Saturday, 15 December 2012



     Due to billions of years of concentration on selfish interests in which life creates and destroys life. Long ago a lone cyanobacterium stumbled onto how to crack open a water molecule, thus freeing Oxygen, a poison that killed almost all life on earth. But, in doing so, created photosynthesis that led to us who also stumble. Ask any chicken born and raised to satisfy our hunger: never knowing love nor respect, and suffering horrible living conditions. Just since 1918 hundreds of millions of humans have also suffered greatly from other humans. Our vaunted West with its high ideals shares much guilt. Our breakup of the heterogenous Habsburg and Ottoman empires, Poland, Germany, the Balkans, Africa, and the Middle East created continuing migrations, ethnic cleansing, and the thievery of homes, jobs, and wealth. Nor was Fair Play recruited for that recent USA election. In the 3 blocks of my long street there was one lone lawn hosting the Obama-Biden sign amid a sea of Romney-Ryan signs. Believing this lone couple had the wiser view, we joined them. Dawn revealed our signs torn out, confirming our view, so we replaced the signs - five times!


     But, now that our side won, we are at liberty to criticize it. We all have faults, even you and me.
     I dislike Obama continuing what he inherited militarily. A few Saudi Arabians, annoyed at US military presence in their country, concocted a scheme and stole our peaceful assets to enact a vile crime against those twin towers et al. Justifiably outraged, we retaliated but missed oil-rich Saudi Arabia, invading instead failed-state Afghanistan and oil-rich Iraq, causing many times our original casualties and damage to them and us. They resorted to suicide bombing so we call them terrorists, but both sides ignore the worth and sanctity of the human body. We developed drones where an operator in a comfortable chair with a cup of coffee can eliminate a foe, and anyone around him, thousands of miles away. Death now arrives at any time, anywhere, and unannounced. Is that not also terror? It does take the "Post" out of PTSD. Against whom do we need a military greater than the rest of the world combined that includes 11 carrier groups, WWII weaponry? How do we justify Guantanamo - and on somebody else’s island? Meanwhile our infrastructure continues to crumble and our debt multiply. If only the Military could fire condoms instead of bullets it would serve humanity.
     Then Harper in Ottawa joins Obama in supporting the 64 years of Israeli aggression against Palestinians. Once upon a time, I too supported the Jewish longing for a homeland as I witnessed the Nazi horrors. Of the 13,750,000 undesirables exterminated, 44% were Jews, the same number of Germans and Soviets who starved to death in each other’s POW camps, not to mention the millions killed in post-war ethnic cleansing.
     Now, this was a German crime aided by many others, including Canada and the US who turned away a shipload of refugee Jews forcing it to return to Germany for passenger extermination. Our two countries, with lots of room, failed to offer Nova Scotia or Florida as a Jewish homeland but picked on innocent, tiny, helpless Palestine still emerging from hundreds of years as part of the Ottoman empire and forcing it to accept evictions and loss of fertile land and to live in squalid refugee camps for decades. This on the basis that Jewish tribes once inhabited the area - like us Caucasians reclaiming the Caucasus. Censuses taken from 1800 to 1870 of 6 cities (Jerusalem, Safad, Acre, Hebron. Haifa, Nablus) show that only 7.5% of the population was Jewish (17% for Jerusalem). The post-1948 influx of millions of Jews, with considerable Western backing, has built Israel into a modern state but one that continues to nibble away at what was left for a Palestinian state, delayed forever by people like Netanyahu who have made Gaza a jail, actually against the wishes of many Israelis. In desperation, Palestinians have fired a few thousand ineffective rockets into Israeli-occupied land each time suffering massive retaliation that kills thousands and destroys vital infrastructure.
     Shamefully, Canada and the US voted for Israel’s continued one-sided dominance when the UN overwhelmingly voted to allow Palestine the minimum recognition as an observer state.
     And, even worse, Climate Change. Obama may be much more aware than Romney but he, and Harper, have yet to do enough to avert a catastrophe. Our greedy manipulation of a fragile environment has created a new geological age hostile to our runaway population surge. Compare our solar system with the human body. Both are incredibly complex with trillions of trillions of parts yet a single gene or a minute virus can completely change a human yet too many of us ignore the damage millions of tons of toxic waste we inject into the atmosphere are doing. Our "Occupy" movements, like the Egyptians, can not yet cease protests.
     And Taxes. Obama, forget your sky-high $250,000 floor. We all must pay more taxes and embrace pay-as-you-go. Politicians can help by accepting lower salaries, fewer perks, and simplifying those tax forms.
     And all the while Inflation has robbed us oldies of our savings. Who, or what, can rescue us?

Monday, 29 October 2012


 If you have not noticed that there is an election pending in the Disunited States of America, it is not for lack of vast amounts of time politicians routinely divert from doing the jobs we pay them to do in order to raise ever more funds, $2 billion this time around. They actually believe that Money, if the form of TV sound bites, can convince (or is it confuse?) you on the limited issues they care to discuss. Well, it does seem that Money works, not on you of course, but on those with poor memories and for whom the Age of Enlightenment has yet to reach.
Dashed were my hopes that the four debates would correct all this and reveal promised in-depth actions carefully designed to tackle the many major problems we, and our world of which we are a small part, endure. I soon smelled conspiracy among the organizers, the media, and the debaters. The questions were limited and confined to few categories. Where were the presidents of the splinter parties? I rather like many of their arguments. What a criminal disgrace when Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, president and vice president of the Green Party were arrested and handcuffed to chairs for over eight hours when they attempted to have a voice in one of the debates.
Debaters did talk about jobs which we can agree are vital but, like understanding the Higgs boson, the math eludes me on how to have an ever-increasing GDP in a finite world where Greed plays a dominant role. The current recession was started in this country and exported criminally overseas especially to Europe. The pain is not shared equally and my hearing was inadequate to understand how contesting parties plan to ease the hurt while explaining the long, hard road to eliminate it - if ever we can in the face of the self-made catastrophe of climate change which was ignored so that implies, to them, it does not exist. But, for whom will we need jobs if climate disasters prevent us from growing the food job seekers need to exist?
Health Care remains an acceptable topic, We brag incorrectly that our expertise is the world’s best while admitting its availability is the worst in the industrialized world. We allowed the hope of a single-payer system, common in more successful systems, to be killed by vested interests, so millions suffer.
The Foreign Policy debate was a farce, limited to hugging Israel and kicking Iran while unsure what to do about the rest of the world other than continue to protect the interests of multinationals. Both major parties cater to the Jewish vote, overlooking the fact that many thousands of Jews oppose Netanyahu’s ploy of creating dangers from Iran to gloss over his atrocities against Palestinians. The regime in Tehran is easy to dislike, but so is Bahrain’s, Saudi Arabia’s. Mali’s, and so on. Besides, our interference created it, so who is not a rogue? But, in the last several hundred years the only Persian/Iranian actions that could be even remotely considered aggressive to other than their own people are the reclaiming of a few Gulf Islands after the British moved out in 1971. Other than repeating it wants nuclear power for peaceful purposes only and supports a Middle East, if not a world, free of nuclear arms, Iran has not left the door open too widely for inspectors (have we?) even if much more so than Israel that refuses to sign the non-proliferation treaty, allow any inspections, acknowledge it has an arsenal we suspect to be about 200, has defied scores of UN resolutions, and has invaded with overwhelming and devastating force it neighbours,
And we wonder why most of the world, including the non-aligned states, consider Israel and the USA to be the world’s two top rogue nations.
Both the USA and Israel voice excellent ethics. They would be better loved if actions emphasized them.
I am not alone in expressing disgust at the format of US elections. The elements have elected Sandy to voice their displeasure.




