Dreamers and Cassandras


“Yes: I am a dreamer – For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”Oscar Wilde

In mythology, Cassandra was a tragic figure, blessed with the power of prophecy, but cursed to have no one believe her words. There are echoes of this syndrome in modern literature, where Cassandra’s name is frequently invoked when prophecies and warnings are not believed.

pompeii-victimsHistory is littered with cases of warnings ignored. The victims of Mount Vesuvius‘ eruption in August  of AD 79 ignored all of the mountain’s tremors as the molten rock  increased within, and only marveled as all of the animals, including rats, fled the town. The wells and streams suddenly dried up, but the Pompeian’s brushed off that warning as being due to hot weather.

To mix my metaphors, that sounds a lot like Nero fiddling while the continent burns … or like a politician, one of the largest recipients of fossil fuel money in the US,  blithely and inaccurately, showing and telling how a snowball in winter disproves climate change.

Similarly, the Indian Ocean‘s tsunami and earthquake of 2004 was predicted, not just by ‘dreamers,’ but by the Pacific Ocean Tsunami Warning System. Even as one government official had his calls to action ignored, he found himself termed “crazy,” and he was banned from certain parts of Thailand, as he was believed to be a threat to tourism.  For seven years, the countries in the tsunami’s path were warned of the coming event. There was another clear warning of disaster when the sea in Indonesia receded several hundred meters after the earthquake, but few knew or believed a tsunami would follow.

tourists-escape-tsunami-2004

More than 230,000 people were killed, 500,000 were injured, and 1.7 million were left homeless.  But at least they got those tourist dollars.

maori-paintingAnd what of those whose ‘visions’ prompt such ridicule? If you’re not going to believe a Tsunami Warning System, you’re certainly not going to give credence to the Maoris, who believed that seeing a spirit canoe called waka wairua sailing over a lake near Mount Tarawera in New Zealand in 1886 was a sign of an impending disaster. Even several European tourists claimed to have seen the canoe, which legend said was used to transport the souls of the dead. There were physical signals as well, as the lake’s volume rose and fell rapidly, and the rocks released hot water.

But that’s just silly people believing in legends, right?  120 people died that June 10th, and several native Maori villages were completely destroyed.

While I am not advocating a belief in legend and mythology, I think it’s interesting to consider how humans deal with information they don’t like, or refuse to believe. There is a knee jerk denial, inevitably coupled with sarcastic laughter directed at those who are explaining what is about to happen. Public ridicule becomes the norm, with the object being to drive the truthsayer’s reputation into the ground, and to mute their words from society’s hearing.

That shortsightedness doesn’t prevent disasters from occurring … in fact, it’s more likely to hasten the disasters.

frozen-soviet-soldierBy June of 1941, Josef Stalin had received more than 100 warnings about Germany’s intention to attack. Germany, meanwhile, was assuring Russia that they were just massing troups at the Soviet border to ‘protect them against British bombing.” Oh, the lies we will believe in the name of keeping safe! The Soviet Intelligence communities had their warnings ignored., while the head of Soviet intelligence, who had also warned Stalin of Germany’s intention to invade, ended up shot.

775,000 German soldiers and at least 800,000 Soviet soldiers died  in Operation Barbarossa.

Prior to the Gulf War, the CIA and US military intelligence had warned the US government about the impending invasion of Kuwait. Those warnings were not only ignored, but led to the granting of a $1.2 billion loan to Saddam, just two days before the invasion. Indeed, the US was so contemptuous of the warnings that it took four days for maps of Kuwait and Iraq to be loaded onto their computers, post invasion.

25,000 Iraqi soldiers died, as did 248 UN troops, and 100,000 Iraqi civilians.  A million more Iraqi civilians died later, due to sanctions imposed against their country.

Is any of this starting to sound familiar? Perhaps you remember September 11th, 2001.

“… starting in the spring of 2001, the CIA repeatedly and urgently began to warn the White House that an attack was coming.

By May of 2001, says Cofer Black, then chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, “it was very evident that we were going to be struck, we were gonna be struck hard and lots of Americans were going to die.” “There were real plots being manifested,” Cofer’s former boss, George Tenet, told me.

….  And there was one more chilling warning to come. At the end of July, Tenet and his deputies gathered in the director’s conference room at CIA headquarters. “We were just thinking about all of this and trying to figure out how this attack might occur,” he recalls. “And I’ll never forget this until the day I die. Rich Blee looked at everybody and said, ‘They’re coming here.’ And the silence that followed was deafening. You could feel the oxygen come out of the room. ‘They’re coming here.’” ”     (http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/11/cia-directors-documentary-911-bush-213353)

Insolence, a belief in one’s own superiority, and a lack of imagination always work against those who doubt naysayers and whistleblowers. Consider the case of Bob Ebeling, an engineer who worked for the company that produced the rocket boosters on the Challenger space shuttle.

christa-mcauliffePrior to the January 28, 1986 launch, Mr. Eberling had warned that the extremely cold weather would prevent the O-rings from sealing properly and would cause an explosion. But a delay was nixed by executives under pressure to get the shuttle into space, and he was told it was ‘not his burden to bear.’

