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/)

 

Peter Cottontail Has Left the Building


cute bunnyThis week, leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, has always been considered the Holiest of Holy weeks to Catholics. As a child, I looked forward to new shoes and a showy hat (women still had to wear them in church, back then) and a basketful of goodies – maybe even a chocolate bunny!

But that was then, and this is now, and it’s been a long time since anyone’s hunted for coloured eggs at my house. Peter Cottontail has left the building, and this week was a horror show all around, with bombings in Brussels, the ramping up of panic in America over both terrorism and Trump’s continued putsch to glory, interspersed with freezing rain, a dismal outcome (for many)  to the Jian Ghomeshi  trial, a Liberal budget that projects a $30 billion deficit, and a surprisingly negative response to the new Batman vs Superman movie. Oh, and the beer and liquor stores were closed for two days.

And you can add to that the shock accompanying hearing of the death of comedian Gary Shandling.  At 66, he was far too young, and we were not ready for his genius to leave us.

You will forgive me if this has been a week I’d prefer to forget.

The loss of another celebrity, former Mayor Rob Ford, also captured attention. I’ve written about him before, and my feelings about his tenure remain unchanged. So do the feelings of those who admired him. However, Torontonians who dared to pen anything more than a non-committal noting of his passing were soundly excoriated by their fellow citizens for not prostrating at his bier with enough respect.

rob ford dead headlinesThe world press had no such strictures.

Some people will try to convince you that their way to mourn is the only and correct way. I disagree. There is no ‘right way” to mourn, and demanding fealty at the point of a disapproving moral gun does not change the past. You would think that the unprecedented two day period of lying in state at City Hall (at the request of the family) would appease the bereaved, but apparently, that is not enough. Those who revered his blustering, bumbling ways would have us re-write history, in an effort to whitewash his misdeeds, and beatify him as Toronto’s savior.

MargaretThatcher 1992It’s all so very reminiscent of the post-death canonization of Margaret Thatcher. Reviled during her tenure for her hawkish policies, key role in bringing about the first Gulf War, and advocating  for the 2003 attack on Iraq, along with her ushering in of a period where the rich got richer at the expense of the poor, her influence negatively affected millions around the world. And yet, her canonization began just nanoseconds after word of her death hit the airwaves; she was lionized worldwide in the press, her state funeral cost Britain  £3.1 million pounds, and Iron Lady statues made of actual iron were erected in places as diverse as the Falkland Islands , despite Argentina’s fury.

Meanwhile, the song “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” raced to the top of the British charts.

There’s a price to be paid for assuming a position of power – the admission includes having your life and history scrutinized and deemed worthy or unworthy, both by those who liked you and by those who didn’t, who still had to live with the impact of political actions. It is ‘misapplied death etiquette,’ as journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote, to be expected to apply the same moral high ground  we do to the deaths of private individuals as we do when considering the entirety of the life of an influential public figure.

There’s something distinctively creepy – in a Roman sort of way – about this mandated ritual that our political leaders must be heralded and consecrated as saints upon death. This is accomplished by this baseless moral precept that it is gauche or worse to balance the gushing praise for them upon death with valid criticisms. There is absolutely nothing wrong with loathing Margaret Thatcher or any other person with political influence and power based upon perceived bad acts, and that doesn’t change simply because they die. If anything, it becomes more compelling to commemorate those bad acts upon death as the only antidote against a society erecting a false and jingoistically self-serving history.”

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/08/margaret-thatcher-death-etiquettefacebook judges and lawyers.jpg

Ah, but the self-anointed social media judges and lawyers would disagree.

A video capturing an incident involving a young woman, confronted with parking in a handicapped space, went viral this week. Shot here in Toronto, in front of a Tim Hortons, the video showed her reaction to being caught – privileged outrage, threats, and the throwing of two cups of coffee at the videographer.

Surprisingly, many were more incensed by the videographer’s capture and sharing of the incident, than at the belligerent aggression of the scofflaw. Despite assaulting the photographer, and driving off in a huff, aiming her vehicle at the cameraman before swerving away, these commentators believed  she should not have been confronted, but rather, that the photographer should have ‘minded his own business.’

As the video went viral, international viewers were stunned to see her rudeness … aren’t all Canadians pretty much nice and polite people, they asked?  No, some, with possibly the best of intentions, are bullies.

Bullying in an attempt to force your morality, or personal and world views, onto others, is still bullying. I have one ex-Facebook friend who blocked my posts because her nephews follow her page, and she censors what they can see. Another Facebooker resented my questioning the morality of the actions of Israel towards Palestine, despite my information having come from a Jewish peace activist living in Israel.

And the culmination of the trial of Jian Ghomeshi unleashed some of the vilest comments I’ve ever seen directed at alleged victims of assault. The women were ‘liars,’ ‘manipulative,’ ‘shameful fame seekers,’ ‘femitards,’ ‘toxic bitches,’ and worse. Despite the fact that a total of 21 women had originally come forward to complain, with identical accusations, about Ghomeshi’s weird ideas on sex play, only three were brave enough to appear in court, and all three were pummeled with relentless demands to answer questions about, not just the attack, but trivial events of a decade past – what lawyers like to call ‘whacking’ – while Ghomeshi sat silent.  (ghomeshi cosby.jpg)

The judge’s decision acquitted Ghomeshi, but also noted that his verdict did not mean these events ‘never happened.’ The judge simply didn’t believe the women’s testimony, flawed as it was by misremembered events, private messages between two of the accusers, and contact with the accused after the fact.