Monday, 24 September 2012


In Las Vegas, friends wanted to see more of Harry so he obliged. And, God Bless the Queen for reminding us that he was perfectly within his rights to do so. However, a viewer with a tiny camera let the world also see, prompting disgust at Harry’s indiscretion, but also many friends to react. His fellow soldiers in Afghanistan and even the Israeli army sent reinforcing photos of their groups in the buff with the only concession to cover-up fiends being the placing of a helmet, or cup as warranted, over the jewels, blocking full views.
Then, Kate, at least half a mile away from prying eyes on a 640-acre estate in France, was caught sunbathing topless by a photographer with a larger, telescopic camera. His magazine published the photo. Much outrage. A more civilized, and sensible, stance soon followed when Kate, on being welcomed to the Solomon Islands, faced a bevy of women in eye-appealing native attire - and bare bosoms. But then a photographer was right behind Kate in Australia to capture the view when a gust of wind blew high her skirt. Where and why did this cover-up desire, almost universal and unique to our species, originate?

Well, it could be that we miss that nice hairy coat we wore for so many millennia which did have its flaws. It housed biting insects and it hurt when you pinned medals on it. Back in 1972 the Welsh Elaine Morgan with her Descent of Woman explained the aquatic ape theory that our branch of the family, lead by women, spent so much time in and out of the Indian Ocean that lapped eastern Africa that we gradually lost our hair, except for our heads that spent the most time above water.

But then we had to migrate to colder Europe, Asia, America et al. A selfish species, we robbed no end of animals of their coats just to keep us warm and, when we invented pockets to carry things and sleeves to wipe our noses, there was no stopping the fad that led to extremes and helped make me a life-time skeptic.

I recall becoming a skeptic when I learned there was no Santa Claus. Whom in this world could I trust? I was taught for a few years by nuns. Most were hard working and dedicated but I doubted much of what they labelled as truths when they told me we were created in God’s image. If so, why would they hide almost every inch of their God-like bodies behind that hideous garb? Did that not insult their creator? Today the main victims of such garb are those who hide behind the eye-abusing blackouts of some of the Muslim world, a fad that originated in 627 to imitate the wives of Muhammad. We can also blame the Military or actually those who used the military to enhance their power and wealth. Fancy uniforms provided status and hid the hardships, suffering, and death that are so much a part of the career. They were also useful in pinning on medals to which only the owners paid attention. Napoleon had to order the addition of buttons to sleeves to discourage the habit soldiers had of wiping their noses on uniform sleeves.

So, when the climate and duties are amenable what is wrong with human nudity? Male lust, it is said, demands removing from sight what titillates. Then why are cosmetics and suggestive clothing not also universally banned? Some years ago a male acquaintance was overjoyed to get a cashier job in a strip joint. Six months later I bumped in to him again so asked about his job. He explained how, for the first 3 months, he was in heaven but admitted he was a poor cashier as it meant taking his eyes off the naked girls every few minutes. Then, slowly, the novelty wore off and being a cashier became just a boring job with the girls a normal part of the background.

In this life we have so much to worry about what does it matter what is on, or not on, the human body?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


Not only Mayans, but many respected voices scare us with dire warnings that our species is doomed.   
Stephen Hawking gives us a thousand years before we exhaust the last life-sustaining substance for the last survivor. Farley Mowat gives us much less time. WWII slaughter convinced him we are butchers, deserving none of this world’s bounty. The Oxford Global-Catastrophic-Risk Conference gives us a 19% chance to survive to 2100. The New Scientist magazine examined the odds for every non-human threat and predicts many extinctions of millions here and there but our species can survive for 100,000 years if we behave. These brilliant, but worried, scientists continue to serve humanity and its environment. So, what is the human factor?

Some 80,000 years ago our globe had five human species that evolved to fill a small niche of fresh water and arable soil: erectus, floresiensis, neanderthal, denisovan, and sapiens, but today only we sapiens are left. We claim ingenuity and adaptability. We lack the worries of the anaerobic fungus that survives only in the hind gut of the endangered wild ass of Somalia yet other fungi, evolving much faster than we, are rapidly becoming our #1 enemy. Yet, we, forever inventing new ways of coping, have spread to the most inhospitable parts of the globe. We like challenges. Each of us has the gift of an incredibly-complex body and mind that we do not understand and to whom too few of us give their deserved care and respect.

All humans on arrival are basically the same yet there are differences in the genetic mix that even siblings inherit. During the formative years there are wider differences in care, love, respect, education, and opportunities. The Jesuits boasted "Give us your children until they are seven and we will have them for life." Schools in some Muslim areas are quite efficient in graduating suicide bombers.

Minds may be born free, but far too many humans, lacking the will, time, help, or resources to do their own research, let others do their thinking, others who benefit from exploitation, be it in religion, politics, military, business, education, or what-have-you, to use myths, half-truths, or outright lies to inject them with fixed beliefs. Many evolve to Extremism. The easy availability of weapons make these zombies a real threat.

Humans have killed billions of humans. As hunters and gatherers we used migration to avoid violence, but, as we settled into communities, Greed and Revenge took over. The first "Shock and Awe" war was the massive bombardment and complete destruction of Hamoukar in NE Syria 5,500 years ago. We are still at it. In retaliation for our misdeeds in the Arab and Muslim world, a few Saudi Arabians were rather brilliant against the Great Satan in 9/11 while others in Al Qaida attacked the lesser Satans. At little cost, they took 7,500 all-told lives and caused economic damage in the billions. In retaliation we embarked on activities that have claimed 225,000 killed, 365,000 wounded, and have cost $4.5 trillion to say nothing of the consumption of finite resources. What has this accomplished? Revenge is a natural and understandable reaction even though it creates more pain for all with endless revenges. Historically, numerous attempts have been made to curtail or eliminate it. Amazingly, with males, tribal deaths, worldwide, have been proportionally 5 times higher than "civilized" wars. The Dogrib of NW Canada killed off to extinction the Yellowstones; the Crow Creek massacre of 1325 destroyed a village of 800 houses, killed all the men and unwanted women, taking the others as concubines. What a disgusting species we are! Would the world be better without us? Yet . . .

Still evolving on a small, indifferent, planet that provides its own array of hardships and dangers, our species is awe-inspiring. It has extracted historical data back almost to the Big Bang, sent an emissary (Voyager I) out of our solar system, built incredible structures, performed remote, computer controlled, operation on human bodies, created philosophies and religions from Agnosticism and Animism to Zoroastrianism, all with little or no knowledge of how, what, where, and why we exist - or do we? Some say we are just holographs but, again, how, what, where, and why?

Incredible advances have been made by many of us standing on the shoulders of a tall and broad mountain of human thinkers who have come and gone. This mountain is at least 41,000 years high and thousands of miles broad. We know the origins of many firsts: Music (flutes) 43,000 years ago, art (caves) 40,800, pottery 20,000, agriculture 12,000, written philosophies 5,000 - plus fish traps 11,000, bows and arrows 7,400, organized warfare 7,000. Billions of individuals contributed like the 3600-year-old Hittite Text - 1,080 lines of cuneiform baked into 4 clay pages and telling us how to selectively breed, care for, and train horses.

Some divide our philosophes into Liberalism, Communism, Socialism - all fine concepts but too often corrupted - and Fascism and Conservatism - better at getting things done but with highly-selfish oligarchies.

With no memory of volunteering for this life, most of us cherish it and reproduce, but to make the best of it we must retain open minds, delve into mysteries, respect and help others, and solve its challenges.

Friday, 3 August 2012


There is a large section of this globe that was blessed by Geography with diversity, climate, resources, and non-aggressive neighbours. It was acquired by its current human occupiers mainly by conquest, population pressures, and a purchase or two. Until recently it was sufficiently successful for the occupiers to consider themselves so far in advance of other countries that they could hog the name that belongs to two continents, as all those other political enclaves really do not matter much.

The world is in debt to this big country for the many great minds it has reared and that have increased human knowledge in most all pursuits from Agriculture to Zoology. So, what has gone wrong and why is it rated only 28th among nations in categories that count?

Answers can be found within its own borders in scores of good books, magazines, TV commentaries, and the like. We should be well aware of the problems but where are the fixes? Authors are not persecuted for their criticisms so does this imply a benign oligarchy ready to listen to reason or one that is so entrenched that it need not worry about protests that too often run out of steam and fade away?