And so millions of viewers, on the ground and on televisions around the world, watched as the shuttle exploded, 73 seconds after takeoff , killing seven astronauts, including Christa McAuliffe, a teacher who had won her seat on a NASA educational program.

After World War I, the German economy was a mess. Inflation, massive unemployment, and a crushing debt imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, requiring them to pay the equivalent of 100,000 tons of gold as restitution, led the Nazi party into power. One of Hitler‘s main propaganda points was that Germany would refuse to pay anything ever again. It would be “Germany First.”

trump_it_cant_happen_hereEconomist John Maynard Keynes said that the Treaty was dead on arrival. Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, a French army commander, warned that the treaty was not the end of the war but rather a suspension of it, and that Germany would be much more formidable in a new war, invading France and staging attacks into England from there.

They were right, but ignored. And despite those tinfoil hatted lunatics who deny the Holocaust, by the end,  almost 50 million people were dead.

The list of tragedies that could have been prevented by heeding the warnings, either of dreamers or Cassandras, or by the use of simple common sense,  or by listening to those  who could sense what was coming based on their own knowledge and experience, is very long, and filled with millions of casualties.

Americans were given ample warning of what would happen if they allowed themselves to elect a president whose sole intention was of ransacking the treasury for his own personal gain, a man who demanded total control of an entire country and delighted in a chance to remake it in his own image .. a place of carnage and destruction that he could survey from his gilded palaces.

trump-power-grabTheir own constitution offered all the information they needed to prevent his rise to power. Their vaunted ‘checks and balances’ produced nothing more than a last line of defence – the Electoral College – that folded like a cheap suit. Now that the fox is in the hen house, it’s going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to get him out, and will likely produce millions more victims to add to that very long list of innocents,  murdered through the elected officials’ casual ignorance, or a  stubborn belief in their own infallibility brought about by a controversial electoral win.

Like the victims of Pompeii, or the tourists that ran forward into the retreated waters of the Indian Ocean to catch stranded fish, we seem to be waiting, mindlessly, to see what will happen next, as the ante keeps getting raised. Like them, we will be buried under what we refused to see coming.

We were warned, by dreamers and Cassandras, but didn’t listen.

“A basic weapon of regime changers, as fascists realized nearly a century ago, is to destroy the concept of truth. Democracy requires the rule of law, the rule of law depends upon trust, and trust depends upon citizens’ acceptance of factuality. The president and his aides actively seek to destroy Americans’ sense of reality. Not only does the White House spread “alternative facts,” but Kellyanne Conway openly proclaims this as right and good. Post-factuality is pre-fascism.”   (http://time.com/4690676/donald-trump-tyranny/)

 

Moving The Goal Posts


malena arpeAs we get older, we move the goal posts of what we think we can accomplish. When I heard that Toronto writer/humourist Malena Arpe had died this week, I was gutted. “But she was so young! Only 50!” I said to friends.

2001 vhsOnly 50. When you’re a kid, 30 seems ancient. When you’re 30, you can’t imagine being 60. I remember a time when I wondered if I’d be around to see the turn of the century; the year 2000 was so far away, and 2001 was just a sci-fi notion.

The year I turned 40, and we released the eponymous Delta Tango CD, we were told that the music was good, but we were just too old for anyone to get excited about.delta tango frt bck 002-001 It was hard to get that CD together, at our own expense, and while we all raised families and worked demanding day jobs. We promoted the music, played showcase gigs, and had airplay across Canada and in Europe. But even with some success, the words of that A&R idiot echoed in our heads, whispering “too old,” whenever the going got tough. And eventually, we caved to that nasty voice, and gave up trying.

I think of those days when I hear about kids who found a cause and stuck to it, despite peer pressure, and despite being teenagers with raging hormones. There are multiple turning points in our lives, and how we react to them says a great deal, not only about ourselves, but about those people around us, who likely have no idea how much impact they have upon our successes and failures. Those people can be the good or bad little voices we hear when it’s hard to carry on. We can’t do it all by ourselves. And there’s strength in numbers. thumbs up successThat’s why the best way to succeed in any walk of live is to surround yourself with positive people who believe that you, and they, have the right, the voice, and the ability to make positive changes in your worlds.

Malala Yousafzai’s family ran a chain of schools in the Swat Valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwest Pakistan. malalaWhen she was about 11 ½, she began to write a blog for the BBC (under a pseudonym,) detailing her life under Taliban occupation. The next year, a New York Times journalist made a documentary about her life, which brought Malala to prominence, but unfortunately, also brought attention to her determination to make schooling available for Pakistani females, as it was illegal under Taliban rule.

At 15, as she boarded her school bus, a gunman shot her three times in the head. She was unconscious for three days before being airlifted to England, where she was treated, and began intensive rehabilitation. The attempted assassination caught the media’s attention, worldwide, with one German newspaper dubbing her “the most famous teenager in the world.”

