Thursday, July 16, 2015

Talk is Tedious, but the alternative is much worse.

What an amazing thing it was! Western nations sensing great danger to the world if Iran's nuclear program should lead to the development of nuclear arms, Iran struggling with the decay of an economy stalemated by sanctions imposed by the same Western nations. That they talked and talked past deadlines, through nights and finally, finally all signed off on a joint undertaking constitutes a near-miracle.

The hawks descended immediately. We've been duped! Iran can't be trusted to keep its promises! President Obama defended the agreement, insisting that the safeguards built in assured the world that promises would be kept. The Israeli prime minister characterizing it at the same time as a colossal and historic blunder.

The chances are, of course, that Netanyahu will have been proven right in the end. There is also a chance that the agreement will serve as an historic lesson in the effectiveness of persistent diplomacy, especially when compared to the US invasion of Iraq, Russian military interference in Ukraine, Western military involvement in Libya, etc.

Life is not about certainties, it's about weighing options and choosing best chances. Sorting out which choices produce best chances is the tough part, but beating back the hawkish critics in this case seems to me to constitute a feather in Obama's cap. I hope history proves him right.

Canada's response to this agreement is disappointing, if expected. We will judge Iran by its actions, not by it's words. The words, however, are the words of our allies as well as those of Iran so at best, Canada has said nothing. At worst it has declared its non-confidence in the judgement both of Iran and our allies.
For lack of international affairs savvy, the Harper government has painted itself into a corner: its unconditional support of Israel and its need to maintain good relations with the USA and other Western allies have meant effectively that we can't say anything without jeopardizing one or the other relationship. We've written ourselves out of the story.

We need a new government. One that isn't so doctrinaire that it blindly wanders down allies and roads that have no exits. October can't come too soon.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Saskatchewan is on fire.

The Earth: a place to stand
Saskatchewan is on fire. So read the news headlines this morning. The number of forest fires burning in Northern Saskatchewan (117) is not that significant since Alberta and BC are dealing with similar numbers. Like Slave Lake in a previous year and now LaRonge and Montreal Lake in Saskatchewan, the newsworthiness is scaled to the numbers of people directly affected: in Saskatchewan about 8,000 refugees so far. 

It's always about us. 

Of course it is: trees don't read!

Forest fires, grass fires have been part of nature's evolved balance going back multi-millenia. Like us, the planet Earth gets indigestion; it belches and farts occasionally, moves its bowels in order to restore balance once again. Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, fires, tornadoes and hurricanes, tsunamis are disasters to us but to the earth they are like antacids and antihistamines, restoring balances that events and the passage of time have disturbed. 

To the people of LaRonge and Montreal Lake, to us in the rest of the province breathing smoke day after day, the fires are catastrophic; to Mother Earth they're good housekeeping, a disposal of accumulated trash. A restoration of balance.

Some of the earth's indigestion—like ours—is a natural consequence of its makeup and position in the universe; sometimes we contribute to its discomfort. Clearing natural vegetation to grow food crops, burning fossil fuels in ever-increasing amounts, pumping our sewage into fresh water lakes and rivers all contribute to the earth's bellyache and make the restoration of balance evermore difficult. 

Our sheer and increasing numbers as a species must give our Earth Mother moments of overwhelming anxiety: How am I going to feed all the babies I'm popping out like a Pez dispenser gone berserk?

That there exists in the universe a planet capable of sustaining fragile life as complex and enduring as we experience on Planet Earth is amazing, possibly miraculous. And if—as we often say—we're lucky to be alive, then this consciousness should humble us in the face of Mother Earth's occasional belches and farts. It should also teach us ways to stay out of her way when she rolls over: don't build your homes on fault lines, in flood plains, at the feet of volcanic mountains. 

Construct your dwellings in the shape of domes rather than boxes if you must settle in Tornado Alley. 

It's nice to be on the beach, but weigh the possible consequences before setting up house there.

And for Mary's and Pete's sake, try to govern your activities to resonate with Mother Earth's natural rhythms. She is, after all, your Mom and if she's too old or sick to look after you, well, you can imagine the denouement in that story!

For the people of Montreal Lake and LaRonge, it's not the right time for these thoughts. Far from the homes they love, afraid both for personal safety and for their futures, they can hardly be blamed right now for choosing to live where they live. But it must give all of us pause to know that the earth has always burned forests in the summer time, will always do so and if we're smart, we'll find ways to be less vulnerable to these events.

“Only YOU can prevent forest fires,” was Smokey the Bear's admonition. Well no, unless you can prevent lightning, that is.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Winners and Losers

I used to think that with a bit more effort we could all get along even if we didn't agree on . . . well, whatever. I'm not so sure anymore. 

In some cases the principle of disagree, discuss, negotiate, compromise and move ahead while agreeing-to-disagree does produce peace. Take in our case: making a life change became obvious to both of us so we discussed options a lot, disagreed sometimes on which were the superior choices, explored them together and finally made a choice that seemed to answer most of our hoped-for outcomes. Not all, by a long shot, but most. 

The responsibility for the choice is shared. No one will be blamed if the outcome proves unsatisfactory.

But the ability to compromise, the willingness to accept a decision that doesn't match one's own is not equally distributed. We grow up adopting a “more conservative” or “more liberal” worldview—for arguments sake—and our willingness to negotiate as opposed to insisting is influenced by that. Furthermore, personality differences obviously account for some people's ability to accept a second or third preference and move on while others feel compelled to terminate a relationship if their preferred choice doesn't prevail.

Going into any negotiation with the conviction that there is only one acceptable outcome is to embark on a journey going nowhere. Worldviews do change, but far too slowly to accommodate critical, emerging issues.

I still feel a twinge of happiness when I see that the Montreal Canadiens are doing well; others have similar feelings about the Maple Leafs. But these are differences of opinion that don't require compromise; Habs and Leaf fans have been known to get along just fine, even intermarry successfully. But this example serves to illustrate that loyalties to a team, for instance, are pretty enduring impulses even when the object of such loyalty has changed so much that the continued allegiance makes little sense . . . logically.

If we think of a political party or a church denomination as a team, surely this curious and often undeserved feeling of loyalty and belonging must play a role when disagreements need to be resolved. We have invested a lot over a long time and we want so badly for “our side” to win. Compromising, giving in, being out-voted become bitter emotional pills, hard to swallow.

We're approaching a federal election campaign and the “join our team and win” ads and pronouncements will assail us for the next 3½ months or so. The majority of us will make our election-day choice on the basis of enduring team loyalties, many having decided long before the differences in policies have become manifest. But there will be a minority who never developed such enduring allegiances; perhaps they never had much interest or enthusiasm for hockey, or politics, or church. It's they who will decide the winners and losers in October and it's the majority who will be either deflated or jubilant at the result.

Harmony is not to be expected. It's too dependent on the presence and depth of loyalties, the flexibility or recalcitrance of the personalities involved and the nature of the negotiation when an issue needs to be resolved. Living well despite the chaos that characterizes human interaction ought probably be high on the list of educational priorities. In other words, we need to learn how to drum winners and losers out of our negotiating vocabularies.

This isn't easy; I did so want the Habs to win the Stanley Cup.