The old adage "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is only partially true. We are blessed with a fair number of billionaires who have made their fortunes honestly by providing the world with desired goods and who have then donated much of their wealth to better the world they inhabit. Yet dangers persist and are growing.

This country has two political parties. Oh, yes, there is the Green Party headed by two women with a lot of common sense but little money and rarely publicized except, perhaps, by PBS and the like. They have not asked me for a donation but the other two know I exist so ask me frequently. They already have huge war chests but tell me that, without my donation, my world will collapse. Sometimes I cannot resist replying, although I know my criticisms will be ignored but followed by more requests for funds. I tell them that I fully realize my donation is vital but the envelope is empty of money because, in addition to my donation, I am also doing their work for them by spreading it among Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Greenpeace, Environmental causes, and others - and that I await their thanks for saving them the trouble and postage.

I see no cure in sight that can place this country among the world’s best until money is removed from politics. With the huge sums needed for endless electioneering and intelligence-insulting TV sound bites, House and Senate incumbents spend so much time fund raising that little is left for governing and they become so dependent on the largesse of wealthy donors that they have little free will. They are pressured into ignoring the painful and devastating results of man-made global warming; they passed such nation-defeating legislation as deregulation and tax breaks that have benefited the well-known, and hated, 1%. This is frightening as, in addition to protest groups like the Occupiers, it feeds extremist groups in a nation where access to heavy weaponry is so easy and so rewarding to those who manufacture them that another Syria could be in the making.

Solutions could be sought by chasing off to Europe, especially Scandinavia, or to Australasia, but how about just looking north to a country that escaped recent financial woes with regulations, universal health care, gun controls, and a cheap system of electioneering limited to a maximum of 6 weeks every four years? Yes, you can also find human-made flaws there among the good points that outnumber those in that nation to its south. Its 35 million people cannot compete in foolishness with 314 million who believe that continued growth is the fertilizer for economic well being on a globe that has finite room, clean water, clean air, and arable soil and must adhere to the laws of physics and chemistry as well as economics.

Father Time continues his long and uncaring march and is almost to the point where procrastinating humans will resort to more catastrophic bloodshed for what limited resources are left.

Nature has blessed us with what we consider superior brains. Too frequently, Greed persuades us not to use them. Our civilizations must overcome this fault - or perish.


Tuesday, 10 July 2012


I suppose I should have attended this unveiling by our Queen, on 28 June 2012, if only to honour the incredible bravery and sacrifice of the hundreds of cherished friends I lost, but emotions run too deeply. Joan, my partner of 70 years, and who had shared my war, had suffered two falls, seriously impeding her mobility, and preventing her from accompanying me.

Besides, I was not a happy warrior in Bomber Command. Even in my high school days I was a history buff and knew enough about our WWI peace treaties that allowed Hitler and his Nazi party to be such a scourge on us as well as the German population. I knew my responsibility was to assist in Hitler’s defeat, but deplored the means. I joined the RCAF and trained as an Observer (Navigator, bomb aimer, gunner).   But, on being posted to a Bomber Command Operational Training Unit (OTU) I was channelled into the Bomb Aimer stream as it had now become a separate trade. With inadequate navigational aids I would have to find and bomb assigned targets in utter darkness illuminated only by flak and exploding bombs. Defeating the guilty by killing the innocent pained me deeply. Circumstances gave us no other way, compounding our sacrifices.

While at this OTU, near Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, 20 July to 20 September 1942, my pilot, Pat Porter, and I frequented on our nights off the local dance halls. One night Pat and I were surveying the girls seated along the walls facing the band and dance floor when Joan and her girlfriend arrived. I nudged Pat saying, "That’s for me!"

These dance halls were ideal for meeting scores of the opposite sex. Most went stag and the music was soft, encouraging the art of conversation. The agreed practice was to ask a girl for a dance, dance 3 numbers, and return her to her seat, then select a different partner. If there was one you particularly liked you would try to get her in the home waltz that permitted you to ask if you could walk her home. No problem on the way home as she knew the way but getting back was often a nightmare as all street signs had been removed to thwart invasions of Germans who did not invade but Canadians did and we were thoroughly confused. However, I did get her in the home waltz, walked her home, did not find my way back to base until 0400, but was still a very happy boy as I had her agreement for future dates.

Soon I had to stand her up. The base was sealed, no phone calls out. Bomber Command had launched its "Thousand Bomber" raids, but to attain this number they had to use still-under-training crews from OTUs. To us, it was another Charge of the Light Brigade. Our 2-engined Wellingtons were old and discarded by squadrons that had later models as well as 4-engine bombers. Our targets were heavily-defended cities in the Ruhr Valley. My first target was Dusseldorf. Our ageing Wellington would climb to only 9,000 feet, could carry no more than one ton of bombs, and refused to go faster than 135 knots, so we were a lifetime in that very impressive flak that stretched all the way from the coast to our target. Somehow, we bombed it and got home. Two of our OTU crews were  among the 32 that did not. We were to lose a hundred good boys and a dozen instructors before this misguided policy was dropped. It was a frightening introduction to Bomber Command so Joan’s arms were a miraculous tonic.

Ten days after my posting to 419 RCAF Squadron in Croft, Yorkshire,  my cold Nissen hut that had held 12 officers when I arrived had two survivors.  So, squadrons also had high loses.

We knew it was stupid, and potentially cruel, to marry during a war, but we did.   Pat Porter was best man.  My CO, Merv Fleming, allowed me to live off base so, after bombing Germany, I would cycle in the rain the mile to the single room we rented in a home owned by a widow who lost her husband in WWI. We continued to frequent the dance halls, this time in Darlington, where Joan met and danced with many squadron members who were soon to be shot down to drown in the cruel North Sea, plough into the ground, or be blown apart. This existence continued until one morning Joan awoke to find my side of the bed empty.   Alone, she had to raise our first daughter and wait 800 days for my return.   Knowing they were there for me gave me a burning desire to survive.

Assessing my contributions to Bomber Command: When the average life expectancy was 5 operations I survived 17 but it took me 6 months due to lots of bad weather during the winter months, our conversion from Wellingtons to Halifaxes, and being selected for the month-long Bombing Leaders’ course. On my 3 mining trips I was able to plant six 1500-pound mines exactly where the Royal Navy wanted them and was informed that they sank two German ships. I often think of their crews. Of my 14 bombing operations I managed to find and bomb the docks in Kiel, Lorient, and Saint Nazairre. Over Wilhelmshaven, the Ruhr, Hamburg, and Berlin, in spite of dangerously lingering amid the flak, I could see no ground detail so, with heavy heart, bombed the cities as ordered. During these 17 raids I was on we lost 128 aircraft and 768 aircrew. Only 17% survived to become POWs.

A great friend to Joan and me was Pat Porter from northern British Columbia who sacrificed his life 28 March 1943 by staying at the controls to fight the plunge to permit his crew to cut our way out of a burning and plunging aircraft with an axe.  I was the last out.  Pat did not make it.  He is buried in Hamburg.

Post War we Bomber Command veterans were shunned because the politicians who gave us this nasty duty were now ashamed of what had to be done to win the war. 

Joan lived through all this so there was no way I could go to the London unveiling alone.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012


Admiring the 58 billionaires, led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for pledging half their wealth to charities, prompts us to examine those who have gone much further and to question their motives, their methods, and their successes. What can we learn about the human pysche?

Francis could ignore the grave social problems in his city. He attended the most expensive schools, and he would inherit his father's profitable fabrics business. But, needing excitement, he joined a popular revolt against authority. After a painful jail sentence, he returned to his father's business, grew wealthy in his own right, and was renowned for extravagant parties. The soft life soon disturbed him, so he took a commission in the army. When 25 years of age he revolted completely against this life. Returning all of his expensive trappings to his father, he travelled the country for a year as the poorest of all hippies. Then, for two years, he went about repairing public buildings for no pay. His food and clothing were only what he could beg. He was the scorn of his former associates.

