from those of the existing local society. 

This is particularly poignant where government's ability to screen out foreign criminals attempting to immigrate has proved inadequate. There can be no good reason why the growing influence of the Mafia, 'Ndrangheta and similar organized criminal conspiracies within segments of the incomer population cannot be taken into account in relation to the degree of effort our governments put into accepting or encouraging further immigration from those countries.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pernicious Beliefs

The terrorists need to be condemned and remembered for what they did,” Dr. Ahmed said “but when you associate their religion with what they did, then you are automatically including, by association, one and a half billion people who had nothing to do with these actions and who ultimately the U.S. would not want to unnecessarily alienate.

Akbar Ahmed is the chairman of the Islamic studies department at American University in Washington D.C.  He is referring to a seven minute film, 'The Rise of Al Qaeda' to be shown at the soon-to-open National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City. This film is creating controversy around how Western countries speak about Islam and Muslims. Unlike Dr Ahmed I cannot see how it is possible to disassociate Islam from the World Trade Center massacre. The outrage was undertaken in the name of Allah, and so those who must reshape what is undertaken in the name of Allah are those who make up the majority of our world's Muslims. The new museum's curators are responding to the victims' and the general public's deep anger.  Denying the Islamic nature of the 9/11 atrocities does not serve truth. Indeed to pretend that Al Qaeda is an organization somehow disconnected from Islam is absurd. Wahhabi Islam is at the core of its raison d'etre.

The dilemma of how best to respond to the excesses of religious crusaders also applies to how we in Western societies respond to the Creationist crusade of fundamentalist churches. No-one will be physically hurt by the teaching of this absurd notion in American schools, but the wider Christian community needs to step up to the plate and push back much more aggressively against a deeply anti-science notion that both denies and seeks to supplant what the rest of us see as demonstrably true. The same need to be counted applies to non-Wahhabist Muslims. We who are non-believers are mostly bystanders in that we do not have the understanding of religious nuance required to argue effectively against the idiocies of belief preferred by Jihadists and Creationists.

Both violent adherence to Islamic Jihad and the intolerant Creationism of some Bible literalists are profound affronts to the rational and civil society we have been trying to nurture in the West since the Age of Enlightenment. Moderate believers benefit from a tolerant polity. We need to hear a lot more from them to counter the  highly exclusionary doctrines propagated by their coreligionists.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Integration into Chaos

"Legions of Russian officials have descended on Crimea to teach the local people how to become Russian." For us older Westerners 'becoming Russian' takes us back to the appalling campaign of Stalinisation that followed Soviet troops liberating Eastern Europe from the Nazis. I still come across older Eastern Europeans here in Canada who blame Churchill for letting the Russians have a free hand in what were pre-War reasonably prosperous countries. Time stood still or went backwards for fifty years for those many peoples unfortunate enough to be left behind the Iron Curtain. We now know Churchill new perfectly well what Stalin was likely to get up to and Roosevelt was the one with rose-tinted glasses.

Crimeans are already coming to rue the day they hastily voted to rush headlong into Mother Russia's arms. Just as Stalin's levels of ruthlessness and deceit went way beyond the imagination of Western politicians and public (the British public called Stalin 'Uncle Joe' during the War), so we press on with fruitless time-wasting exercises like the Geneva 'agreement' on the Ukraine while Putin puts his full arsenal of KGB dirty tricks into play.

I spent my youth listening to radio in Europe that was largely a propaganda barrage from both sides in the Cold War. It is time once again to crank up Russian (and Ukrainian) language broadcasting and saturate the airwaves and Internet. Time to stop pussyfooting around revoking the residence permits and visas of the Russian rich in cities like London, and high time to cancel all cultural and commercial initiatives and shut down immigration process for Russians. We have a pariah on our doorstep and it needs to feel lots of pain right now.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Navigating Life's Journey of Learning in a World of Social Media

The Opposite of Loneliness - this op-ed from the NYT is a moving tribute to the both the enthusiasm and the wisdom of youth. Bob Dylan once sang: 'I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now'. What Dylan was probably referencing was the way youth thinks it knows everything, but I feel one could also apply this line to the clarity of thought in the young that gets overwhelmed by the propaganda and confusion in a long life as lived.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Which Nation Should One Hold Most Dear?

The Jonathan Pollard case now attracting a lot of attention is of interest to both Israelis and Americans. We are told it is the only example of imprisonment of a spy from a friendly country in US history. Even for those of us of neither of those nationalities but holding more than one passport, Pollard's case is also intriguing. Israel has awarded him Israeli citizenship while still in a US prison.

For folk with multiple national connections there can be credibility issues. In Jewish areas in our cities posters exhorting readers to buy Israeli bonds are almost ubiquitous. Not all Jews of course are Zionists so the public prominence of these posters may be thought to do those who are not no favours. However people who identify themselves as Jewish in countries outside Israel are a special case in that any identification with Israel usually will not be associated with holding an Israeli passport.

Commoner are other resident citizens who hold a second passport. I am one.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Colonization by Another Name

One of the elephants in the room around Putin's loud and aggressive championing of Russian speakers and ethnics in former Soviet states is the fact of Russian colonization. Ethnic Rus have been settling regions well beyond their historical homeland for many, many generations.  When Ronald Reagan called then Soviet Russia an 'Evil Empire' he was not just referring to Russian troops garrisoning Warsaw Pact 'allies'.

Throughout the long Soviet era Russians took up residence in many countries across their borders, while at the same time expelling other ethnicities from their own territories (Crimean Tatars, Swabian Germans, and others).  In the 18th and 19th Century Russian settlers spread across Asia and even into North America via Alaska. Russian Orthodox churches remaining today on Vancouver Island are testimony to how far down the North American continent Russian pioneers went. The Russo-Japanese War of a century ago was a conflict of imperialists and colonizers. The present Russian Federation is the most ethnically diverse country on the planet, yet we hear next to nothing about its non-Russian citizens in official propaganda.

While Latvia may seem harsh in not granting full citizenship to a third of its 27% of population of Russian stock, its reluctance is understandable - these people are colonists, and staffed the local KGB who terrorized the natives in Soviet times.  Unlike most other imperialist colonizers, Russian settlers have never had to defend and atone for their usurpation of indigenous landholdings across Eastern Europe and Asia. There has been no accounting for their genocides, forced indoctrination programmes of Russian language and dogma, and land theft.

Yesterday in Canada we celebrated National Aboriginal Language Day.  Having extirpated or severely limited the use of our great variety of native languages, we are finally recognizing that they and their speakers are cultural assets. Americans have restored French as an official language in Louisiana and recognized the Gullah of rural black Carolinians and Georgians and the Hawaiian language as national treasures. Formerly obscure languages like Frisian and Scots Lallans are recognized and funded in the European Union.

While wringing our hands over the excesses of our Western European colonization in the Americas, Asia and Africa, we singularly fail to include Russia in our list of aggressive global colonizers with skeletons in their closets.