Malala-YousafzaiUpon recovering, she continued her fight for women’s and children’s rights. In 2013, she spoke at the United Nations headquarters to call for worldwide access to education, In 2014, at 17, she received the Nobel Peace Prize, and is the youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate.

But you needn’t look to the world stage to find young activists who seek to bring information and change to the planet. We have several kids right here in Canada who aren’t afraid to speak up. Kids with good parents who support their children’s need to raise their voices against what those young, clear eyes see is wrong in our civilization.

At yesterday’s March Against Monsanto, I spoke to Rachel Parent, 16, who was a featured speaker. Rachel Parent 2At 11, Rachel was plagued by allergies that interfered with her life, and rather than whine, she tried to find the cause. After reading that organic foods might help with the symptoms, she changed her diet and saw an improvement. More study on the subject made her realize that the advent of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) in food coincided with a massive increase in allergies, especially in children.

Rachel began to speak on the subject of GMOs, first in her school, then in ever widening circles. At 14, she challenged Kevin O’Leary, of The Lang and O’Leary Exchange , to a debate, after he’d accused her of being a “shill” for environmentalists. As you can see, the man did not fare well in this particular exchange.

rachel parent not science experimentAs her reputation grew, so did her access to politicians, and her frustration with their vague protestations that they could do little to require companies to label GMO foods. (The U.S. and Canada are the only two world powers who will not label.) She calls this “corporate wealth over human health.” The clip below is of an interview from two days ago. To keep up with Rachel, follow her blog at KidsRightToKnow.com.

Hannah AlperAnother young activist currently making waves is Hannah Alper. At the age of 12, Hannah addresses topics like eco-friendly living, anti-bullying, wildlife conservation, and fair trade on her blog and through various initiatives. She began her blog, CallMeHannah.ca, at age nine to ”share her growing knowledge and concern for the environment.”  http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/hannah-alper/

Proud papa Eric Alper (Director of Media Relations at eOne Music Canada, and an enthusiastic blogger himself) told me about Hannah’s latest writing venture with The Huffington Post when I ran into him at an eOne event during CMW. I’m very surprised he didn’t mention this wonderful and inspiring speech she made at the TEDxDistilleryDistrictWomen event last year, on “How to find your spark.”

Both Rachel and Hannah can point to Craig Kielburger as a role model. In 1995, when he was 12 years old, he began researching child labour after reading a newspaper article about forced child labour in Pakistan. craig kielburgerHe was so angered by what he read that he took the article to his Thornhill school, and eventually gathered a group of friends of his own age to found a group he called the “Twelve-Twelve-Year-Olds.” This group evolved into “Free the Children“, an international organization that has 45 countries participating in helping the world become a better place. In 2007, he was named a Member of the Order of Canada. (Wikipedia)

At the age of 9, Severn Cullis-Suzuki (yes, the daughter of Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki) “founded the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO), a group of children dedicated to learning and teaching other youngsters about environmental issues. severn cullis suzukiIn 1992, at age 12, Cullis-Suzuki raised money with members of ECO to attend the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Along with group members Michelle Quigg, Vanessa Suttie, and Morgan Geisler, Cullis-Suzuki presented environmental issues from a youth perspective at the summit, where she was applauded for a speech to the delegates.” 

“Today she is a Canadian environmental activist, speaker, television host and author. She has spoken around the world about environmental issues, urging listeners to define their values, act with the future in mind, and take individual responsibility.” (wikipedia)

What drove those kids to pursue their dreams of making the world a better place? What support was in place for them, and how did the people around them – their parents, their friends, their teachers – keep the spark of their passions alive?

passion MandelaWell, for starters, these young activists didn’t listen to those who told them to “just be grateful you don’t live in (insert third world country/war torn area here).” They didn’t just get mad and rant, they got off their butts and put themselves on the line. If you want change, you can’t just kick back just because no one’s bombed your house lately. We have the opportunity to improve upon what we have already, if we make enough noise. Too many people think we should just shut up and take whatever we get – from our families, our friends, and our government.

My cat will yowl at me until I give her what she wants. All I, as the stupid human, have to do is figure out what that is. She’ll sit beside my chair for ages, letting out that piercing Siamese meowl, breaking my concentration as I’m tippy typing away. What is it, Lady Jade? Food? Out? Brush? Water? Door? Until finally, I hit upon what it is that she’s requesting. “I want a treat. Now now now wow ow!”

Sweet Black CatShe doesn’t stop because she’s determined to get what she wants, and she knows that she will, if she just yells long and loud enough. Persistence comes naturally to a small black cat that is loved and respected, and thus fearless.

A lot of us get that determination beaten out of us by life, and at an early age. if you want to go fastWe can always find a reason why our dreams are just too hard to achieve. We know what it is we want to accomplish, but the barriers seem insurmountable, the couch is so comfy, and that funny show is on the telly. That’s when you most need people around you who’ll help you climb those barriers. The difference between those who fail and those who succeed is the people around us, who make us fearless, and encourage us on our journey.

be ashamed to die

(originally published May 24, 2015 at bobsegarini.wordpress.com)