All rebels are not young. When three wealthy sisters: Clare, Agnes, and Beatrice gave up all their luxuries to devote their lives to nursing patients with contagious diseases, their mother joined them.

CASE STUDY III: As a member of a wealthy family, Bernard’s lusty poems were popular. At age 22, he chucked it all for a life of poverty and contemplation, even persuading 30 of his friends into joining him. In fact many married men left their families to follow him into a male society of hard work and poverty.

There are many similar studies. You will recognize Case Study I as the 1207 beginning of the story of Saint Francis of Assisi. Case Study 11 concerns Saint Clare who did such amazing work with lepers in the 1200's. Case Study III is about Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) who founded the Cistine monasteries. But things are different today! Our world faces extinction from nuclear war, pollution, over-population, and germs that have outbred our controls. These earlier dissidents were all doing their thing for religion, and were not bothered by nagging doubt. Yet all could have served their God more comfortably. There was always need for dedicated people in the Church. What good was served by abandoning all luxuries?

Beliefs that wealth and worldly entanglements distract the mind have always been widespread. It is argued that poverty, chastity, and obedience are necessary to free the soul for perfect love of, and service to, the divine being. Religious hermits, for instance, existed in the pre-Aryan Indus Valley civilization over 3,500 years ago. In the early Hindu times (600-200 B.C.) hermits began to live in groups.

This first organized monastic life was founded by Mahavira, a Hindu prince who in 569 B.C. rejected his wealth to spend 12 years of mortification as a wandering beggar. Jains will not knowingly harm any animal life. Some monks reject all clothing; some fast to death. One of the two sects admits nuns.

A monastic religion, Buddhism, like the Christian Benedictines, observes a rule that excludes extremes. Gautama Buddha tried, but rejected, the austerity of the Jains. Buddhist nuns have never been numerous; they live apart; and are considered inferior. Indian monasteries disappeared by 1200 due to invasions by Muslims, and today are few. In China, Buddhism has suffered from Marxism.

Saint Anthony founded the earliest Christian monastery in 305 in the Egyptian desert. After the Edict of Milan in 313, freeing Christians from persecution, other monasteries were built, attracting thousands from all classes.

Judean Monasticism:
Influenced by Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor grew in Palestine and in the Sinai. Text books of this period remain required reading in many modern orders.

Byzantium and Greek Monasticism:
There were hundreds of such monasteries, most following the rule of Saint Basil of Caesarea who travelled extensively in the Near East, seeking the best aspects of monasticism. These northern monasteries survived the Muslim conquest of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria (632-649). Monastic houses were ruled by abbots who could demand absolute obedience. Orders of nuns were permitted. Abbots enjoyed from partial to full independence from church and state officialdom. Monks shared the work of the monastery and catered to the health and education of the civilian community.

Slavic Monasticism:   The spread of monasticism from 900 to 1000 introduced Christianity to Serbia and Russia. The Mongol invasions of the 1200's destroyed monasteries near cities, but many survived in the northern forests to spark revival in the 15th and 16th centuries. Peter the Great (1672-1725) and Catherine the Great (1729-1797) greatly restricted monasticism. After the 1917 Russian Revolution monks were expelled and monasteries destroyed. There has been a small revival since World War 11.

Irish Monasticism - St. Patrick and St. Columba:
Patrick founded many monasteries in Ireland prior to his death in 461. His name (from patrician) denotes noble birth and Roman descent. Irish raiders in 389 stole him from his home in Britain, using him as a slave until he escaped in 395. He got back to Britain where he studied to return to Ireland in 432 to convert the people to Christianity. He was a humble man who wrote little of himself. Only two of his works survive, and his biography was not written until 200 years after his death. There could have been two Patricks, one each from Britain and Gaul. In any event Irish monasteries in the 500's and 600's were the best schools in Europe. With 12 monks (to represent Christ's 12 apostles) Saint Columba, of a reigning family, left Ireland to found, off the west coast of Scotland, the monastery at Iona which became one of Europe's most famous. These monks then went on to convert Scotland, and to found over a hundred monasteries in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.

Religious Orders and Education: After the fall of Rome the Church assumed responsibility for education. Monasteries spread all over Europe and Asia, but education was by no means universal. Only those who showed aptitude and who indicated a desire to join the clergy had much opportunity to be educated. As late as the 1500's there were only 26,000 schoolboys in England's population of 5,000,000. Convents were available to girls, but they were quite inferior to monasteries as the Church prolonged the inequality of the sexes. On the other hand, when monasteries produced new thought, the world was often not ready. Gregor Johann Mendel, an Austrian monk at Brno, Czechoslovakia, developed from 1857 to 1865 the principles of heredity. The scientific world paid little attention. In 1900 his papers were rediscovered by European scientists who went on to conduct their own experiments which verified Mendel's findings.

Why Do People Join Monasteries or Otherwise Desert the Material World?
Like the French Foreign Legion, monasteries offered an escape from the duties of life. Life in the Legion was hard and dangerous; life in a monastery was hard but relatively secure. How many joined these organizations because they needed direction in all aspects of living? The vast majority of entrants never rose to positions of command. They could lead lives where everything was either black or white. Gone were all those million shades of gray. There were so many hours of prayer, labour, soldiering, eating, and sleeping. Were there no other reasons? Man has always exploited man, yet man has always looked up to higher ethics that always seemed unattainable in a sinful world. How do you equate what-should-be with what-is? In a monastery one could desert worldly trappings that caused greed, pride, strife, and injustice. Is this the coward's way out? Could not these people with high ideals better serve humanity by living good lives in their own communities? Did personal salvation rate higher than community salvation? Or were monasteries a more dramatic way of pointing up dissatisfaction with the world of materialism? Without monasteries could we have preserved higher moralities?

Monasteries did decline when the Church managed to have the worst aspects of feudalism outlawed. A strong church in Europe and South America did lighten the load of slaves while a fragmented church in the United States was incapable of halting abuses. We have come from a long line of ancestors who felt the need to harmonize with the animism of Nature. As our materialism and science grew we saw less substance in the spiritual world. Yet people continue to revolt against a world based solely on materialism. The visible world, they argue, is only a small part of the spiritual world. Meditation, solitude, and prayer are avenues of communication and channels for the flow of spiritual energy that can produce effects, psychologically and materially, in the visible world.

Harmonizing, then, must be a very personal thing as no two of us are the same. In the midst of the gigantic forces that sway our tiny galaxy in its brief moment of time can we be so egotistical as to believe that God - or the gods - care for each of us or that we can evolve to reach him, her, it, or them? But we are here. We exist. We know we are part of the forces we dimly understand. Part of your essence and mine has survived the frightening obstacles of some 3.5 billion years on this globe. There can be exhilaration in pitting our brains and stamina, puny as they are, to understanding the purpose of it all and to the promotion of harmony among all living things.






Monday, 30 April 2012


Miller Moths and Me

Miller Moths have been educating me on similarities with my species. They agree with me that Global Warming is real so they are early this year and in much greater numbers, so we are quite careful in opening doors or windows not to let any in. Yet, it is always a surprise every evening when we turn on the lights to see several flirting with each light source. Blessed with a few different abilities I try to be helpful to critters that are harmless and in need of help, so, with a transparent plastic cup and a postcard I rescue about 50 every night, opening the door briefly and just enough to let them fly off to the street light.

The ingenuity they reveal in getting into the house baffles me; so does the stupidity once they are in. This morning I discovered five desperately trying to get out through a solid glass window in the garage. They were within a foot of the garage door which I opened to let them escape. Their fixation was such that not one deviated to find salvation. They were too high up on the window for my cup routine. I left the door open for them but hours later I found them dead. Was spending hours rescuing such stupid creatures worth the effort?

But then, I saw too many similarities. Their salvation was only a foot away. Perhaps ours is too but we do not recognize it either. Too many of us get into trouble through our own fault and fail to see escape routes. Too many of us also have fixations. Too many who escape go right back to the practices that got them into trouble in the first place. Yes, Miller Moths, we are cousins after all.