For women of every political stripe, the decision was flawed, and the system biased. At City Hall, one naked protester was unnecessarily and roughly tackled to the ground, her nipples scraping the pavement as she was dragged away by the police. Despite nudity being legal in Canada, the uptight citizens must not be discomfited by the sight of a woman’s breasts.

From a story released by the CBC: “While former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi’s acquittal has sparked protests, many within the legal community are praising the decision, agreeing with the judge that the complainants’ credibility issues raised reasonable doubt in the case.”

By implication, stating that “many within the legal community” support the decision, dismisses by extension those who found the decision as to be  ill-informed. In actual fact, many of those who have criticized the decision are academic and legal scholars.

Am I biased? Perhaps. Or is the system itself flawed? At the beginning of the month, a report filed by the Criminal Lawyer’s Association found that women were leaving the field of criminal law in dramatically high numbers, due to systemic discrimination.

 “It found low pay, lack of financial support for maternity leave and being treated differently than male peers by judges and court staff as some of the reasons so many women are leaving private practice of criminal law,” reported Maureen Brosnahan for the CBC. “Many women also reported a lack of respect and being treated differently than male lawyers by court officers, police, crown attorneys and judges. One reported being called “little lady” repeatedly. Others said they were chastised for asking judges for time to pick up children from school whereas their male counterparts who made similar requests were not rebuked.”

Whether or not it is possible to change how sensitive cases are handled in an atmosphere where women are routinely marginalized, it’s still time for an honest reappraisal of how sexual assault cases are conducted in Canada, especially in the face of the numbers.

“In Canada, the low rates of conviction for sexual assault are an indictment of the system itself. As a 2014 Toronto Star article revealed using Statscan data from 2004 and 2006, 460,000 women self-reported sexual assault: 15,200 reported to the police, 5,544 charges were laid, with 2,824 prosecutions and 1,519 convictions. Again, that’s almost a half million self-reported assaults, and 1,519 convictions. Something is deeply wrong.”

 Understandably – and not because we are stupid or legally naive, but because 1 in 4 women has experienced a sexual assault in her lifetime, and has a strong personal stake in how this case concluded – many women were incensed at the Ghomeshi decision.

Enter ‘mansplaining.’

Either unable or unwilling to see how angry and hurt many women are by the Ghomeshi decision, mansplainers flocked to the posts women made about their feelings on the ruling. “Read the decision,” they intoned, as though we were either too stupid to understand, or blind to the many gloatings of those who’d ‘called it’ from the beginning, and who were dancing in joy at both the decision and having been proved right.

Hey! Your side won! Now could you take your foot off my neck so that I can sympathize and empathize with women who feel as I do, stunned at the inevitability of once again, being re-victimized  post-assault?

Are you so utterly deaf to the agony of people in pain that your only recourse is to repeat incessantly that ‘justice has been done?’  willful blindness

Or as one woman keened in her blog, “How can you be so blind? How can you insert yourself into a woman pouring her grief out, to tell her that legally, she has no case? That what happened to her, didn’t factually happen. To throw a smothering blanket on the fire igniting in her. She has no reality. The law is the reality. It is the neutral, the official record. It is gas lighting on a massive scale.

So I know perhaps the evidence wasn’t there, or that the burden of proof wasn’t met. And I don’t fucking care. This isn’t about this one case. This case was inevitable, like watching a lemming marching to its doom.

It’s every fucking time. Every time. The mundanity of the oppression, the predictability of the reaction, the backlash that follows. “      (https://afateofpossibilities.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/this-isnt-about-the-ghomeshi-case/)

It is indeed gaslighting. It’s telling people that their emotions are invalid, that what they see and feel has no wegaslighting2ight. It’s a way to keep those who disagree with you off balance, wondering if perhaps what they perceive isn’t real, casting doubt on their mental stability, pointing to others that agree with YOUR beliefs as proof that THEY are in the wrong. It is psychological abuse. And it’s an ugly way to treat anyone.

The overwhelming miasma of this week – at least for me – has been one of outraged, self-righteous, phony, morality gone mad, and overwhelmingly imposed upon all in its path. Think as I think, believe as I believe, abandon your own truths and take on mine.

Whether it be Trump calling the beleaguered city of Brussels ‘a hellhole,’ or Cruz demanding strict policing of American Muslims in their own neighbourhoods; police manhandling protestors, or judges calling women deceitful and self-serving, it’s not been a good week to have a high Emotional I.Q., and a low tolerance for sanctimonious public principles forced upon the social order by the court of public opinion.

Speak-your-truth Ghandi

 

(first published  March  27/16 (bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/roxanne-tellier-peter-cottontail-has-left-the-building)