So, how far on the evolutionary ladder have we come compared to them? They can fly; we cannot. They are attracted to light; so are we. Their lives are short; ours somewhat longer. I can go on for pages listing things we can do that they cannot, but the difference in intelligence remains insufficient for us, like them, to understand our surroundings. What steps do I need to take to better my condition and how do I amass the gumption to take them?

Our species leads, or at least we think so, all living things in the knowledge we have achieved yet with every advance the Unknown expands to still challenge us. Why? Democritus, 2400 years ago, theorized the existence of atoms, the smallest entity of matter, but it took us until 1897 before we started to know that atoms were made up of electrons and protons and the 1960s before we knew that they were made up of smaller units called quarks and then to learn quarks come in 6 varieties. Far too small for us to see, but we have proven their existence by colliding protons at the speed of light in billion-dollar accelerators. Delving into this we learn about, but cannot understand, the Quantum World, even though we have learned to use it.

Then we have done an amazing job of tracing our origins back to The Big Bang and we can even date it at 13.6 billion years ago. So, what was there before that and what does it mean anyway? How could the collision of two Branes create such enormous amounts of energy? What is Energy? What is Life? What is Death? Even if we knew, would that tell us WHY?

Just while thinking about, and typing, this, I have rescued 9 miller moths who came to see and walk over my screen. They could not understand the words or know I was writing about them, yet I was their unknown Supreme Being, the Rescuer of Moths.

It would be nice if I could count on a Supreme Being to rescue me, but many who are responsible for all this knowledge we are accumulating keep telling me there was never any Supreme Being - just Science.

Really? We are still almost as ignorant as Moths. That is why I am an Agnostic. Who among us knows? I certainly do not and something tells me that you do not know either. But that is no excuse to stop searching for answers.

I am now turning out the lights. You and the Moths will have to wait until tomorrow - my dreams are my own.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


    Statisticians tend to lump them together when listing percentages with Sweden 85%, Japan 65, France 49, Germany 45, the UK 44, Canada 30, Israel 26, and the US, where no non-religious politician can survive, only 9%. There is an important difference. An atheist denies the existence of any supreme being while an agnostic, although skeptical, maintains an open mind, ready and eager to assess all the evidence he/she can find. Agnostics decry the lack of historical proofs, the bigotry, exploitation, intolerance, persecution, and wars religions have caused but admire the usefulness of churches, mosques, synagogues, philosophies, and the like in uniting groups and in providing solace. Agnostics have been with us as great thinkers at least since the invention of the written word. The evolution of all religions into so many varieties confirms a vibrant skepticism. So, from an agnostic point of view, what are the facts? How much free will do we have? What conclusions, if any, can we draw?
     We humans have evolved the ability to recognize, amass, and analyse data at an ever-increasing rate. Our conversion of raw materials into foods, housing, clothing, buildings, transportation, communication, and so on is amazing. All this with just a few quite-limited senses and a short life span. Compared to ferns, termites, bees, dolphins, crows, and other creatures we have come an even longer way, so what percentage of the Truth is in what we think we know? Do our genes control us? I do know that I was propelled, like many others, into a successful 59-year genealogical hunt, pushed by the sudden realizations, at different times, that I was behaving exactly like one or more of my parents or grandparents. But, what about away back?
     Avoiding the gender trap, let us assume that originally there were gods, branes, and space. Where, how, and why they came to be we will tackle if and when we uncover sufficient data. Our multiverse was created in such a sloppy, cruel, wasteful, and trial-and-error fashion that the job must have been left to young gods under training and ones who had no care or responsibility for what they created. The created would have to care for themselves, and have, in a wide variety of ways in spite of 99% of species achieving only extinction.
     These gods started out alright by rubbing two branes together that freed immense gobs of energy that joyously burst forth, unfettered, to explore space. But slavery was born when they turned down the thermostat forcing many particles of energy to congeal into bits of matter we call quarks, electrons, positrons, neutrons and so on, all subject to both the weak and strong forces that were about. Atoms of hydrogen and helium were formed, that imprisoned these particles forever into a dance around each other. Forced to obey the imposed laws, they formed suns where immense heat and pressure changed them into a variety of elements thus setting the stage for the emergence of life billions of years later. These gods never acquired compassion as they chose competition rather than co-operation for us new life forms to adapt and improve to become more like gods. They injected pain, suffering, pleasure, and the essential need to eat, resulting in us preying on each other while evolving into millions of temporary species in temporary environments.
       At this moment in Time, which is something else we do not understand, some humans believe we are at the pinnacle, yet we have little concern for all those other life forms we consume for our needed energy and growth, although we do choose a few to protect so they can serve us as tools, companionship, eye appeal, or recreational retreats. This has made Greed a dominant characteristic. We fear that certainty for everything we know: Death. There is little solace in knowing that those trillions of atoms that make us what we are have existed from the beginning of time and will recycle after we have gone to survive to the end of time.
      We have saddled ourselves with this gnawing need to be useful, wanted, respected, and loved. Few of us are satisfied with what we receive, so imagine supreme beings who love and care for us. Does imagination, including dreams, have any reality or permanence? Do we know what reality and permanence are?
      We do have a huge challenge. It is easy to fall into hopelessness if nothing matters, and exertion is futile. Even though we had no known say in us being us and no one who has passed on has sent back any message as to what, if anything, lies beyond, we agnostics are blessed with an immense curiosity that delights in using what resources we have to probe as long as we can the mysteries of our being. Who knows? Maybe, in the long distant future, our progeny will evolve into the benevolent gods so many of us long for today. Perhaps that is why we refuse to join atheists in their no-god stand as we have a glimmer of hope that we can evolve into gods, but that could take a million years or so during which we must preserve our only home - this earth. Being an agnostic is not for the lazy, the afraid, the extremists, the uncaring, but it is rather exhilarating.

Monday, 2 April 2012


Netanyahu and Jenkin’s Ear

Am I missing something? I just cannot find any honest reason for our current persecution of Iran. Sure we dislike the regime but so do most Iranians who now hate us because of all the harm we have caused a nation that in modern history has never launched a war of choice. And now we have the gall to use it as a cover up. Reminds me of Jenkins’ ear. When building colonies in the Caribbean, Britain tolerated many provocations from Spain because it was unprepared for war. Years later, when prepared, there were no excuses for war . . . until, in a minor 1731 incident, the brig, Rebecca, was boarded by the Spanish, its cargo seized, and Captain Robert Jenkins’ ear sliced off in the scuffle. In 1738 his encased ear was paraded in the House of Commons and used as an excuse to declare war on Spain which resulted in 20,000 casualties and 407 ships sunk as the war evolved into the Austrian Succession dispute. Today, Netanyahu, needing to distract world condemnation from his continued persecution of, and stealing land from, the Palestinians, and in spite of extremely good relations between the people of Israeli and Iran, latched on to a few words spoken by Ahmadinejad that Israeli should be wiped off the map and that the Holocaust never happened, ignoring the rest of his rhetoric that the Holocaust was caused by Europeans and should be compensated for by Europeans and not Palestinians, and that Jews have a perfect right to live in Palestine but not in a state superimposed and run exclusively by them.

The current Iranian government is no threat to the US; it is no threat to Israel; it is a threat to Iran. It has many reasons to distrust us. Persia, 2500 years ago, was the world’s first, and most benevolent, empire. Later, in 1828, Russia seized Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan from it and in 1881 Turkmenistan. In 1907 the UK and Russia divided Persia into spheres of influence, then in WWI, both moved in. The UK stayed to exploit the oil, most useful in converting the Royal Navy from coal to oil. In 1935 Persia became Iran. In WWII it was occupied by the UK, US, and USSR, who still exploited its oil. In 1951 democratically-elected Mossadegh made social reforms and nationalized the oil. This democracy, like the one in Gaza, hurt our interests so we, the CIA and MI6, engineered a 1953 coup that re-installed Shah Reza Pahlevi who made some reforms like female suffrage, and Iran did serve on UN peacekeeping missions in the Congo and Golan Heights. The US had Iran start a nuclear program, hoping to sell it 18 reactors and had no objections to it having nuclear weapons. In 1979 dislike for the Shah’s harsh police and his heavy reliance on US power led to the "Islamic Revolution"that returned exiled Ayatollah Khomenei who scrapped the bomb program as un-Islamic. In 1980 Saddam’s Iraq, backed by the West, invaded, taking a million lives and using western-supplied poison gas on Iran that had banned such weapons. Iran then backed about 30 killings around the world while we killed all 290 aboard an Iranian Airbus and froze Iranian assets.

What is vital to realize is that the entire Middle East teems with minorities with unfulfilled dreams and that many are still persecuted. We need to show respect and understanding and support those among us who have provided genuine and selfless help. We are too prone to label groups like Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist. Yes, Iran has helped them, but they are not puppets of Iran but indigenous responses to Israeli invasions, slaughter, and destruction. Like so many other countries, Israel has been its own worst enemy. Pity, as it could be the area’s hope.

Iran banned biological weapons in 1973 and chemical in 1997. It signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel, India, and Pakistan have not, yet we punish Iran merely on suspicion that its enrichment of uranium could be used to make a bomb against Israel’s 200. In 1992 isolated Iran started building its own weapons and does have 550,000 under arms at an annual cost of $9 billion. Israel spends $50 billion and has 3 million available for instant service. Both use conscription. No match for the US that spends more than the rest of the world combined. Utter Madness!

Surely, Netanyahu is not so stupid as to actually bomb Iran, but he has succeeded in getting US bunker-busting bombs and in removing his aggression from the US public eye. He is like the spoiled child who escapes a good spanking with a tantrum or two then extracts gifts for the promise of better behaviour. He seems intent on destroying the peaceful future Israel could build, and he harms the US.

Perhaps that is one reason the US ranks only 28th among world governments. Preoccupation with endless and costly electioneering precludes firm stands in the interest of humanity.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


    Strange are the coincidences that frequent our lives:
   Such a beautiful March day dictated yard work during which I fell in the driveway, bruising myself. Later, as I finished thoroughly watering the lawn, I noticed a sparrow hawk struggling to release itself from entanglement in a mesh I was placing over our cherry tree in the hope of proving humans are smarter than robins.

    I tried to release it, lost my footing, and fell over backwards onto the wet grass, bruising myself more. The bird was so hopelessly tangled that I went into the house to get scissors and Joan came out to help. It was a long job. The bird seemed to know we were trying to help so stopped struggling to lay perfectly still while I cut all around it. Its legs look like twigs so I had to be extra careful not to cut them off in mistake for twigs as daylight was fading. Eventually we cut it loose after I sustained 2 cuts on my right hand from its claws - nothing deliberate on its part, just my own clumsiness.
    When I got into bed that night I was feeling bruised, sore, and tired. All of this plunged me in my dreams back exactly 69 years when I was desperately trying to get out of a flak-mangled, burning, plunging Halifax bomber which I did seconds before it plowed into an adjacent field. Again in my dream, bleeding and shaken, I felt the rain on my face as I looked up to breathe a prayer of thanks for my incredible good luck.
   I imagined the bird was having the same feelings.

Sunday, 25 March 2012



Ed U Kay Shun
     How serious is our educational malaise? Can we cure it? These thoughts come from one who, after an RCAF career full of challenges and achievements, earned his university degree at age 50 then entered the world of public education back in the 1970s, full time and substituting over 20 years, in ten schools including two parochial schools. My earlier teaching in Air Force schools was a different world: high entrance requirements, top motivation, and limited to the few.

   How best do we mold, world wide, the younger generation that is well documented as being lazy, disrespectful, indolent, resentful, radical, and a deep disappointment to their elders? Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Romanized Britons, and others have all left writings that tell us so. Written by the elite they describe their own children, born into sheltered lives but who failed to leave the shelter at puberty. When noble youths thought it no longer necessary to accept the burdens of their parents they set in motion a theme, too often repeated. Wealthy Egyptians hired Scythians, Romans hired Germans, Britons hired Saxons, and Byzantians hired Turks to fight their wars. In each case the mercenaries eventually took over. Is this any different from us today hiring the Japanese, Chinese, and others to build the products we desire or in hiring immigrants, illegal or otherwise, to do the work we despise?
     Why worry? Our high standard of living is still getting better! But, are we different from Nature? The day is hottest some two hours after the sun passes our meridian but night is closer; the year is hottest a month after the summer solstice but winter is closer. We are still basking in the afterglow of the protestant work ethic and the industrial revolution. We can not yet alter the movements of the solar system, but we can and must improve our social priorities. Ignorance, wars and other woes have plagued us for much too long.
     Today, in wealthier countries, schools are palaces compared to those of long ago. We have excellent libraries, films, and computers. Our woodworking, automotive, music, sports, electronic, and home economics rooms are filled with up-to-date equipment. In the near past our learning was mostly from textbooks - much reading and writing, and homework averaging three hours per night. We had many students from nearby farms, unable to engage in after-school activities as they had to be bussed home to numerous chores to share with homework. Nor could they enjoy their summer holidays free of work. How come so many of them got better grades when town dwellers had so much more time for study? Why are many immigrants with little knowledge of English soon leading their classes? Can we make this high motivation contagious? Example: a new Korean student heard my world history course was one of the toughest the school offered so she applied for it. Her advisors and I told her that her ability in English was well below that needed for all the research, role playing, and essay writing required. Her insistence and enthusiasm were so infectious that I accepted the challenge and daily gave her extra help after school for months. She amazed me at how rapidly she learned the language to engage in class discussions, submit good essays, and remain among the class leaders. She then gave me two lovely Korean carvings which I still treasure. Is such motivation prompted by Parents, Self, Siblings, or inputs from all?
     Today we should have much brighter and more learned students than ever, if only for the easy availability of information. Yet we hear many teachers lament that parents insist on top grades for work at best mediocre, that administrators surrender, that standards have been lowered dramatically,

and that a high school diploma is now meaningless?

     In the days when a handful of administrators went out from the tiny United Kingdom and ruled 25% of the world, we said it was all due to the playing fields of Eton. Perhaps we should examine the generalized education of these top British schools because they did produce able administrators plus good engineers. Yet, then, only 4% of scholars attained university degrees; and it was believed that number was enough. The beautiful craftsmanship of cathedrals, sailing ships, woolen mills, railways, and the like were due to an apprentice system in which it took some seven years for one to learn a trade. Today we need a high school diploma to get a job and a university degree to have any status at all. This state of affairs dictates lowering standards as the percentage of people motivated to benefit from a school environment has not increased.

     The front line is the home, soon shared by the classroom where frustration is the great killer of teachers. We have always had excellent parents, students, and teachers, but too many others are apathetic. I have seen far too many teachers who were superb a decade earlier gradually lose their exuberance and simply put in time for the pension because the students are simply putting in time for the diploma that will get them a job but not an education.

     Large, crowded, high-school parking lots tell a story. Students at age 16 get a car, so can no longer afford time to study. Car costs dictate finding a job, usually starting moments after school is out for the day. Mother and Dad also work, so there is little home life, and even less in the broken families that make up half of our student body, resulting in a dangerous lack of moulding in the formative years. Many homes contain no books, no encyclopaedias, and no good periodicals. Too few students are encouraged at home to read or watch TV news or educational programs. Students arrive at school tired, disinterested, and often hungry. They retain little of what they hear from teachers, see in the fine films we have, or read in the great books we have. As students no longer read or write well most teachers rely on multiple-choice tests which can be graded quickly by machine and which require no knowledge of spelling or grammar. A teacher, who routinely required 4-page essays a decade or two ago is lucky today to get half a page from students who write in generalities without supporting facts. This makes life easier for teachers who no longer spend four hours a night grading papers, but will still take the pay increases. Too many math teachers allow students to use calculators, thus robbing the brain of much-needed exercise. Some teachers simply check a few of the questions on a student's worksheet to use as a grade - or have tests corrected in class by other students. Why should teachers do homework when students will not and parents do not care?

     Current·classroom sizes of 30 or more are much too large. A few unruly students can disrupt a class making the teacher spend more time on discipline than on teaching. Teachers retreat to endless worksheets to keep the little monsters busy, so meaningful discussions are few. Because no physical restraints are now allowed we must rely on persuasion, on being entertaining to bored audiences, on accepting vulgar and sarcastic backtalk, and on letting students have much of their own way. Six strokes from the old rubber strap was more humiliating than painful but it was a great deterrent.
     The best system I have known was the modular system, adopted by some high schools in the 1970's. Sadly, most have now abandoned it. Each teacher had 120 students divided into 7 classes. We worked a 5-day week but a 6-day cycle (A,B,C,D,E,F days). For each subject, students attended small groups every second day. Once or twice a cycle all of a teachers' classes in one subject met in large group for a lab, a film, or a lecture. We had able assistants in superb resource centres where the students prepared for their next small group in which there would be much discussion and, in history classes, role playing, so it was essential that all come prepared. Each teacher wrote his own syllabus that required students to use numerous sources and each teacher had office time in which to see as many as 20 students a day for individual help.
With this system l had many students at age 15 doing good university work. It permitted me to have academic courses to rival the professionalism of our football and marching-bands which, while limited to a few, are vastly superior to those of the old days. Dedication on the part of teachers and students was a must as was a closed campus, which we did not have, to prevent unmotivated students from spending their many spare periods in nearby shopping malls. Without this and without strict hall supervision the system was bound to fail, and it did, ours after 10 years, much to the regret of the many students who looked forward to each day’s challenges. Extra-curricular activities included 2-day sessions at Model United Nations meets 4 times a year at various universities. For this I used my car and students’ cars, a habit now lost due to lawsuits in the event of accidents. Many years later I still have former students thanking me for what the modular system did for them.

Today, teachers who stick to old standards have high failure rates so are criticized by the administration while thanked by motivated students. More money for schools will not correct the life styles and attitudes that make a farce of our educational system. Sadly, we are too often glorified baby-sitters. We must first put meaning and desire back into education knowing we have new threats. How can a teacher police the use of miniature electronic devices using new abbreviated spellings for communicating during class, doing mathematics the easy way, or finding, copying, and pasting the thoughts and wordings of others into their essays? The ability to write in cursive is fading quickly.
     Good and bad aspects accompany every advance in technology from the printing press that slashed memory training to devices for immediate communication permitting Arab Springs. Education remains vital to understanding the interdependence of ourselves and all living things with the environment and the need for each of us to accept our share of the responsibility during the brief period of existence allotted us.






Thursday, 15 March 2012


A sergeant on his 4th tour in Iraq/Afghanistan, leaves his base in the dark of night and murders 16 nearby villagers, 9 of them children. This adds yet another case to the long list of human atrocities against other humans. Where lies the blame and can we devise a cure?

We are all born naked, innocent, and requiring long years of education in order to cope with the daily difficulties of surviving in a strange new environment after the comforts of the womb. We have no apparent free will as to choice of time or location of birth. But, then, what choice do the quarks et al that make us up have? They are locked almost forever in a mad dance around each other. Evolution and Environment shape us but are there any innate characteristics common to all of us that allow us to defy or modify what we are taught?

Like you, I can speak only from a tiny sliver of knowledge compiled from personal experiences that include listening to, and reading of, the experiences of thousands of others, still a tiny fraction of humanity. My travels have been limited to time in every Canadian province and territory, every state of the USA, 14 European countries, and Japan. My wars were limited to WWII, POW time, and the Korean airlift. I have lived with people of 13 different faiths. My friends have included those from all walks of economic, political, and social levels, yet there is still so much I do not know.

Wherever I have found myself - in groups of dogs, cats, deer, birds, squirrels, or humans - I have found variety among these characteristics common to all: skepticism, bravery, cowardice, aggression, care, and greed. In addition to these I find variety in humans in: compassion, generosity, hospitality, desire for knowledge, gullibility, patriotism but all exist everywhere regardless of the education received, convincing me there is no lost soul that cannot be salvaged. Just a couple of examples: For a month I shared a POW hospital room with a Russian prisoner of war. He was convinced that the capitalistic West, especially the USA, was more of a threat to the USSR than Germany, yet we became friends and his views moderated as did mine. During the long march westwards fleeing the Soviet advance I got mixed in with, and enjoyed, a large group of very friendly Asians, meek and mild, but also POWs. It was not until after I left them that I learned they were the feared fearless, ferocious Ghurkhas. Today I get frequent house calls from Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. I sit them down, warn them that I am agnostic which means I will listen to their views, take and read their literature but expect them to listen to my views and accept an article or two I have written. Is it really so strange that they keep coming back with friendly comments on my views - and with more of their views and literature?

For many months now my computer screen has been the target of vicious anti-Muslim articles. The authors have yet to include criticism of any non-Muslim outrage. Yes, I am uncomfortable in the company of women in hijab attire just as I was when taught by nuns revealing only a small portion of their face implying they were ashamed of the body their God gave them and that all men were rapist.

This is a long detour to get back to the sergeant and his ilk and to what we used to call shell shock. Such actions must be punished if only to deter others but is he or his training and country to blame? For ten thousand years large percentages of our males have been forced into soldiering. Pay was low, augmented by raping and looting, and gratitude was fleeting. Fancy uniforms, esprit de corps, flags, and medals tried to hide the pain, exertion, stress, cold, hunger, lost limbs, and life-long uncompensated disabilities that survivors endured. Humans are remarkably resilient. Many, including myself, have gone into battle enduring painful illnesses so as not to let the team down. But many do break in the horrors of war and the realization they are being used by their indifferent superiors. As late as WWI, among those executed for cowardice were: France 600, UK 281, Canada 25, Germany 18, Belgium 13. Of these only the Nazis executed men, over 40,000, for various offences in WWII. In Bomber Command Shell Shock became "Lack of Moral Fibre", bringing not death but disgrace to only 0.3% but that amounted to 375. For the victors, at least in the victorious West, compensation was much greater and gratitude more enduring than ever. Subsequent wars, all unpopular, have seen less compensation and gratitude.

So, what needs to be done? Worldwide, actions that we admire and loathe are widespread. As aggressors remain, but none at the moment who threaten us other than economically and morally, the tools of war have to be maintained, sufficient to the need based not on greed but on honest interpretation from extensive intelligence. Maintaining a draft would ensure a more equal distribution of the fighting and dying burden and forestall reckless aggression. Long term planning that builds wartime infrastructure with an eye to post-conflict use should be the norm. Frequent rotation of personnel between fighting and desk jobs would help ensure command care for those in the fighting zones.

Humans reject anything imposed on them by force, but will choose to adopt from other cultures what they come to believe are superior goods, customs, or beliefs - often a slow process as it hurts entrenched interests. Beneficial organizations like Doctors Without Borders, Red Cross, Red Crescent, The Peace Corps, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Concerned Scientists, numerous Wildlife Societies, and thousands of philanthropists have had immense impact. Diverting funds from, say, a couple of our un-needed carrier groups to UN Peacekeeping would also help.

But basically, to get at the root of the problem we need to reform education be it in the untamed NW states of Pakistan or our own institutions. There is some truth in the old Jesuit boast "Give us your children until they are 7 and we will have them for life." How do we alter the myths humans are prone to cling to?  Can we develop in education a remedy for Greed and Much wants More. Humans with less are often much happier than those cluttered with material goods.

There is enough good in our species to warrant its continuance but it does need weeding and fertilizer. Saving us from ourselves is no easy task, but worth the effort.

Monday, 27 February 2012


   Has the use of drones made war more acceptable to those who own them? Operators in comfortable offices deep in the heart of the US have so far killed 3,000 of whom at least 780 were innocent civilians in far away destitute lands. This puts a different outlook on war than meeting a man face to face and ramming a bayonet into his stomach or to flying through flak-filled skies night after night while raining down death and destruction.

Nevertheless, we now have cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among the 1,100 US drone pilots for the 7,000 drones in service.

Some of this, you may argue, is due to the long hours of eye strain seeking radar targets, but much is due to the need to study the views of dead bodies and to assess the destruction in order to guide future strikes.

Different studies give different figures but PTSD averages appear to be 15% for Afghanistan survivors and 36% for drone operators.

It appears the old human reluctance at killing is still alive among many of us. Yet, the US is training 350 drone pilots per year, more than fighter and bomber pilots combined.


Friday, 3 February 2012


Instead of promoting European-Union-style integration for our mutual benefit we are, all of us,  playing a highly dangerous game in the Middle East. The major players are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, and the outsider with the big guns, the United States. The old truth about ‘Power Corrupts’ is in full play with all parties guilty of lying in a game of one-upmanship for dominance. People who are no threat to us are being cast as villains and military might is at an explosive level making it probable that some poor soldier, believing all this rhetoric, will ignite a spark that will result in politicians shedding crocodile tears over the deaths of thousands of more kids. On 03 July 1988 the USS Vincennes while in Iranian waters shot down an Iranian Airbus en route to Dubai killing all 290 aboard. The US has never apologized for this goof but the International Court of Justice in 1996 had it pay $61 million in compensation, letting it off lightly. There are no Iranian warships in either the Saint Lawrence or Mexican Gulfs so are not those carriers now off the Iranian coast an act of aggression? Tensions are so much higher today that a similar mistake could be catastrophic.

Rhetoric begets rhetoric; force begets force; wars beget wars - and the common folk pay. We all need to retrench. How much of the behaviour we dislike in Iran is a reaction to our behaviour?

The US snub of its 2003 baring of its soul in a plea to the US for Middle East accommodation has left it angrier and believing its isolation dictates it must go it alone.

The age-old sequence continues from the ancient oriental trade routes to Rome and Carthage, to European and US empire building. First commercial interests intrude into the lands of others, become wealthy, usurp their influence, and call in the military power of their home governments.
A ray of hope is shining from the motives of some, not all, who have given, or are still risking, their lives in the Arab Spring’s surge for a better tomorrow. This is causing a major, but devious, shift in US policies toward it basic values rather than its commercial interests.
The Sunni House of Saud, having shared much of its oil wealth with its people, retains a firm grip of control, denying dissent and human rights especially to women, and relies heavily on US military might to ensure it, and not its Shia rival Iran, is the area’s dominant power.

Iran, with the proudest historical record of all, had its oil exploited by the West, endured the West’s support of Sunni Saddam’s invasion that took a million lives and used poison gas with ingredients supplied by the West, is surrounded by nuclear-armed nations, and now suffers painful sanctions. As in Saudi Arabia the ruling Ayatollahs deny human rights and democracy to the people.

Israel, resurrected by the West and by its own talents but on land that saw the killing and evacuation of millions, shows little gratitude in its treatment of the Palestinians who, contrary to the utterances of some US politicians, have inhabited the area longer than the original Jewish tribes. Paranoid that its survival demands uncompromising vigilance it uses assured US backing in its own interests even when it harms its benefactor. Never harmed are 50 Jewish synagogues, schools, and hospital in Iran and the 200,000 Iranian Jews who live in Israel. Why destroy this happy fact?

All of this has caused changing alliances, rhetoric the opposite of action, deep distrusts, and dangerous fear. Like Global Warming, Environmental Disasters, and Human Suffering, where so much is man made.  We do not need to build yet another tinder box in the Middle East.

The military power of the US has mainly failed since Korea. Its carelessness with economic power gave us a recession mainly restricted to Europe and the US. Its humanitarian power, used unobtrusively in the spirit of the Arab Spring, may work wonders.

US political infighting must give way to global safety. Trying to outflank Republican hawks by keeping all options, including military strikes, to prevent Iran from acquiring the ability, if not the will, to built a nuclear weapon when nothing is said of Israel’s 200, or the larger arsenals of other countries, is self defeating. Iran is less of an aggressor nation than all the others.

Firm actions for a stable peace, coupled with human rights, are imperative.  Let us all accept our share of the blame and proceed with mutual respect.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


With Muslim communities growing in Western countries and with a world-wide Gallup poll telling us that 59% of radical Muslims and 32% of the moderates want Sharia as the only law, how much of a threat is it to us?

Sharia Law was first established to safeguard the populace from the excesses of sultan and caliph rulers. It was God’s law that could not be manipulated to benefit the privileged. Lawyers proliferate because, like every other law, it has different interpretations:
                   Hanbali: the most conservative version,
                   Hanifi: the most liberal and open to modern ideas,
                   Maliki: an extension of the laws in effect during Muhammad’s lifetime, and
                   Hafi’i: the conservative opinions of the companions of Muhammad.
Much of what we cherish today originated in the Islamic Sharia laws. Because of French conquests of Muslim lands and the subsequent 1066 Norman conquest of England, plus revelations brought home by crusaders, much of English Common Law is Sharia and Islamic, having replaced Anglo-Saxon law, and the earlier and harsher Roman law that had supplanted the egalitarian Celtic laws. These new Islamic laws included jury trial, impartial judges, free speech, the rights of the poor to a lawyer, women rights, animal rights, and much more. The vaunted British "fair play" has Sharia roots (but also Persian roots from Cyrus the Great, 559-530 BC, with his human rights edict). Under Islamic (and Persian) laws, warfare was to avoid harm to civilians, their property, and their lands. Captured crusaders were amazed, and grateful, at being treated kindly even though they had previously massacred entire Muslim communities. Slavery was tolerated only in wartime as an alternate to the previous slaughter of a defeated enemy. Multiple wives were permitted only after wars that caused a shortage of men.

All this seems so enlightened, so why do we fear Sharia?
With the Enlightenment, European laws went on to further enhance human rights while Sharia stagnated, still clinging to its old punishment codes. And, there have been many deviations. Those who, by means fair or foul, achieve power are prone to alter laws and practices, and use religion, or secularism, to suit their own ends. The devout may consider such actions as aberrations but their existence stresses the vital need of a law of the land based on human rights and devoid of the controls of priests, shamen, ayatollahs, politicians, or privileged groups.
We can see in those countries where Sharia is entrenched, like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and N. Nigeria, not only an eye-for-an-eye mentality but cruel punishments such as lashes for gambling or drinking, beating a wife for being too uppity, stoning to death for adultery or sodomy, cutting off hands for stealing, plus beheadings, crucifixions, and honour killings (only 31% of which are by practicing Muslims). Tolerating Sharia, it is argued, could open the door for Muslim anti-blasphemy laws and their associated violent passions. It took Christians 400 years of bloody struggle to earn the right to criticize Christianity. Muslims have yet to start this struggle. This is our main aversion to Sharia. Yes, Muslims can point to Western faults such as the cruel treatment of POWs by the US, or the chaining in groups of 10, hundreds of illegal Guatemalan and Mexican male and female workers in Iowa. We do have our warts.
Quebec has officially banned Sharia Law. The Archbishop of Canterbury claims it should be acceptable in Muslim communities in the UK minus its penal code. It is creeping into the USA. Somali taxi drivers in Minneapolis, now 80% of drivers, defy US law by refusing to accept passengers carrying the duty-free alcohol they bought at the airport. Since 1991, due to a backlogged court system, Ontario has allowed Catholic and Jewish tribunals to resolve family disputes provided both parties agree. A move to include Sharia Law in this arrangement was vetoed by the premier. We have been prone to permitting ethnic groups taking over sections of our culture. The Jews took banking, the Irish took policing, Pakistanis have monopolized transportation. Much of this has been transient but we do need to pay more attention to integration. We live today in a global community so cannot tolerate any religion, and we can include secularism and atheism as religions, to impose laws at variance with the laws of the land, especially when human rights are at stake.
The current wave of hostility towards Islam causes reactions not conducive to lessening the frictions that have been so common and so ruinous in human history. Muslim beliefs need softening, but Respect is a great catalyst. We opened our doors to entice cheap labour most of which was Muslim and poorly educated.

We created the problem. It is ours to fix.